- Aug 3, 2008
Interlude Two: From R. Champlin’s ‘History of the Normans’.
The following is an expert from Roger Champlin, ‘History of the Normans in the Mediterranean’, Edinburgh-Palermo 2008. The present editor has chosen to omit most of Champlin’s copious footnotes and annotations to allow for greater ease of reading; only a bare minimum was retained to enable an interested reader to delve more deeply in the subject.
There can be little doubt that after the capitulation of Palermo on May 23rd 1073, Robert de Hauteville would have liked nothing better than to immediately wage war upon Trapani, the last remaining free Muslim power on Sicily (though this is denied by Momigliano p. 374) and thereby complete his conquest of the isle, but the state of his realm did not allow for such immediate action. Not only had the war effort against Ayyub ibn Ziri depleted the ducal treasury and plunged the Guiscard deeply into the moneylenders’ debt, but he was in addition also facing violent upheaval in Italy. Almost immediately upon the Apulian host’s departure for Sicily, a wandering Greek Orthodox monk by the name of Anastasios had started to preach against Robert de Hauteville, branding his rule as godless and unlawful. Anastasios had seems to have found many supporters in the county of Lecce, where he incited a public riot in which a ducal reeve was lynched by the peasants. An intervention by the Byzantine Emperor seemed possible, and so Robert Guiscard reacted quickly an brutally, despatching a few of his retainers to murder Anastasios. But it was already too late, Anastasios’ seed had taken root and was not that easily uprooted again. Enraged at the murder of Anastasios, the abbot of the Greek Orthodox monastery of Oria in the county of Bari embraced the cause of his slain fellow clergyman and transformed his monastery into a nest of resistance against the rule of the Normans. Duke Robert, still embroiled deeply in the war in Sicily, did once again react decisively and brutally – he had the monastery stormed and all the monks slain. This heavy-handed act did for once cow the blooming Greek resistance against Hauteville domination into submission, even though it is safe to assume that Greek accaptance of the Norman regime reached an all-time low.
But religiously-fueld Greek resistance was not the only Italian crisis Robert Guiscard had to deal with whilst campaigning in Sicily. The very heart of his own demesne, the county of Apulia, seems to have ben wrecked by a famine, quite possibly a direct result of overtaxation of the region’s resources for the wars of the last decade. Similar problems seem also to have wracked the county of Bari and the county of Lecce, where the situation of the peasants deteriorated to such a degree that many felt evetually forced to abandon their farms and take to the wilderness and lead an existance as poachers and brigands. If one views these events in their entirety, one cannot but come to the conclusion that while Robert de Hauteville was campaigning against the sheik of Palermo, his Italian lands were falling into ruin. Under these circumstances, Duke Robert had little choice but to bring this war to the earliest possible conclusion and return to Apulia, a conclusion endorsed by the scientifiy public at large (for the first time by von Schack 1889).
Documents show that Duke Robert was back again in Italy as early as June 1073. Here, he met with delegates of the bishoprics, monasteries and towns of his realm, which he had summoned to Cosenza. This assembly can be viewed as a kind of early and still somewhat rudimentary estates general. It was in all probability Herman da Intimiano who had discovered this possible source of revenue (see Ermini p. 422) as a first fiscal measure against the crisis wrecking the ducal demesne. Unfortunately, no records detailing this event are extant, but from the decisive action Robert Guiscard was soon taking to combat famine and sedition in his realm, it cannot be doubted that he forced a considerable contribution to his depleted treasury, even though the exact nature of the concessions he was undoubtedly forced to make to the towns and clergy in return will have to be left entirely to speculation.
His coffers once again filled and his realm somewhat stabilized, Robert de Hauteville did in September 1073 assume a new title – Duke of Sicily. This third ducal title did of course on its own add to the Guiscard’s already considerable prestige, but his real ambitions lay elsewhere. Robert de Hauteville had set his sights on kingship, and now the circumstances were favourable. Even though he had achieved power rivalling many kings and proven his mettle as defender of the Christian faith, this alone would not have sufficed to be recognized as king. But at this time, Pope Alexander II. was desperately on the lookout for new and powerful allies, as his quarrels with King Heinrich IV. of Germany had over the course of several years steadily aggravated. It is well known how Heinrich refused to relinquish his assumed privilege to invest the high ranking-clergy of his realm, and how Pope Alexander did in return withhold the Emperorship. In the late 1060s, Heinrich had reached maturity and assumed complete and soon also unchallenged control over his realm, fully exerting his royal prerogatives. Both Pope Alexander II. and King Heinrich IV. were firmly determined to yield the other no ground and to ascertain their superiority over the other, and by 1073, any compromise in this conflict had already become highly unlikely. By allying himself with the powerful and deeply devout Duchess Mathilda of Tuscany, Alexander had recently removed himself somewhat from the direct grasp of Heinrich, but with the duchess still owing fealty to the German sovereign, a number of her barons, most of them of German ancestry themselves, were clearly opposed to siding with the pope against their king. Pope Alexander did therefore cast about for further allies to strengthen his position against King Heinrich, and one his first choices was his powerful and independent southern neighbour Duke Robert. The papal archives hold documents (Vat. W.84.F.38 – Vat. W.84.F.41) mentioning no less than five separate embassies despatched to Robert de Hauteville in 1073. Details of these negotiations do not survive, but there can be little doubt that Robert Guiscard did drive a hard bargain – if the pope wished Norman backing, he had to publicly recognize Norman kingship. The evidence of rich grants of great swaths of land to all monasteries in the Hauteville’s realm coinciding with his eventual coronation seem to suggest that the pope was at first reluctant to grant Duke Robert his wish, and that further incitements were necessary (the first to point out the connections between these grants of land and the coronation was Momigliano. Smallwood on the other hand interprets these grants as spontaneous acts of piety and honest gratitude for the coronation). But with the pope’s need for an alliance with the Normans as pressing as Robert de Hauteville’s need for papal sanctioning of his kingship, a settlement between Rome and Apulia was basically inevitable. So Pope Alexander followed a Norman invitation to Napoli to celebrate Christmas together with the Norman barons, and here, on December 26th 1073, he crowned Robert de Hauteville King of Naples.
Robert Guiscard had thus reached the ultimate honours. The boost in prestige from the kingship must have been considerable and echoed throughout Europe. An immediate reaction came from Count Gisuld di Salerno, Robert de Hauteville’s brother-in-law and an old friend of the Normans. Following the feast of Epiphany, he visited the Norman court at Naples and offered his fealty to King Robert. This act by the last Lombard lord of Italy has been interpreted varyingly. Some (von Schack) view it as an honest act of reverence, while others (Momigliano and more recently Smallwood) suspect fear as the ultimate motive of Count Gisulf. This second interpretation has much to commend itself. A document dating to November 6th 1073 records the gift of a large tract of land by Count Gisulf to the monastery of Roccadaspide – an act of gratitude, as the document records explicitly, for the pregnancy of the Countess. The gratitude and joy of Gisulf at this late pregnancy, after almost twenty years of marriage still without child, is hardly surprising, but the news of his wife’s state must also have worried the Lombard. Currently, his heir was his nephew Roger Borsa, son to Robert de Hauteville and his sister Sigelgaita, meaning that the county of Salerno would eventually devolve unto the house of Hauteville. The birth of a child would have overthrown this settlement, and in view of the proven rapaciousness of Robert de Hauteville, Count Gisulf had every reason to be worried. The present writer does therefore deem it very likely that Gisulf pledged his fealty not so much out of awe at his brother-in-law’s kingship, but to preserve Salerno for his decendants by subordinating himself to Robert de Hauteville.
If this is the case, Gisulf di Salerno miscalculated. He took his oath of fealty on January 10th 1074, and already for January 29th 1074 documents of the cathedral of Salerno record his death – and the ascension of Roger Borsa de Hauteville, at the time thirteen years old, as new Count of Salerno. No records as to the fate of Count Gisulf’s widow survive, and nothing is known about their still unborn child; at any rate, they did not play any role in the further history of the county, even if they survived. The house of Hauteville moved with speed to take possession of Salerno, and there can be little doubt that Robert Guiscard had had his brother-in-law Gisulf murdered (the only authority to even deny the possibility of foul play is von Schack 1889, in keeping with his general apologetic tendency of the house of Hauteville). The sudden death of Gisulf di Salerno less than three weeks after pledging fealty and the complete disappearance from the records of his pregnant wife are just too convenient for Robert de Hauteville to suggest mere coincidence.
Sometime in February or early March at the latest, King Robert must have also created his son Roger Duke of Campania – on the earliest extant document mentioning Roger Borsa’s lordship, the record of his ascension, he is merely addressed as “Comes Salernis”, whereas the chronologically next one, a document from March 12th 1074, does already address him as “Comes Salernis et Dux Campaniae”. Without a doubt this measure of Robert de Hauteville had been taken to increase Roger Borsa’s dignity and thus strengthen his position as heir to the young kingdom. It was a very clear message. Being a duke, Roger Borsa de Hauteville now outranked all other Normans in Italy – save his father, the king. Where Robert de Hauteville had formerly ruled over many lesser Norman lords of comparable standing, there was now a new lord to outrank all other vassals – Duke Roger Borsa. His eventual succession was thus cemented.
Here, Champlin inserts an excursion pertaining to the major nobles of the new Kingdom of Naples. At this point we shall for now leave Champlin to instead take a look on the the Guiscard’s further foreign policy. But before that a short recapitulation of the crisis wracking Apulia during the war with Palermo, the conclusion of said war, the formation of the Kingdom of Naples and the ascent of Roger Borsa to the dukedom of Salerno: