Friday, 22 January 2010

The Deeds of Robert Guiscard: Book IV, lines 450-573

[450] There was at Durazzo a distinguished man who had come from Venice, called Domenico.[1] He hated another man, said to be the son of the Doge of Venice[2], because he himself was not allowed to be part of his council, entry to which was given to many other people there. [455] Domenico sought to deprive him of his command. He summoned one of the deserters to him, a man from Bari who was dear to him and in whose good faith he trusted. He instructed him to go to Robert’s camp by night and inform the duke that he wished to reveal to him certain things to his advantage, and tell him to [460] come to a place called Petra[3], which was near the church of St. Nicholas. Robert went there with a small escort. [Meanwhile] the deserter had returned and summoned the Venetian, who came to the duke and promised that he could easily surrender Durazzo [465] to him if the latter would give him what he sought. The duke swore on oath to grant him what he wanted and to give him his niece in marriage[4]. Both went home in secret after this meeting, having previously decided [470] when the duke would return and Domenico then hand the city over to him.

When the day that they had both decided upon came, the duke chose the men of Cosenza, whom he knew to be fleet of foot, and to accompany them some picked knights, [475] then in the stillness of the night he marched on the town. He took the precaution of sending the deserter on ahead, to tell him from the town what needed to be done. The Venetian had been watching for him for much of the night and had fallen asleep, but the Bariot deserter [480] promptly woke him up and told him of the duke’s arrival. The Venetian told him to bring his trusted men into the city, and not to be afraid. The messenger returned and had the duke’s infantry go in first, and to them he handed over the walls of the tower, which was unguarded. [485] During the night they made not a sound. At daybreak the whole town realised from all sorts of noise that their enemies had gained entry. All the Venetians seized their weapons, [490] except those whom the fifth columnist had brought over to Robert’s side. With their enemies on the ramparts all the inhabitants dug a ditch inside the walls, to make it difficult for the enemies to climb down into the city.[5] The duke had ordered his troops to leave camp on the double. When he heard their voices he ran to them, and despatched them through every gate. [495] Seeing themselves attacked both from within and without the inhabitants loudly denounced the treachery of the Venetians, and as a result the whole Venetian garrison fled. Some were killed, others captured, while some of them fled to the sea, boarded their ships and thus escaped across the Adriatic. [500] Every Venetian who stayed to fight was made prisoner during the city’s capture, including the Doge’s son, while their fleet sailed away. So the duke secured Durazzo for himself. Being unable to conquer it by force of arms alone, he secured victory through a stratagem. The Venetian rejoiced, because after the surrender everything that had been [505] promised to him was fulfilled.

Meanwhile the people of Troia and Ascoli revolted, the former refusing to pay the customary tribute, the latter lamenting the destruction of their walls.[6] They combined together to attack Roger, [510] the duke’s noble heir, who was distinguished for his good sense and skill at arms. Trapped in the citadel at Troia, he defended himself as best he could, until at last some of his and his father’s allies hurried to his aid. Leaving the citadel [515] he threw himself furiously on the rebellious townspeople and inflicted all sorts of punishments upon them. He had one man’s hand cut off, and another’s foot, a third lost his nose, another his testicles; he deprived other men of their teeth or ears. Thus a captive tigress is accustomed to hide her anger while she is a prisoner and unable to give vent to her rage, [520] but if she happens to break out of her cage and escape then she shows a quite unusual fury, seizing and devouring all whom she sees. Even a lion avoids the ferocious beast, although she is the smaller and he the stronger of the two.

Robert returned to Apulia once more after a year away, crossing the Adriatic with two ships, [525] and entrusting his men to his eldest son, called Bohemond, and Brienne[7]. Learning that Cannae had rebelled against him the duke besieged it, [530] and after its capture he raised it to the ground. Herman[8] had ruled this town. He was born of the same mother as Abelard, son of Humphrey[9], but they did not however share the same father. Both brothers were distinguished soldiers, but they both yielded to the power of Robert, [535] to whom scarcely anyone in the world was equal.

After the destruction of Cannae, he set out for Rome against Henry, the enemy of Gregory, the Roman pontiff. Henry had been besieging the city for some two years with a great crowd of barbarians. He had breached the high walls with his stonethrowers [540] and destroyed many of the undaunted city’s towers. The Trastevere district had already surrendered to him, and Gregory was trapped in a citadel[10] that was however well-protected. Indeed so excellently was it constructed that it was impregnable, [545] and the pope had provided it with a faithful garrison.[11]

When King Henry learned of the great army [550] with which Robert was preparing to march against him, he fled, terrified of the duke’s bravery and power, already renowned throughout the world[12]. Fearing to wait for him he retreated to safety. Robert hastened to Rome and stormed the walls of that famous city, with the aid of just a few of Gregory’s partisans. [555] He fired some of the buildings, violently freed the pope who had been under siege for so long, and brought him most honourably back with him to Salerno. After the duke’s departure [560] the greedy citizens yielded once again to Henry. He had given to them as pope Guibert of Ravenna[13], a man who had wickedly risen up against the Holy Father and dared to seize the Apostolic See, being known by the mob as Clement. Returning to Salerno[14] from the city of Romulus the duke dismissed his troops. Never had he possessed an army such as this for [565] he had led to Rome six thousand knights and thirty thousand infantry. So it was that he defeated at one and the same time the world’s two greatest rulers, the German king and mighty ruler of the Roman Empire.[15] [570] The latter had rushed to battle and there had been conquered, the other had been overcome merely by fear of his [Guiscard’s] reputation.


[1] The Doge of Venice was also Domenico Silvio.

[2] The son of the Doge was defeated by Guiscard in the naval engagement off Corfu in 1085.

[3] Petra is today Shkamm or Sasso Bianco.

[4] According to Malaterra [Book III], Guiscard promised Domenico the daughter of his brother William of the Principate.

[5] The resistance by the citizensh of Durazzo lasted three days according to Malaterra after which they surrendered.

[6] A conspiracy developed in the two towns in the absence of Guiscard, an action possible provocked by the intrigues of Alexius. He had written to Herman de Cannae in June 1081 encouraging him to rebel against Guiscard.

[7] The constable Brienne.

[8] Herman de Cannae, brother of Abelard and nephew of Guiscard. He had been a hostage in Constantinople in 1064, rebelled in 1073 with Peter de Trani and freed from captivity at the beginning of 1076. He later seems to have been reconciled with Guiscard’s sons and accompanied Bohemond on the First Crusade.

[9] Humphrey de Hauteville had married the sister of the duke of Sorrento.

[10] The Castel San Angelo.

[11] Gregory had been besieged in Rome since October 1081 and had long called for Robert’s assistance. In 1083, Henry had occupied the Transtevere district and the pope was shut up in the Castel San Angelo.

[12] On 21st May 1084, Henry IV, told by Desiderius of Montecassino of the imminent arrival of Guiscard, left Rome. Guiscard freed Gregory and burned the city from the Lateran to the Castel San Angelo. Cowdrey, H. E. J., The Age of Abbot Desiderius: Montecassino, the Papacy and the Normans in the Eleventh and Early Twelfth Centuries, (Oxford University Press), 1983 is the best study of Desiderius. The chief source is the Chronicon Cassinense, in Mon. Germ. Hist.: Script., vol. VII, reprinted in Patrologia Latina, vol. 173; some autobiographical details can be found in his own Dialogues in Patrologia Latina, vol. 149. Ibid, Mann, H. R., The Lives of the Popes, vol. vii, pp. 218-244 remains useful.

[13] Born c.1025 of noble birth in Parma in Lombardy, Guibert served at the German court (c. 1054-1055) and became imperial chancellor for Italy (1058-1063). As such he supported the election of Bishop Peter Cadalus of Parma as antipope Honorius II (1061). His appointment by Henry IV of Germany as archbishop of Ravenna was confirmed by Pope Alexander II (1073), but he later clashed with Alexander’s successor, Gregory VII. When Guibert became the Italian leader of the imperialist faction opposing the Gregorian reform, Gregory excommunicated him. He was elected antipope on June 25th 1080, by a synod called by Henry at Brixen, which declared Gregory deposed. He was enthroned when Henry finally seized Rome (March 24th 1084), and on March 31st he crowned Henry emperor. Clement remained antipope throughout the succeeding pontificates of Victor III and Urban II and died September 8th 1100.

[14] Guiscard and Gregory arrived back in Salerno at the end of June 1084.

[15] This double victory over Alexius Comnenus and Henry IV became legendary in the literature of the eleventh and twelfth centuries.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

The Deeds of Robert Guiscard: Book IV, lines 325-449

[325] In addition he ordered Basil Mesopotamites to lead the advance guard of two thousand picked cavalrymen to reconnoitre Duke Robert’s camp. Mesopotamites was a battle-hardened veteran, and carried out the orders he had been given. He was close to the city of Butrinto[1] when it was rumoured that the duke’s cavalry were riding nearby, [330] bearing with them a lot of baggage. Although a large number had already been wounded by arrows from the Turks whom Basil commanded, all resolved rather to die in battle than to retreat in cowardly fashion from the Greeks. [335] Drawing up their ranks as best they could, they turned towards their enemies. The Turks were terrified by the sight of their enemies turning on them, resisting fiercely and striking hard. They fled, and Basil was unable to prevent this. He himself was captured as he fled. The Norman forces hastened to bring their prisoner to the duke. [340] Robert questioned him thoroughly, about what Alexius planned against him and wanted to accomplish, and how many troops he was bringing up for battle.[2] Learning that the enemy’s arrival was imminent and that Alexius would attack him with very substantial forces, [345] the duke summoned all his leading men, told them everything he had learned and discussed with them what should be done. The most warlike of them wanted to launch an audacious sortie from the camp and make a resolute assault on the advancing enemy, to terrify them by this attack. [350] The duke replied that it would be better not to go too far from the camp until the imperial forces were seen to be close, and declared that it was vain to seek to triumph through a stratagem when there could be no victory except through [the favour of] heaven. [355] Although he knew the bravery of his soldiers, he wanted no rash undertakings. Not only had he been told of the vast numbers of the enemy but he knew nothing of the sort of men they were. [360] So he sensibly counselled his people to be cautious, and prepared for every possible eventually. He did not want to wait for the enemy troops very far from Durazzo.[3]

The latter suddenly arrived, covering the hills and plains like locusts. The sun was already sinking down to the sea, and so neither side wanted to start the battle then. [365] They abandoned themselves to sleep. Alexius ordered the people of Durazzo to attack the enemy in the rear, that they might be safe neither in the front nor behind. [370] At daybreak the the duke prudently burned his camp, to prevent anybody attacking it once he had marched out. He was the first to lead his troops out to battle. Alexius moved out a great many units and attacked him. The Calabrians and Lombards were terrified [375] and almost all the sailors the duke commanded took flight. Even the duke’s knights were scared by the first attack of the enemy crashing down upon them. After crossing the river they came heedlessly into an area where space was very restricted. (The duke had had the bridge demolished to prevent anyone from the town making a sortie against him or anybody entering the town). [380] The narrowness of this area hindered his men’s advance, and a furious cloud of missiles covered them from every side - it was said that nobody had ever seen a greater storm of arrows. Since there was no place of safety, for they could neither fight nor retreat, they tried to deploy, and threw themselves into the sea [385] because the press was such that the Normans were getting in the way of their own men and hindering them just as much as the enemy was. So perilous a position seemed to panic the Normans.[4] Thinking them to be vanquished and retiring, and with the Venetian fleet cruising nearby and hoping to capture the defeated, [390] the imperial army, eager for booty, started looting. They captured the horses and other baggage which the duke’s army had abandoned when they had rushed out to fight.

[395] Meanwhile a crowd [of Normans] managed to wade out of the sea and rejoined the duke who had, being in the lead, been among the first to escape from this very dangerous spot, albeit with considerable difficulty. The original deployment which he had laid down for his troops had disintegrated, for the appalling constriction of the field had changed everything. [400] But the duke rejoiced that his men were present and he promptly gave them a few words of encouragement, telling them that they would find safety only in their weapons, and threatening them that if they turned their backs on the Greeks they would all be slaughtered like sheep. [405] He told them that a prisoner’s life was just the same as death. With these exhortations he fired his men’s courage. Even though he saw the vast numbers of Alexius’s army coming [towards him], he trusted in the banner[5] given him by the pope in honour of Peter, the prince of shepherds, and in the merits of St. Matthew, [410] for whom he had built a church. He charged boldly on the enemy and engaged in a ferocious battle not far from the besieged city. Alexius was defeated and his men turned tail, for more than five thousand of the Greeks were killed in this engagement. [415] A huge number of Turks perished with the Greeks. All sorts of splendid arms, horses and standards were captured from the Greeks. Barely thirty knights from the duke’s army were reckoned to have been killed. [420] Alexius wept to have been defeated by an enemy inferior both in numbers and in wealth. He himself was wounded and retired. The man who had vainly hoped to celebrate a spectacular triumph was forced instead to make a tearful and inglorious return.

[425] During this battle Robert’s wife had been wounded by a chance arrow. Terrified by her wound, and with no hope of assistance, she had very nearly fallen to the enemy and, afraid that she was in imminent danger of death, had wanted to embark on one of the ships. [430] But God, who did not want to embarrass so noble and worthy a lady, had rescued her. Constantine[6], who had previously been stripped of his royal rank, died in this battle. He was buried with the proper ceremony. The Greeks lost many of the leading men of Durazzo, [435] whose bodies lay unburied and rotted on the battlefield.

The duke was careful not to remain very long in Alexius’s camp because of the stench of corpses there. The faithful Venetians garrisoned Durazzo on the emperor’s orders. [440] The duke moved away from the city and came to a river, called the Di(e)valis. There he built a castle and established the men with him in a number of different places where they could remain in shelter during the winter frosts. The Venetians inflicted all sorts of punishments on those who had crossed with the duke but then deserted [445] rather than following him into battle. These they condemned to servitude; some they sent back home where they were cast into prison, others they handed over to the Greeks.


[1] Butrinto was the first place taken by Bohemond and Guiscard’s major base.

[2] This incident is only told by William of Apulia.

[3] Alexius wanted to attack immediately when he arrived in October, against the advice of Palaeologus and other officers. Guiscard, through spies, knew Alexius was coming and moved his army away from the city to prepare for battle; he attempted to negotiate with Alexius, but it was a stalling tactic only, as he demanded impossible terms which Alexius would never agree to: Anna Comnena does not elaborate on the details. He divided his army into three, with himself commanding the centre, his son Bohemond on the left and Count Amicus of Giovinazzo on the right. Alexius did the same, personally commanding his centre (where the Varangians were positioned), with Gregory Pacurianus on the left and Nicephorus Melissenus on the right. On October 18th 1081, as Alexius marched forward, a contingent of archers was placed behind the Varangians, who occasionally moved away, allowing the archers to shoot at the Normans, and then closed back in to protect them. Guiscard tried to dislodge the Varangians with a cavalry charge, but they were repulsed by the archers. Count Ami then charged both the centre and left wings; the Varangians held their position, and Pacurianius charged forward and defeated the attack. Ami’s troops fled in panic towards the sea, pursued by the Varangians, until they were gathered up and rallied by Guiscard’s wife Sichelgaita, whom Anna describes as a second Athena. In the heat of battle, the Varangians had forgotten one of the most important Byzantine military tactics - never to pursue fleeing troops, as the pursuers will then be cut off and vulnerable to a separate attack. This is indeed what happened. Guiscard sent his infantry against the Varangians, who, now tired after their pursuit, had heavy casualties inflicted upon them. The survivors hid in a church, which the infantry set on fire, killing everyone. Although both sides had lost a whole flank, Guiscard still had his heavy cavalry in reserve, and now sent it against Alexius’ centre. The Turkish and Bogomil mercenaries deserted, and Alexius was forced to flee and barely escaped with his life, as Amicetas himself pursued and attacked him. Although he successfully fought off Amicus, Alexius was pursued further by Norman spearmen; according to Anna Comnena only divine intervention saved him (Anna then apologises to her readers that she has devoted so much space to the suffering of her father). He lost about 5,000 men, including Constantine, the son of the former emperor Constantine X and the Normans captured his camp and its riches. Norman casualties are unknown, although they claimed to have lost only thirty men, which is surely impossible. This was a serious defeat for Alexius. The former Byzantine heartland in Anatolia had recently been overrun after the Battle of Manzikert in 1071, and now the Balkans were on the verge of being lost as well. Guiscard captured Durazzo and over the next few months took most of northern Greece as well. Alexius negotiated with Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV to attack Norman allies in Italy, but while Guiscard returned home to deal with this, Bohemund defeated Alexius twice more. It was not until 1083 that Alexius forced the Normans out of the Balkans.

[4] It is Sichelgaita who rallied the retreating Normans.

[5] This refers to the ‘vexillum Sancti Petri’ that Guiscard had received from Gregory VII ar Ceprano signifying his investiture.

[6] Constantine Ducas, brother of Michael VII.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

The Deeds of Robert Guiscard: Book IV, lines 185-324

[185] Meanwhile his wife and the counts who had been summoned arrived. With a great crowd looking on, Robert called his fine son Roger[1] and, in the sight of all, designated him as his heir and placed him in charge of all over whom he ruled. He was a most worthy heir of his great father, showing the good qualities of both his father and of his uncles. [190] His character was such that from an early age he had shown his love of virtue. The duke gave Roger full authority [ius proprium] over the whole of Italy: everywhere in Apulia, as well as Calabria and Sicily. [195] He entrusted him to Count Robert[2] and to Gerard[3], the former was his brother’s son, the latter his most faithful friend; both were lovers of virtue and honour. He requested them not to deny the pope what aid for him that they were able to provide. [200] He himself was in haste to undertake the expedition which had been prepared. He crossed the Adriatic with fifty ships[4]. The island of Corfu trembled at the arrival of this great prince accompanied by his picked troops. The men who had gone before him had taken the town of Butrinto, he himself received the surrender of Corfu, [205] a city strongly furnished with both natural and man-made defences. Hostages were given and the whole island paid tribute. His sailors stormed Vonitza and plundered it.

[210] The duke placed Bohemond, his other son, born of his first wife, a knight of great bravery, in command of the force of cavalry and infantry which he had brought with him. [5] He ordered all his men to obey the latter’s orders. They besieged Durazzo[6], the father on one side and the son on the other, seeking to overcome it by siege from land and sea.[7] [215] George[8] had often urged the duke to come there, because he had heard that Nicephorus, who had entrusted the town to him, had been dethroned. But during the summer the duke’s journey was interrupted by shipwreck[9], [220] and the ship in which he was travelling was holed all over by the stormy seas. It was only with difficulty that he survived. The bread carried for the men’s sustenance was ruined, soaked by the water and crumbled to pieces, and the corpses washed up by the sea lay rotting on the shore.

[225] The duke was depressed at being unable to accomplish the journey which he had undertaken, but with the sea and sky still wracked by storms there was a long delay [during which] Paleologus led many Greeks to Durazzo, from which George was expelled through a stratagem. Alexius rejoiced to have his enemy sent to him.[10] [230] The duke was however reluctant to abandon his enterprise now he knew that the moment had come. The island of Corfu had already surrendered. After capturing Valona and other towns along the coast, he laid siege to Durazzo [even though] he knew this to be well-fortified. [235] This was a city which had once been very wealthy, and was surrounded by walls made principally of brick. Pyrros, the king of the Epirots, had ordered this to be called Epidamnos. He did not hesitate to wage a fierce war against the citizens of Rome [Quirites] in alliance with the people of Taranto. The city then suffered from a number of conflicts and other disasters and was deprived of inhabitants and reduced to nothing. [240] Later Zetus and Amphion rebuilt the destroyed city on a reduced scale and ordered it to be called Durazzo. The duke invested it on all sides. The citizens of the besieged town were very much afraid, [245] but they posted sentries, placed reliable guards throughout the city and notified the emperor that the duke had laid siege to it, sending envoys to request his help. The duke strove with all his might to storm the city. He had a very ingenious wooden tower constructed, [250] on which he had a huge catapult placed, which hurled great rocks to batter down the city walls. Seeing his camp growing ever larger, everything round about being plundered and vast booty being brought in, as well as houses being built to ward off the winter’s cold, [255] the citizens began perforce to abandon the vain hope with which they had been deceiving themselves, that their enemy would retire. They realised that the duke would stay and not willingly withdraw until he had forced their town to submit to him as he had made others surrender to him. They sent envoys to him who asked why he had come there. [260] The duke replied that he had come to restore Michael to the throne from which he had been so unjustly driven. They promised that they would not deny him the entry to the city which he sought if they might see Michael. [265] The man who pretended to be Michael was brought out, crowned as emperor, to the sound of horns, trumpets and lyres, surrounded on every side by chanting crowds. But when they saw him all the citizens burst out laughing, and mocked him saying, [270] ‘this man used to wait on tables with jugs of wine - he was one of the butlers, of the lowest rank!’

When Alexius learned that Robert had seized his towns, and fearing that he would also capture Durazzo, he prepared to march against the duke with a big army. [275] He summoned a people to whom he was allied, to fight against him [Guiscard] and engage [his forces] in combat on the sea. [11] These people were brave and well-versed in naval warfare, for the imperial request was sent to Venice, a coastal city both rich and populous, which is washed by the last northern waves of the Adriatic. [280] These peoples’ walls are entirely surrounded by sea; they cannot move from one house to another without going by boat. They live always on the water [285] and no person surpasses them in naval battles and in navigation at sea.

Alexius urged them to bring help to the besieged citizens and send their ships to fight with those of the duke, so that by defeating his enemies at sea and thus weakening the duke’s forces they would make it easier for him to fight a land battle. [290] They obeyed the emperor’s instructions and hastened to attack the duke’s fleet with their ships. However evening was approaching. The duke’s ships sailed out, but since night was falling [295] the two sides avoided combat. Next morning, as dawn dispersed the shadows, both fleets prepared for battle. The Venetians, who were much more experienced in this sort of warfare, attacked impetuously. The duke’s fleet was terrified and fled back to port. The battle thus ended. [300] Three days running the Venetians attacked the harbour at daybreak and challenged Robert’s ships to battle. The men from Ragusa and Dalmatia who accompanied the duke covered the sea with flights of arrows, [305] but did not dare to take their ships very far from the harbour.[12] The port was protected by the nearby camps.[13] The Venetians cut the cables of some ships and dragged them away from the shore, but this did not affect the duke’s undaunted courage. He thought of another plan [310] and decided to make more effective preparations for battle than hitherto, by bringing other ships here of greater size that would be able to inflict greater damage [on the enemy].

Alexius rejoiced when he heard of the exploits of the victorious fleet.[14] The islands which had previously paid tribute to Robert rose in fierce revolt when they heard of the damage which his ships had suffered, and acclaimed the emperor. [315] At the emperor’s orders all the river crossings and mountain passes were guarded to prevent the enemy being forewarned of the coming danger and taking steps to meet the attack.[320] Alexius hoped thus to surprise his enemy and to defeat the invincible duke by an unexpected offensive. He brought a vast number of troops with him, for he was accompanied by a huge force of barbarians as well as Greeks.[15]


[1] Anna Comnena said that Guiscard gave his authority to his son Roger Borsa at Otranto but that he later changed his mind and Roger accompanied him.

[2] Robert de Loritello, son of count Geoffrey de Capitinate, Guiscard’s brother. In February 1081, Gregory VII had asked Guiscard to stop the attacks by his nephew on the lands of St Peter. Robert was an important figure in northern and central Apulia and the Abruzzi and his lands extended from Bovino to Ascoli.

[3] Ibid, Chalandon, F., Histoire de la domination normande en Italie et en Sicile, vol. I, p. 268 identifies him as Gerald de Buonalbergo. However, he may be the Gerald who fought with Guiscard at Civitate [Book II: 218].

[4] Anna Comnena alone argues that Guiscard went from Otranto to Brindisi from where he left for Durazzo. She said that he decided against the crossing from Otranto to Nicopolis because it was the beginning of winter. Guiscard landed at Valona already captured by Bohemond who he rejoined at Butrinto.

[5] Yewdale, R. B., Bohemond I, Prince of Antioch, (Princeton University Press), 1924 remains essential on Bohemond though it should be supplemented by Cardini, F., Lozito, N. and Vetere, B., (eds.), Boemondo. Storia di un principe normanno, Bari, 2003 and Flori, Jean, Bohémond d’Antioch: Chevalier d’Aventure, (Payot), 2007, pp. 19-38.

[6] Durrës (Italian Durazzo) is today a city and seaport in western Albania, administrative centre of Durrës District, on the Adriatic Sea near Tirana. The city is in a fertile region in which corn, grain, sugar beet, and tobacco are grown, and livestock is raised. An important commercial and communications centre serving central Albania, the city has a power plant, a dockyard, and factories producing bricks, cigarettes, leather goods, and soap. Exports include grain, hides, minerals, and tobacco. The city is linked by rail with Tirana and Elbasan. Durrës is the seat of a Greek Orthodox metropolitan (archbishop) and, since the 5th century, of a Roman Catholic archbishop. There are remains of Byzantine and Venetian fortifications outside the city. Durrës was founded (c. 625 BC) as Epidamnus by the Corcyreans, who were the ancient inhabitants of the island of Corfu and by the Corinthians from the Greek city of Corinth. The Romans seized the city in the 3rd century BC and changed the name to Dyrrhachium. Durrës was under Byzantine rule in the 8th century AD; Venice took Durrës in the 14th century but in 1501 the Ottoman Turks captured the city and held it for 412 years. In World War I, Durrës was occupied by the Italians but in 1916 the city was taken by the Austrians, subjected to Allied naval and air attacks, and later reoccupied by the Italians. In 1939, Italian troops used Durrës as a disembarkation point for the invasion of Albania. During an Italian invasion of Greece in World War II, the city suffered heavy damage.

[7] In June 1081, Guiscard marched on Durazzo, the regional capital, and lay siege to it; its inhabitants, however, were not impressed by the false Michael. The city, which lay on a peninsula jutting out into the Adriatic Sea, was well-prepared for a siege from both land and sea. The Venetians sent a fleet to help Alexius and blockaded Guiscard’s ships in the harbour; Guiscard sent his son Bohemund to deal with them, and when they refused to acknowledge the false Michael, instead insulting Bohemund, he attacked them. His ships were destroyed in a brief naval battle, while at the same time, the garrison of Durazzo, led by George Palaeologus, defeated the Normans outside the city and destroyed their siege tower. Soon afterwards the Norman army was afflicted with disease, which, according to Anna Comnena, may have killed up to 10,000 men. Nevertheless, Guiscard continued the siege and Alexius marched out from Constantinople to meet him. According to Anna Comnena, Guiscard had 30,000 men with him, and Alexius had somewhat less than that, perhaps about 20,000 - the Thracian and Macedonian tagmata, the elite excubita and vestiaritae units, a force of so-called Manichaeans (Bogomil heretics organised into military units), Thessalian cavalry, Turkish and Frankish mercenaries (the Turks commanded by the eunuch general Taticius), Balkan conscripts, Armenian infantry, some of the Varangians, and other light troops. While Alexius was marching, Palaeologus destroyed another of Guiscard’s siege towers.

[8] George Monomachatos was appointed duke of Illyrica in 1078 by Nicephorus Botaniates but did not directly support Alexius in his revolt in 1081. Anna Comnena accused him of having negotiated with Guiscard.

[9] This probably occurred at Cape Glossa to the south of Durazzo.

[10] Anna Comnena said that George Monomachatos sought refuge with Constantine Bodin, prince of Serbia but he returned to Constantinople when Alexius agreed to an armistice.

[11] Alexius had written letters the doge of Venice in which he asked, in exchange for privileges that they send their fleet to Durazzo to protect the town and to fight against Guiscard’s fleet.

[12] Malaterra [Book III] said that the Normans were attacked by surprise and refused to fight. The Venetians then occupied Durazzo in the course of the night battle and then pursued the Normans back as far as Guiscard’s fortified camp.

[13] Guiscard’s camp was situated between the lagoons and the walls of the town.

[14] According to Anna Comnena, the Venetian ambassadors informed Alexius of their victory and the chrysobulle of 1082 confirmed their privileges because of their exploits at Durazzo.

[15] Alexius left Constantinople in August 1081 with an army of between 70,000 and 170,000 that included Varengians, Normans, Turks, Macedonians and Manicheans.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

The Deeds of Robert Guiscard: Book IV, lines 73-184

The duke’s heart was much grieved by the outrage done to his son-in-law and daughter who had been driven from the imperial throne[1]. [75] Many felt this to be a grave injury done to the duke, and he wished to take vengeance for it. An old man called Nicephorus[2] had undertaken the reins of government. He was ignorant of war, and although cunning, ingenious and watchful for hidden dangers, he was cowardly and more fearful than to be feared. [80] He was supported by the commander-in-chief Alexius, a mighty warrior and a man of great astuteness, distinguished both by his courage and by his illustrious ancestry. He had from the first flower of his youth [85] passed most of his life under arms, and never failed to undertake any enterprise, however difficult, if the holy empire ordered. This general had defeated the empire’s enemies Basiliakos and Bryennius[3], illustrious Greeks distinguished by their courage and wealth, over both of whom he had been victorious. [90] Bryennios had fought a pitched battle with him not far from the city [Constantinople], and been defeated and captured. Basiliakos had been defeated by a trick of Alexius. As the two advanced to meet in battle, they pitched camp late in the day very close to each other. [95] That night the cunning Alexius simulated flight. He abandoned his camp, but without taking all his baggage and leaving some of the tents standing. [100] Next morning the abandoned baggage and tents, and some horses left behind, made it seem that he was in flight. Seeing nobody arrayed for battle against him and the camp unpeopled, [105] Basiliakos sent out his men to scout around and report back to him if they found any noise from horses or men. But no voices from troops talking, no sound or neighing of horses could be heard.[110] Basiliakos thought that everything was safe and believed that his enemy had been terrified by his forces and fled. He dined and fell into a drunken sleep, and his whole army lay quietly in their camp. Alexius arrived secretly and fell upon his enemies who were terror-stricken. [115] Since they were [also] hindered by the darkness of the night, nowhere appeared safe to them and they had no hope of flight. They were captured and killed. Sleep and over-indulgence in wine made them slothful, and they were unable either to run away or stand to arms. Basiliakos was blinded and sent to you, Nicephorus, against whose rule he had dared to rebel, to see him who was now unable to see. [120] So Alexius was, through his energy and cunning, victorious over the empire’s many enemies either through force of arms or by trickery.

Wishing to cross the sea, the duke instructed weapons to be made ready and ordered his soldiers to muster at Otranto.[4] [125] He had ships built, while he himself stayed at Salerno, levying contributions everywhere and unceasingly sending on recruits. He requested his trusted troops to come with him on the ships that had been prepared. It seemed to many that this expedition was an unfair and burdensome matter, and in particular those who had wives and much-loved children at home were reluctant to fight such a war. [130] But the duke reinforced his gentle persuasions with threats and compelled many to go. All mustered as he ordered at Otranto. The duke chose transport vessels from Dalmatia[5], which the people there had, on his request, sent to assist him. [135] He filled these with arms, horses, supplies and men, and despatched them to Corfu, an island not far from the city of Otranto. The journey was speedy thanks to favourable winds. The duke’s knights disembarked on the island [140] and made a ferocious attack, striking fear into all who lived there.[6]

At the same time the old man[7] mentioned earlier was driven from the imperial throne. The gallant Alexius, who had so strengthened the empire and secured so many victories over its enemies, [145] drove him out, furious over the injury which had been done to his brother.[8] Accompanied by all the imperial forces and finding the City ungarrisoned, he had an easy task in overcoming the old man who was forced to become a monk. [150] For three days the general allowed the invaders to plunder the City. The fierce Persians[9] dared to violate holy places with their impious hands (Alexius had brought them to the City that he might be the more feared). Once he had seized the government of the empire by force of arms, this sophisticated soldier showed [155] no little honour to Robert’s daughter, for he had heard that the duke wanted to come there and he strove to pacify him and to turn his mind away from such schemes. But the duke was sternly resolved and refused to abandon his plan.

[160] He remained for some time at Otranto awaiting the arrival of his wife and of many of the counts whom he expected to accompany him on the forthcoming expedition. An imposter claiming to be Michael had arrived claiming to have been unjustly deprived of the imperial power and tearfully lamenting his flight[10] [165] The duke received the wretched man and treated him honourably, showing him favour and kindly respect. The credulous populace rushed to him and bowed to him in greeting. [170] The duke welcomed this associate and took him with him when he set off, the better to justify his expedition.

A little while before his crossing he received messages from that king whom the pope had declared deprived of his kingdom, requesting him to assist him against the pope and those proud citizens [175] who had unreasonably rebelled against him (for the king had at this time come to besiege Rome)[11]. Although the duke gave a kindly and favourable reply, the envoys returned without any concrete result. He made known to Pope Gregory, whose sincere supporter [180] he was, all the messages of the excommunicated king. He assured him that he would never have set this expedition in motion if he had foreseen the enemy’s attack, but he said that since the preparations were now so far advanced it would be impossible to abandon the enterprise.


[1] An alliance with Guiscard, both matrimonially and politically, was sought after, as much by the German Emperor as the Byzantine emperor. Emperor Michael VII had suggested a military alliance and the marriage of the Emperor’s brother to Guiscard’s daughter Helen and also bestowed high Byzantine honours on Guiscard’s family. Taking advantage of a period of political anarchy and troubles in Byzantium, which had lasted since 1076, Guiscard, ostensibly seeking to restore Michael VII, who had been overthrown in favour of Nicephorous Botaniates in 1078, and with his daughter confined to a convent, decided to attack Byzantium. To guarantee Apulia against attack from the new rulers of Byzantium, Robert wanted the territories on the Adriatic coast of the Balkan Peninsula, and he began to build a large navy.

[2] Nicephorus III Botaniates, who was in his sixties was Byzantine emperor from 1078 to 1081 and belonged to a family which claimed descent from the Roman Fabii; he rose to be commander of the troops in Asia. In 1078, he revolted against Michael VII, and with the connivance of the Seljuk Turks marched upon Nicaea, where he made himself emperor. In the face of another rebellious general, Nicephorus Bryennius, his election was ratified by the aristocracy and clergy. With the help of Alexius Comnenus, he drove Bryennius and other rivals out of the field, but failed to clear the invading Turks out of Asia Minor. Nicephorus ultimately quarreled with Alexius, who used his influence with the army to depose the emperor and banish him to a monastery. In the years of his reign Nicephorus had entirely given himself over to debauchery.

[3] Basiliakos and Bryennius, successively dukes of Dyrrachion were both pretenders to the throne. Alexis defeated and took Nicephorus Bryennius prisoner in Thrace. After his defeat, Basiliakos took refuge in Thessalonica but he was delivered by its citizens to Nicephorus Botiantes who had him blinded.

[4] Crisis within the Byzantine Empire in the late 1070s enabled Robert Guiscard to undertake an audacious enterprise against a weakened state. In 1081 he, assisted by his son Bohemond crossed the Adriatic Sea with a considerable navy and invaded mainland Greece. The first campaign in 1081-1082 saw a series of victories on the Dalmatian coast and in Macedonia. The Norman leaders benefited from papal support for their success at Durazzo in 1081 whereas at Hastings in 1066 they had the papal banner: William I received his from Pope Alexander II and Robert Guiscard from Pope Gregory VII. Initially, he had some success but a combination of Norman revolts in Apulia and Alexius Comnenus becoming emperor in 1081 compelled him to return to Italy to reassert his authority in April 1082.

[5] The Ragusians and Dalmatians who played an important role in the naval fighting at Durazzo were subjects of King Demetr Zvonimir, king of Croatia and Dalmatia. Whether there was a formal alliance between Demetr Zvonimir and Guiscard is a matter of some debate though Croatian historians maintain that there was. The inhabitants of Ragusa sent two galleys and those of Spalato one.

[6] Malaterra stated that a vanguard of fifteen ships landed on Corfu while Bohemond took Valona, Iericho and Kanina.

[7] Nicephorus Botaniates was dethroned by Alexius Comnenus in April 1081.

[8] Constantine Ducas, son of Michael VII and Mary of Alanie, the adoptive mother of Alexius Comnenus who Nicephorus Botiantes had disinherited. Alexius was the lover of the Empress Maria Bagrationi, a daughter of king Bagrat IV of Georgia who was successively married to Michael VII Ducas and his successor Botaniates and was renowned for her beauty. Alexius and Maria lived almost openly together at the Palace of Mangana, and Alexius had Michael VII and Maria’s young son, the prince Constantine Ducas, adopted and proclaimed heir to the throne. The affair conferred to Alexius a degree of dynastic legitimacy, but soon his mother Anna Dalassena consolidated the Ducas family connection by arranging the Emperor’s wedding with Irene Ducaena or Doukaina, granddaughter of the caesar John Ducas, head of a powerful family and the ‘kingmaker’ behind Michael VII. Alexius’ involvement with Maria continued and shortly after his daughter Anna Comnena was born, she was betrothed to Constantine Ducas and moved to live at the Mangana Palace with him and Maria. The situation however changed drastically when John II Comnenus was born: Anna’s engagement to Constantine was dissolved, she was moved to the main Palace to live with her mother and grandmother, Constantine’s status as heir was terminated and Alexius became estranged with Maria, now stripped of her imperial title. Shortly afterwards, the teenager Constantine died and Maria was confined to a convent.

[9] These were the Turkish mercenaries in the army of Alexius Comnenus.

[10] Gregory VII announced the arrival of Michael VII to Italy to the bishops of Apulia and Calabria on 25th July 1080 who sought the support of the Holy See and the Normans to restore him to the imperial throne. Most of the contemporary sources recognised him as an imposter though the Lupus Protospatharius and the Annals of Bari saw him as emperor. Anna Comnena recounts two stories about him: either that he was a monk named Rector who passed himself off as Michael or that Guiscard set up an imposter to justify his war.

[11] Henry IV began his siege of Rome on 21st May 1081. Interestingly, Guiscard’s response to the imperial embassy was oral but he wrote to Gregory VII.

Friday, 1 January 2010

The Deeds of Robert Guiscard: Book IV, lines 1-72

At this time Michael was cast down from his throne and became a monk.[1] He was the man who had treated the innocent Romanus so cruelly and unworthily. His brother, who was associated with him, was also driven out. [5] Robert’s daughter lamented the downfall of her spouse. This wretched man was forced into exile.

After making the towns and castra everywhere subject to him, the duke left Apulia and started to travel to Salerno. Raymond, the distinguished count who ruled over Barcelona, came to the city from Spain, seeking a daughter of the duke in marriage. [10] He was given the eldest of these. Another married a distinguished and well-born count of the French called Ebles, a man who never knew defeat by the enemy. Experienced in leading troops to battle, [15] he was also eloquent, as skilful with his tongue as with his hand.[2]

At this time Pope Gregory came to Benevento, a city that was subject to the jurisdiction of the Roman pope. The pope had taken offence because the duke had besieged the city.[3] [20] Robert hurried to the town to seek the pope’s pardon for his offence.[4] He was received (such a mighty man seemed worthy of this honour) and as a suppliant kissed the pope’s feet as he sat in judgement. They discussed matters for a long time, out of the hearing of everyone else present [25] and then the pope summoned his fideles and revealed what had been secretly discussed. A Gospel book was brought, and the duke swore to the pope that while life was left him he would observe his oath of eternal fealty to the Holy Church [30] to which all the world is subject.[5] It was said that the pope had promised him the crown of the Roman kingdom[6], since King Henry[7] had been damned by him because of the numerous sins he had committed, for he was not afraid to sell holy churches, [35] following the perverse doctrine of Simon, and he would only confer the episcopal dignity on those who had brought him large presents[8]. He had also dared to indulge in wicked incest and adultery. He led a life of [40] iniquity, sacrilege and debauchery, shunning the society of decent men, but choosing always the company of the wicked. The virtuous pope Gregory hated these vices and judged him deposed from his kingship.[9] [45] He ordered the Saxons not to obey the king further, but rather to resist him with all their might, and he sent instructions to Dukes Welf and Rudolf[10] telling them to fight Henry on behalf of [Saints] Peter and Paul, against whom another Simon had arisen. It was believed that he granted the crown to Rudolf. [50] The latter, joined by the Saxons and with a large army, declared war on the venerable pope’s enemy. Many of the people remained faithful to the damned king, remembering his hereditary right and reluctant to install anyone else as heir to the kingdom. [55] There was a great battle between the two. This race is a stern one and unwilling to give ground, [and so] mighty blows were exchanged, Lotharingarians on one side and Saxons on the other, both attacking fiercely and rendering wound for wound, standing their ground and striving to resist the other. They claim that thirty thousand men were slain here. But although neither people were defeated, both sides retired exhausted and [60] Rudolf was killed. After he had heard of Rudolf’s death, Henry rejoiced as though he had won a victory. He strove to attack the pope whom he knew to have deposed him from his kingship, and [65] marched with a huge army to besiege Rome. Learning of this, the wise pope sought aid from the duke, [asking] that the latter take up arms to assist him and destroy the forces of his enemy.[11]

After concluding their treaty of perpetual peace at Benevento, [70] Gregory had returned to Rome and the duke to Salerno. He constructed a church[12] of marvellous beauty for you, Matthew, in this city, and for himself built a magnificent palace.


[1] Michael VII was deposed by Nicephorus Bontiates in March 1078. William of Apulia does not identify the fiancé of Helena with any precision. In Book III [503-4], he stated the betrothal was with the son of Michael VII though here it can be argued that he implied the betrothal was with Michael’s brother. Michael’s son Constantine Ducas was later betrothed to Anna Comnena but died in his teens.

[2] Raymond Berenger II of Barcelona married Mathilda and Ebles II, count of Roucy married Sybille. Anna Comnena stated that the double marriage took place in Salerno after the arrival of the pseudo-Michael and around of time of the interview of Guiscard with Gregory VII. This would place them in the summer of 1080.

[3] Guiscard besieged Benevento from 18th December 1077 to April 1078. Gregory VII excommunicated him in May 1078.

[4] The repeated excommunications of Guiscard by Pope Gregory VII, in 1074, 1075 and in 1078, after Robert’s attempt to seize the principality of Benevento, led to a sudden deterioration in the relations between the Normans and the papacy. During the investiture quarrels, the Pope, in serious conflict with Emperor Henry IV, who himself had been excommunicated, could not manage without Norman support. Thus in 1080, in Ceprano, Robert Guiscard, whom the Pope had called ‘a small humble Norman’, a few years earlier, solemnly swore allegiance to the Papal power, who would soon call for his help against the invading German emperor in Rome.

[5] The formal investiture by the Pope took place on 6th June 1080: Guiscard was invested with all his conquests apart from Salerno, Amalfi and the lands of St Peter. Gregory VII’s sermon of idelity followed on 29th June.

[6] Peter Crassus stated in a document written between 1080 and 1084 in defence of Henry IV that Gregory had promised the kingdom though not the empire to Guiscard.

[7] In Milan a popular party, the Patarines, dedicated to reforming the city’s corrupt higher clergy, elected its own archbishop, who was recognised by the Pope. When Henry countered by having his own nominee consecrated by the Lombard bishops, Alexander II excommunicated the bishops. Henry did not yield, and it was not until the Saxon rebellion that he was ready to negotiate. In 1073, he humbly asked the new pope, Gregory VII, to settle the Milan problem. The King having thus renounced his right of investiture, a Roman synod, called to strengthen the Patarine movement, forbade any lay investiture in Milan. After this, Gregory regarded Henry as his ally in questions of church reform. When planning a crusade, he even put the defence of the Roman Church into the King’s hands. But after defeating the Saxons, Henry considered himself strong enough to cancel his agreements with the Pope and to nominate his court chaplain as archbishop of Milan. The violation of the agreement on investiture called into question the King’s trustworthiness and the Pope sent him a letter warning him of the fate of King Saul (after breaking with his church in the person of the prophet Samuel) but offering negotiations on the investiture problem. Instead of accepting the offer, which arrived at his court on January 1st 1076, Henry, on the same day, deposed the Pope and persuaded an assembly of 26 bishops, hastily called to Worms, to refuse obedience to the Pope. By this impulsive reaction he turned the problem of investiture in Milan, which could have been solved by negotiations, into a fundamental dispute on the relations between church and state. Gregory replied by excommunicating Henry and absolving the King’s subjects from their oaths of allegiance. Such action equalled dethronement. Many bishops who had taken part in the Worms’ assembly and had subsequently been excommunicated now surrendered to the Pope, and immediately the King was also faced with the newly aroused opposition of the nobility. In October 1076, the princes discussed the election of a new king in Tribur. It was only by promising to seek absolution from the ban within a year that Henry could reach a postponement of the election. The final decision was to be taken at an assembly to be called at Augsburg to which the Pope was also invited. But Henry secretly travelled to northern Italy and in Canossa did penance before Gregory VII, whereupon he was readmitted to the church. For the moment it was a political success for the King because the opposition had been deprived of all canonical arguments. Yet, Canossa meant a change. By doing penance Henry had admitted the legality of the Pope’s measures and had given up the king’s traditional position of authority equal or even superior to that of the church. The relations between church and state were permanently changed. The princes, however, considered Canossa a breach of the original agreement providing for an assembly at Augsburg and declared Henry dethroned. In his stead, they elected Rudolf, duke of Swabia, in March 1077, whereupon Henry confiscated the duchies of Bavaria and Swabia on behalf of the crown. He received support from the peasants and citizens of these duchies, whereas Rudolf relied mainly on the Saxons.

[8] Robinson, I.S., Henry IV of Germany 1056-1106, (Cambridge University Press), 1999.

[9] At a synod in March 1080, he prohibited investiture, excommunicated and deposed Henry again, and recognised Rudolf. The reasons for this act of excommunication were not as valid as those advanced in 1077, and many nobles who had so far favoured the Pope turned against him because they thought the prohibition of investiture infringed upon their rights as patrons of churches and monasteries. Henry now succeeded in deposing Gregory and in nominating Guibert, archbishop of Ravenna, as pope at a synod in Brixen. When the opposition of the princes was crippled by the death of Rudolf in October 1080, Henry, freed of the threat of enemies to the rear, went to Italy to seek a military solution to his struggle with the church.

[10] William is referring to Welf IV, duke of Baveria and Rudolf of Saxony.

[11] Henry IV entered Italy at the end of March 1081. The previous February, Gregory VII demanded that Desiderius of Montecassino seek assurances from Guiscard that he would come to the aid of the pope after Easter is necessary.

[12] The cathedral was begun in 1080 and a letter from Gregory VII to archbishop Alfan dated 18th September 1080 urged Guiscard to honour the dignity of St Matthew.