Saturday, 5 December 2009

The Deeds of Robert Guiscard: Book III, lines 305-428

[305] When the duke saw his men all toiling to seize the walls, he himself was at pains to labour carrying the ladders. Then he ordered his men to climb up. Together they rushed to scale the walls, [310] and against them the people of Palermo manned those walls, spread out along the ramparts. Both peoples made the same effort, but for very different reasons - one to take the city, the other to defend it. One side fought for themselves their children and their wives; the other wished to conquer the city to please the duke. [315] As both sides struggled with such effort, fortune favoured the duke and was cruel to the city, for suddenly a group of knights climbed up the ladders and reached the top of the wall. The Sicilian defenders turned and fled. [320] The new town was captured, and they took refuge in the old city.

Seeing that their forces were exhausted and losing all hope of safety, the Agarenes begged the duke to take pity on their sad fate and not to take revenge on them. [325] They surrendered unconditionally to the duke, asking only that their lives be spared. By this surrender (and their pleas) they secured mercy and favour from the duke. He promised them their lives and his grace. [330] There were no exceptions to this, and keeping his word, even though they were heathens, he was careful not to harm anyone. He treated all his subjects equally. [However] to glorify God he destroyed every vestige of the temple of iniquity, and where there had previously been a mosque he built the church of the Virgin Mother, [335] and what had been the seat of Mohammed and the demon he made the house of God and the gate to Heaven for the just.[1] He had castles with strong walls built where his army could remain in safety from the Sicilians, and he furnished them with wells and ample supplies. [2]

[340] After building these fortresses and taking some hostages, Robert returned victorious to the city of Reggio, leaving a knight of the same name at Palermo whom the Sicilians were given as their emir[3] [amiratus]. [345] He allowed all the Greeks who had been captured at Bari to leave with Stephen Pateranos. So the most kindly duke allowed his enemies to depart unpunished, for [rather than this] he preferred them to become his loyal supporters. [350] Accompanied by the Bariots, the Calabrians, the hostages from Palermo and his knights, the duke went to the walled city of Melfi[4]. This town was the capital of the entire Apulian region. The counts and leading men from this whole area flocked here; everyone wishing once again to see their prince’s face. [355] Only Peter, son of that Peter[5] of whom I have already spoken, refused to come there. On the death of his elder brother Geoffrey he had inherited the rights of his father and nephews, up to the time when the Richard, the son of his brother, should reach the age of legal majority. The duke did not trust Peter since he had previously refused to send help to him in Sicily.[6] [360] However after calming Peter’s fears, he summoned him to him. The duke then told him that Taranto[7] had been given to him by his [the duke’s] brother and he now demanded back his brother’s gift. [365] Peter refused to render to him what his father had conquered by force of arms. This was the reason for the grave quarrel that arose between them. Going to Andria, Peter began in all sorts of ways to make ready for war; he ordered new weapons to be prepared, [370] recruited troops, sought everywhere for help, and made every effort to preserve the integrity of all his property. [8]

The duke meanwhile decided to besiege Trani, a town of illustrious name, filled with riches, arms and a large population.[9] Peter led a dozen picked knights [375] to the city, to encourage the citizens to stay loyal to him and to reassure them by his presence. While he addressed them in a lengthy speech, Robert and his army suddenly appeared and spread over the plain. The citizens were besieged for fifty days, [380] and Peter was shut up with them inside the walls. They begged the count to consent to the surrender of the city, for they could no longer put up with the damage that was being inflicted upon it. At first he was gravely offended and refused. Finally they forced him, [385] and he tearfully requested that he and his companions might be allowed to depart freely; on this condition he consented that the town be surrendered to the duke. He left the city without letting the duke see him, nor did he wish to see the duke, so hateful did he find the sight of the duke’s face.

[390] On the surrender of the renowned city of Trani, the inhabitants of Giovinazzo and Bisceglie also surrendered. Bisceglie belonged to Peter and Giovinazzo to Amicus, whose father was Peter’s uncle. The duke hated him because he had given help to his brother, [395] and because he had tried to go to Dalmatia without his permission. [10] On receiving this news, and anxious to secure Peter’s surrender, the duke began the blockade and siege of Corato. Peter heard that this castrum was surrounded by siege-castles and, not daring to make a stand there, escaped safely to the walls of Andria. [400] But while he was absent from Andria, having gone to Trani with a following of fifty knights to carry off some booty, on the duke’s order Guido, [405] his wife’s brother, introduced forty knights to the city. Then, making a sudden sortie, they spread out across the fields and captured Peter, bringing by force before the duke the man who had previously refused to see him. His capture put an end to the duke’s toil. But after being bound by an oath of fealty Peter was eventually set free and recovered all that he had lost. He departed a free man, [410] deprived only of the lordship of Trani.

Meanwhile, the people of Amalfi, who for some time past had been paying an annual tribute to him, [415] several times asked for the great duke’s help.[11] They claimed that Gisulf’s attacks were perpetually troubling them both on land and sea. In answer to these peoples’ request Robert ordered Gisulf to cease vexing the Amalfitans, who had been accustomed to pay tribute to him. [12] He did not wish to break their old treaty of friendship, [420] and love for his sister might make him desist [his attacks]. He promised that he would recompense him. Gisulf returned a haughty answer to the envoys [425] who brought him this message. He said that he would not grant peace to the duke unless the latter rendered him the service which he owed.


[1] Both Amatus and Malaterra state that Guiscard celebrated mass in the church of the Virgin Mary with the Greek archbishop of Palermo.

[2] Following Malaterra, it is likely that this means that Guiscard reinforced the existing Arab castles: the Castello by the sea and a second in the Galea.

[3] The first Norman emir of Palermo was called ‘Petrus Bidonis amiratus Palermi’, cited in a diploma of count Roger in Palermo, August 1086. The emir or ‘admiral’ was essentially an administor whose role went far beyond that of commander of the fleet: Menager, L.R., L’emirat et les origins de l’amiraut√©, Paris, 1959, chapter 2.

[4] Once in Calabria, Guiscard moved quickly to besiege Peter and Aberlard in Trani.

[5] Peter I of Trani, son of Amicus, I was the father of Geoffrey of Taranto and Peter II of Trani. Richard, son of Geoffrey is probably the Richard, count of Andria cited but was not identified by ibid, Chalandon, F., Histoire de la domination normande en Italie et en Sicile, vol. 2, p. 208, no 2 and was still alive in 1119.

[6] Amatus states that during the siege of Palermo, Richard of Capua allied himself to Peter II and his brother Falgutce who rebelled at Trani with Abelard.

[7] Tarento was briefly captured by Guiscard in 1060 but was recaptured from the Greeks of Geoffrey, son of Peter I in 1063. Ibid, Chalandon, F., Histoire de la domination normande en Italie et en Sicile, vol. 1, p. 177 believed that Geoffrey remained loyal to Guiscard during the rebellion of his brother Peter II of Trani.

[8] Andria had been fortified by Peter I of Trani.

[9] Trani was besieged by land and sea between January and February 1073 and surrendered because its people forced Peter to capitulate.

[10] This refers to the expedition of Amicus to Dalmatia in 1074-1075, an event that is not really considered by Norman historians. However, Croatian sources speak of the capture of the king of Croatia, probably Peter Cresimir by a ‘comes Amicus’. King Petar Kresimir IV. (1058-1074) merged the Kingdom of Croatia and Slavonia and was confirmed by Pope Gregory VII as ‘King of Croatia and Dalmatia’.

[11] However, in 1072-1073 he was distracted by another revolt among the Apulian Normans, encouraged by Richard of Capua and his troublesome nephew Abelard. This delayed further his attempts to bring the remaining Lombard territories under his control. Amalfi and its little duchy voluntarily submitted in late 1073 after the death of duke Sergius IV though Pontieri argues that this was initially a protectorate and was not an effective occupation until 1076. However, he did not capture Aberlard’s stronghold of Santa Severina in northern Calabria until 1075. A peace treaty with Richard of Capua was brokered with difficulty by abbot Desiderius of Montecassino in 1076 and this allowed Robert to move finally against what was left of the principality of Salerno. The reason for the attack of Salerno that all the chroniclers agree on was the continued poor and brutal government of Gisulf IV. However, Amatus, William of Apulia and Malaterra were pro-Norman apologists and it is important not to accept their witness unequivocally. Amatus’ denunciations of Gisulf are so extreme as to suggest a strong personal motive. It is plausible that Amatus was a former bishop of Paestrum in the south of the principality of Salerno who had resigned his see in the 1050s and become a monk at Salerno. Why he did this is not known and Amatus himself provides no evidence for his reasons. However, we do know that in the 1050s Gisulf was trying to limit ecclesiastical privileges. If this is the case, then Amatus’ hostility to Gisulf is understandable. In addition, there is ample evidence for the growing internal weakness in the principality for at least a decade that meant that it was not a question of if Robert was going to attack Salerno but when. The siege of Salerno began in early May 1076 and lasted for seven months when the city was betrayed to him. Gisulf and his brothers took refuge in the citadel but this too surrendered early in 1077. They were expelled from the city and their land confiscated. Robert’s policy was to reconcile the local population to his rule as quickly as possible. Henceforward Salerno rather than Melfi or Venosa became the centre of his power. The acquisition of the city and the remaining part of the principality was the most significant and successful step towards the consolidation of the whole of mainland southern Italy in Norman hands.

[12] Gisulf’s attacks on Amalfi began before October 1071 when he began to blockake the city. On the death of the last duke Sergius IV, the Amalfitans tried to place their city under the protection of Pope Gregory VII but he refused. They then entered into an alliance with Guiscard to protect them from Gisulf who, hostile to Guiscard entered into an alliance with the Pope to counter the Norman threat in 1073.

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