Saturday, 14 November 2009

The Deeds of Robert Guiscard: Book II, lines 160-265

The German people were accompanied by numerous allies, and trusted (wrongly) in the help of the cowardly Lombards, believing that the Normans would either turn tail or perish at the first onslaught. [145] But victory in battle rests not on numbers, horses, people or arms but on whom it is conferred by Heaven. There was a small hill between the Germans and the Norman squadrons. All sorts of people had come to help the former; [150] from Apulia, Valva, Campania, Marsia and Chieti. However the German leaders, Werner and Albert, had only brought seven hundred Swabians. There were proud people of great courage, but not versed in horsemanship, who fought rather with the sword than with the lance. Since they could not control the movements of their horses [155] with their hands they were unable to inflict serious injuries with the lance; however, they excelled with the sword. These swords were very long [160] and sharp and they were often capable of cutting someone vertically in two! They preferred to dismount and take guard on foot, and they chose rather to die than to retreat. Such was their bravery that they were far more formidable like this than when riding on horseback.

[165] Their Italian allies had for their leaders two brothers, Counts Transmund and Atto, and the sons of the noble family of Burrell. Along with them marched Malfredus, from near Campomarino, Roffred (lord of the castrum of Guardia), the father-in-law of [170] Radulfus of Moulins, and many others whose names I don’t know. The Romans, Samnites and Capuans had also sent troops, nor had Ancona denied its wealth. People from Spoleto, Sabina and Fermo had joined them. I cannot calculate in my verses how many enemies had appeared, resolved to destroy the name of the Frankish race. All these had fixed their tents with the Germans on the bank of the River Fortore. Nearby was the city [Civitate] which has its name from its citizens.

[180] The Normans abandoned any hope of peace, and refused to flee - anyway there was nowhere to which they could escape. They climbed the hill to inspect the enemy camp[1]. After doing this they armed themselves. Count Richard of the Aversans was placed on the right wing [185] facing the Lombards. He commanded the first, hand-picked, squadron of knights. Humphrey was chosen as the leader of the centre force, facing the warlike Swabians. [190] Robert was instructed to take the left wing with his men from Calabria, ready to charge to the help and reinforcement of his colleagues when he judged it necessary. The Germans had set out their right wing opposite these two forces. The Italians stood all crowded together on the other side [195] because they neglected to draw up a battle line in the proper manner.

Richard was the first to open the battle, against them. He charged gallantly and, unable to resist, the Italians were driven back. Fear filled them all, and they turned and fled across hill and dale. [200] The impetus of their flight led many to fall to the ground, who were killed by lance or sword. They fled like doves with a hawk in pursuit, at top speed towards the rocky summits of a mountain peak; but those whom he caught were unable to seek further flight. [205] So the Italians fled before Richard, but flight did not help those whom Richard and his companions caught up with. He killed a large number of Italians there, although the majority fled.

[210] The Swabians drew up their line of battle against the arms of the valiant Humphrey. First Humphrey attacked them at long-range with arrows, he in turn was harried by the arrows of his enemies. Finally both sides charged sword in hand, and their swords inflicted some incredible blows on each other; you could see human bodies split down the middle and horse and man laying dead together. [215] Then Robert, seeing his brother so fiercely attacked by enemies resolved to yield not an inch, charged fiercely and proudly into the midst of the hostile ranks, aided by the troops of Count Gerard [220] and followed by the Calabrians whose leadership had been entrusted to him. He speared them with his lance, beheaded them with his sword, dealing out fearful blows with his mighty hands. He fought with each hand, both lance and sword hit whatever target they were aimed at. [225] He was unhorsed three times; thrice he recovered his strength and returned more fiercely to the fray. His fury merely increased, as does that of the lion that roars and furiously attacks those animals less strong than himself, [230] and if he meets resistance becomes more ferocious and burns with greater anger. He gives no quarter, he drags off his prey and eats it, scatters what he cannot devour, bringing death to all. [235] In such a way did Robert continue to bring death to the Swabians who opposed him. He cut off feet and hands, sliced heads from bodies, ripped into breasts and chests, and transfixed those whose heads he had cut off. Cutting off the heads of these huge men he made them the same size as those smaller, proving that the greatest bravery is not the prerogative of the tall, but often rests with those of shorter stature. [240] After the battle it was known that none, victor or vanquished, had inflicted such mighty blows.

[245] Richard returned after having inflicted terrible slaughter on the Italians, some of whom had fled while others who remained had perished by the sword or lance. When he saw the Germans still resisting his companions, ‘alas’, he exclamed, ‘we believed that by winning this fight we had won the battle [250], but that victory is yet to be secured’. Without hesitation he charged into the midst of the enemy. The latter, with no hope either of flight or of safety, fought back bravely, but great were the numbers surrounding them that this defiance gained them nothing. [255] The glorious army of Richard the victorious joining them was the primary cause of their enemies’ catastrophe. The unhappy men perished in various ways and of all these men not one survived.

The result of the battle filled the pope with grief, and greatly lamenting he took refuge in the city. But the citizens [260] did not receive him as was proper for they were afraid to displease the victorious Normans. The latter humbled themselves on bended knee before him, begging pardon. The pope received those prostrate before him kindly, and they all kissed his feet. [265] He admonished them piously and blessed them, and lamenting greatly that he had spurned their offers of peace he prayed tearfully for his dead brothers.[2]


[1] Fuiano, M., ‘La battaglia di Civitate’, Archivo Storico Pugliese, vol. ii, (1949), pp. 124-133 provides the best discussion of the location and topography of the battle.

[2] Civitate meant that there was no hope of expelling the Normans and paved the way for their conquest of the rest of southern Italy. It represented the ruin of Leo’s policy in southern Italy and was a dire warning against the papacy becoming directly involved in secular warfare. The citizens of Civitate promptly surrendered Leo IX to the Normans and he was imprisoned and kept captive for ten months in Benevento.

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