Saturday, 28 November 2009

The Deeds of Robert Guiscard: Book III, lines 73-166

But the favourable terms of the peace which had been concluded did not please the latter’s stepsons, [75] unable as they were to protect the Greek armies. They decided that Romanus should not return to the imperial throne.[1] When Diogenes learned that they had become his enemies, he prepared to wage civil war [80] against them, trusting in the help of the Persians. Seeing that they were unable to resist him, his stepsons tried to trick him through a treacherous peace. They sent to him carrying messages of peace twelve bishops, who were themselves ignorant of the deception, as well as Joscelyn[2], [85] for whom Romanus had many times showed his love and whom he had no hesitation in trusting as a friend. Romanus believed Joscelyn and the bishops, being reassured when they swore an oath and gave him the assurances which he sought. He believed, in vain, that he would return as emperor; however, [90] as soon as he had come to Heraclea he was seized and then blinded. Thus it was that this man of noble repute who had been emperor became a monk.[3]

The two brothers were now safe and held the reins of the empire in peace.[4] Their tyranny did not however remain unpunished. For Romanus’ son took as his allies the Armenians and Persians and deprived the empire of its eastern lands, which he ravaged with fire and sword. [100] From this time onwards the wicked Persian race began to invade the Roman Empire, slaughtering and robbing.[5] The land could not indeed have remained until now subject to imperial rule had not the Gallic race, more warlike and powerful than any other people, and encouraged by divine command, defeated the enemy and given it back its freedom. Inspired by God they wanted to open the roads to the Holy Sepulchre, [105] previously and for a long time blocked. The wretched men by whose advice this great man had been blinded were arrested, expelled from the court and made to submit to well-merited retribution. They ordered that those who had formerly punished the innocent [110] should themselves be punished for their guilt with a variety of torments.

An ambassador from Bari was sent to Constantinople and begged the emperor to aid its wretched citizens. On his order pirate ships were suitably prepared to transport grain [115] and arms [also] by which the fleet could be protected during the voyage to the city. (Hence the sailors would be freed from fear and the city from want). The emperor ordered that Joscelyn be put in command of this fleet. He had fled from Italy in fear of the duke, who hated him because he had conspired against him. [120] Joscelyn came in haste with his warships to encourage the tremulous citizens. He was already close to the city, hoping to enter it in safety during the night, when suddenly Robert’s fleet encountered the Greek fleet which had come to strengthen his enemies. [125] The duke’s ships willingly entered on a night action, thinking that this was more favourable to them than to the enemy since they knew these waters while their opponents did not. After a great deal of effort Joscelyn’s ship was defeated and captured, and he himself brought prisoner before the duke. [130] Another Greek ship was sunk, the rest just managed to escape.[6]

The Norman race had up to this point known nothing of naval warfare. But by thus returning victorious they very much enhanced their leader’s confidence, for he knew that the Greeks had been unable to carry enough help to the citizens of the town to hinder the siege. [135] At the same time, he greatly rejoiced at the novelty of this naval victory, hoping in consequence that he and the Normans might in future engage in battle at sea with more hope of success. [140] Joscelyn led an unhappy life shut up in prison for a long time; he went through much travail and his sufferings continued until the end of his life.

The town underwent its third year of siege. Finally it was overcome, worn down by many woes, but above all by hunger.[7] The leading citizen of the town was at this time Argyritzos.[8] [145] When the duke convinced him that the city must be surrendered, he did not [then] face a difficult task in overcoming the rest of its inhabitants, for the leading men were able to influence the minds of the lesser to persuade them to do as they wanted. Robert showed kindness and favour to the citizens [150] and since he always cherished those whom he had made his subjects, he himself was loved by all of them[9]. The duke returned to the townspeople most of what had been taken from them by force or ruse: [155] fields, estates and farms. He restored what had been lost, and made no impositions on the citizens, nor did he permit others to inflict burdens upon them. He now gave peace and freedom to those who had been accustomed to pay tribute to the Normans of the surrounding areas. He pitied the white hair of Stephan [160] and was unwilling to treat him as an enemy; rather he forgot that the latter had tried to have him murdered and was anxious to treat him kindly. To the surprise of many of the Greeks, when he was captured along with Bari the duke left him free and unpunished, although under surveillance. After remaining in the city for some days the conqueror ordered the Bariots to prepare arms and supplies, and to follow him to wherever they saw him go. [165] He [then] led them with his own troops to the city of Reggio.[10]


[1] Despite the defeat, Byzantine casualties were apparently relatively low. Ducas had escaped with no casualties and quickly marched back to Constantinople where he led a coup against Romanus. Bryennius also lost few men in the rout of his wing. Since the battle had not occurred until after nightfall, the Turks did not pursue the fleeing Byzantines, which probably saved most of them. The Turks did not even recapture Manzikert itself at this point. The Byzantine army regrouped and marched to Dokeia, where they were joined by Romanus when he was released a week later.

[2] Joscelyn was an important figure at Romanus’ court but was captured by Guiscard at Bari in February 1071. For him to have played a role in the betrayal of Diogenes, he must have been freed by Guiscard possibly with the Greek prisoners freed after the fall of Palermo in 1072. William of Apulia is the only source to mention his treachery.

[3] Once the capture of Diogenes was known in Constantinople, he was deposed, Eudocia exiled and Muchael VII proclaimed emperor. On being freed, Diogenes sought to reclaim the empire and assembled a strong army in Armenia including many of the Normans (but not Robert Crispin) and moved into Cappadocia before retreating to Cilicia, with the Armenian Chatchatour, catepan of Antioch in the autumn of 1072 to await support from Alp Arslan. Besieged in Adana, he surrrendered to Andronicus Ducas on good terms but was betrayed at Heraclea and blinded. He died soon after as a result.

[4] Michael VII was himself deposed in 1078 becoming a monk and then a bishop; John Ducas was exiled in 1073 becoming a monk.

[5] The usurpation of Andronicus Ducas also politically destabilised the empire and it was difficult to organise a resistance to the Turkish migrations that followed Manzikert. Within the next few decades, almost all of Asia Minor was overrun by the Seljuks.

[6] Malaterra attributed the victory and the capture of Joscelyn to Roger.

[7] By August 1068, Robert Guiscard was finally ready to move against Byzantine Apulia and to begin his most ambitious military operation: the siege of Bari. This was a difficult operation and could only be attempted when Robert had the full support of his Norman vassals. Count Roger also temporarily abandoned his conquest of Sicily to take part in the later stages of the attack on the city. Bari was a trading city with access to the sea for reinforcements and supplies from the Byzantine Empire and was strongly defended on the landward side. However, the Normans were by this time well versed in siege warfare. Bari was not prepared to surrender as, for example Reggio had been in 1060. Bari proved to be a formidable obstacle though the timing of Robert’s attack was fortuitous. By 1068, the situation on the eastern frontier of the Byzantine Empire was critical. Turkish raids had penetrated into Asia Minor and the emperor Romanus IV was determined to do something about this. The situation in Byzantine Italy was severe but it was not seen as a major priority in Constantinople. Even so, the siege of Bari lasted almost three years. Robert recruited ships and sailors from Calabria to blockade the town from the sea and he also was highly successful in exploiting divisions within Bari itself. The Byzantines made two attempts to break the blockade: in 1068 they were partially successful bringing in supplies so prolonging the siege but in 1071 the Byzantine fleet was intercepted from count Roger with ships from Sicily and defeated. The loss of this supply fleet led to Bari’s surrender on 15th April 1071. Although the city was near to starvation, Robert offered generous terms returning land seized from its inhabitants outside the walls, freeing it from tribute that had previously been paid to the Normans and refraining from imposing any new demands. It seems that the local patriciate remained largely in control of the city. Robert almost certainly had no choice but to do this. Bari was a large and prosperous town with a diversified economy that he needed to remain prosperous; coercion was not really a viable economic or political option.

[8] Argyritzos was the leader of the pro-Guiscard faction in Bari. Helped by the shortage of food, he was able to persuade the city to surrender on 15th April 1071.

[9] There is some disagreement among historians about the significance of the generous terms offered to Bari. Gay, Jules, L’Italie meridionale a l’empire byzantin depuis l’avènement de Basile Ier jusqu’a la prise de Bari par les Normandes, Paris, 1904 p. 538 argues persuasively that Guiscard sought to protect Bari against the advances of Normans already established in the area while Chalandon, F., Histoire de la domination normande en Italie et en Sicile, Paris, 1907, vol. I, p. 189 and Delarc, O., Les Normandes en Italie depuis les premières invasions jusqu’ l’avènement de S. Grégorie VII, Paris, 1883, p. 454 prefer the explanation that the tribute Bari paid to Constantinople was redistributed among the Normans.

[10] Guiscard left Bari in May 1071 and stayed in Otranto in June and July. Amatus said that he sent his fleet while he travelled by land with his cavalry.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

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

In the meanwhile Michael ruled the Roman Empire together with his brother Constantine.[1]. Their rule was disastrous for the Greeks for they neglected warlike matters, preferring always to lead a life of idleness. [5] They were made prisoners by the deceitful charms of self-indulgence and a shameful laziness disgraced them. At this time the Christian people who inhabited the delightful lands of the Roman Empire fled in terror from the Turks who came from the east. [10] A large number died under the swords of the evil Turks, all the cities were taken and the conquered people served and paid tribute to them. These cowardly rulers[2] sent no troops out against them, and in consequence, by the decree of the Senate[3], their mother was married off to a distinguished warrior, [15] Romanus, [although] she, Eudocia, loved him rather for his courage than for his birth. He was called Diogenes because he had a forked beard.

On undertaking the government he left leisure to his stepsons and concerned himself with warlike matters, setting out to do battle with the Persians [20] who were raiding the unfortunate Greeks. The fortunes of this war varied; often he was the victor and put the Persians to flight, but the battles were frequently indecisive.[4] Finally he sent out innumerable counts to defend the towns that had surrendered to him as a result of the reputation for valour [25] which he had everywhere acquired. He himself remained in camp with a small number of his best troops.[5] Suddenly a huge force of Persians, led by their king, surrounded him and attempted to break into the camp. In their efforts to seize this they launched some massive assaults. The first and second of these were repulsed. [30] Eventually Romanus became anxious, realising that the camp was indefensible, and sensibly took steps, not for his own safety, but to save the lives of his men, whom he [35] saw to be gravely weakened both by the battle and by hunger. He ordered whatever money there was, and all the precious vestments and gold or silver ornaments to be scattered about the camp [40] so that if the Turks should manage to force their way in they might, on seeing these, break off the pursuit of the Greeks. The valuables were collected by the servants who had fled from the fighting - then the Greeks were forced to pass an unhappy and sleepless night.[6] At dawn the huge Persian army came and surrounded the camp. [45] Spears flew from all sides and a host of arrows filled the air. The Greeks were unable to resist, and the Turks broke down the defences and forced their way in. But more intent on plunder than cutting down the [enemy] soldiers the Persians allowed many of them to escape.[7]

[50] The lord of the Greeks was recognisable by the golden eagle which was fixed to his hauberk and shone more than other armour. He defended himself unceasingly, striking down the enemy spears with his sword. A flying arrow wounded an unprotected limb [55] and so he was finally captured, as were some of his men. After plundering the Romans’ camp the Persians led him to their own camp and gave him the seat of honour, next to their king. The latter asked him what would have happened if he had been Romanus’ prisoner. [60] The latter replied that, ‘If you had been at my mercy or that of my men I would have ordered you to be beheaded or hanged from a gallows’. The other said that he would never commit such an evil deed, but rather he wished henceforth to establish the lasting peace [65] that his ambassadors had already often requested, and that he would give his daughter to be baptised and married to the emperor’s son to ensure that the peace was more secure.[8] They concluded a treaty[9] with these conditions, and then the ruler of the Persians sent Romanus home loaded with gifts, and set all the men who had been captured free. [70] He honourably accompanied them for some distance and then gave the emperor permission to depart.[10]


[1] Michael VII Ducas or Parapinakes, was the eldest son of Constantine X Ducas and Eudocia Macrembolitissa. After a joint reign as Byzantine emperor with his brothers Andronicus and Constantine (sometimes numbered XI, but not to be confused with the actual Constantine XI) from 1067 to 1071, joined by the usurper Romanus IV in 1068, he was made sole emperor in 1071 through his uncle John Ducas after the defeat of Romanus IV by Alp Arslan. The feebleness of Michael, whose chief interest lay in trifling academic pursuits, and the avarice of his ministers, was disastrous to the empire. As the result of anarchy in the army, the Byzantines lost Bari, their last possession in Italy, to the Normans in 1071, and were forced to cede a large strip of Asia Minor which they were unable to defend against the Seljuk Turks (1074).

[2] Constantine X Ducas left three children: Constantine, Andronius and Michael. His lack of interest resulted in Eudocia, their mother playing a major role in their upbringing. During the 1060s, the Seljuk sultan Alp Arslan allowed his Turkish allies to migrate towards Armenia and Asia Minor, where they sacked cities and plundered farmland. In 1064, they destroyed the Armenian capital at Ani. Contemporaries and later historians such as Michel Attaliate held the emperors responsible for this state of affairs.

[3] The senate and the Patriarch considered the gravity of the cituation and married Eudocia to the general Romanus Diogenes, a Cappadocian aristocrat who was young, brave and attractive on 1st January 1068.

[4] Romanus fought campaigns against the Turks in 1068, 1069 and 1070. In 1068, Romanus IV led an expedition against them, but his slow-moving infantry could not catch the speedy Turkish cavalry, although he was able to capture the city of Hierapolis. In 1070, Romanus led an expedition towards Manzikert, a city in eastern Turkey‘s province of Muş, now known as Malazgirt, a Byzantine fortress that had been captured by the Seljuks. He offered a treaty with Arslan: Romanus would give back Hierapolis if Arslan gave up the siege of Edessa. Romanus threatened war if Arslan did not comply, and prepared his troops anyway, expecting the sultan to decline his offer, which he did.

[5] Accompanying Romanus was Andronicus Ducas, an odd choice as Ducas was an old enemy of the emperor. Romanus left his best general, Nicephorus Botaniates, at home, suspecting his loyalties (although he was certainly more loyal than Ducas). The army consisted of about 5000 Byzantine troops from the western provinces, and probably about the same number from the eastern provinces; 500 French mercenaries under Roussel de Bailleul; some Turkish, Bulgarian, and Pecheneg mercenaries; infantry under the duke of Antioch; a contingent of Armenian troops; and some (but not all) of the Varangian Guard. Turkish sources give the number of troops to be closer to 200,000. Other sources estimate them to be around 40,000. The march across Asia Minor was long and difficult, the Byzantine population also suffered some plundering by Romanus’ German mercenaries, whom he was forced to dismiss. The expedition first rested at Sebasteia on the Halys, and reached Theodosopolis in June 1071. There, some of his generals suggested continuing the march into Seljuk territory and catching Arslan before he was ready. Some of the other generals, including Nicephorus Bryennius, suggested they wait there and fortify their position. Eventually, it was decided to continue the march. Thinking that Alp Arslan was either further away or not coming at all, Romanus marched towards Lake Van expecting to retake Manzikert rather quickly, as well as the nearby fortress of Khliat if possible. However, Arslan was actually in Armenia, with 30 000 cavalry from Aleppo, Mosul, and his other allies. Arslan’s spies knew exactly where Romanus was, while Romanus was completely unaware of his opponent’s movements. Romanus ordered his general John Tarchaneiotes to take some of the Byzantine troops and Varangians and accompany the Pechenegs and French to Khliat, while Romanus and the rest of the army marched to Manzikert. This probably split the forces in half, about 20,000 men each. Although it is unknown precisely what happened to Tarchaneiotes and his half of the army after this, they apparently caught sight of the Seljuks and fled, as they later appeared at Melitene and did not take part in the battle.

[6] William of Apulia is the only source for this stratagem.

[7] Romanus was unaware of the loss of Tarchaneiotes and continued to Manzikert, which he easily captured on August 23rd. The next day, some foraging parties under Bryennius discovered the Seljuk force and were forced to retreat back to Manzikert. The Armenian general Basilaces was sent out with some cavalry, as Romanus did not believe this was Arslan’s full army; the cavalry was destroyed and Basilaces taken prisoner. Romanus drew up his troops into formation and sent the left wing out under Bryennius, who was almost surrounded by the quickly approaching Turks and was forced to retreat once more. The Turks hid among the nearby hills for the night, making it nearly impossible for Romanus to send a counterattack. On August 25th, some of Romanus’ Turkish mercenaries came into contact with their Seljuk relatives and deserted. Romanus then rejected a Seljuk embassy and attempted to recall Tarchaneiotes, who was of course no longer in the area. There were no engagements that day, but on August 26th, the Byzantine army gathered itself into a proper battle formation and began to march on the Turkish positions, with the left wing under Bryennius, the right wing under Theodore Alyates, and the centre under the emperor. Andronicus Ducas led the reserve forces in the rear. The Seljuks were organised into a crescent formation about four kilometres away, with Arslan observing events from a safe distance. Seljuk archers attacked the Byzantines as they drew closer; the centre of their crescent continually moved backwards while the wings moved to surround the Byzantine troops. The Byzantines held off the arrow attacks and captured Arslan’s camp by the end of the afternoon. However, the right and left wings, where the arrows did most of their damage, almost broke up when individual units tried to force the Seljuks into a pitched battle; the Seljuk cavalry simply fled when challenged. With the Seljuks avoiding battle, Romanus was forced to order a withdrawal by the time night fell. However, the right wing misunderstood the order, and Ducas, as an enemy of Romanus, deliberately ignored the emperor and marched back to the camp outside Manzikert, rather than covering the emperor’s retreat. Now that the Byzantines were thoroughly confused, the Seljuks seized the opportunity and attacked. The Byzantine right wing was routed; the left under Bryennius held out a little longer but was also soon routed. Romanus was wounded and taken prisoner when the Seljuks discovered him.

[8] Three sons of Romanus are known: Constantine, from his first marriage died in 1073 and Leo and Nicephorus were sons from his marriage to Eudocia. None of the Greek chroniclers speak of a matrimonial alliance. There may be good reasons for this since Nicephorus led a rebellion against Alexius Comnenus in 1093 or 1094 and in 1095 an imposter claiming to be Constantine, the son of Diogenes led a rebellion with the Coumans. Ten years later, when Bohemond visited France, he was accompanied by a pretender who claimed to be the son of Diogenes: in Orderic Vitalis, book xii but not mentioned in the Vita Ludovici Grossi, chapter ix.

[9] The treaty consisted of the freeing of prisoners, the payment of tribute, an alliance and the ceding of Manzikert, Edessa, Manbig and Antioch to the sultan.

[10] Manzikert came to be seen as a disaster for the Empire; later sources greatly exaggerate the numbers of troops and the numbers of casualties. Byzantine historians often looked back and lament the ‘disaster’ of that day, pinpointing it as the moment the decline of the Empire began. It was not, however, an immediate disaster; most units survived intact and were fighting in the Balkans or elsewhere in Asia Minor within a few months. On the other hand, the defeat showed the Seljuks that the Byzantines were not invincible. Nevertheless, in hindsight historians are practically unanimous in dating the decline of Byzantine fortunes to this battle. It is also considered one of the root causes for the later Crusades: the West saw Manzikert as a signal that Byzantium was no longer capable of being the protector of Eastern Christianity.