Battle of Civitate: Normans Defeat Papal-Lombard Army, Capture the Pope

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418px-Italy_1000_AD_svg Today in Military History: June 17, 1053 This battle, 13 year before and 950 miles southeast of the site of the battle of Hastings, shows once again the martial prowess of the Early Middle Ages’ finest warriors, the Normans. For today’s tale of military derring-do, we mix the elements of the Normans, the Papacy, the Byzantine Empire, and the Muslims, stir rapidly, and allow to simmer for forty years or so before forcing the mixture to a rapid boil outside what is today the town of San Paolo di Civitate, then known simply as the town of Civitate. Background to the Battle 250px-Normandy_map The duchy of Normandy was created in AD 911, when the West Frankish king Louis the Simple signed the Treaty of Saint Clair-sur-Epte with the Viking chieftain Rollo. In return for recognizing Louis as their lord and converting to Christianity, the Vikings were given title to the land where the Seine River emptied into the English Channel. Their main function was to help defend the Frankish kingdom from other marauding Vikings that would attack and plunder that particular area of the kingdom. In less than a century, the former Vikings had become almost completely assimilated into the culture of France. However, they still demonstrated the fighting prowess that their grandfathers had used to frighten the bejesus out of western Europe generally, and the monarchs of France in particular. They also managed to acquire additional lands and expand the territory under the control of the dukes of Normandy. 220px-Normans_Bayeux By the end of the tenth century, some Norman nobles were travel on pilgrimages either to the Holy Land or to various saints’ shrines in southern Italy. At this time, the Muslims had conquered the island of Sicily and were threatening to do the same to the balance of the Italian peninsula. The Byzantine Empire [yes, them again…] was clinging to lands in southern Italy, defending their holdings against both the invading Muslims and the Lombard princes of the area. Looking for some additional muscle to bring to bear against the Muslims, in 1017 the Lombard rulers of Apulia approached various Normans, hoping they could bring their retinues to Italy to defend their respective lands against the encroachments of the Byzantines. The Normans were more than willing to lend their muscle to the Lombards. They also contributed contingents to the East Romans, as they began efforts to re-conquer Sicily (a process completed by the “Franks” – as the Byzantines called the Normans – in the year 1091). However, the Normans decided that the lands they had conquered now belonged to them and them alone. As a result, by about 1050, they had established themselves in the province of Apulia, and were threatening not only Lombard-held territory, but lands under the control of the Papal States. As a consequence, Pope Leo IX began to express grave concerns about the presence of the “Franks” near his domain, and their possible effect on the Byzantine rule in southern Italy. [Though the Pope and the Byzantines practiced differing versions of Christianity, they regarded each other as “allies” in the fight against the Saracens who still occupied Sicily and were threatening Italy.] In 1052, Pope Leo journeyed north to Saxony to meet with his relative and Holy Roman Emperor Henry III. The Pope sought German troops to put the Normans in their place, but Henry refused. Returning to Italy, Pope Leo managed to bring with him a contingent of 700 Swabian swordsmen, renowned for their skill with the two-handed sword. 150px-Leon_IX Pope Leo appealed to other Lombard princes for assistance. Soon, troops began to come to the Papal banner from the Prince of Benevento; Rudolf, the Duke of Gaeta; the Counts of Aquino and Teano; and the Archbishop and the citizens of Amalfi. Together with men from Abruzzo, Apulia, Campania, Molise and Latium, these disparate forces formed a coalition that moved against the Normans in the late spring of 1053. As preparations were underway, Pope Leo contacted Argyrus, the Byzantine ruler of southern Italy. He informed Argyrus of his plan to eliminate the Normans, and requested he send a Byzantine army to catch the “Franks” in a pincer movement. Argyrus readily agreed, and the two forces began to converge on the town of Apulia (today the province of Foggio), a town which had been controlled by the Normans since 1039. The Papal-Lombard force marched first to the east coast of Italy, avoiding Norman-controlled territory, then followed the coast southward. The Normans got wind of the proposed envelopment of their territory, and began to collect all the troops available to them to oppose it. The resulting forces were under the command of Humphrey of Hauteville, Count of Apulia and Richard Drengot, Count of Aversa. Humphrey’s younger half-brother, Roger Guiscard, was also present. The Normans decided that they should first confront the Papal-Lombard force, and marched westward to confront it. They arrived outside the town of Civitate (or Civitella) sometime on the 17th of June. Scouts reported that the enemy camp was set up just outside the town, near a bridge crossing the Fortore River. The Papal-Lombard army was much larger than the Norman force, and the vexillum sancti Petri (St. Peter’s banner) was spotted, indicating that Pope Leo himself was with the army. As a result, the Norman leadership discussed their options. Consequently, a delegation was sent to the town seeking a truce with the Holy Father. The Normans pledged their loyalty to him, and begged his forgiveness. But Leo, possibly influenced by the Swabians, replied to the Normans that death or exile was their only choice. Returning to their forces, the Norman leaders made a difficult decision: attack! Though outnumbered about two-to-one, the Norman army was short on supplies, and some of their men had not eaten in a couple of days. Knowing that the East Roman army was on its way, they Normans deployed for battle. Battle Dispositions 300px-Battaglia_di_Civitate_-_18_06_1053_svg The Papal-Lombard force, consisting of about 6000 men altogether, formed up in a plain east of the town, running generally north-and-south. The Swabians, mounted and extended into a long, thin line, formed the right wing of the army. The Lombards and Italians were formed into a total of four divisions; the center and forward left divisions consisted of mounted men-at-arms and a few armored cavalrymen. One division of spearmen, archers and crossbowmen were formed just behind the left mounted division, with another division of spearmen and archers held in reserve slightly to the rear of the center. The force was under the joint command of Rudolph, Prince of Benevento and Geoffrey, Duke of Lorraine (who had come from Germany with the Swabians). Also present on the battlefield was the Pope’s standard. According to several historians, the Lombards and Italians were not very well trained. The Normans set up to the east of the Papal-Lombard army, and formed up in three divisions of their own. Nearly the entire Norman army was mounted, 3000 armored horsemen, with about 500 footmen (referred to in the chronicles as sclavos, Slavic infantry) probably armed with throwing spears and axes, with a few bowmen possibly thrown in for good measure. The horsemen were divided fairly evenly into three divisions, with the sclavos assigned to the left wing. Richard Count of Aversa commanded the right, Humphrey of Hauteville in the center, and Robert Guiscard in charge of the left, consisting of Norman troops from Calabria. The Norman center remained on a small hill in the middle of the plain. Robert and his troops were initially being held in reserve, to be used at the time and place that seemed most appropriate. The Battle th_Hastings3508 The Norman right wing opened the battle, charging the Italian and Lombard forces. The Norman charge caught the inexperienced Italians by surprise. Seeing the armored “Franks” on their warhorse, clad in chainmail and carrying lances – probably not yet couched, tucked firmly under the arm to unite the impact of man and horse but still likely overhand – the Italian-Lombards panicked and fled the field en masse. The entire Norman right wing pursued the Italians, cutting down some of the fleeing enemy but allowing the majority of them to get away. Seeing their allies flee the field in a body, the Swabians resolved to die like men. Consequently, they charged the Norman center under the command of Humphrey of Hauteville. Apparently after first contact with their enemy with lance, the Germans dismounted and began wielding their terrible two-handed swords. [William of Apulia, a mediaeval chronicler, wrote the “Gesta Roberto Wiscardi” (The Deeds of Robert Guiscard). In the poem, he described the Germans’ weapon cutting off men’s heads and limbs, decapitating horses, and even cutting men in half from head to groin.] th_Hastings36 At this point in the battle, Robert Guiscard decided to take action to help his brother. According to William of Apulia: Then Robert, seeing his brother so fiercely attacked by enemies resolved to yield not an inch, charged fiercely and proudly into the midst of the hostile ranks, aided by the troops of Count Gerard and followed by the Calabrians whose leadership had been entrusted to him. He speared [the Swabians] with his lance, beheaded them with his sword, dealing out fearful blows with his mighty hands. He fought with each hand, both lance and sword hit whatever target they were aimed at. He was unhorsed three times, thrice he recovered his strength and returned more fiercely to the fray. Despite being badly outnumbered, the Germans held their own for some time. Then, the Count of Aversa and his troops returned to the battlefield, thinking the fight was over. However, seeing his center and left hard-pressed by the dwindling Swabian swordsmen, Count Richard led his horsemen into the fight, effectively surrounding the pesky Germans. After hard fighting, the Swabians died to a man. No casualty figures are given for either side, other than the total annihilation of the Swabian force. Witnessing the battle from the town walls, Pope Leo was seized by the citizens of Civitate and turned over to the victorious Normans. He was treated respectfully by his captors, but was imprisoned at Benevento for almost nine months. He was subsequently forced to ratify a number of treaties favorable to the Normans. Footnote #1: Six years later, after three Popes not so favorably disposed towards the Normans mounted the Papal throne, the political landscape changed. The Treaty of Melfi confirmed Norman control over most of southern Italy. The treaty further recognized Robert Guiscard as the Duke of Apulia, Duke of Calabria and Duke of Sicily. Part of the reason for this change is that Pope Nicholas II needed a strong, close-by ally, owing to a recent break with the Holy Roman Emperor. It appears the Pope wanted a strong ally in the neighborhood rather than a strong enemy. 220px-RobertGuiscardAndRoger Footnote #2: Robert Guiscard’s surname can be loosely translated as “the Resourceful,” “the Cunning,” “the Wily” or “the Fox.” Anna Comnena, the Byzantine historian, described Guiscard thusly: “His stature was so lofty that he surpassed even the tallest, his complexion was ruddy, his hair flaxen, his shoulders were broad, his eyes all but emitted sparks of fire, and in frame he was well-built ... this man's cry it is said to have put thousands to flight. Thus equipped by fortune, physique and character, he was naturally indomitable, and subordinate to no one in the world.” He would eventually die in 1085, at the age of 70. Footnote #3: Within 75 years after this battle, Norman possessions stretched from England, to Sicily and southern Italy, to Antioch in Syria near the Holy Land. The battlefield reputation of the Normans would be unsurpassed for many years. 250px-Normannen
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