: Mercenaries and mighty warlords: The Normans in the Mediterranean.
Introduction: Sidney Dean, 'The Hauteville brothers in Italy - Historical Introduction'. Illustrated by Carlos Garcia.
Among the Norman soldiers of fortune arriving in southern Italy in 1035 were two brothers, William and Drogo d’Hauteville. The young knights found the region known as the Mezzogiorno in turmoil. South of the Papal States lay four fiercely rivalrous Lombard principalities or duchies – Amalfi, Benevento, Capua and Salerno – nominally subordinate to the Holy Roman Empire or (in Benevento’s case) the Pope. To the south of the Lombard states, the Byzantine Empire controlled Calabria and Apulia – the ’toe‘ and ’heel‘ of the peninsula – including numerous wealthy coastal towns. In a Gordian knot of competition and shifting alliances, of intrigue and open warfare, each party – including the Holy Roman Empire and the Papacy – vied against the others for control of the region. Very early in the eleventh century the Lombard rulers, the Byzantines, and individual cities and abbeys had begun hiring Norman mercenaries, luring them with generous salaries and the expectation of rich plunder.
“His appearance was, to put it briefly, unlike that of any other man seen in those days in the Roman world, whether Greek or barbarian. The sight of him inspired admiration, the mention of his name terror. (...) His stature was such that he towered almost a full cubit over the tallest man. He was slender of waist and flanks, with broad shoulders and chest, strong in the arms. (...) There was a certain charm about him, but it was somewhat dimmed by the alarm his person as a whole inspired. (...) Only one man, the emperor, could defeat an adversary of such character; he did it through luck, eloquence and other advantages that Nature had given him.” (Anna Comnena, Alexiad, pp. 422-423)
Theme:William Stroock, 'Strategy and tactics of the Norman - How to fight and win like a Norman'.
The Normans compiled an impressive list of battlefield victories and conquests. Over the course of the eleventh and twelfth centuries, the Normans defeated a wide array of enemies, including the Byzantines, the Arabs of Sicily, the Papal forces and the Turkish Caliphates in the Middle East. The Normans won through shock, speed, organization and terror. Their most famous commander, William of Normandy, was given the posthumous sobriquet of ‘the Conqueror’, while the tombstone of another, Robert Guiscard, began ‘Here lies Guiscard, the terror of the world.’ The Normans had a tremendous impact on history, pushing the Byzantines and Muslims out of Italy, establishing Crusader Kingdoms in the Middle East, and, most importantly, founding the modern nation of England.
Theme: Nils Visser, A case of socio-cultural and military integration - The Sicilian crucible and Lucaera Saracenorum.
Nils Visser, A case of socio-cultural and military integration - The Sicilian crucible and Lucaera Saracenorum.
Have you heard the one about the Polish Bishop, a French Saint and a Sicilian Syndicate? This may sound like the opening of an irreverent joke, but the link between these seemingly odd bedfellows is real enough, and one that solves an old enigma within the world of medieval military history. Furthermore, it gives us a unique insight into a remarkable experiment of cultural and military syndication in Sicily and southern Italy during the High Middle Ages.
Theme: Matthew Bennett, 'Norman naval activity in the Mediterranean - Rulers of the waves'. Illustrated by Carlos Garcia and Dariusz Bufnal
Matthew Bennett, 'Norman naval activity in the Mediterranean - Rulers of the waves'. Illustrated by Carlos Garcia and Dariusz Bufnal
The Norman Kingdom in Sicily could not have been established without mastery of the sea. The island was rich through both agriculture and its rulers’ ability to control trade across the central Mediterranean. Sicily had been ruled by the Muslim Aghlabid dynasty since the mid-ninth century and supported a system of regular raids against the Italian mainland. The Aghlabids also held bases there, for example the important ports of Bari and Taranto (until 871 and 880 respectively). Although Sicily was populated by Lombards and notionally ruled by the Holy Roman emperor, the Muslims’ main opponent were Byzantine forces. In the first half of the eleventh century, a resurgent Byzantine Empire was able to recover control of much of southern Italy and the famous general George Maniakes led a powerful expedition against Sicily itself in 1038-41.
Theme: Filippo Donvito, 'The Battle of Civitate, June 18, 1053 - The Norman challenge to the Pope'. Illustrated by Carlos Garcia and Christos Giannapoulos.
After more than thirty years fighting as mercenaries in southern Italy, the Normans found their previous employers united against them. Even the Pope took the field to lead the anti-Norman coalition. Outnumbered by two to one, and frightened by the presence of the bishop of Rome, the adventurous knights from the duchy of Normandy did not know what to do. But they had to decide quickly: supplies were running short and a Byzantine army was marching from the south to take them from the rear..
Theme: Vassilis Pergalias, 'Norman power triumphant in southern Italy, 1068-1071 - The siege of Bari'. Illustrated by José Daniel Cabrera Peña & Rocio Espín Piñar.
From their first involvement in the political affairs of southern Italy in 1017, the Normans made it clear that they intended to stay and leave their mark on the tumultuous history of this rugged land. Starting as mercenary war bands, offering their highly coveted services to the highest bidder, the Normans had established themselves as overlords of a dukedom in Apulia by 1059. The Byzantine armies, the Papacy, the Holy Roman Empire and the Saracens of Sicily had all come to fear the martial capabilities of the Normans, allowing the latter to firmly establish their rule. By 1068, the only unconquered city left in southern Italy was the heavily defended port of Bari, the last Byzantine stronghold in the province. The Normans dutifully accepted the challenge of capturing it and putting an end to the Byzantine presence in the area.
The Weapon.: Peter Vemming, 'Recreating a medieval fire-arrow - Early pyrotechnical weapons'.
We've all seen the classical Hollywood films set in the Middle Ages where flaming arrows streak across the skies, lighting up all and sundry – a fascinating sight, and a really good visual effect. But did things really happen this way? Logically, it seems improbable that all this energy was wasted in flight when the real purpose of the mission was to set fire to something at the end of the projectiles’ trajectory. A study of the warbooks of the later Middle Ages reveals that, even then, engineers pondered long and intensely about the waste of energy and, in fact, produced a number of pyrotechnical weapons that first released their devastating effects the moment they impacted their target.
Special: Brian Burfield, 'The treatment of wounds in the Middle Ages - Slashes and head gashes'. Illustrated by Andrew Brozyna.
There would have been few things more hideous than a medieval battlefield once the fighting had ceased. The writhing of the wounded, contrasted against the quick and deliberate movements of the looters and thieves, would have provided a hellish scene, with the appalling screams and moans of the injured adding a hideous soundtrack to the horror. The tangle of limbs and bodies would have made it difficult to discern the seriously injured from the dead, the unconscious from those that were in fact deceased. Dealing with the injuries of those still alive was the job of the surgeons and doctors, and often even de warriors themselves.
The Battle : Jean-Claude Brunner, 'Charles the Bold’s English archers at the Battle of Murten - Misery at Morat'. Illustrated by Carlos Garcia.
On June 22nd of 1476, near the small city of Morat in modern day Switzerland (Murten in German), then a Savoyard city captured the year before by its two neighbouring cities of Berne and Fribourg, the vanguard of the Burgundian army peeked anxiously over their main defensive line, the so called green hedge, towards the woods. There, their Swiss opponents unhurriedly assembled their own vanguard of 5000 pikemen and halberdiers, protected by a swarm of crossbowmen and handgunners, as well as a large allied cavalry escort.
The Duel : 'Murray Dahm, 'The Fechtbu?cher of Hans Talhoffer - Learning from the master'.
Hans Talhoffer (c. 1420-1490) was a Fechtmeister (“fight master”) and the author of at least six Fechtbu?cher, or fight books, from the fifteenth century, ranging in date from 1443 to 1467. These profusely illustrated works show various methods of combat with a vast range of weaponry; from bare hands through swords and pole weapons to shields. In this brief examination of Talhoffer’s works it will become quickly apparent that there is a much neglected and ignored tradition of Western martial arts every bit as valid as those from other cultures.