Norman conquest of southern Italy

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The Kingdom of Sicily (green) around 1154.

The Norman conquest of southern Italy took place over a period of several decades in the 11th century. Norman mercenaries served various Longobard and Byzantine parties in the Mezzogiorno . Over time, the Normans began to establish their own possessions and pre-forms of small states . These merged, which over time made the Normans a de facto independent power factor in the region. This happened around fifty years after their arrival around 1017. Their extensive conquests included the Kingdom of Sicily , the entire south of the Italian peninsula (with the exception of Benevento , which they only briefly occupied twice) and Malta . In contrast to the Norman conquest of England , which only took a few years and began with a decisive battle, the conquest of southern Italy was a long process with many small battles. Many small Norman parties conquered small territories on their own, which over time became states. Compared to the conquest of England, the process was unplanned and unorganized, but nonetheless continuous.

Starting position

In the first half of the 11th century the Apennine peninsula presented a picture of political fragmentation. The former unity of northern and southern Italy - most recently under Byzantine rule - was finally lost by the Lombard invasion (568). As a result of the conquest of the Longobard Empire by Charlemagne (774), northern Italy became part of the Frankish Empire . This functioned not only as the protective power of the papacy and with it the beginning Papal States , but initially also exercised supremacy over the Lombard duchy of Benevento , located in southern Italy, and the principalities of Capua and Salerno that later emerged from it - a claim to power that over the person of Charles the Great was "passed on" to the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation . The Duchy of Naples , the area around the city of Gaeta and the “ Maritime Republic ” of Amalfi , however, were practically independent states .

After the Lombard immigration and conquest, only Apulia , Calabria and - initially - Sicily remained under the control of the Byzantine Empire . These areas were extremely attractive as possessions because of their fertile soil - Sicily had already acted as a "granary" in the Roman Empire - and formed an important, albeit distant, flank of the empire, but they were never the center of Byzantine interest. This was one of the reasons that the rulers in Constantinople were neither able to guarantee complete political and military control there, nor to protect the inhabitants effectively from the raids of the Arabs that began with the in the first half of the 9th century The conquest of Sicily had begun and since then they have also haunted mainland Italy with increasing frequency.

Since neither the Roman-German emperors nor the Eastern Roman rulers could guarantee effective protection against Arab incursions in the long term, the local rulers and city administrations were more or less forced to help themselves. More and more often they took Norman fighters into their service, who stayed in southern Italy either as pilgrims or as landless adventurers and adventurers - as later sons, many of them were not entitled to inherit at home. The Normans not only fought against the " Saracens ", as the Muslims in the Mediterranean area were called at that time, but were also used as a fighting force in the internal quarrels of the southern Italian world. Conversely, the adventurers from the north soon seized the opportunity, which arose from the politically unstable situation in southern Italy, and began to establish themselves there permanently by taking advantage of the rivalries of the local rulers to establish their own domains. Their successful example ensured that there were more newcomers from home, including the sons of Tankred from Hauteville , who were to have a decisive influence on the further history of southern Italy.

Arrival of the Normans

Map of Italy before the arrival of the Normans.

Norman knights were first mentioned in the area in the year 999. They were Norman pilgrims who returned from their pilgrimage from Jerusalem and made a stop in Salerno . The city and its surroundings were hit by raids by the Saracens from North Africa at that time , which took the annual toll. The Normans were by Prince Waimar III. Greeted warmly by Salerno, who promised to help against the Saracens from them. Tradition has it that while Waimar was trying to collect the required toll, the Normans were appalled by the Lombards' lack of courage. They took matters in hand, attacked the Saracens and drove them out of the area. Waimar asked the Normans to stay, but they refused. However, they promised the prince that they would recruit mercenaries for him in Normandy. Some sources also speak of Waimar sending advertisers to Normandy.

The next mention of the Normans concerns the year 1016. Norman pilgrims traveled to the shrine of Archangel Michael on the Gargano , met the Lombard nobleman Melus of Bari and were convinced by him to attack the Byzantines in Apulia, if one said Report of William of Apulia may be trusted. The first documented Norman military action in southern Italy was the battle with Melus against the Greeks in May 1017.

Longobard Revolt 1017-1022

On May 9, 1009 there was an uprising in Bari against the governor of the Byzantine Katepanate of Italy. Led by Melus, the uprising quickly spread to other cities. Around 1010 the Katepan Johannes Kurkuas was killed during a battle. In March 1010, his successor Basilius Mesardonites arrived with reinforcements and immediately began to besiege the rebels in the city. The Greek residents of the city negotiated with Basil, forcing the Lombard leader Melus and his brother-in-law Dattus to flee.

Basil entered the city on June 11, 1011 and restored Byzantine rule. There was no reprisals against the population. However, the Melus family was brought to Constantinople . Basil died in 1016. After his death, a rebellion broke out again under the leadership of Melus. This time they were supported by a group of Normans who had either been sent by Pope Benedict VIII or whom he had through the intermediary of Waimar III. from Salerno on Monte Gargano . Leo Tornikios Kontoleon was appointed Basils successor and arrived in southern Italy in May 1016.

Leo sent his general Leo Passianos with an army against the Lombard-Norman army. Passianos and Melus troops met on the Fortore River in Arenula. According to the historian Wilhelm of Apulia, the battle ended in a draw or, according to Leo of Ostia, with the victory of Melus. Tornikios himself took command after the first battle and led his troops into a second battle near Civita. Melus won this second battle. The third battle took place in Vaccarizia and was the decisive victory for Melus. The entire region from Fortore to Trani fell into his hands. In September Tornikios was relieved of his functions and replaced by Basilius Boioannes. This reached the region in December.

At the request of Boioannes an elite unit which was Varangian Guard to Italy sent to fight the Normans. The two armies met on the banks of the Ofanto River near Cannae , the site of Hannibal's victory over the Romans. The Battle of Cannae ends with a decisive Byzantine victory. Boioannes immediately began to build a fortress on a pass in the Apennines to secure the entrance to the Apulian plain. In 1019 the fortress of Troia was completed and occupied by a contingent of Norman mercenaries. This is a clear indication of the Norman mercenary activity in the area.

Pope Benedict met Heinrich II in Bamberg at Easter 1020. On this occasion, Melus was invested as Duke of Apulia, but died a few days later in Bamberg. The emperor was only able to intervene in southern Italy some time later. In 1022 a large army of the emperor marched on Troy. The fortress was able to hold up, summer heat and Heinrich's illness forced the Germans to retreat, which led via Montecassino.

Mercenary Services 1022-1046

In 1024 Norman mercenaries (possibly led by Rainulf Drengot ) were in the service of Waimar III when Pandulf IV besieged Capua. After 18 months of siege, Capua surrendered in 1026 and Pandulf was reinstated. Rainulf Pandulf joined in the next few years. In 1029, however, he joined Sergius IV of Naples . This was previously driven out of Naples by Pandulf in 1027, very likely with Rainulf's help .

In 1029 Rainulf and Sergius recaptured Naples. In the spring of 1030 Sergius Rainulf gave the county of Aversa as a fief. Thus, the county of Aversa became the first Norman possession in the region. Sergius also married his sister to the new count. In 1034 Sergius's sister died and Rainulf returned to Pandulf.

More and more Normans and locals joined Rainulf and his following grew steadily. The common language and culture welded the Normans together.

In 1037 the position of the Normans was further strengthened when Konrad II (HRR) confirmed Pandulf in his function, but also Rainulf as "Count of Aversa". Thus the title of Rainulf was awarded directly by the emperor. In 1038 Rainulf conquered Capua and made his area one of the largest in southern Italy.

Between 1038 and 1040 another group of Normans, along with a group of Longobards, was sent from Salerno to Sicily by Waimar IV to fight for the Byzantines against the Saracens. The members of the Hauteville family were first mentioned in the fighting in Sicily, under Georgios Maniakes . Wilhelm Eisenarm got his nickname "Eisenarm" during the siege of Syracuse .

After the murder of the katepan Nikephoros Doukeianos in Ascoli by the Normans in 1040, the latter planned to choose leaders from their own ranks. However, they were bribed by Atenulf, Prince of Benevento , to choose him as their leader. On March 16, 1041, the Normans tried to negotiate with the new Katepan Michael Doukeianos near Venosa . Negotiations failed, however, and fighting broke out in Montemaggiore , near Cannae. Doukeianos had brought Varangians from Bari as reinforcements, and a bitter battle broke out, in the course of which Doukeianos had to withdraw and many of his soldiers drowned in the Ofanto River .

On September 3, 1041, the Normans, led by the Longobards Arduin and Atenulf, won a battle against the new Katepan Exaugustus Boioannes and took him prisoner. At around the same time Waimar IV of Salerno brought many Normans into his service. In February 1042, Atenulf agreed with the Byzantines the ransom for Exaugustus and then settled into Byzantine territory, possibly due to bribery by the Byzantines. He was replaced by Argyros , who was also bribed and also fled to Byzantine territory.

In September 1042 the Normans elected a leader from among their own ranks. The original Lombard revolt was now a Norman one.

Wilhelm Eisenarm was elected as the new leader and given the title "Graf". He and another Norman leader demanded recognition of their conquests. They received the lands around Melfi as a fief and declared Waimar "Prince of Apulia and Calabria". In 1043 Waimar in Melfi divided the region into twelve baronates (with the exception of Melfi himself, which was ruled according to a republican model). The areas were divided among the Norman leaders. Wilhelm Eisenarm received Ascoli , Asclettin received Acerenza , Tristan von Montepeloso received Montepeloso , Hugo Tubœuf received Monopoli , Peter von Trani received Trani , Drogo von Hauteville received Venosa and Rainulf Drengot received Monte Gargano . Wilhelm married Wida, the daughter of Guido and niece of Waimar. This strengthened the bond between the Normans and Waimar.

In 1044 Wilhelm and Waimar began conquering Calabria and built the great fortress of Stridula, very likely near Squillace . In Apulia, however, Wilhelm was less successful, where he was defeated by Argyros in 1045, near the city of Taranto . However, his brother Drogo conquered Bovino . With the death of Wilhelm, the Norman mercenary system came to an end, for which two large Norman counties were created, nominally belonging to the Holy Roman Empire: the county of Aversa, later the principality of Capua and the county of Apulia, and later the duchy of Apulia .

County Melfi 1046 to 1059

Battle plan of the Battle of Civitate (Normans in red, Papal coalition in blue)

In 1046 Drogo attacked Apulia and defeated the Katepan Eustathios Palatinos near Taranto . At the same time, his brother Humfred von Hauteville forced the city of Bari into an alliance with the Normans. In 1047 Waimar gave his daughter Gaitelgrima Drogo in marriage . Emperor Heinrich III. came personally to the south to renew County's loyalty to him and made Drogo his direct vassal. He awarded him the title dux et magister Italiae comesque Normannorum totius Apuliae et Calabriae . This was the first official title of the Normans of Melfi. Heinrich authorized Drogo to conquer Benevento . However, the Normans only succeeded in doing this in 1053.

In 1048 Drogo led an expedition to Calabria. He gave the fortress at Scribla to his brother Robert Guiskard . In 1051 Drogo was assassinated by a Byzantine conspiracy. After a brief interregnum, his brother Humfred succeeded him. The unpredictability of the Normans under Drogo had Pope Leo IX. angry, and Humfred found himself under threat to his position.

On June 18, 1053, the troops of Humfred and his Normans and those of the Pope and the Empire met at the Battle of Civitate . The Normans destroyed the papal army and took Leo IX. captured. Humfred conquered Oria , Nardò and Lecce at the end of 1055 and died in 1057. His successor was Robert Guiskard, who soon became a vassal of the Pope and in return received the title of duke.

County of Aversa 1049 to 1078

Between 1050 and 1070 there were two Norman centers of power in southern Italy: one in Melfi under the Hautevilles and another in Aversa under the Drengots. In 1049 Richard Drengot came to power in Aversa and immediately began expanding his possessions at the expense of the Hautevilles. He also attacked his Lombard neighbors, such as B. Pandulf VI. from Capua , Atenulf I from Gaeta and Gisulf II from Salerno . It was so successful that soon only the city of Salerno remained of the once great principality . He planned to expand his influence peacefully and wanted to marry his daughter to the eldest son of Atenulf of Gaeta. However, the boy died before the wedding. Thereupon he asked the Lombards for the morning gift anyway . The Duke refused, however, and Richard then besieged him and took Aquino in 1058 .

When the Prince of Capua died in 1057, Richard immediately besieged Capua . Richard swore allegiance to the Pope, and the Drengots made Capua their headquarters and ruled Aversa and Gaeta from there.

Richard continued to expand his new possessions to the north, namely in Lazio , at the expense of the Pope. In 1066 Richard even marched towards Rome, but was quickly pushed back again. His successor Jordan made peace with the Pope.

Conquest of Abruzzo from 1053 to 1105

In 1077 the Lombard prince of Benevento died.

The Normans began to conquer the Adriatic coast of the Duchy of Benevento. Gottfried von Hauteville , a brother of the Counts of Melfi, conquered the Lombard county of Larino and the castle of Morrone . Robert I of Loritello united the territories conquered in 1061 to form the county of Loritello . Then he conquered other areas of the Lombard Abruzzo. He conquered Teate County (now Chieti ) and besieged Ortona . Soon the county of Loritello reached in the north as far as Pescara and bordered the Papal States . In 1078 Robert allied himself with Jordan of Capua and devastated the papal possessions in Abruzzo. In 1080 an agreement was signed with Pope Gregory VII that obliged the Normans not to bother the papal possessions any more. Robert expanded his possessions around 1100 with Fortore , Bovino and Dragonara .

Conquest of Sicily 1061 to 1091

Norman Palace, residence of the Norman kings of Sicily
Extension of Norman conquests in Sicily at the time of Robert Guiscard
Norman fort in Paternò , Sicily (1072)

Sicily , which was largely inhabited by a Greek-speaking population, was under Arab control. It was ruled first by the Aghlabids and later by the Fatimids . Between 948 and 1053 the Kalbites were the rulers of the island. In the 1010er and 1020s years have seen a number of succession crises, and the Zirids from IFRIQIYA were the determining power. There were constant minor clashes, and the island fell into various warring fiefdoms. It was exactly at this time that the Normans Robert Guiscard and his younger brother Roger appeared with the intention of conquering the island. The Pope had urged Robert to liberate Sicily from the Saracens and gave him the title of Duke of Sicily.

In May 1061 they crossed from Reggio Calabria to Sicily and wanted to besiege Messina . Roger landed unnoticed during the night and surprised the Saracen army the next morning. When Robert arrived in Messina, he met no resistance and took the city without a fight. Robert immediately began to fortify the city and allied himself with Emir Ibn at-Timna against Emir Ibn al-Hawas .

Robert, Roger and at-Timna marched inland via Rometta . They crossed Frazzanò and the Pianura di Maniace ( Maniace plain). Robert attacked the city of Centuripe ; but could not take it. But the city of Paternò fell , and the Normans now advanced on the fortress Castrogiovanni (today Enna) and conquered it with the exception of the citadel. Robert built a fortress in San Marco d'Alunzio . This was the first Norman fortress in Sicily.

Robert conquered Palermo in 1072 and installed Roger as Count of Sicily . In 1085 he undertook another offensive against the last two cities of resistance, Syracuse and Noto . Syracuse surrendered in March 1086 and Noto in February 1091. With the fall of the two cities, the conquest of Sicily was complete.

In 1091 Roger landed in Malta and appeared outside the city walls of Mdina . He asked for taxes, but left the Arab governor at his post. In 1127 Roger II removed the Muslim governor from his post. In 1130 he proclaimed the Kingdom of Sicily .

Conquest of Amalfi and Salerno from 1073 to 1077

In the summer of 1076 Gisulf II of Salerno invaded the Normans with pirates and bandits. Richard von Capua and Robert Guiscard allied and besieged Salerno. The city fell on December 13, 1076, and the prince withdrew with his family to the citadel, which could not be conquered until May 1077. Gisulf's possessions were confiscated. Robert's son Bohemond and brother Roger attacked Amalfi in 1097, but failed. During the siege, many Normans left the army to join the First Crusade . The ruler of Amalfi, Marinus, was not defeated until 1101 when a part of the nobles of Amalfi betrayed him and switched to the side of the Normans.

Greek War 1059-1085

While large parts of Apulia as far as Bari had already been conquered by the Normans, the greater part of Calabria remained in the possession of Byzantium. 1059 besieged Robert Cariati and took the city. In the same year Rossano and Gerace also surrendered . The only important city that remained in Byzantine hands was Reggio . Robert returned to Apulia and drove the Byzantines from Taranto and Brindisi . In 1060 he returned to Calabria and, well prepared, began the siege of Reggio. After the fall of the city, the Byzantine occupation fled to Sicily. In the same year Constantine X sent a large force to Apulia under the Katepan Marules. The cities of Taranto, Brindisi, Oria and Otranto were retaken. In January 1061 the Norman capital Melfi was besieged. However, the two brothers managed to drive the Byzantines out of the country again.

In 1066, the Byzantine fleet, under the command of the Mabrikas, dropped a troop of Varangians in Bari. Mabrikas conquered Brindisi and Taranto and inflicted several defeats on the Normans, but only Brindisi could be held longer alongside Bari. As early as April 1071, Robert attacked Bari, the center of the Byzantine administration. The city fell, making it the last outpost of the Byzantine Empire in the western Mediterranean.

Conquest of Naples from 1077 to 1139

The Duchy of Naples was one of the last states to come under fire from the Normans. The dukes of Naples - since Sergius IV called Ranulf Drangot for help in the 1020s - were allied with the Normans of Aversa and Capua with brief exceptions. The incorporation of Naples into the Hauteville State took sixty years, beginning in 1077.

In the summer of 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 center for Guiscard's troops. That put him against Richard, who was supported by Gregory VII. In June Richard besieged Naples, but only briefly. Richard, Robert, and Sergius began negotiations with Gregor shortly thereafter through the mediation of Viktor III.

In 1077 Naples was besieged by Richard von Capua by means of a naval blockade by Robert Guiscard.

In 1137, after tough resistance, the duchy fell into the hands of the Normans. In 1139 Roger II added the principality to his possessions. From this point on, Naples was part of the Norman Kingdom of Sicily and its successor states.


  • Jules Gay: L'Italie méridionale et l'empire Byzantin: Livre II . Paris 1904.
  • Ferdinand Chalandon : Histoire de la domination normande en Italie et en Sicile . Paris 1907.
  • Einar Joranson: The Inception of the Career of the Normans in Italy - Legend and History . In: Speculum 23.3 (1948) 353-396.
  • Hartmut Hoffmann: The beginnings of the Normans in southern Italy . In: Sources and research from Italian archives and libraries 47, 1967, pp. 95–144.
  • Bernard S. Bachrach: On the Origins of William the Conqueror's Horse Transports. In: Technology and Culture , Vol. 26, No. 3., 1985, pp. 505-531.
  • Donald Matthew: The Norman Kingdom of Sicily . Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1992.
  • Alheydis Plassmann : The Normans. Conquer - Rule - Integrate (= Kohlhammer Urban Taschenbücher 616). Verlag W. Kohlhammer GmbH, Stuttgart 2008, ISBN 978-3-17-018945-4 .
  • Trevor Rowley: The Normans. Magnus Verlag GmbH, Essen 2003, ISBN 3-88400-017-9 .
  • Patricia Skinner : Family Power in Southern Italy: The Duchy of Gaeta and its Neighbors, 850-1139 . Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1995.
  • Graham Alexander Loud: Coinage, Wealth and Plunder in the Age of Robert Guiscard. In: The English Historical Review , Vol. 114, No. 458, 1999, pp. 815-843.
  • Hubert Houben : Roger II of Sicily. Ruler between Orient and Occident. 2nd edition Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 2010.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. a b c See also Plassmann, Die Normannen , pp. 104–118, and Rowley: Die Normannen , pp. 123–128.