Wednesday, 18 November 2009

The Deeds of Robert Guiscard: Book II, lines 420-575

As his reputation for power and bravery grew, he sent envoys who carried his words to the excellent Gisulf, son of Guaimar, requesting marriage with his noble sister, [420] for he then lacked a spouse, having repudiated his first wife because of consanguinity.[1] From her had been born Bohemond, a mighty offspring, who was later to become powerful and be distinguished for his courage. To begin with Gisulf disdained Robert’s message, [425] not that he could marry his sister to a greater or nobler man, but because the Gauls seemed to him a race fierce and barbarous, cruel and inhuman in mind, and the repudiation of his first wife imposed a break before one gave a second! [430] Finally the prince assented, and gave his elder sister in marriage to you, Duke Robert. She was called Sichelgaita[2], and the younger, Gaitelgrima. Gaitelgrima afterwards married his nephew Jordan, the Prince of Capua[3], [435] who equalled in his virtues both the duke and his father. A marriage of such grandeur much augmented Robert’s noble reputation, and people who had previously had to be constrained to serve him now rendered to him the obedience due to his ancestors. [440] For the Lombard people knew that Italy had been subject to his wife’s grandfathers and great-grandfathers. She gave him three sons and five daughters[4], these children of both sexes will in the future distinguish themselves.[5]

[445] Robert’s glory, which had been so greatly increased, began to invite not a little envy, where there should instead have been praise. His virtues were envied by those elected counts by the people[6], who numbered twice six, and they wickedly conspired together to murder him when they could find a suitable opportunity. [450] The principal authors of these conspiracies were Geoffrey[7], Joscelyn[8] and Abelard son of Humphrey[9], who sought his father’s heritage[10]. [455] The duke was informed of this plot made by the counts and declared war - he was mightily enraged against them. Some he captured, others he exiled, and on some he inflicted various bodily punishments. Fearing his anger Joscelyn fled to the Greeks. Geoffrey fled in stupefaction to take refuge in the castrum of Montepeloso. [460] Unable to take this fortress by force of arms, the duke captured it by a trick; he corrupted by his blandishments the fortress’s custodian, Godfrey, giving him bribes and promising him more, including a fortress more powerful than the one he had. [465] The lordship of Montepeloso did not belong to Godfrey alone; he had conceded half of it to Geoffrey. But the duke had promised him full lordship over a nobler fortress, Uggiano. Desiring to rule alone over this, he advised Robert to raise the siege and feign a retreat; [470] but as soon as he knew Geoffrey to be absent to return and he would enter the fortress in safety with the keys which he had been given. Then he would confer Uggiano upon him. Thus Godfrey handed over this fortress to him by a trick, and so he received Uggiano, but who would trust him thereafter? [475] All the people of Italy called him traitor. So the astute and prudent duke would often conquer by stratagem what he could not overcome by force of arms.

His enemies entirely subdued and all their fortresses captured[11], he prepared to besiege the people of Bari.[12] [480] There was no city in Apulia that exceeded the affluence of Bari. He besieged it, wealthy and strongly-defended, that by overcoming the rulers of so great a city he might therefore terrify and subject the lesser towns, for of all the cities along the Apulian coast Bari was the greatest. [485] The duke furnished his camp with soldiers and filled the sea with ships brought by the Calabrians. The citizens begged the help of the holy empire; those who were sworn [to help them?] along with the citizens sent envoys there, they all jointly implored imperial assistance. [490] The duke ordered the citizens to hand over to him the house of Argyrus[13]. Since he knew that it was higher than the neighbouring houses, Robert hoped that by obtaining it and from its elevation he might control the whole city. The Bariots made a disparaging response to the duke.

[495] He attacked the city bravely. The inhabitants, by no means reluctant to fight it out, resisted valiantly. He carefully prepared mantlets by the gates under the protection of which he placed armed men in ambush; he prepared a wooden tower to overtop the walls, [500] on each side of which he placed stone-throwers, along with every sort of siege engine which might knock down the walls. Nevertheless the citizens continued to defend their city, nor did they simply remain inside their defences, but went outside the walls to fight the duke. [505] They put his soldiers to flight and their blows cast them down. As is the custom in war, they made the enemy flee and [in turn] fled from the enemy, attacked and were attacked and returning to the fray struck out and were struck. Fighting like two wild boars with their projecting tusks, they covered one another with the saliva flowing from their mouths, [510] sharpening their tusks to inflict deeper wounds, each striking sharp and heavy blows on the other’s body, now being injured in the foot, now in the side, both resisting fiercely and neither willing to give way, until eventually one of the boars, tired, wounded and crying out, [515] shows that it wants to flee and retires defeated.

The Normans charged fiercely and no less fiercely did the citizens resist. Various machines were used against the walls, to knock them down and open up a breach, since entry was impossible along the narrow causeway, with sea on both sides (Bari is not an island). [520] It was on this flank that the duke had planted his tents. On the other side he filled the sea with ships, to prevent the Bariot ships leaving. He built a harbour for his ships, [525] and a bridge on which a tower was placed, so that it was impossible for the inhabitants to make a sortie. The Norman fleet kept the harbour safe. However the citizens of Bari captured the tower and demolished most of the maritime bridge. [530] The Bariots protected their city by land and sea. Afterwards, when Robert despaired of taking the walls by assault, he started to make extravagant promises to the nobles of the place, who formed the most prominent and [535] powerful party in the city. He felt that once he had won over the more important men, he would be able also to sway the lesser with promises and bribes. He also often made threats, to strike terror into the citizens, working in every possible way to secure the surrender of the city which he so greatly desired to capture.

[540] A rumour arose that Joscelyn was sailing to the help of the city with an imperial fleet. The cunning duke sent out scouts to capture him. Stephen, called Pateranos[14], [545] had been appointed governor by imperial edict, a loyal and free-spending man, worthy to be praised in every way except that he tried to have the duke murdered. There was in Bari a knight from foreign parts [550] on whom the duke had previously inflicted a grave affront, a fickle man, daring and savage, ready for every evil. Stephen ordered him to trick his way into the duke’s camp, catch the duke by surprise at night and stab him to death. He promised him a great deal of gold if he should kill the duke. [555] Anxious for the reward and remembering the injury he had received, the knight went at night, inspected the camp thoroughly, and seeing nothing to hinder him, reached Duke Robert’s quarters, which had been roofed with thatch and walled with branches to be protected from the winter’s cold. [560] It was evening and the duke was at dinner. He saw the chair on which the duke was sitting down to eat his dinner, and parting the fronds he flung his spear towards him. But Robert, feeling an abundance of phlegm in his mouth, had ducked his head under the table. [565] The spear’s target was empty, and the blow it struck was fruitless. The knight raced away. Rumour of the duke’s death spread throughout the city. The citizens rejoiced and the noise of the people’s celebrations rose to the heavens. But while they were shouting the duke arrived, [570] demonstrating that he was safe and well, and he shouted to the citizens that their carolling was in vain. As his voice rang out, the noise died down and his words put an end to their rejoicing!


[1] This should not be ignored as the reason for the repudiation though one may rather cynically suggest that political considerations also played a part in Robert’s decision. Amatus suggested (a little time afterwards) that Robert had become increasingly conscious of the sinfulness of the union. It is also possible that the clerical reform movement, established in the mid-1040s, was making some headway in southern Italy especially in its objective of improving the morality of the laity. The enforcement of Church’s rules on marriage was part of this process. Despite this, Alberada and Guiscard remained on relatively good terms and their son Bohemond was later to join his father in the attacks on the Byzantine Empire.

[2] Useful material on Sichelgaita includes: Eads, Valerie, ‘Sichelgaita of Salerno: Amazon or Trophy Wife?’, Journal of Medieval Military History, vol. 3, (2005), Skinner, Patricia, ‘‘Halt! Be Men!’: Sikelgaita of Salerno, Gender and the Norman Conquest of Southern Italy’, in Stafford, Pauline and Mulder-Baker, Anneke B., (eds.), Gendering the Middle Ages, (Basil Blackwell), 2001, pp. 112-135. Apicella, Dorotea Memoli, Sichelgaita tra longobardi e normanni, Salerno, 1997 is a creative combination of invention and evidence.

[3] On his death on 5th April 1078, Jordan I of Capua left a widow and three young children.

[4] The three sons were Roger Borsa, Guy and Robert; Chalandon counted seven daughters rather than William of Apulia’s five.

[5] The final legitimisation of both Richard of Capua and Robert Guiscard came with their recognition by the Papacy. In the latter months of 1058 Robert married Sichelgaita, the sister of Gisulf II of Salerno. The marriage was politically expedient and provided a degree of acceptance in the eyes of the Lombards as well as the Normans. It benefited Salerno as Robert now provided protection against the aggression of Richard of Capua on the northern borders of the principality. What made Guiscard’s marriage different from previous Lombard-Norman marriages was that he was the first to marry a legitimate daughter of an actual prince whose family had ruled Salerno since 983. When he eventually conquered Salerno in 1076, this gave him and more especially Roger Borsa, his son by Sichelgaita a claim to rule they would otherwise not have had.

[6] Advances were made in Apulia by other Norman lords in the early 1060s. In 1063, Godfrey, a son of count Peter of Andria (one of the ‘sons of Amicus’ kin-group) captured Taranto, one of the main Apulian ports. The following year, the duke’s nephew Robert of Montescaglioso took Matera and the nearby town of Montepeloso. These victories ended the Byzantine presence on the Apulia-Lucania border. At the other end of Apulia, Robert’s brother Geoffrey and after his death his son Robert (who became known as the count of Loritello) pushed northwards across the Biferno and Trigno rivers into the Abruzzi. By 1064, Robert’s attacks had begun to destabilise the lands of the abbey of St Clement of Casauria in the Percara valley. Guiscard had appeared briefly in the area to help his brother in 1060-61 but after this the success of the other Normans in Apulia were carried out independently of the duke. Robert’s brother William and his allies attacked the principality of Salerno and in 1067 he was excommunicated, along with Guimund des Moulins and Turgisius of Rota for their attacks on the property of the archbishop of Salerno.

[7] Geoffrey of Conversano was the son of Guiscard’s sister.

[8] Joscelyn was one of the family of Amicus and fled to Constantinople after the failure of the conspiracy.

[9] Abelard accused Guiscard of having disinherited him, with some justification. Interestingly, after the rebellion Guisacrd restored some of his land to him.

[10] In 1066, Robert was finally able to devote his attention to Apulia, retaking Vieste and also Otranto. However, the Byzantines were successful in stirring up and financing a widespread revolt among the Normans in Apulia in 1067-1068 including Robert’s nephews Geoffrey of Conversano and Abelard. Guiscard was in Calabria when news of the revolt reached him. Acting quickly, he caught the rebels before they were ready and suppressed the revolt in the autumn of 1067 and spring of 1068.

[11] Besides the Byzantine territories, to the south, Guiscard’s attention was drawn to the north of his territories, next to Campania and the Abruzzes, where he was faced with a most dangerous rival, occasionally an ally but more often an enemy, Richard of Aversa, who, since he had become prince of Capua in 1062 had launched attacks against the Lombard territories coveted by Robert Guiscard. Richard of Aversa strengthened his authority by acquiring the duchy of Atenulf of Gaeta and the county of Aquino in 1063. Richard’s authority in the north of the principality was not finally secured until 1065 despite his alliance with the abbey of Montecassino that profited considerably from the lands of the Lombards who had rebelled in 1063. The Normans did not have everything their own way and there was a brief Byzantine counter offensive in the mid-1060s. Brindisi was recaptured at some point after 1062 and it is probable that Vieste on the Gargano peninsula was retaken in 1065-66. Whether these advances were linked to the arrival of a contingent of the Varangian guard at Bari in 1066 is debatable but the Byzantine revival was short-lived.

[12] By August 1068, Robert Guiscard was finally ready to move against Byzantine Apulia and to begin his most ambitious military operation: the siege of Bari. This was a difficult operation and could only be attempted when Robert had the full support of his Norman vassals. Count Roger also temporarily abandoned his conquest of Sicily to take part in the later stages of the attack on the city. Bari was a trading city with access to the sea for reinforcements and supplies from the Byzantine Empire and was strongly defended on the landward side. However, the Normans were by this time well versed in siege warfare. Bari was not prepared to surrender as, for example Reggio had been in 1060 and proved to be a formidable obstacle though the timing of Robert’s attack was fortuitous. By 1068, the situation on the eastern frontier of the Byzantine Empire was critical. Turkish raids had penetrated into Asia Minor and the emperor Romanus IV was determined to do something about this. The situation in Byzantine Italy was severe but it was not seen as a major priority in Constantinople. Even so, the siege of Bari lasted almost three years. Robert recruited ships and sailors from Calabria to blockade the town from the sea and he also was highly successful in exploiting divisions within Bari itself. The Byzantines made two attempts to break the blockade: in 1068 they were partially successful bringing in supplies so prolonging the siege but in 1071 the Byzantine fleet was intercepted from count Roger with ships from Sicily and defeated. The loss of this supply fleet led to Bari’s surrender on 16th April 1071. Although the city was near to starvation, Robert offered generous terms returning land seized from its inhabitants outside the walls, freeing it from tribute that had previously been paid to the Normans and refraining from imposing any new demands. It seems that the local patriciate remained largely in control of the city. Robert almost certainly had no choice but to do this. Bari was a large and prosperous town with a diversified economy that he needed to remain prosperous; coercion was not really a viable economic or political option.

[13] No other contemporary source mentioned this.

[14] Stephen Patrianos had already been to Bari in 1069 but this expedition was hit by a storm off Monopoli; twelve ships were lost and the remainder fell into Norman hands.

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