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The Kingdom of Sicily (in green) in 1154, representing the extent of Norman conquest in Italy over several decades of activity by independent adventurers

The Norman conquest of southern Italy spanned most of the 11th and 12th centuries, involving many battles and many independent players conquering territories of their own. Only later were these territories in southern Italy united as the Kingdom of Sicily, which included not only the island of Sicily, but also the entire southern third of the Italian Peninsula (save Benevento, which they did briefly hold on two occasions) as well as the archipelago of Malta and parts of North Africa.

Immigrant Norman brigands acclimatised themselves to the Mezzogiorno as mercenaries in the service of various Lombard and Byzantine factions, communicating news swiftly back home about the opportunities that lay in the Mediterranean. These aggressive groups aggregated in various places, eventually establishing fiefdoms and states of their own; they succeeded in unifying themselves and raising their status to one of de facto independence within fifty years of their arrival.

Unlike the Norman conquest of England (1066), which took place over the course of a few years after one decisive battle, the conquest of southern Italy was the product of decades and many battles, few decisive. Many territories were conquered independently, and only later were all unified into one state. Compared to the conquest of England, it was unplanned and unorganised, but just as complete.

Arrival of the Normans in Italy, 999–1017[]

Map of Italy on the arrival of the Normans. They eventually conquered Sicily and all the territory on the mainland south of the Holy Roman Empire (the bold line), as well as southern regions of the Papal States and the Duchy of Spoleto.

The earliest reported date for the arrival of Norman knights in southern Italy is 999, although it can be assumed they had visited before that. In that year, according to several sources, Norman pilgrims returning from the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem by way of Apulia stopped at Salerno, where they stayed with Prince Guaimar III. The city and its environs were attacked by Saracens from Africa demanding the overdue payment of an annual tribute. While Guaimar began to collect the tribute, the Normans upbraided him and his Lombard subjects for lack of bravery, and they assaulted the Saracen besiegers. The Saracens fled, much booty was taken, and a thankful Guaimar pleaded with the Normans to stay. They refused but promised to bring his rich gifts to their compatriots in Normandy and to tell them of possible rewards for military service in Salerno. Some sources even have Guaimar sending emissaries to Normandy to bring back knights. This account of the arrival of the Normans is sometimes called the "Salerno tradition" (or "Salernitan tradition").[1][2]

The Salerno tradition was first recorded by Amatus of Montecassino in his Ystoire de li Normant between 1071 and 1086.[2] Much of this information was borrowed from Amatus by Peter the Deacon for his continuation of the Chronicon Monasterii Casinensis of Leo of Ostia, written in the early 12th century. Beginning with the Annales Ecclesiastici of Baronius in the 17th century, the Salernitan story became the accepted history.[3] Its factual accuracy was questioned periodically in the following centuries, but it has been accepted, with some modifications, by most scholars since.[4]

Another historical account concerning the arrival of the first Normans in Italy appears in primary chronicles without reference to any previous Norman presence. This story has been called the "Gargano tradition".[1] According to this account, Norman pilgrims to the shrine of Michael the Archangel at Monte Gargano met the Lombard Melus of Bari there in 1016 and were convinced to join him in an attack on the Byzantine government of Apulia.

As with the Salerno tradition, there are two primary sources for the Gargano story: the Gesta Roberti Wiscardi of William of Apulia, dated 1088–1110, and the Chronica monasterii S. Bartholomaei de Carpineto of a monk named Alexander, written about a century later and based on William's work.[5] Some scholars have combined the Salerno and Gargano tales. John Julius Norwich suggested that the meeting between Melus and the Normans had been arranged by Guaimar.[6] Melus had been in Salerno just before his visit to Monte Gargano.

Another story involves the exile of a group of brothers of the Drengot family. One of the brothers, Osmund (according to Orderic Vitalis) or Gilbert (according to Amatus and Peter the Deacon), murdered one William Repostel (Repostellus) in the presence of Robert I, Duke of Normandy. It is alleged that Repostel had boasted about dishonouring the daughter of his murderer. Threatened with death himself, the Drengot brother fled with his siblings to Rome, where one of the brothers had an audience with the Pope before moving on to join Melus (Melo) of Bari. Amatus dates the story to after 1027 and does not mention the pope. According to him, Gilbert's brothers were Osmund, Ranulf, Asclettin, and Ludolf (Rudolf according to Peter).[7]

The murder of Repostel is dated by all the chronicles to the reign of Robert the Magnificent and thus after 1027, though some scholars believe Robert to be a scribal error for Richard, indicating Richard II of Normandy, who was duke in 1017.[8] The earlier date is necessary if the emigration of the first Normans is to have any connection with the Drengots and the murder of William Repostel. In the Histories of Ralph Glaber, one "Rodulfus" leaves Normandy after displeasing Count Richard (i.e. Richard II).[9] Sources diverge as to just who among the brothers was leader on the trip to the south. Orderic and William of Jumièges in his Gesta Normannorum Ducum name Osmund; Glaber names Rudolph; Leo, Amatus, and Adhemar of Chabannes name Gilbert. According to most south Italian sources, the leader of the Norman contingent at the Battle of Cannae in 1018 was Gilbert.[10] If Rudolf is identified with the Rudolf of Amatus' history as a Drengot brother, then perhaps Rudolf was the leader at Cannae.[11]

Yet another, modern, hypothesis concerning the Norman advent in the Mezzogiorno concerns the chronicles of Glaber, Adhemar, and Leo (not Peter's continuation). All three chronicles indicate that Normans, either a group of 40 or a much larger force of around 250, under "Rodulfus" (Rudolf), fleeing the rage of Richard II, came to Pope Benedict VIII of Rome. The Pope sent them on to Salerno or Capua to seek mercenary employment against the Byzantines, with whom he was angered for their invasion of Beneventan territory, which was under papal suzerainty.[12] There they met the Beneventan primates (leading men): Landulf V of Benevento, Pandulf IV of Capua, possibly the aforementiond Guaimar III of Salerno, and Melus of Bari. On the basis of Leo's chronicle, Rudolf is supposed to have been the same person as Ralph of Tosni.[7][13]

If the first confirmed Norman military actions in the south involved mercenaries in the employ of Melus in battle against the Byzantines in May 1017, then the Normans probably left Normandy between January and April.[14]

Lombard revolt, 1009–1022[]

The imprisonment of Pandulf of Capua following the campaign of the Emperor Henry II in 1022

On 9 May 1009, an insurrection erupted in Bari against the Catapanate of Italy, the regional Byzantine authority based there. Led by Melus, a local Lombard of high standing, the revolt quickly spread to other cities. Late that year, or early in 1010, the catapan, John Curcuas, was killed in battle. In March 1010, his successor, Basil Mesardonites, disembarked with reinforcements and besieged the rebels in the city. The Byzantine citizens of the city negotiated with Basil and forced the Lombard leaders, Melus and his brother-in-law Dattus, to flee. Basil entered the city on 11 June 1011 and reestablished Byzantine authority. He did not follow up his victory with any severe sanctions, simply sending the family of Melus, including his son Argyrus, to Constantinople. Basil died in 1016 after years of peace in southern Italy.

Leo Tornikios Kontoleon arrived as Basil's successor in May that year. On Basil's death, Melus had revolted again, but this time he employed a newly arrived band of Normans, who had either been sent to him by Pope Benedict, or who had met him, with or without Guaimar's assistance, at Monte Gargano. Tornikios sent an army led by Leo Passianos against the Lombard-Norman assemblage. Passianos and Melus met on the Fortore at Arenula. The battle was either indecisive (William of Apulia) or a victory for Melus (Leo of Ostia and Amatus). Tornikios then took command himself and led his forces into a second encounter near Civita.[15] This second battle was a victory for Melus, though Lupus Protospatharius and the anonymous chronicler of Bari record a defeat.[15] A third battle, a decisive victory for Melus, occurred at Vaccaricia.[15] The entire region from the Fortore to Trani had fallen to Melus, and in September, Tornikios was relieved of his duties in favour of Basil Boiannes, who arrived in December. According to Amatus there were five victorious battles in a row for the Lombard and Norman forces before October 1018.[15]

At the request of Boioannes, a detachment of the elite Varangian Guard was sent to Italy to combat the Normans. The two forces met on the river Ofanto near Cannae, the site of Hannibal's victory over the Romans in 216 BC. The result of the Battle of Cannae was a decisive Byzantine victory.[15] Amatus wrote that only ten Normans survived out of the contingent of 250.[15] After the battle Ranulf Drengot, one of the few Norman survivors, was elected the leader of their company.[15] Boioannes protected his gains by immediately building a great fortress at the Apennine pass guarding the entrance to the Apulian plain. In 1019, Troia, as the great fortress was called, was garrisoned by Boioannes' own contingent of Norman troops, an indication of the Normans' willingness to fight on either side. Despite Norman mercenaries fighting for both sides during the battles, they were sure to obtain good terms for the release of their brethren from their captors, regardless of what side they owed allegiance to at the time.[15]

Frightened by the shift in momentum in the south, Pope Benedict, who, as noted above, may have given the initial impetus to Norman involvement in the war, went north in 1020 to Bamberg to confer with the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry II. The Emperor took no immediate action, but the events of the following year convinced him to intervene. Boioannes had allied with Pandulf of Capua and marched on Dattus, who was then garrisoning a tower in the territory of the Duchy of Gaeta with papal troops. Dattus was captured, and on 15 June 1021, he suffered the traditional Roman punishment of poena cullei: he was tied up in a sack with a monkey, a rooster, and a snake and thrown into the sea. In 1022, a large imperial army marched south in three detachments under Henry II, Pilgrim of Cologne, and Poppo of Aquileia, to attack Troia. Although Troia did not fall, all the Lombard princes were brought over to the Empire, and Pandulf was carted off to a German prison. This was the end of the Lombard revolt.

Mercenary service, 1022–1046[]

In 1024, Norman mercenaries under Ranulf Drengot were in the pay of Guaimar III when he and Pandulf IV besieged Pandulf V in Capua. In 1026, after an 18-month siege, Capua surrendered and Pandulf IV was reinstated as Prince. In the following years, Ranulf would attach himself to Pandulf, but in 1029, he abandoned the prince and joined Sergius IV of Naples, whom Pandulf had expelled from Naples in 1027, most likely with Ranulf's assistance.

In 1029, Ranulf and Sergius recaptured Naples. Early in 1030, Sergius gave Ranulf the County of Aversa as a fief, the first established Norman lordship in southern Italy.[15] Sergius also gave his sister, the widow of the duke of Gaeta, in marriage to Ranulf.[15] In 1034, however, Sergius' sister died and Ranulf returned to Pandulf. According to Amatus:

For the Normans never desired any of the Lombards to win a decisive victory, in case this should be to their disadvantage. But now supporting the one and then aiding the other, they prevented anyone being completely ruined.

Norman reinforcements and local miscreants, who found a welcome in Ranulf's encampment with no questions asked, swelled the numbers under Ranulf's command.[15] There, Norman language and Norman customs welded a disparate group into the semblance of a nation, as Amatus observed. In 1035 Tancred of Hauteville's three eldest sons; William 'Iron Arm', Drogo and Humphrey arrived in Aversa.[16] The Hauteville's were all educated and trained as knights in Normandy.[16]

In 1037 or the summer of 1038[15] according to differing sources, Norman influence was further solidified when Emperor Conrad II deposed Pandulf and formally invested Ranulf as "Count of Aversa". In 1038, Ranulf invaded Capua and expanded his polity into one of the largest in southern Italy.[15]

In 1038, the new Byzantine Emperor Michael IV launched a military campaign into Muslim Sicily with General George Maniaches leading the Christian army against the Saracens. The future king of Norway, Harald Hardrada, commanded the contingent of Varangian Guard in the expedition. Michael called upon Guaimar IV of Salerno and other Lombard lords to provide additional troops for the upcoming campaign. Amongst Guiamar's Lombard soldiers he sent 300 Norman knights from Aversa, including the three Hauteville brothers who would go on to achieve great personal renown for their fighting prowess. William of Hauteville became known as William Bras-de-Fer or "William Iron Arm" for single-handedly killing the emir of Syracuse during the siege of Syracuse. The Norman contingent would leave before the campaign's end due to its inadequate distribution Saracen loot.[16]

After the assassination of the Catapan Nicephorus Doukeianos at Ascoli in 1040, the Normans planned to elect a leader from amongst their own, but were instead bribed by Atenulf, Prince of Benevento, to elect him their leader.[citation needed] On 16 March 1041, near Venosa, on the Olivento, the Norman army tried to negotiate with the new catapan, Michael Doukeianos, but failed, but still managed to defeat the Byzantine army in the Battle of Olivento. On 4 May 1041 the Norman army led by William Iron Arm defeated the Byzantines again in the Battle of Montemaggiore, near Cannae, avenging the Norman defeat at the battle of Cannae of 1018.[16] Though the catapan had called up a large Varangian force from Bari, the battle was a rout and many of Michael's soldiers drowned in the Ofanto on retreat.[17]

On 3 September 1041 at the Battle of Montepeloso, the Normans, nominally under the Lombard leadership of Arduin and Atenulf, defeated the new Byzantine catepan, Exaugustus Boioannes, and took him captive to Benevento, significant of the remaining Lombard influence over the conquests. Also about that time, Guaimar IV of Salerno began to draw the Normans under his banner with various promises. In February 1042, probably feeling abandoned, and perhaps bribed by the Byzantines, Atenulf negotiated the ransom of Exaugustus and then fled with the ransom money to Byzantine territory. He was replaced by Argyrus, who won some early victories but was then also bribed to defect to the Byzantines.

The revolt, originally Lombard, had become Norman in character and leadership. In September 1042, the three principal Norman groups held a Great Council at Melfi which included Ranulf Drengot, Guaimar IV, William Iron Arm and other nobles. William and the other leaders petitioned Guaimar for recognition of their conquests. William was thereafter recognized as the leader of Normans in Apula which included the Norman garrison of Troia as well as Melfi. William was bestowed the title of "Count of Apulia" by Guiamar and like Ranulf, was a vassal of Guiamar. Guaimar proclaimed himself "Duke of Apulia and Calabria" despite never being formally invested as such by the Holy Roman Emperor. William in turn was married to Guida, daughter of Guy, Duke of Sorrento, and niece of Guaimar. The alliance between the Normans and Guaimar was strong.[18]

At Melfi in 1043, Guaimar divided the region, except for Melfi itself, which was to be ruled on a republican model, into twelve baronies for the benefit of the Norman leaders: William himself received Ascoli, Asclettin Drengot received Acerenza, Tristan received Montepeloso, Hugh Tubœuf received Monopoli, Peter received Trani, Drogo of Hauteville received Venosa, and Ranulf Drengot, now independent and Duke of Gaeta, received Siponto and Monte Gargano.[18]

During his reign, William and Guaimar began the conquest of Calabria in 1044 and built the great castle of Stridula, near Squillace. William was less successful in Apulia, where, in 1045, he was defeated near Taranto by Argyrus, though his brother, Drogo, conquered Bovino. With William's death, however, the period of Norman mercenary service would come completely to an end and witness the rise of two great Norman principalities, both owing nominal allegiance to the Holy Roman Empire: the County of Aversa, later the Principality of Capua, and the County of Apulia, later the Duchy of Apulia.

County of Melfi, 1046–1059[]

The stone castle at Melfi was constructed by the Normans where no fortress had previously stood. The structure today is an agglomeration of edifices from later pieces built onto a simple rectangular Norman keep.

In 1046, Drogo entered Apulia and defeated the catepan, Eustathios Palatinos, near Taranto. His brother Humphrey meanwhile forced Bari to conclude a treaty with the Normans. Also in 1046, Richard Drengot arrived with 40 knights from Normandy and Robert 'Guiscard' Hauteville arrived alone amongst other Norman immigrants.[19]

In 1047, Guaimar, who had auspiciously supported Drogo's succession and thus the establishment of a Norman dynasty in the south, gave Drogo his daughter Gaitelgrima in marriage. Emperor Henry III confirmed the county of Aversa in its fidelity to him and made Drogo his direct vassal too, granting him the title dux et magister Italiae comesque Normannorum totius Apuliae et Calabriae ("duke and master of Italy and count of the Normans of all Apulia and Calabria"), the first legitimate title for the Normans of Melfi.[19] However, Henry never confirmed the other titles handed out during the 1042 great council, he demoted Guiamar to prince of Salerno once again and Capua was bestowed upon Pandulf IV for the third and final time.[19] Henry, whose wife Agnes had been mistreated by the Beneventans, then authorised Drogo to conquer Benevento and hold it on behalf of the imperial crown. The Normans did not capture it until 1053, however.

In 1048, Drogo commanded an expedition into Calabria via the valley of Crati, near Cosenza. He distributed the conquered territories in Calabria and granted his brother Robert Guiscard a castle at Scribla to guard the entrance to the recently conquered territory.[19] He would however abandon the castle at Scribla for a castle of his own choosing at San Marco Argentano.[19] Shortly thereafter he wed the daughter of another Norman lord who provided Guiscard with a 200 knights, which allowed him to further his military campaign in Calabria.[20] In 1051, Drogo was assassinated in a Byzantine conspiracy.[20] He was succeeded by his brother Humphrey.[21] Humphrey's first challenge was to deal with the papal opposition that would soon come down on the Normans.[21] The Norman knights' treatment of the Lombards over Drogo's reign resulted in increased revolts.[21] It was when one of these revolts where Italo-Norman John, the Abbot of Fécamp was accosted upon his return journey from Rome.[21] He wrote a letter to Pope Leo IX which stated:

The hatred of the Italians for the Normans has now reached such a pictch that it is almost impossible for any Norman, albeit a pilgrim, to journey in the towns of Italy, without being assailed, abducted, robbed, beaten, thrown in irons, even if fortunate enough not to die in a prison.[22]

The pope and his supporters, the future Gregory VII among them, therefore called upon an army to oust the Normans from Italy.[21]

Battle plan of Civitate; Normans in red, papal coalition in blue

On 18 June 1053, Humphrey led the armies of the Normans against the combined forces of Pope and Holy Roman Empire. At the Battle of Civitate, the Normans destroyed the papal army and captured Leo IX, whom they imprisoned in Benevento, which had readily submitted to them. The remainder of Humphrey's reign consisted of the conquest of Oria, Nardò, and Lecce (all by the end of 1055). In 1054 Peter II, who had succeeded Peter I in the territory around Trani, finally captured the city from the Byzantines. Humphrey died in 1057 and was succeeded by Guiscard, who soon quit himself of loyalty to the Empire and made himself a vassal of the papacy in return for the higher title of duke.[21]

County of Aversa, 1049–1098[]

In the 1050s and 1060s, there were two centres of Norman power in southern Italy: one at Melfi under the Hautevilles and another at Aversa under the Drengots. Richard Drengot succeeded, probably through violence, to the County of Aversa in 1049 and immediately began a policy of territorial aggrandisement in competition with his Hauteville rivals.

At first, he warred incessantly with his Lombard neighbours, such as Pandulf VI of Capua, Atenulf I of Gaeta, and Gisulf II of Salerno. He pushed back the borders of the latter until there was little left of the once great principality but the city of Salerno itself. He aimed to extend his influence peacefully when he betrothed his daughter to the eldest son of Atenulf of Gaeta; but when the boy died before the marriage took place, he demanded the Lombard morgengab from the boy's parents anyway. The duke refused and Richard besieged and took Aquino, one of the few feudatories of Gaeta remaining (1058). The chronology of his conquest of Gaeta is confusing. Documents from 1058 and 1060 refer to Jordan, Richard's eldest son, as Duke of Gaeta, but these have been disputed as forgeries, since Atenulf was still Duke when he died in 1062.[23] After Atenulf's death, Richard and Jordan took over the rule of the duchy, but allowed Atenulf's heir, Atenulf II, to rule as their subject until 1064, when Gaeta was fully incorporated into the Drengot principality. Richard and Jordan appointed puppet dukes of usually Norman extraction.[24]

When the weak prince of Capua died in 1057, Richard immediately besieged Capua. As with Gaeta, the chronology of his conquest of Capua is confusing. Pandulf was succeeded at Capua by his brother, Landulf VIII, who is recorded as prince until 12 May 1062. Richard and Jordan took the princely title in 1058, but apparently allowed Landulf to continue ruling, probably beneath them, and to hold the keys to the city for at least four years more. In 1059, Pope Nicholas II convened a synod at Melfi whereat he confirmed Richard as Count of Aversa and Prince of Capua. Richard subsequently swore allegiance to the Papacy for his holdings. After that, the Drengots made Capua their headquarters and ruled Aversa and Gaeta from there.

Richard and Jordan expanded their new Gaetan and Capuan territories northwards in Latium, towards and into the Papal States. In 1066, Richard marched on Rome itself, but was easily forced back. Jordan's tenure as Richard's successor, however, marked a period of alliance with the papacy (which Richard had tried off and on) and the conquests of Capua stopped. In 1090, however, Jordan died and his young son, Richard II, and his regents were unable to hold Capua itself. They were forced to flee the city by a Lombard named Lando, who then ruled it with the support of the citizens until he was forced out by the combined Hauteville forces at the siege of Capua in 1098. It was the absolute end of Lombard rule in Italy.

Conquest of the Abruzzo, 1053–1105[]

In 1077, the last Lombard prince of Benevento died, and in 1078 the Pope appointed Robert Guiscard to succeed him. In 1081, however, Guiscard relinquished Benevento. By then the principality comprised little more than Benevento itself and its neighbourhood; its size had been reduced by Norman conquests in the previous decades, especially after the Battle of Civitate, and continuing after 1078. At Ceprano in June 1080, the Pope once again gave Guiscard control of Benevento, an attempt to halt Norman infractions on its territory, as well as territory in the Abruzzi technically tied to Benevento, which Guiscard's relatives had been conquering for their own.

In the immediate aftermath of the Battle of Civitate, the Normans began the conquest of the Adriatic littoral of the Beneventan principality. Geoffrey of Hauteville, a brother of the Hauteville counts of Melfi, conquered the Lombard county of Larino and stormed the castle Morrone in the region of Samnium-Guillamatum. Geoffrey's son Robert converted these conquests into a unified county, Loritello, in 1061. He continued nevertheless to expand his territory into Lombard Abruzzo. He conquered the Lombard county of Teate (modern Chieti) and besieged Ortona, which became the goal of Norman efforts in that quarter. Soon the newly created county of Loritello reached as far north as the Pescara and the Papal States. In 1078, Robert allied with Jordan of Capua and ravaged the Papal Abruzzo. Due to a treaty with Pope Gregory VII in 1080, they were constrained to respect Papal territory. In 1100, Robert of Loritello extended his growing principality across the Fortore, taking Bovino and Dragonara.

The conquest of the Molise is shrouded in obscurity. Boiano, the chief town, may have been conquered in the year prior to the Battle of Civitate, perhaps under the leadership of Robert Guiscard, who had encircled the Matese massif. The county of Boiano was bestowed on Rudolf of Moulins. His grandson, Hugh, expanded it eastwards, occupying Toro and San Giovanni in Galdo, and also westwards, where he annexed the Capuan counties of Venafro, Pietrabbondante (1105), and Trivento (1105).

Conquest of Sicily, 1061–1091[]

Roger I of Sicily at the battle of Cerami, victorious against 35,000 "Saracens" in 1061

Sicily was mostly inhabited by Greek Christians under Arab control at the time of its conquest by the Normans. It had originally been under the rule of the Aghlabids and then the Fatimids, but in 948 the Kalbids wrested control of the island and held it until 1053. In the 1010s and 1020s a series of succession crises opened the way for interference by the Zirids of Ifriqiya. Sicily fell into turmoil as petty fiefdoms battled each other for supremacy. Into this mess the Normans, under Robert Guiscard and his younger brother Roger Bosso, came with the intent to conquer, for when the pope invested Robert with the ducal title, he had also conferred on him the empty title of "Duke of Sicily", thus urging him to undertake a campaign to wrest Sicily from the Saracens.

Robert and Roger first invaded Sicily in May 1061, crossing from Reggio di Calabria and besieging Messina for control of the strategically vital Strait of Messina. Roger crossed the strait first, landing unseen during the night and surprising the Saracen army in the morning. When Robert's troops landed later that day, they found themselves unopposed and Messina abandoned. Robert immediately fortified the city and allied himself with the emir, Ibn at-Timnah, against his rival, Ibn al-Hawas. Robert, Roger, and at-Timnah then marched into the centre of the island by way of Rometta, which had remained loyal to at-Timnah. They passed through Frazzanò and the Pianura di Maniace (Plain of Maniakes). They assaulted the town of Centuripe but resistance was strong, and they moved on. Paternò fell quickly and Robert brought his army before Castrogiovanni (modern Enna), the most formidable fortress in central Sicily. While the garrison was defeated in a sally, the citadel itself did not fall, and winter compelled Robert return to Apulia. Before leaving he constructed a fortress at San Marco d'Alunzio, the first Norman castle in Sicily.

Roger I receiving the keys of Palermo in 1071

Robert returned in 1064, bypassing Castrogiovanni and heading straight for the metropolis of Palermo. His camp had to be abandoned, however, because of tarantulas, and the entire campaign was called off. He invaded Palermo again in 1071, but only the city fell; its citadel did not fall until January 1072. Robert invested Roger as Count of Sicily under the suzerainty of the Duke of Apulia. In a partition of the island with his brother, Robert retained Palermo, half of Messina, and the Val Demone, leaving the rest, included what was not yet conquered, to Roger.

In 1077 Roger besieged Trapani, one of two Saracen strongholds remaining in the west of the island. His son Jordan led a sortie that surprised the guards of the garrison's grazing animals. With its food supply cut off, the city soon surrendered. In 1079 Taormina was besieged, and in 1081, Jordan, with Robert de Sourval and Elias Cartomi, conquered Catania, a holding of the emir of Syracuse, in another surprise attack.

Roger left Sicily in the summer of 1083 to assist his brother on the mainland, but Jordan, whom he had left in charge, revolted, forcing him to return to Sicily and reduce his son to submission. In 1085, he was finally able to undertake a systematic campaign. On 22 May 1085 Roger approached Syracuse by sea, while Jordan led a small cavalry detachment fifteen miles north of the city. On 25 May the navies of the count and the emir engaged in the harbour—where the latter was killed—while the forces under Jordan began the siege of the city. The siege lasted throughout the summer, but when the city capitulated in March 1086, only Noto was still under Saracen dominion. In February 1091, after a short effort, Noto yielded as well, and the conquest of Sicily was complete.

The Palazzo dei Normanni was a 9th-century Arab palace in Sicily converted by the Normans into their governing castle.

Because the conquest of Sicily was undertaken under the direction of a unified command, the authority of Roger was not challenged by other conquerors, and he maintained a strong power over his Greek, Arab, Lombard, and Norman vassals and subjects. The Roman Catholic Church was introduced to the island, and its ecclesiastical organisation was overseen by Roger with papal approval. Sees were established at Palermo (with metropolitan authority), Syracuse, and Agrigento. After its elevation to a Kingdom in 1130, Sicily became the centre of Norman power.

In 1091, Roger landed at Malta and subdued the walled city of Mdina. He imposed taxes on the islands but allowed the Arab governors to continue functioning. In 1127, Roger II removed the Muslim government and replaced it with Norman officials. Under Norman rule, the Arabic that the Greek Christian islanders had adopted under centuries of Muslim domination was transformed into a distinct language: Maltese.

Conquest of Amalfi and Salerno, 1073–1077[]

The fall of Amalfi and Salerno to Robert Guiscard both happened through the influence of his wife, Sichelgaita. Amalfi probably surrendered through her negotiations,[25] while Salerno fell when she ceased to petition her husband on behalf of her brother, the Prince of Salerno. The Amalfitans, too, briefly put themselves under Prince Gisulf in an attempt to avoid Norman suzerainty, but this failed and the two states whose histories had been so closely tied since the 9th century were both put under Norman control permanently.

By summer 1076, Gisulf II of Salerno, through piracy and raids, had caused the Normans enough trouble to incite them to destroy him; that season the Normans under Richard of Capua and Robert Guiscard united to besiege Salerno. Though Gisulf had ordered his citizens to store up two years worth of food, he confiscated enough of it to continue his life of luxury, and soon the citizens were starving. On 13 December 1076, the city submitted, and the prince and his retainers retreated to the citadel, which fell in May 1077. Gisulf's lands were confiscated and his relics taken, but he went free. The Principality of Salerno had already been reduced to little more than the capital city and its environs by previous wars with William of the Principate, Roger of Sicily, and Robert Guiscard. However, the city was the most important in southern Italy, and its capture was essential to the creation of a kingdom fifty years later.

In 1073, Sergius III of Amalfi died, leaving only an infant, John III, as his successor. Requiring a strong hand to protect them in unstable times, the Amalfitans exiled the infant duke and called in Robert Guiscard that same year.[26] Amalfi, however, remained restless under Norman control. Robert's successor, Roger Borsa, was only able to take control of Amalfi in 1089, after expelling Gisulf, the deposed Prince of Salerno, whom the citizens had installed with papal aid against the pretensions of Robert's heirs. From 1092 to 1097, Amalfi did not recognise its Norman suzerain and appears to have sought Byzantine help.[25] They installed Marinus Sebaste as ruler in 1096.

Robert's son Bohemond and his brother Roger of Sicily attacked Amalfi in 1097 but were repulsed. It was at this siege that the first Normans were drawn away by the First Crusade. Marinus was only defeated after some Amalfitan noblemen went over to the Norman side and betrayed him in 1101. Amalfi revolted again in 1130 when Roger II of Sicily demanded its loyalty. It was finally subdued in 1131, when the Emir John marched on it by land and George of Antioch blockaded it by sea and set up a base on Capri.

Byzantine-Norman wars, 1059–1085[]

While most of Apulia save the far south and Bari had capitulated to the Normans during the campaigns of the brothers Counts William, Drogo, and Humphrey, much of Calabria remained in the hands of the Byzantines at the time of Robert Guiscard succession in 1057. Calabria had first been breached by William and Guaimar in the early 1040s, and Drogo had installed the ambitious Guiscard there in the early 1050s. Robert's early career in Calabria, however, had been spent in feudal infighting and robber baronage and not in any organised subjugation of the Greek population.

Robert began his countship with an immediate campaign in Calabria. Briefly interrupted by his attendance at the Council of Melfi on 23 August 1059, where he was invested as Duke, he returned to Calabria later that year, where his army was besieging Cariati. The town submitted on the duke's arrival and, before the end of the season, Rossano and Gerace also fell. Of the significant cities of the peninsula, only Reggio remained in Byzantine hands when Robert returned to Apulia in winter. In Apulia, he removed the Byzantine garrison from Taranto (albeit temporarily) and Brindisi. When he returned to Calabria in 1060, it was largely to launch a Sicilian expedition. The fall of Reggio required a long and arduous siege. Robert's brother Roger, however, had prepared siege engines in the interim.

After the fall of Reggio, the Byzantine garrison fled to Scilla, the island citadel of Reggio, where they were easily defeated. Roger's small assault on Messina, across the strait, was repulsed, and Robert was called away by the presence of a large Byzantine force in Apulia, sent by Constantine X late in 1060. Under the Catapan Miriarch, the Byzantines had retaken Taranto, Brindisi, Oria, and Otranto. In January 1061, the Norman capital of Melfi was under siege. By May, however, the two brothers had expelled the Byzantines and pacified Apulia.

Norman progress in Sicily at the time of Robert's expeditions to the Balkans. Capua, Apulia and Calabria, and the County of Sicily are Norman. The Emirate of Sicily, the Duchy of Naples, and lands in the Abruzzo, in the south of the Duchy of Spoleto, have yet to be conquered.

Geoffrey, son of Peter I of Trani, conquered Otranto in 1063 and Taranto, which he made the seat of his county, in 1064. In 1066 he organised an army to cross the sea and attack "Romania" (the Byzantine Balkans), but he was halted near Bari by an army of Varangian auxiliaries that had recently landed under the leadership of a catapan named Mabrica. This catapan retook Brindisi and Taranto (briefly) and established a garrison at the former under Nikephoros Karantenos, an experienced Byzantine soldier from the wars with the Bulgars. The catapan experienced a series of successes against the Normans in Italy, but it was the last significant threat the Byzantines imposed in that quarter. Bari, the capital of the Byzantine catapanate, was besieged by the Normans beginning in August 1068; in April 1071 the city fell, and the last outpost of Byzantine government in Western Europe disappeared.

After expelling the Byzantines from Apulia and Calabria (their theme of Langobardia), Robert Guiscard eyed an attack on Byzantine possessions in the Balkans, in Greece itself. The Byzantines had happily supported Robert's nephews Abelard and Herman, the dispossessed son of Count Humphrey, in their insurrection against Robert's authority. They had also supported Henry, Count of Monte Sant'Angelo, who recognised Byzantine suzerainty in his county, against Robert.

In 1073-75 Robert's vassal Peter II of Trani led an expedition into the Balkans, against the Dalmatian lands of the Kingdom of Croatia. Peter's cousin, Amico, son of Walter of Giovinazzo, attacked the islands of Rab and Cres, ambushing and taking the Croatian king Petar Krešimir IV captive. The king was ransomed for a large sum by the Bishop of Cres, but he died shortly thereafter and was buried in the church of Saint Stephen in the fortress of Klis.

Robert undertook his first Balkan expedition in May 1081, when he left from Brindisi with some 16,000 men. By February 1082 he had captured Corfu and Durazzo, defeating the Emperor Alexius I at the Battle of Dyrrhachium in October 1081. Robert's son, Mark Bohemond, mastered Thessaly for a time and tried, but failed, to hold the conquests of 1081–82 in Robert's absence. Robert returned in 1084 to restore them, occupying Corfu and Kephalonia, where he died of a fever on 15 July 1085. The small town of Fiskardo on Kephalonia is named after him. Bohemond did not continue to pursue conquest in Greece, instead returning to Italy, there to dispute the succession to Robert with his half-brother Roger Borsa.

Conquest of Naples, 1077–1139[]

The Duchy of Naples, nominally a Byzantine possession, was one of the last south Italian states to be attacked by the Normans. Ever since Sergius IV had called upon the help of Ranulf Drengot in the 1020s, the dukes of Naples had been allied with the Normans of Aversa and Capua, with only brief exceptions. The incorporation of Naples into the Hauteville state took sixty years to complete, starting in 1077.

In summer 1074, hostilities flared up between Richard of Capua and Robert Guiscard. Sergius V of Naples allied with the latter and made his city a supply centre for Guiscard's troops. This pitted him against Richard, who was supported by Gregory VII. In June, Richard besieged Naples, but only briefly. Richard, Robert, and Sergius soon opened negotiations with Gregory through the mediation provided by Desiderius of Montecassino.

In 1077, Naples was besieged by Richard of Capua, with a naval blockade by Robert Guiscard. Richard died during the siege in 1078, having only been relieved of excommunication on his deathbed. The siege was lifted by his successor, Jordan, in order to right himself with the Papacy, which had made peace with Duke Sergius.

In 1130, the Antipope Anacletus II crowned Roger II of Sicily as King and declared the honour of Naples to be a part of his kingdom.[27] In 1131, Roger demanded from the citizens of Amalfi the defences of their city and the keys to their castle. When the citizens refused, Sergius VII of Naples initially prepared to aid them with a fleet, but George of Antioch blockaded Naples' port with a larger armada and Sergius, cowed too by the suppression of the Amalfitans, submitted to Roger. According to the chronicler Alexander of Telese, Naples, "which, since Roman times, had hardly ever been conquered by the sword now submitted to Roger on the strength of a mere report [i.e., that of Amalfi's fall]."

In 1134, Sergius supported the rebellion of Robert II of Capua and Ranulf II of Alife, but avoided any direct confrontation with Roger. After the fall of Capua, he did homage to the king. On 24 April 1135, a Pisan fleet captained by Robert of Capua laid anchor in Naples carrying 8,000 reinforcements. Naples served as the centre of the revolt against Roger II for the next two years. Sergius, Robert, and Ranulf were besieged in Naples until Spring 1136. By then, many of the inhabitants were dying of starvation. Yet according to the historian and rebel sympathiser Falco of Benevento, Sergius and the Neapolitans did not relent, "preferring to die of hunger than to bare their necks to the power of an evil king." In addition, the failure of the naval blockade to prevent Sergius and Robert twice visiting Pisa to bring more supplies marked the inadequacy of Roger's efforts. When a relief army, commanded by Emperor Lothair II, marched to Naples' rescue, the siege was lifted. The emperor left hurriedly the next year, however Sergius, in return for a complete pardon, re-submitted to Roger and did feudal homage in the Norman fashion. On 30 October 1137, the last Duke of Naples died serving alongside the king at the Battle of Rignano.

The defeat at Rignano, however, opened up the Norman conquest of Naples, since Sergius died without heir and the Neapolitan nobility could not reach an agreement as to who should succeed him. Nevertheless, it was two years between the death of Sergius and the incorporation of Naples into Sicily. The nobility seems to have exercised authority in the interim; it has often been assumed that this was final period of Neapolitan independence from Norman rule.[27] During this period, Norman landowners first appear in Naples, though the Pisans, enemies of Roger II, retained their alliance with Naples. Perhaps Pisa sustained Naples' independence until 1139. In that year, Roger finally absorbed the duchy into his kingdom. Pope Innocent II and the Neapolitan nobility acknowledged Roger's young son, Alfonso of Hauteville, as duke.


Early Norman castle at Adrano

The Norman conquest of southern Italy began an infusion of Romanesque and specifically Norman architectural forms. Some castles were expanded on existing Lombard, Byzantine, and Arab structures, while others were constructed anew. The castles drew on local craftsmanship and retained distinctive elements of their non-Norman origins. Latin cathedrals were built in the lands newly conquered from Greek Orthodoxy or Islam, mostly in the Romanesque style with obvious influence from Byzantine and Islamic designs.

The Norman administration was centralised, complex, and bureaucratic in comparison to other western European systems of the time. Public buildings, such as palaces, were common in the important cities, most notably Palermo. These buildings more than any others show the influence of Siculo-Arab culture.

The Normans rapidly began the construction, expansion, and renovation of castles in southern Italy. Most of their castles seem to have been original or based on pre-existing Lombard structures, though some were built on Byzantine or, in Sicily, Arab foundations. By the end of the Norman period, most previously wooden castles had been converted into stone.

After the Lombard castle at Melfi, which was conquered by the Normans early on and augmented with a surviving rectangular donjon late in the 11th century, Calabria was the first province to be changed radically by Norman encastellation. In 1046, William Iron Arm began construction of "Stridula", a large castle near Squillace, and by 1055 Robert Guiscard had already built three castles: at Rossano, site of a Byzantine fortress; at "Scribla", the seat of his honor guarding the pass of the Val di Crati; and at San Marco Argentano (donjon 1051) near Cosenza.[28] In 1058, Scalea was built on a seaside cliff.

Guiscard was a major castle-builder after his accession to the Apulian countship. He built the castle at Gargano with pentagonal towers called the "Towers of Giants". Later Henry, Count of Monte Sant'Angelo, built a castle at Castelpagano not far away. In the Molise, the Normans built many fortresses into the naturally defensible terrain, such as Santa Croce and Ferrante. The region around a rough line from Terracina to Termoli has the greatest density of Norman castles in Italy.[29] Many of the sites chosen were originally Samnite strongholds reused by the Romans and their successors; the Normans called such a fortress a castellum vetus, meaning "old castle." Many Molisian castles have walls integrated into the stone faces of the mountains and ridges, and much of the quickly erected masonry shows that the Normans introduced the practice of the opus gallicum into at least the Molise.[30]

The encastellation of Sicily was begun at the behest of the native Greek inhabitants.[31] In 1060, they asked Guiscard to construct a castle at Aluntium to defend them, and the first Norman building on Sicily, San Marco d'Alunzio, named after the Guiscard's first castle at Argentano in Calabria, was erected. Its ruins survive. Next, Petralia Soprana was built near Cefalù, then a castle at Troina in 1071; in 1073 one was raised at Mazara (the ruins still exist) and another at Paternò (the ruins are restored).[31] At Adrano (or Aderno) the Normans built a plain rectangular tower whose floor plan gives an indication of 11th century Norman design. An outside stairway leads to the first storey entrance, and the interior is divided lengthwise down the middle into a great hall on one side with a further two rooms, the chapel and chamber, on the other.[32] Other fortifications in Sicily were taken over from the Arabs, and the palatial and cathedral architecture of the major cities, like Palermo, has distinctive and obvious Arab markers. Arab artistic influence in Sicily mirrors Lombard influence in the Mezzogiorno.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Joranson, 355 and n 19.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Brown, R. Allen (1984). The Normans. Woodsbridge, Suffolk: Boydell & Brewer. p. 97. ISBN 0-85115-359-3. 
  3. Joranson, 356.
  4. Both Chalandon and Norwich provide a combined story based on the Salerno and Gargano traditions. Houben, p.8, presents the Salerno tradition as fact.
  5. Joranson, 358.
  6. Chalandon makes a similar connection between the traditions. Joranson, 367, finds such hypotheses "unworkable."
  7. 7.0 7.1 Brown, R. Allen (1984). The Normans. Woodsbridge, Suffolk: Boydell & Brewer. pp. 97–98. ISBN 0-85115-359-3. 
  8. Joranson, 369.
  9. Joranson, 371.
  10. Chalandon, 52. Norwich.
  11. Joranson, 371, disputes the identification of the two Rudolfs.
  12. Joranson, 371–373.
  13. Joranson, 373. Leo calls him "Rodulfus Todinensis."
  14. Joranson, 372.
  15. 15.00 15.01 15.02 15.03 15.04 15.05 15.06 15.07 15.08 15.09 15.10 15.11 15.12 Brown, R. Allen (1984). The Normans. Woodsbridge, Suffolk: Boydell & Brewer. pp. 102–103. ISBN 0-85115-359-3. 
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 16.3 The Normans p104
  17. Brown, Gordon S. (2003) p. 42
  18. 18.0 18.1 The Normans p104-106
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 19.3 19.4 The Normans p106
  20. 20.0 20.1 The Normans p108
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2 21.3 21.4 21.5 The Normans p109
  22. Chalandon, i, 124; Migne Pat. Lat., t. 143, p.798
  23. Skinner, 156 and n32. Both documents are preserved in the Codex Cajetanus. Both have been ruled forgeries on the basis of erroneous dating clauses and the absence of Richard. Also, Jordan's reputed wife, Rapizza, appears to be make-believe.
  24. Skinner, 156 and n32.
  25. 25.0 25.1 Skinner, 203.
  26. Skinner, 202.
  27. 27.0 27.1 Skinner, 206–207.
  28. Gravett and Nicolle, 132.
  29. Gravett and Nicolle, 134, based on map.
  30. Gravett and Nicolle, 135.
  31. 31.0 31.1 Gravett and Nicolle, 136.
  32. Gravett and Nicolle, 137.


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