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Dec. 23, 2022

74 Chapter 5: The Western Invasion of the Eastern Roman Empire

74 Chapter 5: The Western Invasion of the Eastern Roman Empire

The Normans invade Byzantium as Robert Guiscard wants to leave his son Bohemond with an empire.


“[Fate introduced into Italy] certain foreign pretenders – an evil hard to combat, an incurable disease. One such was that braggart Robert, notorious for his power-lust, born in Normandy, but nursed and nourished by manifold Evil. This was the man whose enmity the Roman Empire drew upon itself when it gave a pretext to our foes for the wars he waged – a marriage with a foreigner and a barbarian.”

            -Anna Comnena, Life of Alexius Comnenus


            “[Bohemond] at once attacked Canina, Hiericho and Avlona like a streaking thunderbolt, with threats and irrepressible fury. He seized them and fighting on took the surrounding areas bit by bit and destroyed them by fire…Father and son you might liken to caterpillars and locusts, for what was left by Robert his son fed on and devoured.”

-Anna Comnena, Life of Alexius Comnenus


            The Normans and Byzantines had a long history as frenemies. In some ways the two peoples were exact opposites, and like in a bad romantic-comedy the two kept coming back together. The Normans who travelled to Italy in the 11th century were a mercenary group, willing to work for whoever paid them, maintaining loyalty to none. The Byzantines were a wealthy empire that needed manpower and so they would hire practically anyone to fight for them. Norman mercenary culture could infuriate the Greek-speakers as the French-speakers would fight for them one day, only to turn on them the next. At the same time, the Byzantines could use the Normans’ mercurial loyalties to their advantage. Every time the Byzantines wanted to stir up trouble for Robert Guiscard they always found dozens of Norman aristocrats willing to take up arms against their lord for the right price, and the Duke faced rebellions constantly throughout his reign.

            After the fall of Bari in 1071 Robert Guiscard ruled over most of the southern Italian peninsula and parts of Sicily, while the Byzantines had no territory left in that land. Robert Guiscard had been one of Constantinople’s worst enemies, and vice-versa. Even after 1071 they remained threats to each other. The Byzantines had many contacts with the habitually disloyal Normans and could always stir up revolt. Meanwhile, Robert Guiscard’s dominance of southern Italy meant that he could make the short boat ride across the Adriatic and attack the Balkans if he so chose. This contentious geopolitical situation is what led the Byzantine Emperor to court the Norman Duke.

            Shortly after Bari fell, Romanos IV Diogenes began negotiations for a marriage alliance with Robert Guiscard; not to each other, obviously, they were both 11th century Christians. Historians aren’t actually sure who would be marrying who, but the Byzantine Emperor wanted someone in his family to marry a Hauteville and tie the two countries together. These negotiations ended following the disaster that was Manzikert. With Romanos IV a prisoner of the Turks, Mikhail VII, called Mikhail Ducas, took up the purple. Mikhail VII also believed that a marriage alliance with the Normans was essential to securing the Balkans from any future invasion. In 1074 the empress bore a son, Constantine, and the infant became the newest bargaining chip for Constantinople. Shortly after the boy’s birth, his father sent a letter to Duke Robert, graciously offering him the honor of marrying into the imperial family and accepting the overlordship of the great eastern ruler. The couple would be given the rank of basileus while Robert would gain the title kouropalates. Furthermore, the Norman Duke would be given 43 other titles to dispense with to his vassals as he wished. In exchange, Robert would acknowledge Byzantine supremacy and comply with their wishes.

            Robert left the message on ‘read.’ He was well-accustomed to Greek arrogance, though this was quite extreme. Furthermore, Robert Guiscard understood that his position was precarious. Unlike in Normandy, where Duke Guillaume ruled with near-unquestioned power, each territory in southern Italy exercised a varying degree of independence. Robert was absolutely the most powerful ruler in the land, but his power was not absolute, and was frequently challenged. Having spent decades expelling the Greeks, Robert was not eager to bend the knee to a foe he had just defeated, no matter how much money they had.

            Political events pressured Robert Guiscard to return to the Byzantine orbit. The preceding year, in 1073, Mikhail VII asked Pope Gregorius VII for aid against the Turks, and probably asked His Holiness to facilitate a marriage alliance between the Byzantines and the Normans. At this point in time, Christian leaders were adopting a crusading spirit. In the late 10th century the French famously demolished the Islamic state at Fraxinetum in Provence, and the Normans had conquered Muslim-controlled Sicily. These events served as archetypes, blueprints and inspiration for Christian conquest of Islamic lands. Gregorius VII wanted to be at the head of a great Christian host and personally lead an army in eastern Anatolia. However, before he could leave he had to deal with the Normans. The Pope did not seriously fear invasion of the Papal States, though he worried that the Normans would abuse his few remaining Lombard allies in his absence. On 10 August 1073 Pope and Duke met at Benevento to negotiate a settlement of southern Italy but failed to come to an agreement. Then in early 1074 Robert captured Amalfi, killing the Lombard heir to the Principality of Salerno.

            Gregorius VII came up with a quite ingenious plan to cow the Norman leader. He excommunicated Robert during Lent. Then in June he gathered a massive army at Viterbo. While most of the forces were north Italian, the Pope secured the aid of Richard of Capua, the second most powerful man in the southern half of the peninsula and a serious rival to the Duke. The army was preparing to head east to Byzantium, but Robert worried it might give up its original mission and attack his duchy. Robert folded and came to a political agreement with Gregorius VII. Furthermore, the Duke agreed to marry his young daughter Olympias to Constantine. The young couple’s marriage was secured through the threat of invasion and damnation from the pope himself, as every holy union should. The two would have to wait a long time to be married, as Constantine was then not even a year old.

            In 1078 Robert prepared for another wedding, that of his daughter Hérie and Hugues V of Maine. To secure the marriage, Robert had to provide a handsome dowry, which he hoped to accomplish by raising taxes. This led to a large-scale revolt. The Normans were not just upset that they had to pay for a woman’s fairytale wedding; the generation of Normans that ruled southern Italy remained primarily those who came as mercenaries. They expected their leaders to provide them with opportunities for wealth, not take it away from them. The Normans in Italy had not conquered much since 1071, limiting their chances to acquire plunder. While some Normans adjusted to their new position as settled lords, many maintained their mercenary culture. Caught between rising taxes and limited income they took up arms against Robert. While Robert triumphed, the rebellion signaled that he had to expand if he wanted to satisfy his vassals.

            The Duke of Southern Italy had another major problem he had to deal with: his legacy. Robert agreed to pass on his duchy to Roger Borsa, his eldest son by his second wife Sikelgaita. But he had another son from his previous marriage, Marc, though everyone called him Bohemond after a mythical giant due to his enormous stature. According to the chronicles even his booming laugh was enough to terrify grown men. Born around 1054, Bohemond was in the 1070s an adult who proved his martial prowess by fighting alongside his father during the rebellions. Bohemond naturally wanted his own land and titles. With everything promised to Roger Borsa, Robert needed to conquer new lands to secure an inheritance for his firstborn and prevent his children from fighting each other.

            Meanwhile, in the 1070s, the Byzantine Empire was dealing with serious Norman trouble. The leader of the Norman mercenaries, Roussel de Bailleul, formed his own state in the east and regularly defeated imperial forces. Defeating Roussel was immensely costly in terms of wealth and manpower. Mikhail VII’s handling of the crises led to his downfall in 1078, at which point he abdicated and joined a monastery. Nikephoros III Botaneiates became the new emperor. This development was a major blow to Norman-Byzantine relations, as it meant that Robert’s daughter was no longer betrothed to the emperor’s son. Furthermore, Nikephoros III had no children to offer in marriage to placate the Normans.

            As always, the cunning Robert saw a complex political scenario and determined how he could turn this to his advantage. He had lost his alliance but gained an opportunity. With Byzantium in chaos Robert believed that this was the time to strike. As the Turks threatened the east the Normans could invade the Balkans; perhaps they could even take Constantinople itself.

There was one big problem for Robert: justification. The Norman duke would be condemned across the Christian world if he invaded a fellow Christian country which was even then under attack from an Islamic power. Robert had already been excommunicated once; he was not looking to undergo the same damnation. Luckily for Robert, Gregorius VII had recently excommunicated someone else: the German King Heinrich VI. For years Popes and German leaders had fought over the right to appoint bishops, a struggle known as the Investiture Controversy. In 1077, while Heinrich VI was politically weak, Gregorius VII excommunicated him. With no other option, Heinrich VI travelled to Canossa Castle. There he waited outside the gates for three days, begging for forgiveness in the midst of a blizzard. The pope accepted the king’s demonstration of submission but the underlying issue of clerical appoints was unresolved. On 7 March 1080 the pope excommunicated Heinrich VI for a second time. With the Pope and King at odds, Gregorius VII turned to the Normans as his new ally. Pope and Guiscard reconciled at Ceprano on 29 June 1080, when Gregorius invested Guiscard with the lands Niccoló and Alexander II promised him, in exchange for tribute. Papal backing was important to legitimize Robert’s reign but it also meant there wouldn’t be papal intrigue in Italy so Robert was free to invade Byzantium.

            There was one final problem to solve before Robert could invade: how to get Byzantines to join his cause. Despite all its problems Byzantium was still a great empire with incredible wealth and military forces. If Robert wanted to invade any sizeable part of it the Normans would need to rally disaffected lords to his cause. What happens next depends on which source you believe. According to the Normans, in early 1080 a Greek monk arrived in southern Italy claiming to be the deposed emperor Mikhail VII. This monk, whose actual name was Raiktor, convinced the Duke of his identity and pleaded for aid in retaking his rightful place on the throne, which noble-hearted Robert agreed to do. If you believe the Byzantine sources, Robert hired a Greek man to pose as Mikhail VII to use him as a justification for invasion and as a rallying point for enemies of Nikephoros III. Historians generally side with the Byzantines, although pretenders were a common occurrence, so it is possible Robert found a man claiming to be the Emperor of Byzantium and he decided to just roll with it. Raiktor’s ruse was enough justification for Latin Europe, who had limited knowledge of the goings-on in the empire. Meanwhile many Greeks understood that the real Mikhail VII remained in Constantinople at the Monastery of Stoudios.

            In March 1081 Robert Guiscard gave Bohemond a fleet and instructed him to attack Corfu, the large island northwest of the Greek mainland. Robert spent the next two months gathering forces then sailed to join his giant son. The city of Corfu quickly surrendered and Robert and his entourage entered with Raiktor in tow. There they crowned the fake Mikhail VII Emperor of the Romans, legitimizing their military operation as a restoration of the rightful monarch. The Normans then took Buthrotum on the southern tip of modern-day Albania. From there they took Valona before marching on the great city of Dyrrachium, which they besieged on the 17th of June.

            By the time the army from Italy reached Dyrrachium the Byzantines had a new emperor. The general Alexios I Komnenos led a successful revolt against Nikephoros III, forcing the previous emperor to retire to the Monastery of Peribleptus. The monasteries of Constantinople were really filling up with former emperors. Alexios I was an intelligent and energetic emperor, determined to reverse his empire’s decline. The new leader raised an army and marched west to meet the Normans. Meanwhile he sent messengers to the Serene Republic of Venice asking for naval support. The city-state of Venice was becoming a powerful merchant polity, one which was very concerned about Norman dominance of the Adriatic. The Venetians agreed to an alliance and sent a fleet south led by the Doge himself to complement the Byzantine land forces.

            The Venetian navy met the Norman fleet and gave battle. While the Normans had made great improvements in seafaring they were no match for the Venetians who were armed with Greek fire, a type of medieval flamethrower that burned even on water. The Venetians sank many of the Norman ships and forced the others to flee. The Normans were in a bind; they were in hostile lands and unable to resupply via water routes. When they had arrived their plan was to starve out Dyrrachium; now the Normans were the ones facing hunger while Venetian ships restocked the city. The one saving grace for the Normans was that the Venetians and Byzantines did not sync up their attacks and it took months for the Byzantine army to arrive.

            Alexios I Komnenos reached Dyrrachium in mid-October with an army numbering between 10,000-20,000, and which was probably just larger than the Norman force. As the Byzantine generals surveyed the situation the more cautious among them advocated starving the Normans out. The Normans were after all, pinned between the city and the imperial army. The bolder commanders argued that they should strike immediately. This seems like rash folly, and perhaps it was, though it is possible the Byzantine army did not have adequate supplies to wait out their enemy. Whatever the situation was, Alexios I decided to take the field.

            The Emperor led his forces to a wide plain east of the city; practically inviting the Normans to follow. Robert Guiscard recognized that a pitched battle was his best chance at success and obliged. But first he had the remaining ships burned before the army’s eyes. He was sending a clear signal to his men: retreat was not an option, only victory. With smoke still in the air the Normans crossed over from the peninsula and onto the mainland where they faced the Byzantines.

            On 18 October 1081 the two sides assembled for battle. As was standard, each side split into three contingents: Bohemond commanded the left with its light infantry and light cavalry, a knight named Amicetas led the right with its light infantry and light cavalry, while Robert Guiscard was in the center with heavy infantry and heavy cavalry. Robert’s wife Sikelgaita was also present in a commanding role. Opposite the Normans, the Byzantines formed into three main contingents. However, the imperial army had many Turkish and Serbian cavalry which they held in reserve. Meanwhile, Alexios I positioned the elite Varangian Guard in front of the main host to absorb a Norman charge. By this point the traditionally Scandinavian Varangian Guard had incorporated Anglo-Saxon soldiers, many of which had fled the violence of the Norman Conquest. Present at Dyrrachium were veterans of the Battle of Hastings in which Guillaume le Bâtard and his Normans had slaughtered the English nobility and conquered the country. Rather than submit to the Norman lord they went east into exile. After travelling over 2,000 kilometers they faced another invading army led by a cunning Norman duke.

            Battle began when Robert sent a light cavalry contingent to harass the Varangians. The Varangians beat back the attack while Byzantine archers fired upon the horseman. The play had been a distraction while the Normans slowly advanced. Amicetas led the right flank to attack the Varangians. While the Norman right probably outnumbered the Varangians, these expert warriors shockingly pushed back the Norman forces. Even after the Norman right retreated the Varangians chased after them, all the way to the shore.

            With the Norman right in retreat, the massive Byzantine army advanced. Quickly, the Norman center and left spread out the line so as not to be engulfed by the superior enemy forces. While the Byzantines had the numbers, the Normans were ferocious warriors who overcame the difference with their martial prowess. Meanwhile, Robert ordered a contingent of troops to break off from the main host and chase after the Varangians. Caught between Amicetas’ soldiers in front and this new force from behind the Varangians broke; their bloodlust had been their doom. What few survived fled to the nearby church of Saint Michael, which the Normans set on fire. It was a dramatic and ironic turn of events. The holiest site for the early Normans in southern Italy had been the Shrine of the Archangel Michael. That shrine served as a lodestone, drawing pilgrims and penitents, such that the Normans adopted Michael as their patron. Yet, here they were setting a church dedicated to their guardian angel ablaze.

            The utter devastation of the Varangians sent a clear sign to the Serbian and Turkish reserves. Realizing which way the battle was turning, the foreign cavalries left the field. With momentum on his side, Robert seized the moment. He replaced the light infantry and cavalry which had been fighting in the frontlines with his heavy infantry and cavalry and led a sudden thrust into the enemy force, which broke like water on rocks. The imperial Byzantine army collapsed. Robert Guiscard had bested the emperor who fled with what forces he could muster. Dyrrachium held out for another four months, until in February the Normans managed to bribe a Venetian noble who commanded one of the towers to open the gates. After securing the city the Normans rested until Spring.

            Alexios I’s reign looked to be at its end. Even if the empire survived if Alexios I could not prove his leadership soon then he risked joining his two predecessors in monasteries. Not wanting to live a life of forced celibacy and constant singing, Alexios I reached out to Heinrich VI. The Eastern Roman Emperor offered the King of Germany 360,000 gold pieces if the latter would invade the Papal States, overwhelming the Pope who was the Normans’ great patron. Heinrich VI leapt at the opportunity to fight His Holiness and besieged Rome, while propping up his own candidate Clement III, for the papacy. Meanwhile, Alexios I used his contacts and whatever cash was left to stir up another major rebellion in southern Italy.

            When the snows melted the Normans left Dyrrachium. Proceeding by the Roman road the Via Egnatia they took Kastoria in northern Greece. Their advance along the road to Constantinople reportedly caused some to panic in the great metropolis. However, it was then that Robert Guiscard learned of Heinrich VI’s siege of Rome and revolts within his duchy. The duke decided he had to return to Italy, and he left Bohemond in charge of the invasion force.

Meanwhile Alexios I raised another army and marched to Ioannina which the Normans were besieging. The Byzantine Emperor reasoned that the Norman dreaded cavalry charge was his biggest threat. To counter this, he assembled his infantry in front, then hid chariots behind them. His strategy was to draw the Normans into a charge, have the infantry move sideways to avoid the attack, at which point the Byzantine chariots would crash into the Norman horsemen. Then, with the Normans bogged down the Byzantine infantry would attack on the left and right flanks, enveloping their opponents. But Bohemond was too clever to fall for the trap. Realizing that the Byzantine infantry was out in the open he had his cavalry divide into three wings, attacking the Byzantines from left, right and center. The Norman horsemen easily enveloped the slow-moving Byzantine infantry which collapsed. Alexios I led a panicked retreat even as thousands of his soldiers lay dead on the field. After watching the carnage from the walls, the citizens of Ioannina surrendered to the victorious Normans.

Alexios I again fled eastward to raise yet another army, this time through the seizure of church funds. The new army marched to Arta which Bohemond put under siege. Arta was a virtual repeat of Ioannina. Again, Alexios I prepared for a frontal cavalry charge and positioned his infantry in front, and again Bohemond flanked them. The Byzantine army collapsed as it had before. For the third time in a row the Normans won a decisive pitched battle against the Byzantines. The Greek world trembled as word spread that the Northmen and their giant commander could not be defeated.

Bohemond marched north to Macedonia, taking a few important cities before turning south as winter approached. There the Normans besieged Larissa for six months. From Constantinople, Alexios I raised yet another army. This time he depleted the royal treasury to hire thousands of Turkish horsemen to complement his Greek infantry, which he led to Larissa and met the Normans on 3 November 1082. The Emperor recognized his men were less experienced and less motivated than the Normans and decided to avoid a direct engagement. He sent a general out with enough troops to appear to the Normans as a full-fledged army. Bohemond and a subcommader led their cavalry out to meet the army, which retreated. When the Normans pursued the Turkish horse archers attacked, raining devastation on the Normans. What Norman cavalry survived retreated back towards the city. The following day the full Byzantine army attacked and the Norman forces finally broke and retreated. Bohemond took his army all the way to Greece’s western coast, leaving most of his men there while he sailed back to Italy to gather more resources.

Before the Battle of Larissa it looked as if the Normans were truly going to conquer the Byzantine Empire, or at least Greece. The utter collapse of the Norman campaign following this one defeat demonstrated that while the Normans could take Greek territory they could not hold it. The Greeks did not want to be ruled over by the brutish Northmen, with their Latin Christianity and foreign culture, and the cities turned on their conquerors. Meanwhile, Alexios I played upon his enemies’ mercenary culture, offering gold and titles to those who would defect. The demoralized Normans, many of which had gone unpaid, looked at this offer as too good to pass up. Instead of fighting and dying for promises of cash, the Byzantines were handing out gold and silver and all they asked for was not to fight. In Bohemond’s absence most of the Norman commanders deserted to the Byzantines, who retook their inland territory. Meanwhile, a Venetian fleet working on behalf of the empire recaptured Dyrrachium and Corfu. In less than a year the Normans lost all territory that they had seized.

The situation was hardly better in Italy. It took Robert Guiscard more than a year to put down the Byzantine-backed revolts. In the meantime, Heinrich VI and his German army had taken Rome in a bloody siege. Pope Gregorius VII held out in the Papal Castel Sant’Angelo, desperately waiting for the Normans to relieve them. Just beyond the castle, Heinrich VI had Clement III anointed as the new pope who crowned him Holy Roman Emperor.

Robert Guiscard finally brought order to Southern Italy in Spring 1084, freeing him to march to Rome. As the Normans approached Heinrich VI decided to leave rather than fight, as he had gotten what he wanted. He had humiliated Gregorius VII and dealt a powerful blow to his lands, while gaining the imperial title. When the Normans arrived the Roman guards rebuffed them. The Normans were widely unpopular among the central Italians due to their frequent attacks on their lands over the preceding decades. But Robert would not be deterred. A night assault on a poorly-defended gate allowed the Normans to enter. Once inside, the Normans sacked the Eternal City, setting fire to entire neighborhoods along their route to Sant’Angelo. Robert Guiscard freed Gregorius VII but the pope’s allegiance to the bloodthirsty Normans meant he would not be safe in his own capital. The pope left the city, never to return.  

Robert Guiscard had not given up on his invasion of the Balkans and in October 1084 decided to renew the campaign. After landing on the island of Corfu with Roger Borsa and Sikelgaita, Robert’s forces yet again faced the Venetian navy. However, the enemy fleet was not at full strength. As winter approached the Doge sent away his lighter vessels, leaving only the great ships, which connected to each other in chains to form a semi-circular blockade of the Normans on land. The Norman navy recuperated and smashed into the sides and center. Because it was late in the year the Venetians had consumed most of their onboard food and the great ships rested high in the water. When the Norman fleet ran into them they toppled over. Since the Venetian ships were all chained together when one ship capsized it would pull another ship down with it. Of the 9 great ships, 7 sank and 2 were heavily damaged. Two-thirds of the Venetian sailors were killed while the rest were taken prisoner in what was the greatest naval disaster in the Serene Republic’s history.

            This spectacular naval victory could not save a doomed campaign. The Normans suffered heavy losses when taking Corfu and disease spread throughout the army. Bohemond fell so ill he returned to Italy for treatment. Robert Guiscard continued the campaign, moving to the island of Kefalonia in summer 1085. On 17 July the aged Norman duke succumbed to illness and died at the age of 69 or 70. Robert Guiscard had been the greatest Norman lord in the Mediterranean. He united his people in southern Italy and defied emperors and popes. Yet, like all men, he was mortal and his time had come. His body was returned to Italy where it was buried in the Hauteville family mausoleum at the Abbey of the Santissima Trinità at Venosa. The Greek town where he died was renamed Fiscardo after him.

            Robert Guiscard’s death brought an end to the Balkans campaign. The Normans had suffered too many losses. Many Normans had defected to the imperial service as it was clear the Byzantines paid better and more reliably. Moreover, Robert’s heir, Roger Borsa, was not nearly as respected as his father. Recognizing that the Norman lords of southern Italy would probably revolt in his absence, Roger and his mother Sikelgaita returned to the mainland to secure order in the duchy.

            For a few years the Normans maintained a few toeholds in the Balkans, which the Byzantines mopped up whenever they could spare a small army. In 1087, one of the last acts of the Italo-Normans involved in the campaign was to sail to the city of Myra on the western coast of Anatolia. The company had learned that the Turks were approaching the city and the Normans decided they needed to save the body of Saint Nicholas, one of the most beloved saints in history, and a later inspiration for the character Santa Claus. Despite protestations from local Greeks the Normans removed Saint Nicholas’ remains and deposited them in Bari where they remain to this day.

            Robert Guiscard’s invasion of the Balkans was one of the most ambitious campaigns ever attempted by a Norman. To this day historians debate whether Robert wanted to seize parts of Greece or if he truly believed he could place a puppet on the throne in Constantinople and effectively rule the Eastern Roman Empire. Perhaps Robert only planned the former, but after defeating Alexios I at Dyrrachium he may have thought he could take the empire itself. It is possible that Robert was inspired and jealous of Guillaume of Normandy just as Guillaume had been envious of him! As mentioned earlier, Duke Guillaume was incensed and inspired that a lowly Hauteville could become Duke of Southern Italy, further goading him to seize the throne of England. Perhaps Robert saw his fellow Norman duke seize a crown and decided he could also ascend.

            The Balkans campaign proved that the Normans were among the finest warriors in the Mediterranean. Their cavalry were nigh-undefeatable on the field. Yet, the invasion also exposed Norman weakness. The Normans were still transitioning from warlords to rulers. Their established states in the Mediterranean were loosely-united confederations of mostly autonomous territories ruled by lords prone to revolt. The Norman territories were mostly dependent on personal connections; unless a powerful lord was present in the territory his vassals could, and frequently did, vie for power. In contrast, the Byzantines had a complex, well-established state which continued to function even when two of its leaders were quickly forced into monasteries. The Byzantine army comprised many mercenaries whose personal loyalties could change with the day, but the empire itself was united in a network of governmental, cultural and religious ties. No matter how many victories the Normans won, or how many times they made Raiktor give a speech declaring he was the real emperor and demanded their subservience, the Byzantine people were loyal to their empire. It is remarkable that the Normans could conquer a city, yet the Greek-speakers would still not be loyal to them; meanwhile the Norman soldiers could win victory after victory and still defect to the Byzantines with their promises of pay. Despite moving to the Mediterranean, this generation of Normans maintained an early medieval mindset, wherein politics was personal. For this reason the Normans struggled against powerful established states, despite their remarkable prowess on the battlefield.

            Roger Borsa in Southern Italy and Roger Bosso in Sicily were part of the next generation. Unlike their fathers, these two had spent most of their lives as Mediterranean lords. The two Rogers had the difficult task of transforming their people from martial warlords to established rulers. These men had to make the Normans content with their holdings and raise as much money through trade and taxation as their predecessors had done through conquest. Yet, they had another problem to deal with: a very large problem. There was a giant among them, one who had bested an emperor on the field. The Normans’ expulsion in the Balkans had left Bohemond with no titles or land, even as he retained widespread support among the knights. The firstborn son of Robert Guiscard was only beginning his legendary military career.