Dedicated to the military history and civilization of the Eastern Roman Empire (330 to 1453)

"Time in its irresistible and ceaseless flow carries along on its flood all created things and drowns them in the depths of obscurity."

- - - - Princess Anna Comnena (1083–1153) - Byzantine historian

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Siege of Bari - Normans vs Byzantines in Italy

Norman Soldiers.
Thanks to Dargarth.org

The Final Battle
The Byzantines are driven from Italy after 
decades of war with the Normans.

The "Accidental" Norman Invasion of Italy

The Eastern Roman Empire rarely caught a break.  The Empire was constantly pressed from every side by pagan barbarians, Persians, Muslims or fellow Christians.

The Norman conquest of southern Italy spanned most of the 11th and 12th centuries, involving many battles and independent conquerors.

Immigrant Norman brigands acclimatized themselves as mercenaries in the service of Lombard and Byzantine factions, communicating news swiftly back home about opportunities in the Mediterranean. These groups gathered in several places, establishing fiefdoms and states of their own, uniting and elevating their status to de facto independence within fifty years of their arrival.

Unlike the Norman conquest of England (1066), which took a few years after one decisive battle, the conquest of southern Italy was the product of decades and a number of battles, few decisive. Many territories were conquered independently, and only later were unified into a single state. Compared to the conquest of England it was unplanned and disorganized, but equally complete.
Norman Robert Guiscard
Duke of Apulia and Calabria

The earliest reported date of the arrival of Norman knights in southern Italy is 999, although it may be assumed that they had visited before then.

A serious use of Norman mercenaries took place during a revolt (1009-1022) in southern Italy against the Catapanate of Italy, the regional Byzantine authority.

The rebels used a newly arrived band of Normans sent by Pope Benedict, which combined with the Lombards to battle the Byzantines.  A detachment of the elite Varangian Guard was sent to Italy to fight the Normans. The armies met at the Ofanto near Cannae, the site of Hannibal's victory over the Romans in 216 BC, and the Battle of Cannae was a decisive Byzantine victory. A historian wrote that only ten Normans survived from a contingent of 250.

The Normans had no interest in peace. They acted as mercenaries on both sides, they would obtain good terms for the release of their brethren from their captors regardless of outcome.

Slowly the Normans expanded their control over southern Italy.  Then the Normans invaded Muslim controlled Sicily in May 1061, crossing from Reggio di Calabria and besieging Messina. The Normans crossed the strait first, landing unseen overnight and surprising the Saracen army in the morning. When Norman troops landed later that day, they found themselves unopposed and Messina abandoned.  Over the next 30 years the Muslims were driven out of Sicily.

The Byzantines struck backs under Nikephoros Karantenos,an experienced Byzantine soldier from the Bulgar wars.  In 1067, when Constantine X desired to retake the lost cities of Apulia, he sent Karantenos with Mabrikias to BariTarantoCastellaneta, and Brindisi were reconquered from the Normans and a garrison of Varangians was established at the latter under Karantenos. 

When the Normans put Brindisi under siege in 1070, Karantenos feigned surrender and then attacked the Normans as they were scaling the walls on ladders. He beheaded a hundred corpses and crossed the sea to Durazzo with the heads, thence shipping them off to Constantinople to impress the emperor.

Karantenos was given the title of strategos of Brindisi.

This was the last sucess against the Normans. In 1068 the Normans turned their attention to Bari,  the capital of the Byzantine catapanate.

The Norman Conquest of Italy
Normans were hired as mercenaries by different sides in Italy.  Slowly they became more organized and started to create a Norman state by conquering Muslim held Sicily and Byzantine southern Italy.

Norman Cavalry
Thanks to Angelfire.com

Castello Normanno-Svevo (Bari)
The castle was built on a former Byzantine fortified site.  Bari was the capital of the Catepanate of Italy.  The current look and plan of the fortress might be close to the Byzantine floor plan.  The castle is surrounded by a moat on all sides, except the northern section, which was bordering the sea and can be accessed from the bridge and the gate on the southern side.

The Three Year Siege of Bari

The Normans had increased their possessions in southern Italy and now aimed to the complete expulsion of the Byzantines from the peninsula before concentrating on the conquest of Sicily, then mostly under Islamic domination.
Large military units were called from Sicily and, under Count Geoffrey of Conversano, laid siege to Otranto to the south of Bari.
The next move was the arrival of Robert Guiscard, with a large corps, who laid siege to the Byzantine city of Bari on 5 August 1068. Within the city there were two parties: one wanting to preserve allegiance to the Byzantine empire, and another that was pro-Norman. When the Norman troops neared, the former had prevailed and the local barons shut the city's gates and sent an embassy to emperor Romanos IV Diogenes in order to seek military help. The negotiations offered by Robert were refused.
Otranto fell in October, but at Bari the Norman attacks against the walls were repeatedly pushed back by the Byzantines. Robert decided to blockade the city's port with a fortified bridge in order to thwart any relief effort. The Byzantines, however, destroyed the bridge, and managed to maintain a link with their homeland.

Byzantine New Varangian Guard at the Abbey Medieval Festival 2012

Romanos IV named a new catepan, Avartuteles, and provided him with a fleet with men and supplies for Bari. The Byzantine fleet arrived at the city in early 1069, but in the meantime a Byzantine field army was defeated by the Normans, who occupied Gravina and Obbiano. Robert did not return immediately to Bari, and in the January 1070 he moved to Brindisi to help the Norman forces then besieging that coastal fortress. Brindisi capitulated in the autumn of 1070.
The situation in Bari was then critical, and the population suffered from famine. Avartuteles plotted to have Robert assassinated, but the Byzantine patricius Byzantios Guideliku failed. A delegation of citizens asked the catepan to improve the city's defence, or otherwise surrender it to the Normans. Avartuteles played for time, sending another embassy to Constantinople. He obtained the arrival of a fleet with grain in Bari. When the grain ran out, a group of citizens again asked the catepan to beg the emperor to send an army as soon as possible.
Romanos IV, whose generals had been repeatedly defeated by the Normans, and with few free troops to dispatch, sent twenty ships under the command of a Gocelin, a Norman rebel who had taken shelter in Constantinople. Stephen Pateran, appointed as new catepan of Italy, came with him. However, the Normans intercepted the Byzantine ships off Bari and scattered them. The Norman sailors identified Gocelin's ship and, despite the loss of 150 men, finally captured it; Stephen was instead able to reach Bari. He soon recognized that the defence had become impossible; a local noble, Argyritsos, was sent to negotiate with the Normans. The latter offered acceptable conditions, and Bari surrendered on April 1071.


Stephen Pateran was initially imprisoned, but was later allowed to return to Constantinople with other Byzantine survivors.

With the fall of Bari, the Byzantine presence in southern Italy ended after 536 years. Emperor Manuel I Komnenos tried to reconquer southern Italy in 1156-1158, but the attempt turned into a failure.

At the same time Byzantine Bari was falling to the Normans, the Emperor Romanos IV Diogenes was fighting for his life during the disastrous Byzantine defeat at the Battle of Manzikert in Armenia.  For losing the battle Romanos was cruelly blinded on June 29, 1072 and then sent into exile to Prote in the Sea of Marmara. Without medical assistance, his wound became infected, and he soon endured a painfully lingering death.

Bari, the capital of the Catapanate of Italy
The approximate territorial extent of the 
Catapanate of Italy (in yellow).
The themes of Calabria, Longobardia and Lucania together formed a larger military province - the Catepanate of Italy.  The Catepan (military governor) coordinated the local Roman armies of the three themes to defend Italy. 

Results of a Norman Victory
The Byzantines are driven out of Italy and into the Balkans. The Norman Duchy of Apulia and Calabria is created.  The Normans continue their war against the Muslim Emirate of Sicily.

Norman infantry advancing up a hill.  
Thanks to Oocities.org

(Battle of Cannae)      (Norman conquest of southern Italy)      (Bari)

(Catepanate of Italy)


Unknown said...

1) Do you think the campaign here weakened the Byzantine's capabilities at Manzikert a few years later?
2) Did the Great Schism encourage the Normans to attack at all?

Gary said...

Bari surrendered April of 1071. Manzikert happened August, 1071.

Naturally all events are connected. Bari would have been a drag on the treasury to a degree.

The Emperor marched east to Manziket with 50,000+ troops. But he put only a small number of troops into Italy.

I suspect the Byzantines thought Italy to be a waste of time, a lost cause at this point. Defending what was left was more a matter of pride than military necessity.