Wednesday, 16 December 2009

The Deeds of Robert Guiscard: Book IV, commentary

Books IV and V recount the last years of Guiscard’s life (1078-1085) and are far darker in tone than the opening three books. They contain important details of events. Book IV begins with the marriage of two of Guiscard’s daughters to Ebles de Roucy and Raymond Berenger II of Barcelona (IV: 8-15), his alliance with Pope Gregory VII against Henry IV with an original description of the reconciliation between Guiscard and Gregory in 1080 (IV: 16-73). The remainder of this book deals with the war between Guiscard and the Byzantine Empire on the pretest of restoring to the throne Michael VII and his young son Constantine betrothed to Guiscard’s daughter Helena, deposed by Nicephorus Botaniates. This is interrupted by the return to Guiscard to Italy in 1082 to deal with a new revolt (IV: 524-535) and his taking of Rome where Gregory VII was besieged by Henry IV (IV: 536-570).

Malaterra briefly describes the war though Anna Comnena’s account in The Alexiad is more detailed. However, William of Apulia’s version is preferable to Anna Comnena in several respects and helps to rectify her errors especially her belief in the involvement of Guiscard’s son Roger Borsa in the first part of the expedition and her chronology of events. William presents the most plausible sequence of events.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

The Deeds of Robert Guiscard: Book III, lines 589-683

After this victory Robert set off immediately for Giovinazzo. [590] The faithful citizens hurried out to meet him. Who could describe all the thanks that he addressed to them? He praised them all for placing their sworn fealty above even their dear children. He embraced them all and then said, [595] ‘Don’t be afraid. Amicus will not harm any of your lads, because he is begging to be allowed to return to my good graces’. The people replied as follows: ‘You may rest assured that we are ready to follow your orders, and to entrust the fate of our children to our lord, [600] for no [other] love is strong enough to deprive us of your love. We ask only that in return for our love you be our preserver and a kindly ruler’. Hearing the people’s prayers the duke agreed to what they asked. He remitted all the tribute [605] that they owed for three years, and half of it in perpetuity.

Once this was done he left them and returned in haste to Salerno. On his way there he gave rebel villages and castra which had been surrendered to his knights. He fought quite a number of battles at different places. [610] Luck was on his side, for while he was attacking rebellious Ascoli Baldwin was captured in a cavalry engagement. He stormed a castellum called Vico[1]. There Gradilon was captured, and deprived both of his eyes and his testicles. Baldwin was allowed to survive unharmed, [615] though as a supporter of Abelard he was kept in prison under guard.

After accomplishing these deeds during his journey the duke arrived at Salerno. Envoys from Jordan met him there asking for a peace treaty.[2] The duke felt that unless the discord was ended [620] he might very soon lose most of the advantages which he had gained, and so he answered the legates kindly and benevolently. He called a truce, arrangements were made for a meeting and the duke fixed a day for this. The envoys returned home very much elated by the gracious way in which he had received them, and reported the good news. [625] Jordan was very pleased by what they told him. At the same time the duke sent some picked knights to Giovinazzo, ordering them not just to help his own men but to work to injure the enemy and to damage them in every way that they could find. [630] These arrived at Giovinazzo after a long detour travelling by side roads, for the direct route was impossible and their adversaries numerous. Once there they began to attack the duke’s enemies with vigour. [635] Those who had previously been used to go out plundering now complained that they were the victims and were unable to venture forth in safety.

On the day appointed the duke and Prince Jordan both went eagerly to Sarno. A peace was concluded between them, and agreed with Rainulf on the same terms. [640] He was Jordan’s paternal uncle, the duke was his maternal one[3]. After dealing with these matters, the duke returned to the fortresses of Apulia[4]. He captured the castrum of Spinazzola, which Amicus had fortified and stocked with arms and in which he had stationed his son with a large force of knights, [645] all of whom the duke captured. Only Amicus’ son[5] was able to run away and escape. Fearful of further losses Amicus begged for peace[6]. The kindly duke granted him this and recovered the hostages. Grieving fathers were made joyful by the return of their children and the mothers of Giovinazzo stilled their weeping.

[650] The conclusion of these treaties terrified the duke’s proud nephews, Counts Robert and Geoffrey.[7] And when they asked for pardon their uncle indulged them, forgetting the harm that they had done him and his own anger. [655] Counting on their alliance, the duke besieged Bari with a large force of knights. Argyritzos, father-in-law of that Abelard who was the only one to avoid making peace, welcomed the duke to the city and was restored to his favour. His son-in-law was excluded from the peace and expelled from the town. Since he would not make peace with the duke, [660] Abelard abandoned the possessions which he had inherited from his father and went as an exile to the land of the Greeks, then ruled by the Emperor Alexius[8]. The latter, a kindly man, received him graciously, treated him honourably and gave him many gifts. But envious death, which spares no one, infected his youthful limbs; [665] and he who believed that he would one day return in triumph to power, bearing the symbols of office [cum fascibus], by contrast died in exile among the Greeks and was buried there.

Irritated by Peter’s rebellion, the duke besieged Trani with his army reinforced by the people of Bari who had now joined him. He left his wife at this siege while he himself with many of his knights went on to Taranto, which he invested by land and sea and very soon captured. After this victory he pitched his camp outside Castellaneta[9] and laid siege to that. [670] Count Peter was by this stage a prey to terrible anxiety, and since he saw that fortune favoured the duke and was hostile to him he now sought pardon and peace. The duke despatched envoys who informed him that he must hand over Trani and Castellaneta to him. [675] Should he fail to do this, he would not be granted peace. Peter went to the [duke’s] camp with his garments in disarray, entered, and asked for pardon and a peace treaty. [680] He summoned the guards of the fortress and ordered them to leave their towers and on his instructions they handed the walls over to Robert. He also surrendered Trani to secure his return to the duke’s good grace, [685] and he swore obedience to him and became his fidelis.

Thus it was that the brave and clever duke made the stiff-necked bend [before him] and knew how to put an end to conflict.


[1] Today, Vico is Revico, in the province of Avellino.

[2] Guiscard was in Salerno in July 1079 and the peace treaty with Jordan was brokered, not without considerable difficulty, by Desiderius, abbot of Montecassino.

[3] Jordan was the son of Fredesende, Guiscard’s sister while Rainulf was the brother of Richard I of Capua.

[4] Guiscard took Monticchio, Carbonara, Pietrapalomba, Monteverde, Genzano and Spinazzola.

[5] Count Geoffrey was the son of Amicus.

[6] It appears that Amicus was reconciled with Guiscard and accompanied him in his expedition against Alexius Comnenus.

[7] Geoffrey de Conversano also appears to have been reconciled with Guiscard and was one of the Norman counts present at his death in 1085.

[8] The precise chronology of Abelard’s exile to Greece needs to be made clear especially as Alexius Comnenus did not become emperor until April 1081 and the rebellion ended in 1078. It seems that Abelard left Italy immediately after the rebellion but that he returned after Guiscard embarked on his campaign in Greece in 1081 and acted as an intermediary between Alexius and the emperor Henry IV. Malaterra states that after the capture of San Agata in 1078 Abeland and his brother Herman left for Greece though Greek sources say it was after the capture of Ascoli.

[9] Castellaneta was captured by Geoffrey de Conversano in 1064. It later came under the control of count Geoffrey of Taranto and then in the possession of his brother Peter II of Trani. The town was recaptured by the Greek admiral Mavrikas in 1067.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

The Deeds of Robert Guiscard: Book III, lines 429-588

Refusing to tolerate such an insolent reply, the angry duke marched on Salerno with a gigantic army and besieged it by land and sea. [430] After this siege had lasted for some four months, the inhabitants of the unhappy city were afflicted by terrible famine and the population was barely able to survive by eating dogs, horses, rats and the corpses of donkeys. One of the citizens escaped from the city, in which he had left his father, and reached the camp. [435] His dog, which lived in his father’s house, searched for and found him thanks to its keen nose. He gave it food, and after its appetite had been satisfied by the meal he used to attach a sack to its chest filled with enough bread to feed someone for a day. [440] Amazing to relate, the dog ran back without stopping and carried it straight home, and in this way the wise animal secured nourishment both for himself and for his master. In the eighth month the citizens went out and, making a breach in the walls on the side offering the easiest entry, [445] threw the town open to Duke Robert. Gisulf was terrified by Robert’s capture of the city. He fled to the tower built on top of the mountain overlooking the city, access to which had been made difficult both by nature and by [human] art. There seemed to be no more defensible stronghold in the whole of Italy. [450] Robert besieged this citadel with a strong force. But one day the duke was struck on the breastplate by a stone thrown with great force from on high, and a piece unluckily chipped off and injured his noble chest. Not long afterwards however, with the help of God, [455] his wound was cured and he was restored to health. Once recovered, he pressed the attack on Gisulf even harder. The latter saw his fortunes become desperate, and, with no hope of relief, surrendered himself and all he possessed to the duke’s mercy. [460] He asked only that he himself might have liberty to depart, and in this way, leaving all his possessions to the duke, he left a free man. Deprived of the honour of Salerno he went first of all to Pope Gregory.[1] On his arrival the pope received him kindly and entrusted to him rule over the Campania.[2]

[465] Robert rejoiced in having overcome both the city and the citadel. He garrisoned the upper citadel with trustworthy guards in case there should in the future be a revolt by the populace. He [also] built an impregnable fortress in a lower spot to secure the safety of his subjects. [470] There is not a city in Italy more delightful than this one, filled with fruit, trees and wine, and with abundant water. It lacks neither apples nor nuts, nor fine palaces, nor indeed beautiful women and honourable men. Part of it is sited in the plain and part in the mountain and whatever one could wish for is furnished by land and sea. [475] At the same time he acquired Amalfi, a wealthy city seemingly filled with people. None is richer in silver, gold and textiles from all sorts of different places. [480] Many sailors live in this city who are skilled in the ways of the sea and the heavens, and many different things are brought here from the royal city of Alexandria and from Antioch. Its people cross many seas. They know the Arabs, the Libyans, the Sicilians and Africans. This people are famed throughout almost the whole world, [485] as they export their merchandise and love to carry back what they have bought.

After these people had been made subject to him and he had finished everything that had to be done, the duke returned to Troia.[3] While he dwelt within the walls of that city there came to him a noble north Italian [Lambardus, sic] margrave called Azo, [490] who was accompanied by many nobles from his country. He brought with him his illustrious son Hugh and requested the duke to grant the latter his daughter in marriage. The duke summoned his counts and barons to the town to discuss what should be done about this. [500] On their advice Robert gave his daughter to Azo’s son, and they celebrated the marriage as was customary with feasting and giving many presents. After all the marriage celebrations had been completed, the duke demanded that the counts and all the other powerful men there give presents to the husband and wife, to send them away rejoicing. However, when previously his other daughter[4] had entered the house of Michael’s son, they had not given an aid [auxilium]. [505] They were all of them saddened and amazed that the duke should demand such a levy from them. But they were unable to resist, and offered mules, horses and other presents. The duke gave these to his son-in-law and added other presents of his own, then he sent him and his father back to their own land with great honour on the fleet which had been prepared for them.

The Norman counts frequently complained amongst themselves of such bad [510] and infuriating behaviour by the duke towards them, but for a long time they kept their anger and disloyalty concealed. But finally they admitted Jordan son of Richard to their plans, and at the same time they revealed all to the latter’s uncle Count Rainulf. [515] Trusting in their assistance, Peter and Geoffrey[5] revealed their treachery and made war on the duke. The latter’s nephew Abelard son of Humphrey, mindful of the loss of his lands, tried with all the means at his disposal to harm the duke, [520] allied with Gradilon to whom he had given his sister as wife. Nor did they lack the aid of Baldwin, a most eloquent and warlike man. Among their other associates were Counts Henry[6] and Amicus[7], and the clever Count Robert of Montescaglioso [525] who was Geoffrey’s brother, both of them being sons of the duke’s sister. His wish to rule over them inflamed the anger of his nephews against him and they all did their best to deprive him of the ducal honour.

This revolt was not confined only to Apulia but sprang up in Calabria and Lucania and even in Campania. [8] [530] The enemy was everywhere to be feared and the ravages of brigands struck all over the place. A host of thieves sprang up all over Italy. The Normans were split into different factions. But although the duke’s enemies were more numerous than his own forces, the most warlike men remained consistently faithful to Robert. [535] The city of Trani surrendered to Peter and Argyritzos, whom Robert had entrusted with the great city of Bari, gave it to Abelard to whom he married his daughter. However, while these cities fell away during this crisis, [540] the faithful people of Giovinazzo[9] did not desert the duke. Argyritzos summoned them to surrender the town to Amicus, who was to have it, threatening them that if they refused to surrender he would give Amicus as hostages their sons, [545] whom the duke had confided to his charge. They did not however sacrifice their loyalty to their paternal feelings, declaring that they would always serve the duke. Amicus marched to seize the city with Count Peter and a large army. [550] Argyritzos too joined in the siege, along with the people of Bari, Trani and Corato, as well as those of Andria and Bisceglie.[10] The people of Giovinazzo remained steadfast, [555] deterred neither by the siege nor by the arms [of their enemies]; they took every precaution to defend their walls, posted guards, and fiercely repulsed those surrounding them. The latter attacked, but the defenders drove them off, and although the siege was pressed both by land and sea it did not succeed in capturing the city.

An envoy was sent from the city of Bitonto under orders to spread false rumours, [560] a scheme astutely devised by William Fitz Ivo to whom the duke had granted the city. The envoy said that, ‘Look, Robert’s son Roger [Borsa] is coming with a huge force of knights and infantry which the duke has entrusted to his command’. [565] Thinking that this army was drawing near, all the troops that Amicus had brought to besiege the city in the hope of taking it then fled.[11]

Although he had heard that a great many rebels had joined together, the duke was not a bit afraid.[12] He overcame them all by force of arms [570] or by cunning; attaching some to him by soft words and defeating others in battle. Astute and brave, he knew both methods. He seized the castles of some and with honeyed words persuaded others, who would never have yielded to force, to surrender. Thus he left his cavalry at the River Bradano [575] and went with part of his forces to Calabria. There he pacified the people of Cosenza, who were particularly good infantrymen, and then returned bringing them along with him. But before he left with this escort he gave these people everything that he possibly could. [580] He was in haste to fight all those who were disloyal. The faithful city of Giovinazzo was sent some knights. He sought first to make a powerful attack on Bari, where he knew Abelard was. The people of Bari trusted in their numbers and in their leader, who was a mighty warrior, and engaged the duke in battle. [585] But Abelard’s hauberk was pierced by a lance and failed to protect him. Wounded by this thrust in the chest he was unable to continue amid the shock of battle and his troops fled back to the city walls.


[1] Cowdrey, H. E. J., Gregory VII, (Oxford University Press), 1998 and his edition of the letters of Gregory VII The Register of Gregory VII, (Oxford University Press), 2002 is the best starting-point. Delarc, O., Gregoire VII et la reforme de l’Eglise au XIe siecle, Paris, 1889 remains useful. Robinson, I. S., (ed.), The Papal Reform of the Eleventh Century, (Manchester University Press), 2004 includes contemporary biographies of Gregory VII.

[2] Gisulf was forced to surrender the citadel in the spring of 1077 because of starvation on condition he was set free. He went first to Richard of Capua and then to Pope Gregory VII

[3] Success at Salerno did not mark the end of Norman attempts to extend their authority. Richard of Capua, with Robert’s support attacked the papal Campagna in 1076. Bad weather and problems with food supplies meant this achieved little other than the excommunication of Richard and Robert by Pope Gregory VII. In May 1077, Richard began his siege of Naples with the city blockaded with Duke Robert’s ships and the city was still resisting when he died on 5th April 1078. His son Jordan, who had been in dispute with his father for several years and had already made his peace with the pope with his uncle Rainulf de Caiazzo, then abandoned the siege on the payment of tribute and a de facto Capuan protectorate over Naples. In December 1077, Duke Robert attempted to seize Benevento after the death of Prince Landulf IV on 17th November. This ended in failure after five months. The city was saved by the intervention of Jordan of Capua who was anxious to cement his good relations with the papacy but was also determined not to allow Guiscard to extend his power any further. Further revolts in Apulia in the winter of 1078-1079, his preoccupation with the Byzantine Empire and his reconciliation with the papacy in 1080, all combined to prevent Robert from threatening Benevento again.

[4] One of Guiscard’s daughters had been sent to Constantinople and engaged, under the name Helena, to Constantine the young son of Michael VII: the contract of marriage is dated August 1074 and there are two letters (1071-1072, 1072-1073) in which Michael proposed the marriage alliance. Amatus suggests that there were three Byzantine embassies to Guiscard before he agreed to the match.

[5] Geoffrey de Conversano.

[6] Henry of Monte Santa’ Angelo.

[7] Amicus II de Giovinazzo, grandson of Amicus I and second cousin of Geoffrey of Taranto and Peter II of Trani.

[8] William of Apulia is the major source for this, the most serious rebellion against Guiscard. Malaterra mentions it, almost in passing and Amatus’ history ends in April 1078. However, Amatus does write of the revolt of Abelard between 1073 and 1076 and mentions Jordan among the conspirators in 1073.

[9] Giovinazzo had been returned to Guiscard on 7th February 1073.

[10] Guiscard had captured Trani, Bisceglie and Corato in 1073 but had returned all the towns he took to Peter II apart from Trani.

[11] William of Apulia is the only source for this event.

[12] Guiscard was in Calabria when the revolt started.

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’amirauté, 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.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

The Deeds of Robert Guiscard: Book III, lines 167-304

Rumour has it that in the waves of the Adriatic, not far from the shore, there was a great fish, horrid of body and incredibly shaped, of a type not seen before by the people of Italy, [170] and that the springtime wind had induced it to come there because of the warm water. The duke’s cunning, using a number of methods, led to its capture. The fish swam into rope netting and sank to the bottom of the sea along with the heavy iron weights which had been attached to the nets. Finally, after being wounded by the sailors from a number of high places [in the boats], [175] the monster was dragged ashore to be gazed at by the populace. Then, on the duke’s orders it was cut into pieces on which he and his men fed for a long time, as did the people who dwelt in Calabria. [180] Even the people of Apulia far and wide shared in this. The dorsal spine, when it was cut off, measured four palms in circumference.

After remaining here for a little while Duke Robert set off for the city of Reggio. While he was staying there a bridge was built, [185] and as a result the whole area is now called Pons Guiscardi. The Bariots carried out his orders, and he prepared everything that had to be made ready within the walls of Reggio. After gathering together knights, supplies and ships, the duke crossed the sea to Sicily with a large following.[1] [190] This sea, although narrow, is difficult to cross. Scylla and Charybis here present different sorts of danger; the one turns boats over; the other shatters them on the rocks.

[195] In Sicily[2] the assistance rendered by his brother Roger, who had already conquered a substantial part of the country raised the duke’s spirits. Roger was younger than him, but no less valiant. None of his brothers, excellent though they were, entered upon so noble a war, [200] for wishing to exalt the Holy Faith in which we all live, he fought continually against the Sicilians, enemies of the Divine Name, and dedicated his youth largely to this work until the time when the submission of the Sicilian race would allow him the right to rest.

Confident of his assistance, and in the great army which he had brought with him, the duke [205] was not without hope of laying siege to and conquering Palermo, which he had heard was the most noble of the Sicilian cities[3]. Surrounded by Robert’s many soldiers the city grew fearful. The inhabitants reinforced their walls and towers, prepared arms and men, [210] closed the vulnerable gates and placed a numerous sentries on guard throughout the city. The duke ordered his well-armed knights to approach the gates, that by doing this they might provoke the enemy within to battle. He astutely intended to do all in his power to cause the citizens damage and difficulty. [215] Unable to stand this the Sicilians sortied out from the gates and once outside fought back bravely; they were unable however to resist the fierce Normans. The people of the Agarenes held their own for a while but could not overcome the followers of Christ. [220] They fled, followed by our men who slew many of them with their swords and lances. Javelins and arrows flew everywhere from the top of the walls, and they [also] tried to injure our men with rocks and spears. Driving them back within the city defences, our troops returned joyfully to camp.

[225] The Palermitans then approached the Africans asking for their help, and joining their forces together they undertook on the sea the battle that they did not dare to attempt on land[4]. They believed that this element would be more suitable for waging war. [230] Drawing up their ships according to the rules of naval warfare and covering them all over with red canvases as a protection to ward off the impact of stones or javelins, they sailed bravely to battle, ready to act as men and heedless of whether they lived or died. [235] The duke ordered the Normans, Calabrians, Bariots, and Greeks whom he had [previously] captured, to strengthen themselves with the Body of Christ, and after they had received this and the Blood to engage in battle. Under the protection of this nourishment the forces of the faithful went forward to battle, their ships furnished with all the arms needed for success. [240] The unbelievers filled the whole sea with the sound of their trumpets and clarions and with their shouting. The Christians by contrast sought the help only of the Eternal Ruler, on Whose Flesh they had fed. They were not a bit frightened by the noise and resisted their enemies fiercely, manfully dealing out blows. [245] At first the African and Sicilian ships fought back; but finally and by Divine aid they were forced to retire. When they did seek to flee, some of them were captured and others sunk. Most of the ships narrowly escaped because of the rapid use of their oars. After their return to port, they immediately raised the chains with which they were accustomed to close the entry channels. [250] The Christians however broke through these chains captured some of their ships and set fire to most of the others.[5]

[255] This victory made the duke very confident.[6] He now devoted all his attention to force an entrance into the city, employing a number of schemes to secure its capture. He had the infantry furnished with slings and bows, and ordered the armoured cavalry to follow him. [260] The infantry came close to the [city] wall and bombarded the ramparts with stones and arrows. The infidels came out from the city to oppose them and the foot-soldiers, unable to withstand them, fled. When the duke saw them give ground and scatter all over the plain, [265] he gave the signal to his whole force for an immediate attack, encouraging them by voice and gesture as an energetic general should. The Sicilians remained for a little while after battle was joined and then, terrified by the sight of the duke, turned tail. The duke cut them down, and encouraged his men to strike the unbelievers in the back, [270] nor did he cease to kill his enemies until he had reached the city gates. The duke’s people inflicted all sorts of different wounds upon the enemy, some with swords, others with the lance; many with shots from slings, most of all were caused by arrows. [275] Passing over the bodies of the slain, he tried to enter the city gates along with the fleeing Sicilians, [hoping] to capture it and put an end to his labour. But the city was so filled with terror [280] by the enemy attack that its inhabitants closed and bolted the doors, leaving a large number of their men outside, all of whom were massacred.

[285] Seeing his cavalry discouraged by the long battle, Robert asked them to persevere with what they had begun. ‘Men, your courage has stood up to a number of tasks, but it will’, he said, ‘deserve either praise or blame. This city is an enemy to God, and knowing nothing of the Divine worship it is ruled by demons. Deprived of its old strength, it now trembles as though it is broken. If it sees you continue bravely, it will not dare to make further resistance. [290] But, if you cease your efforts, then tomorrow, with its strength renewed, it will resist you more fiercely. Hurry, while you have the chance! This town is hard to take, but, with the mercy of Christ, will be open [to us]. Christ makes difficult work easy. [295] Trust in His leadership, let’s put an end to this conflict, and all hurry to storm the city’!

With these words Robert heartened his men. They rushed to climb the walls with scaling ladders, promising to fulfil the duke’s wishes. In a similar manner a good charioteer who realises that his speedy horses are giving up the race spares them and allows them a breather. [300] Then, when they are rested and their wind is restored, he makes them return to the track, urging them on with regular spurring until they finish the course. So, under the guidance of a wise driver, those who seem beaten pass the ones who are used to victory.[7]


[1] Guiscard assembled his army, consisting of Calabrians and ‘people of several races’ according to Amatus, in Calabria crossing the sea to Messina in 40 boats.

[2] The fall of Bari brought all of Byzantine Apulia under Norman hands. Brindisi, the only other substantial Byzantine town had been captured shortly before Bari fell. Guiscard then turned his attention to Sicily, transferring his forces to support Roger in the siege of Palermo which surrendered in January 1072.

[3] Palermo was besieged by land and sea by Roger in the west and Guiscard in the east with his Calabrians and Apulians.

[4] The other sources do not speak of either the naval battle or the assistance of African Muslims, almost certainly the Zirids of Mahdîyah. In the previous decade, the Sicilians had appealed to them for help to stop the progress of the Normans. However, Ayub, the son of Tamim who was installed in Palermo was forced by the ‘Sicilian faction’ to return to Africa around 1068.

[5] The capture of Palermo marked a very clear stage in the conquest of Sicily. It represented the last direct involvement of Robert Guiscard in the conquest of the island and he never returned to the island after he left in early 1072. Guiscard granted Count Roger the fiefdom of Sicily, except Palermo, Messina and the Val Demone, which were possessed jointly. Although Roger was nominally subject to his elder brother, in reality he was left to govern the island and to continue the conquest as and when he could. By 1072, the Normans had conquered about half of the island. They had displayed considerable flexibility in exploiting Muslim divisions and in granting lenient surrender terms and toleration for Muslim worship.

[6] Malaterra gives details of the role of Roger in the attack on Cassaro, the main Arab fortification.

[7] Guiscard had fourteen ladders made and in the night sent seven to Roger who placed them against the walls in the morning: Amatus and Malaterra. Guiscard left 300 soldiers in the gardens near his fleet while Roger attacked the Cassaro where the defence of the city was concentrated. Guiscard managed to get soldiers over the walls and took the new town while the defenders retreated to the old town.