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.