Friday, 26 February 2010

The Deeds of Robert Guiscard: Book V, lines 80-209

[80] Meanwhile, after repairing their ships, the Venetians[1] returned to the city of Durazzo and gained entry there without resistance. Indeed hardly anybody remained in the city, for a terrible famine had led the citizens to migrate to all sorts of other places. The Venetians remained at [85] Durazzo for fifteen days and looted it of anything which might be of use to them, but the citadel[2], in which the duke had left a garrison, resisted them. Once they realised that it was impregnable and hearing news of the arrival of the duke’s son[3], [90] they withdrew. Boarding their ships, they all constructed roofs over them, and made a sort of small city. They built a wooden fortress, and as a precaution furnished it with all the war-engines of their fleet. So they remained at sea throughout the winter, [95] protected from the cold and damp by their little houses. Once winter was over and the gentle breezes of spring blew, they hastened with all their ships to Corfu (a destination agreed by everyone). Mavrikas[4], [100] the commander of Alexius’s fleet had [already] arrived there. Many of the sailors then wished to return to Venice, It was agreed that their fleet should withdraw and that everyone should go home. They decided this because Robert had been away for such a long time, and matters were dragging on to such an extent, [105] that all their property was being neglected in their absence.

Throughout this period Robert had been very busy, above all in waging war against Jordan.[5] He did not want to return from Italy leaving anything there undone. [110] Prince Jordan had been terrified by news of Henry’s arrival, and had not taken up arms to resist him in defence of his territory and of his own person. He had instead submitted to him, concluded a peace treaty and surrendered his [115] son as a hostage.[6] Along with his son he had given him a large sum of money as a present. He had done this because he was afraid that if the king should enter southern Italy he would be deprived of the lordship inherited from his father. Because Jordan had capitulated in this manner the duke ravaged his lands with fire and sword. [120] His nephew then sought peace [from him] and was granted it.

After peace had been re-established, and before he once again sought the shores of Greece, the duke begged Pope Gregory to dedicate the church which he had built in honour of St. Matthew. That gentle man granted his request. [125] When that had been done, he turned his attention once more to fulfilling the plan which he had long had in mind.[7] He therefore ordered picked sailors and the men whom he knew to be most fit for military service to go with him to Taranto. There he gathered his entire as well as his army. [130] Both fleet and army were prepared on a magnificent scale; the ships were filled with weapons and supplies. He and his forces then went to the port of Brindisi which seemed to be safer. They were reluctant to set off from Otranto, from which the crossing was shorter, [135] since autumn had already arrived and the good weather of summer had finished. Because of this he was afraid that if his ships stayed at Otranto they would be damaged by storms that could blow up quite suddenly. Thus he transferred his fleet to a more sheltered port, where it could stay in safety until the winds were more favourable. [140] Then, saying farewell to his wife and to those who remained on shore with her, he set off from the land of Italy, to which he would not return. He crossed the Adriatic with one hundred and twenty warships, accompanied by his son Roger[8] who made every effort to imitate his father’s courage in war as well as his affability and kindness towards all. [145] The duke also brought merchant ships, filled with horses, supplies, arms and all those things needed at sea. The fleet crossed the sea and joined the army commanded by the mighty duke’s other son. [150] They spent nearly two months on the coast, forced to refrain from warlike activities by furious storms.

Once good weather had reappeared, they left port and prepared for a naval battle against the ships of the Venetians and the galleys [kelandia] of the Greeks.[9] [155] The duke commanded five triremes, he placed five more under Roger’s command, and the same number each to the latter’s brother Robert[10] and to Bohemond.[11] These were accompanied by smaller ships in a supporting role. [160] The Greeks brought a very large number of galleys to this battle. The Venetians put their trust in nine tall triremes that they knew were ideally designed for combat. When they saw the lower freeboard of Robert’s ships, [165] they joined battle with them and put up a very gallant fight. Supported by the Greek galleys, they showered arrows from on high onto their enemies, and threatened them with heavy iron weights which were hurled down upon them to stop them getting too close. In the ship carrying Roger during this battle scarcely a man could be found unwounded. Roger himself, wounded in the arm but unwilling to surrender, remained fighting the enemy, his wound forgotten. [170] The desire for the honours given to those victorious in battle spurred him on. His father, who was so often himself decorated by the insignia of victory, summoned him and ordered him to separate the [Greek] galleys [175] from the rest of the fleet. He hurried energetically to execute his father’s instructions, and with the five triremes which had been entrusted to him attacked these galleys. The Greeks were quite unable to resist this attack and fled in confusion, [180] as do birds that dare not resist a hovering eagle, or hares which are forced to sprint away in terror, lest they be seized in its talons and become food for its voracious beak. After their flight the Venetian fleet remained alone. [185] Seeing that the Greek ships had fled and that the triremes were unsupported, Robert and his sons attacked them fiercely with their ships. So savage was the impact of their attack that the Venetian fleet could not hope to escape. [190] Seven ships were sunk, and the two that remained were unable to continue the battle on their own. All [on board] were forced to surrender to the enemy, and the duke was as usual triumphant. He and his victorious fleet brought back two thousand of the bravest warriors, [195] who had posed the fiercest resistance, to port, along with five hundred others who had [also] been made prisoners. During this battle seven Greek ships were taken as they fled.

Those who had faithfully guarded the citadel of Corfu [200] for him were freed from the siege which they had undergone while the duke whom the enemy feared was away. He then placed all the ships, both his own victorious one and those which had been captured, in sheltered moorings to protect them from the cold of winter, which was approaching. [205] It was for this reason that he prudently brought them into the River Glykys, stationing the boats and sailors there, and instructing them to remain until the fine weather of summer returned. He led his cavalry to winter at Vonitsa[12], and stayed there with them himself.


[1] The Venetian fleet had left Durazzo when the city fell to Guiscard according to William of Apulia (IV: 501) or before it fell according to Anna Comnena. Though the chronology is hypothetical, it is likely that this refers to the winter of 1083-1084 while Bohemund was away in Valona.

[2] This remained in Norman hands until after Guiscard died in 1085.

[3] It is unclear who this refers to but Bohemond seems the likely explanation and refers to the beginnings of the second Norman expedition to the area in mid-1084.

[4] Michael Mavrikas.

[5] Guiscard besieged Capua in the summer of 1083 and took it in July. Henry IV’s expedition to Italy may well have been provocked by Alexius and certainly he had received letters from Herve, bishop of Capua.

[6] Jordan of Capua had been invested with his lands by Henry IV at Easter 1082.

[7] Guiscard assembled his fleet at Otranto in September 1084 and Geoffrey Malaterra (III: 40) said that he crossed from there. Anna Comnena and William of Apulia said that he crossed from Brindisi, a much shorter route than Otranto to Valona. This seems highly plausible.

[8] Roger Borsa and Guy, another of Guiscard’s sons crossed first and occupied Valona and Butrinto where Guiscard joined them after landing at Valona.

[9] The Norman naval victory off Corfu occurred in November 1084.

[10] Robert II Guiscard, son of Robert Guiscard.

[11] Anna Comnena stated that Bohemond was in Italy in 1083 but she makes no mention of his contributions to the second expedition.

[12] Guiscard had taken Vonitsa in May 1081.

Friday, 19 February 2010

The Deeds of Robert Guiscard: Book V, lines 1-79

When Alexius learned that Robert had crossed the sea[1], he strove to regroup his battered forces and to destroy the camp of the absent duke, which was guarded by the latter’s son Bohemond [5] and Brienne, two men who were mighty both in battle and in counsel. Alexius’s army established its camp not far from Janina, a city of no little renown. He protected it with several rows of wagons drawn up on the side facing the plain, [10] which was the easiest way of approach. He obstructed all the access routes with iron calthrops to pierce the hooves of their enemies’ horses as they charged along with the reins loose. But the Greeks’ vision was ruined by fog, and the Normans arrived there unseen through difficult paths filled with [15] vines and dense with sedges. Alexius came to grips with them and for a while fought back, but could not resist their attack for very long. He sought flight and retired defeated. [20] Vanquished in a second battle, he retired to a famous town in Thessaly, called Salonika by the vulgar. However, since he knew that the fortunes of war are changeable, he prepared to return once more to the fray.[2]

Bohemond[3] rejoiced at having an army more brave than numerous, and exulted [25] in the capture of Tziviskos. He besieged Larissa[4], a celebrated place, which he knew to be filled with riches since the imperial treasury had been brought there. It was the birthplace of Achilles, the destroyer of Troy. The siege of this town concerned [30] Alexius[5], and he came there with a very large force and valiantly gave battle to the Normans. The troops of Brienne resisted him but were defeated. Seeing the hills swarming with this great army, Bohemond realised that the empire’s ruler was present in person. [35] He charged [against him] and pursued his craven enemies, as a hawk does larks. The Greek army turned tail in the face of his men, but a dust storm enveloped both sides so thick that neither could see where the other was. [40] The defeated Greeks sought refuge in the depths of the forest, while the conqueror, after killing some of them, returned to the mountains, there to wait in case further battles were to be levied against him.

Learning that his enemies had moved off, Alexius went to the [45] camp at Larissa with a large force. The infantry who had been left in the camp were unable to fight off the enemy who so outnumbered them. Most of them were killed; a small number managed to flee. Alexius captured the booty which the victorious army had brought there from all sorts of places. [50] A messenger hastened to the hills to bring news of the disaster to Bohemond, who (having believed himself the victor) lamented the destruction of part of his army. However, he was not the least afraid and strove to rally his disorganised troops. No setback could sap this man’s courage. [55] But he was annoyed to have to raise the siege of a town which was almost conquered and ready to submit. Night fell and reminded men tired out by battle to compose their limbs for sleep. Bohemond went to a sheltered valley not far from there which furnished all that was necessary for him and his men, and [60] there they abandoned their bodies to sleep.

After three days two noblemen led out a very large force of Greeks ready to do battle [65] against Bohemond; one of these was the emperor’s brother Adrian, the other his brother-in-law Melisianos.[6] Recovering their usual courage the Normans rushed to their arms; the Greeks, accustomed to run in coward flight, hastily returned to the walls of the city of Larissa, where Alexius had taken refuge. [70] They had been defeated so many times that they did not dare to stray far from these. The Turks too took flight and were trapped in the city. But the Normans could not remain besieging them for very long since the land there had been so ravaged that it could no longer feed them, and their supplies had been lost when their camp had been captured. Dividing his army, [75] Bohemond[7] went to Valona to find food, while Brienne went to Castoria. Alexius left most of his troops at Salonica, but he himself returned to his capital city which bears the name of its founder, Constantine.


[1] Alexius left Constantinople in May 1082.

[2] Bohemond arrived at Janina from Castoria. He defeated Alexius in two battles before Janina who then returned to Constantinople to get new troops.

[3] Bohemond occupied Albania and Thessaly in the summer of 1082. He then moved with all his army to besiege Trikkala and sent a detachment to occupy Tziviskos.

[4] Anna Comnena said that Bohemond took Larissa in the autumn of 1082 with the intention of wintering there. The siege lasted six months according to her account. However Chalandon argued that Bohemond wintered before Larissa but did not actively besiege it until the spring of 1083.

[5] Alexius, alerted by Leo Kephalas governor of Larissa arrived to relieve the siege. Bohemond gave command of part of the army to Brienne while Alexius gave command to Nicephorus Melissenos and Basil Kourtikios and ordered them to retreat. This stratagem worked and Bohemond split his forces and Alexius was able to defeat the divided forces and take their camp.

[6] Nicephorus Melissenos was married to Alexius Comnenus’ sister Eudocia.

[7] The Norman counts, bribed by Alexius, demanded that Bohemond go to Italy to get their pay. He left Castoria under Brienne’s control, a town occupied after the fall of Durazzo by Bohemond’s troops. Alexius then returned and took Castoria in October or November 1083. The Normans who surrendered transferred their allegiance to Alexius apart from Brienne who was freed on condition that he did not take arms again against the Byzantine Empire.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

The Deeds of Robert Guiscard: Book V, commentary

In the final part of his work, William of Apulia deals with events around Durazzo during Guiscard’s absence in Italy: the pillage of Durazzo by the Venetians and the role of Adrian, Alexius’ brother in the campaign against Bohemond. He also gives details of the naval battle off Corfu in 1084 after Guiscard’s return. There are also details of the role played by Roger Borsa during the campaign: he remained in Italy supported by Gerald (probably Buonalbergo) during the first part of the campaign but his active involvement in the second part of the campaign between Guiscard’s return to Durazzo in 1084 and his death the following year. He also deals with the panic following Guiscard’s death and the number of desertions that followed it.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Three Rebellions



Three Rebellions: Canada 1837-1838, South Wales 1839 and Victoria, Australia 1854 was published on 30 January 2010. Copies of the book are now available from Amazon.uk and Amazon Canada. See my interview about the book and its development on the Chartist Ancestors website.