p188 We now reach that important period at which the Papacy, from having been determinately opposed to the Normans of the south, was driven to seek their alliance. The death of Leo the Ninth was followed by an interregnum that lasted about a year, at the end of which time Henry the Black created a Pope in the person of the Chancellor of the Empire, who was also a bishop, and who reigned under the name of Victor the Second. This wise pontiff began his career by making a sort of truce with the Normans. A little before this time the Duke of Lorraine, who had been despoiled of his possessions by Henry the Third, married Beatrice, the mother of the afterwards celebrated Countess Matilda, and the widow of the Marquis of Tuscany, the greatest prince in the north of Italy. Fearing lest the duke should ally himself with the Normans, the emperor descended into Italy, in the hope of falling upon him unawares; but he fled, and the emperor only succeeded in capturing his wife and step-daughter, whom he carried away prisoners to Germany. Pope Victor now found himself in a most difficult situation. His political judgment would have led him to seek the Norman alliance, and at the same p189 time he received the most bitter complaints from the Italians whom the Normans oppressed in the south. In this dilemma Victor appealed to his friend the emperor, judging that for the good of the people, and in spite of his own judgment, it would be better to make a final effort to get rid of the Normans altogether, and it was not impossible that the emperor might have been persuaded to undertake a war of extermination against them had he lived. But he died in 1056, after a very short illness, leaving for his successor Henry the Fourth, then a child only five years old. Victor, who had for many years been the great chancellor of the Empire, and was familiar with all the matters of state, now took the reins of government, and the world beheld with surprise a condition of affairs in which the Pope of Rome ruled the Holy Roman Empire as the infant emperor's guardian. A churchman of such experience and of such gifts might have succeeded in inaugurating an era of peace in Europe; but he too was overtaken by an early death soon after his return to Italy. He was immediately succeeded by Frederick of Lorraine, who took the name of Stephen the Ninth, who was the brother of that Duke of Lorraine who had now returned to his great possessions in Italy through the intervention of the late Pope, and who, as a friend of Leo the Ninth, had been one of those who most strongly urged that pontiff to make war upon the Normans.
p190 If the pontifical treasury had not been in its almost chronic state of depletion, the Normans might now have found themselves opposed to a really dangerous adversary, whose brother was the reigning sovereign over a great part of Northern Italy. But Pope Stephen was without funds, and being obliged to seek assistance, he meditated a truly gigantic scheme. His plan was undoubtedly to ally himself with the Empire of the East as well as with his brother, in order to drive the Normans from Italy; then to set his own brother upon the throne of the Holy Roman Empire, in place of the infant Henry the Fourth, and, finally, to crush the Eastern Empire out of existence, and to reëstablish the universal dominion of Rome. His ambassadors were already on their way to Constantinople, and in conference with Argyros at Bari, when death overtook the scheming pontiff, and the ambassadors returned to Rome.
A handful of turbulent Roman nobles, in the midst of a frightful tumult, and in spite of the protestations of many cardinals, elected a certain John of Velletri Pope, or rather, antipope. He ascended the papal throne under the strong protection of the Roman barons themselves and of a party throughout the country which demanded an Italian pontiff. Hildebrand, that extraordinary man of strength and genius who had been the tried and trusted friend of many successive popes, now appeared upon the scene and p191 directed affairs. Without hesitation he went directly to Rome, reassured the trembling cardinals, declared the election of Benedict the Tenth null and void, and immediately sent an embassy to Germany, perhaps accompanying it in person. After a short consultation, Gerard, the Bishop of Florence, was chosen to be Pope, and the powerful Duke of Lorraine and Tuscany conducted him to Rome, where he was duly elected and crowned under the name of Nicholas the Second. In a short time Hildebrand had driven out the antipope, Benedict, and had established Nicholas in comparative security; but he now recognized the great fact that the Normans were the invincible rulers of the south, and that without them no authority could long hold its own in Rome. Accordingly, and by the intervention of Desiderius, Abbot of Monte Cassino, he obtained the help of Richard of Capua, who appeared in the neighbourhood of Rome with a Norman army, and drove the antipope and his friends to take refuge in the castle of Galera, while, as usual, he looted the surrounding country.
This Desiderius, Abbot of Monte Cassino, whom the Pope soon afterwards created a cardinal, was a Lombard prince by birth, whose father had been killed by the Normans, but he, nevertheless, became the intermediate between them and the Holy See, and his first friendly relations with them began when, being at Bari, Robert Guiscard lent him three horses in p192 order that he might get back safely to his abbey. Soon after the raid which drove out Benedict the Tenth, Pope Nicholas held a synod or council in the Lateran, during which it was determined that in future all popes should be elected by the cardinals only, without consulting the nobles and the people, by agreement with the Emperor Henry the Fourth, who was at that time a child, and of whose successors no mention was made in the decree. The independence of the Holy See was thus greatly strengthened, and although the dignity of the living emperor was respected, it was made clear that the cardinals did not intend to subject their choice to the approval of the p193 emperors thereafter succeeding him; it became, therefore, more and more necessary to strengthen the papal alliance with the Normans. Two months after the date of this decree, the Pope visited the Norman capital of Apulia, and there held a council, at which a hundred bishops from all parts of Italy were present, and at which a number of Norman nobles assisted; and in order to be present the Guiscard was obliged to leave to his lieutenants the conduct of the siege of Cariati. When certain ecclesiastical questions had been settled, the Pope received, in the presence of the council of Melfi, the homage and oath of fealty of Duke Robert. In taking this oath, the Norman styled himself 'Robert, by the grace of God and Saint Peter, Duke of Apulia and of Calabria, and future Duke of Sicily by their aid'; and he promised to pay yearly to Saint Peter, and to Pope Nicholas his lord, and to his successors, to his nuncios, and to the nuncios of his successors, the yearly tribute of twelve deniers of Pavia for each yoke of oxen in his possession. Furthermore, he swore to be faithful to the Roman Church, and to Pope Nicholas his lord; never to take part in any conspiracy 'which could endanger the Pope's life, limbs, or liberty'; never to divulge any secret the Pope might confide to him, and to be everywhere and against all comers the ally of the Holy Roman Church.
It appears probable that Richard of Aversa took p194 the same oath with the same obligations, and by this treaty of Melfi those men whom the predecessors of Nicholas had attempted to treat as a handful of excommunicated adventurers became the authorized allies and representatives of the Roman Church in the south of Italy. This was the work of Hildebrand, and was a formidable move against the arrogance of the Roman barons. It inaugurated a new era of the Papacy, and when the Pope returned to Rome, he appeared at the head of a Norman army. Peaceably, and in good order, the force marched up through Campania; but when they reached the Roman territory the storm broke with disastrous fury. In a few days the country about Rome was reduced to a total desolation, the Roman counts were forced to surrender and make submission to the Church, the host crossed the Tiber and fell upon the castle of Galera, in which Benedict the Tenth had taken refuge. The remains of those war‑worn walls are standing still, in the midst of a fever-haunted wilderness, and it was from their ramparts that Benedict the Tenth, looking out towards the city and solemnly raising his hands to heaven, cursed the Roman people aloud because they had made him Pope against his will; and he promised to renounce his claim to the pontificate if his own safety were assured; and so he did, for he laid down the pontifical insignia and came back and lived in the house of his mother in Rome. Then Nicholas departed p195 with his army, and though the Campagna was laid waste, the power of the robber barons, who had lived by plundering every little train of merchants that attempted to reach the city, was broken forever.
Thenceforward the Guiscard's conquest of the south proceeded almost unresisted, but his career was momentarily checked by an insurrection in Melfi itself, which had the courage, or insolence, to close its gates against him. Robert at once began the systematic destruction of crops by which he had reduced so many strong places, Melfi opened its gates again, and the leader of the revolt was hunted from place to place, a lonely and disappointed fugitive.
At this time Robert repudiated his wife, by whom he was the father of an only son, who afterwards became the famous crusader, Bohemund of Antioch. The popes had recently forbidden all marriages within the seventh degree of consanguinity, and Robert suddenly discovered that his friend Gerard's aunt was too near a kinswoman of his own to remain his wife. He presented her with rich gifts, therefore, and put her away; and almost on the morrow he asked the hand of Sigelgaita, elder sister of Gisulf of Salerno. That prince still retained a semblance of sovereignty, in spite of William of Hauteville's conquest, and Robert easily persuaded him to consent to his sister's marriage in return for help against his spoliator. Robert kept his word, and reinstated Gisulf in most of his p196 possessions, and though the latter of course did his best to break his promises, he was obliged to submit, and Robert's position was strengthened by an alliance with the most illustrious Lombard family in Italy.
In 1060, Robert took the strong town of Taranto, and in concert with Roger besieged Reggio, where the Greek captain, upon whom Constantinople had bestowed the proud title of Duke of Italy, had taken up his residence. Here Robert slew in single combat a huge knight who defied all the Normans together, and when the people of the city saw the great engines which the Guiscard was preparing for their destruction, they made terms of peace and capitulated. The Greek troops took refuge in a castle perched upon the tremendous rock of Scylla, but soon lost courage, abandoned the place by night, and sailed away to Constantinople.
Roger occupied the fortress without delay, and gazed from its ramparts upon the great jewel of the south. It lay there like a new world, divided from him by the narrow strait in which the ancients had seen unearthly terrors, but which to the fearless Norman seemed as easy to cross as any river. There were men with him and with his brother who had doubtless fought before Syracuse and at Troina with Bras-de‑Fer and Ardoin twenty-one years earlier, and they had told what they had seen, and doubtless, too, their descriptions of the island's wealth had gathered p197 richness in the repetition of long years. And those lordly mountains, ranging hand in hand southward to the dome of snow-capped Etna, were not only the guardians of rich valleys and fertile plains within, but they were also the ramparts of a prison house in which hundreds of thousands of Christian men laboured in captivity under the Moslem rule. There was enough there to stir the adventurous spirits of men who were half Christian knights and still half barbarous marauders.
In the month of August of the year 1060, three Christian merchants of Messina left their city, pretending that they were bound to Trapani, but they put about at nightfall, and came to Roger at Mileto and entreated him to come over and free their city from the Moslems. Roger believed that they were the representatives of the whole Christian population, and he answered that he would come quickly; but the three Christians sailed back to Messina, and when they entered the harbour, the headless bodies of twelve of their friends were hanging from the walls, for the Saracens had suspected their conspiracy.
To effect the conquest of Sicily, Roger took sixty knights with him, crossed the straits, and landed near the lagoons of Faro. Instead of being received by the whole Christian population in revolt, the Saracens came out horse and foot to destroy the handful of invaders. But Robert pretended fear and flight, and unexpectedly, p198 when the enemy was in hot pursuit, he halted his men and turned short round, and fought for his life; and when the Normans had slain a great number of the foe, and the rest had fled in panic, he took the enemy's riderless horses and stripped the rich armour off the fallen dead, and sailed back that day to Reggio; and surely it was as daring a deed as ever Northman did before or since.
At the very time when Roger was making his reckless raid in Sicily, the Greeks were preparing a final expedition to recover the lost south. A general called Abul Kare, probably a converted Moslem, organized a large army on the eastern shores of the Adriatic, and crossed to Bari. The Norman troops were almost all concentrated at the opposite extremity of Calabria, and when Duke Robert faced his new adversary, with a handful of hastily collected troops, he was obliged to fall back to escape destruction, so that in two months Abul Kare succeeded in retaking Taranto, Brindisi, and Otranto. He even advanced as far as Melfi and laid siege to the Norman capital, a fact which proves that even the Guiscard had been taken altogether unawares. As soon, however, as Robert and Roger were able to unite their forces and make an organized resistance, the Greeks were obliged to give way, Abul Kare was driven back as quickly as he had advanced, and before long his temporary presence in Italy had ceased to cause the Normans any apprehension.
Old well at Mileto
Roger reached Milazzo without further interruption and collected much valuable booty, which he brought back to Faro in the neighbourhood of the small salt lagoons, and though the Saracens very nearly surrounded him while he was waiting for a favourable wind, he got the advantage by a brilliant movement and put them to flight. Encouraged by this success, he was rash enough p200 to turn again and attack the city of Messina; but he was driven back to his ships by overwhelming numbers, and was obliged to stand at bay during three whole days and nights until the weather moderated. Amari is of opinion that this desperate stand was made on what is now called the Braccio del Salvatore, which is the extremity of the sickle that forms the natural harbour of Messina; but it appears improbable to me that so small a force should not have been driven bodily into the sea from such a point; it is impossible to lie at anchor with ships outside that point in heavy weather, and lastly, Roger could not have reached it with the booty which he ultimately carried away, unless he had passed through the city which he failed to take. He must, therefore, have made his stand on the narrow strip of land which separates the lagoons from the sea, which could easily be defended, and within the curve of which small vessels such as he had can lie with tolerable safety during most storms. Here, being in the last extremity, Roger vowed to restore a ruined church dedicated to Saint Anthony, near Reggio, and as the weather then moderated, he embarked and succeeded in reaching the opposite shore in safety, in spite of an attack made upon him by Saracen vessels. He lost, besides one of his small ships, eleven men killed by arrows, and the news of this loss was enough to decide Robert Guiscard to join in the great enterprise. He called together a council of knights and announced his p201 intention of delivering all Catholic Christians from the Moslem bondage; and the knights answered that they would do battle with him for that cause, and promised by the help of God to subdue the Saracens, and they received grace and gifts of the lord duke.
Castle at Sant' Alessio, near Messina
In the early days of May in the same year 1061, Robert Guiscard encamped opposite the Faro with an army which the chronicle calls numerous, and which seems to have consisted of about a thousand fighting men. But Ibn‑al‑Hawwas was before him, and sent from Palermo a fleet of twenty-four vessels with eight hundred soldiers to protect Messina. Robert and Roger solemnly invoked the help of heaven, confessed and received communion, and vowed to live more Christian lives, introducing in their prayers the truly Norman stipulation that the Almighty should crown their expedition with success. Roger took two ships, and in spite of the Saracen fleet, reconnoitred the Sicilian coast, easily outsailing his adversaries; and on his return Robert determined to send a part only of his force in advance. Roger landed two hundred and seventy chosen men at the limekilns, •six miles south of Messina, and daringly sent his ships back to Reggio, in order that his men might understand that they were to win or die. Riding fearlessly towards Messina, they came upon a Saracen detachment bringing large sums of money, and having slain the soldiers and taken the booty, they joyously pursued p202 their way. They had not ridden far when they saw their Norman ships sailing back again, and were joined by a hundred and seventy more of their knights. This time the number sufficed; four hundred and forty Normans took Messina almost without striking a blow. Many of the inhabitants followed the Moslem soldiers in their flight, and on the steep hillside that overlooks the straits a tragedy took place which the chronicler thought worth recording. A young Saracen of very noble birth had escaped with his only sister, a girl of the most incomparable beauty. Delicately nurtured, and unused to walking, she was soon exhausted and half fainting with fatigue and terror. Tenderly her brother entreated her to take courage, and he helped her and carried her as far as he could; then, seeing that she could not be saved from rude Christian hands, he drew his sword and killed her, and left her dead upon the hillside. So he went on his way, weeping and vowing vengeance.
Now came the Guiscard himself and landed in Messina with all his force. He held the key of Sicily, but he hesitated to unlock the gate until he had fortified the city itself and got possession of the formidable stronghold of Rametta. He took the latter without striking a blow, for the terror of the Norman name was in the air, and the Saracens either surrendered or fled. Turning inland when he was sure of his retreat, Robert went up the Val‑Demone, where there p203 were many Christians who received him as their saviour and liberator. Wherever he found a strong place to take which would cost him some loss, he passed it by and went on, and the Normans ravaged the country like locusts, and the Saracens fled before them.
At last he came to that great plain whence the twin strongholds of Castrogiovanni and Calascibetta rise side by side like brother Titans; and the Normans were seven hundred men, but within Castrogiovanni there were fifteen thousand Saracen riders. So Robert comforted his companions in arms and, looking up at the fearful height, he told them how Christ had said that if a man have faith like a grain of mustard seen he can remove mountains and the Normans confessed their sins and raised the gonfalon and began to accomplish the impossible. The Moslems charged down furiously, but neither numbers, nor weight, nor sword, nor lance availed them, and the Northmen forced them bodily up the frightful steep, slaying them and climbing upon their bodies; and the rocks ran blood in rivulets; and of fifteen thousand Moslems who had ridden out, five thousand beaten men got back alive within the impregnable walls.
Sagely Robert left them within, for he would not waste men and steel upon the huge ramparts; but he destroyed the crops and the fruit trees and drove off the cattle and encamped by the shores of that fair lake by which Persephone had strayed in the days p204 of the gods. But by and by he quietly took possession of Calascibetta, and thither the frightened Saracens came up with presents and prayers for mercy, their heads bowed, and their hands crossed upon their breasts. Thither, too, the Moslem admiral of Palermo sent him rich presents, wearing apparel embroidered in the Spanish fashion and much fine linen, vessels of gold and silver, and mules in royal caparison; and he sent also a purse in which there was gold worth twelve thousand pounds of English money.
Robert now sent an ambassador to Palermo, and he chose for this purpose a certain deacon who spoke Arabic, enjoining upon him to keep his knowledge of the language a secret. So this man spied out the land and brought much precious information, and told Robert that the people of Palermo were but a body without a soul. But Robert, seeing the strength of Castrogiovanni, knew that he could not take it with the few men he had, so he went back to Messina with his vast booty, and three months had passed since Roger had landed with the advanced guard. Messina, Rametta, San Marco, and all the Val‑Demone were subject to the Normans now, and Ibn‑at‑Timnah, their firm ally, was established in Catania.
Robert Guiscard and Sigelgaita returned to Apulia in the autumn of 1061, and Roger, after a short stay at Mileto, crossed into Sicily again with a small force and harried the Moslem lands as far as Girgenti. p205 Returning towards Messina he came to the strong Greek city of Troina, and the inhabitants, who seem to have been almost entirely Christians, opened their gates and received him with enthusiasm. This place was destined to play an important part in the life of the young conqueror. It stands upon the table-like summit of a steep mountain •almost three thousand feet high; it is often hidden from the surrounding country by clouds, and is excessively cold in winter, when snow and ice sometimes lie on the ground for weeks. The town is dominated by a strong citadel, from the towers of which most of the principal cities and fortresses of Sicily are visible in clear weather.
Resting here, Roger learned that the lovely daughter of William of Evreux, with whom he is said to have fallen in love on his way to Italy, had arrived in Calabria and was ready to marry him. Judith of Evreux was the great granddaughter of Richard the First of Normandy, and had just escaped from that country with her sister and half brother, the latter having for some reason incurred the dangerous wrath of William who was soon to be called the Conqueror. Judith is now believed to have been the same person as Eremberga, and to have adopted the latter name when she left the convent in which she was brought up.
Roger lost no time, but returned instantly to Mileto and was married with all the pomp he could afford. A few weeks later he left his young wife behind him and p206 returned to Messina. The chronicler says that she shed many tears, the memory of which perhaps moved Roger to take her with him on his next expedition. On the present occasion he succeeded in getting possession of a fortress on the northern coast near Cefalù, while Ibn‑at‑Timnah pursued the civil war he was waging on his own account, and much to Roger's advantage. It was now that Roger first placed a Norman garrison in Troina, but the treacherous assassination of p207 Ibn‑at‑Timnah near Corleone soon rendered the possession of such isolated garrisons very unsafe, and in Roger's absence they hastened back to Messina.
A deadly quarrel now broke out between Roger and the Guiscard, who had refused to hand over to his brother the lands he had promised him in the treaty the two had made at Scalea. Roger was the more exasperated because he was thus prevented from making a suitable marriage gift to his young wife, and he determined to take by force what was indeed his by right. In one of the first encounters a half brother of Judith was thrown from his horse in the charge and killed, and Roger's anger rose to the pitch of fury. Robert now besieged him in Mileto and built two rude castles, one at each extremity of the city. Roger responded by invariably attacking the one when he was informed that Robert was in the other, and as Robert was obliged to ride round the city, while Roger could traverse it in a straight line, the advantage always fell to the latter.
One night Roger took a hundred men and rode down to the city of Gerace, which owed allegiance to Robert, but promptly opened its gates to the younger brother and provided him with means for carrying on the war. Robert therefore left a part of his troops before Mileto and laid siege to Gerace; but being unable to take it at once, he resorted to a stratagem, entered the city alone, disguised in a cloak and hood, and went to the house p208 of one Basil, a man whom he could trust. While he was talking with Basil's wife Mileta, before dinner, a servant betrayed his presence; instantly the city was in an uproar, and an infuriated multitude beat down the doors of the house; Basil got out and tried to take sanctuary in a church, but was cut to pieces before he could reach the door; the unfortunate woman was dragged out and impaled alive on a stake to die in agony, and Duke Robert, with his hood thrown back, faced the multitude alone and unarmed.
His natural intrepid coolness did not forsake him; he saw that he must win the crowd by gentle words or die, and his eloquence saved his life. With the utmost skill he laid his case before those who thirsted for his blood. He had come to them unarmed and of his own accord, he said, to them who had sworn to be his faithful subjects. It would be a shameful thing for thousands to tear a single unarmed man to pieces, but they might do it if they chose, there he stood in their midst. They would get no glory for such a deed, nor would it free them from the Norman yoke; he had brothers, friends, an army of soldiers at their gates, and did they think the Normans would not avenge the shedding of Norman blood?
He persuaded them to spare his life, but not to give him his liberty, and from the threshold of his dead friend's ruined home the great duke was led away and thrust into prison. Roger soon learned p209 what had happened, and he came into the city with his men and bade the people give him his brother, who was his enemy, bound hand and foot; for he would slay him with his own sword. But when the brothers were alone, they fell into one another's arms, says the chronicler, and embraced one another like Joseph and Benjamin of old — an affectionate effusion which did not prevent them from renewing their quarrel. It ended only when the danger of a general rising in Calabria brought the brothers to their senses. They met at a bridge in the valley of the Crati, which was long afterwards called Ponte Guiscardo in memory of the day, and there they promised to forget their enmity, and agreed to divide Calabria between them.
Roger now crossed to Sicily again, taking Judith with him, and accompanied by three hundred men he reached Troina, where he established himself, strongly fortifying the citadel. The town, as has been said, was almost wholly Greek, and a quarrel having arisen between the Norman soldiers and the inhabitants, the latter attempted to storm the castle when Roger was absent on a raid. The Normans defended the Countess Judith with their usual desperate courage, and Roger returned in time to avert a catastrophe. But the castle gates had barely closed behind him when more than five thousand Saracens swarmed up from the valleys, attracted by the news of a quarrel between the Normans and the Greeks, and uniting with the p210 latter, laid formal siege to the castle. During four months Roger and Judith, as well as their men, suffered incredible hardships. The winter was bitterly cold, and they were so ill provided for facing it that the pair had but one mantle between them, and only one could go out upon the ramparts while the other tried to keep warm within. They were so reduced by hunger at last that the beautiful young Judith could find no remedy against her sufferings excepting sleep. Lean and dangerous as half-starved wolves, the Normans made frequent and desperate sallies against the overwhelming numbers of the enemy; and on a certain day, as Roger was attempting to save one of his men who was surrounded, his horse was killed under him, and Greeks and Saracens were upon him in an instant, attempting to drag him away alive, while he resisted 'like a bull that scents the slaughter house.' But his sword was out, and lifting it up with both hands he mowed down the foe till their bodies lay in a wide circle around him, and the rest dared not lay hands upon him; and while they looked on in fear, he coolly took the saddle and bridle from his dead horse and regained the castle on foot.
But now the besiegers themselves suffered from the great cold, and, having wine in abundance, they drank so much of it that they were often asleep upon their watch, while the hungry Normans waked; and so p211 one night, when they were stupefied with drink, the Normans crept out with muffled feet and made an end. Roger hanged the ringleader of the revolt and most of his accomplices, and then, when the slain were buried and he held the city fast, he left his brave young wife in sole command and went over to Calabria to obtain horses; for in their extreme famine he and his men had eaten most of those they had. While he was gone, Judith herself made the rounds of the ramparts by day and night, and she encouraged the sentinels with good words and many promises, so that when her husband came back he found all well and the city at peace.
At this time the Saracens of Africa sent over a fleet and an army to drive out the Normans, and there was a fight near Castrogiovanni. Roger sent his nephew, Serlo, who afterwards died a gallant death, to draw out the Arabs with a handful of men, and the Arabs rode so swiftly that only two of Serlo's squadron escaped unwounded; but the enemy fell into the ambuscade, and Roger rode back to Troina with much spoil. The Saracens were not checked by so small a loss, however, and before long a great battle was fought by Cerami. There the whole Moslem host was drawn up in order of battle, and the Normans had never faced such odds before; but while Roger and his chiefs spoke words of comfort to their men, says the chronicle, one suddenly rode before them on a milk-white charger, and clothed p212 in steel from head to heel, bearing on his lance a white pennant, whereon there was a blood-red cross, for Saint George himself had come down to fight against the infidels; and all that day the Normans slew and slew, till the bodies of fifteen thousand Saracens were heaped up like great ramparts on the earth, and the Normans slept in their armour on the slippery field, and on the next day they pursued the flying foe far and wide through the valleys and ravines of the mountains.
In gratitude to God and Saint Peter for this great victory over the Africans and Saracens, Roger sent to Pope Alexander the Second four camels, and the Pope thereupon sent his benediction and a general absolution for past sins to Roger and to all those who were fighting, or should fight, to free Sicily from the Moslems; but the Pope added that this pardon could be of no avail unless the Christians felt some real repentance for their sins and made an effort to lead better lives in future.
At this time the merchants of Pisa, whose commerce with Sicily had suffered greatly under the Mohammedan rule, sent out a fleet with a sort of general commission to do as much damage to the Saracens as possible; and finding Roger in Sicily, the admiral sent messengers to him at Troina, proposing a joint attack upon Palermo. But Roger was busy with other matters, and requested a short delay before making the attempt, and the Pisans sailed on without him. The description of their attack is very vague, but it is clear that they made no real p213 attempt to storm the capital, and contented themselves with filing the chain which the Saracens had drawn across the harbour, and carrying it back to Pisa as a trophy.
After this, as it was summer, and the weather in the plains was too hot for fighting, Roger projected another visit to his brother the Guiscard in Apulia. Before setting out he made his usual preparations for a journey, which consisted in sacking a few towns, whence he collected enough booty and ready money to stock Troina with provisions and to provide for his own necessities on the way. He left his countess in command and returned as soon as the great heat was over, bringing with him a hundred men lent him by Duke Robert. An expedition that he made against Girgenti about this time very nearly led to his destruction; for on his return his advance guard fell into an ambush, and in something like a panic dashed up the side of a hill, leaving the train of animals that carried the booty at the mercy of the enemy, who killed the driver. It was with the greatest of difficulty that Roger prevailed upon his men to come back and fight, and though they ultimately did so, and cut their way through with the plunder, they lost one of their best men in the action. Reflecting upon this skirmish, Roger began to see that it would be impossible to maintain the position of a mere marauder forever. The strength of the Saracens in the centre and p214 west of Sicily was unshaken, for it seems that the great majority of those slain in the battle of Cerami were Africans, and the Saracens of Palermo had not yet brought their real forces into the field. Roger therefore now made a serious treaty with his brother Robert, and the time was favourable for a joint attempt, as the Greeks had not caused the Normans much anxiety since the defeat of Abul Kare, and the Greek city of Bari had at last made an agreement with Robert by which he was allowed to enter the walls. The so‑called Duke of Italy had been obliged to return to Durazzo, whence he was intriguing with a few discontented Normans to produce a rising in Italy, a danger to which the Guiscard seems to have been indifferent. He therefore turned his attention to Sicily, and in 1064 the two brothers crossed the straits with an army of five hundred Normans, traversed Sicily without opposition, and encamped upon a hill before Palermo. Here the chronicler says that they were tormented by tarantula spiders. This statement has caused some controversy among historians, who were possibly unacquainted with the spider in question. From personal knowledge I am able to say that the bite is extremely painful and irritating, but not fatal in any known case, and that tarantulas really are common enough all over the south. No one has been able to say with certainty which elevation it was that the Normans selected for their first encampment. I am inclined to think that it was Monreale, p215 because that point is the one by which they would naturally have reached Palermo on the march from the interior, and because they afterwards returned to it and built the famous abbey on the site. Be that as it may, they were obliged to give way to the tarantulas and to encamp in lower ground, where they remained during three months, and made futile attacks upon the city, which they were unable to blockade by sea. They retired discomfited, and after a long raid through the country the Guiscard returned to Calabria with the conviction that for the conquest of Sicily a fleet was as necessary as an army. Soon after Guiscard's return a civil war broke out between one of the African chiefs and Ibn‑al‑Hawwas, who was, however, soon slain, thereby leaving the African Arabs in power. The Sicilian Moslems soon began to revolt against their exactions, and being well informed of the situation, the wily Guiscard resolved to let internal discord do its work.
Meanwhile he proceeded with the final conquest of Calabria, destroyed the city of Policastro in the gulf of that name, reduced the neighbourhood of Cosenza to subjection, failed in the siege of Ajello, but got possession of the place in the end by a treaty with the inhabitants, and then finally turned his attention to Apulia. The conspiracy planned and fostered in Durazzo by Perenos, the Duke of Italy, had reached dangerous proportions. Many Normans were now p216 jealous of Duke Robert's increasing power, and more than one owed him vengeance for some deed of violence and cruelty. The son of Humphrey, who was supposed to be Robert's ward, but to whom the Guiscard paid no more attention than if he never existed, joined the malcontents, and Perenos exacted hostages from them in order to be sure of their good faith, and in return obtained for them large sums of money from Constantinople. Having learned wisdom from the Guiscard himself, his enemies avoided battle, and declined to lay siege to his cities, but ravaged his lands in all directions and when he, on his part, attempted to retaliate by attacking Perenos in Durazzo, on the other side of the Adriatic, a strong Greek fleet under the Admiral Mabrica put his vessels to flight. Mabrica now landed, and Bari, forgetful of its promises, opened its gates. The Greeks possessed the valuable aid of the Scandinavian Varanger guard, and gained more than one advantage in hand-to‑hand fight, and it looked as if the fruit of a long and laborious conquest were to be snatched from Robert's hands; but gathering his tremendous energy, as he always could in any extremity, he at last got the upper hand, the Greeks fell back before him, the chief of the Norman conspirators fled in panic to Constantinople, and the duke brought the insurrection to an end when he got possession, by treachery, of Monte Peloso, the fortress on the hill p217 overlooking the often-disputed plains of Cannae. This was in 1068. Robert immediately set about effacing the impression produced in the south by this revolution, and, rather than endanger his returning popularity by vengeance, however just, he consented to be reconciled with those of the conspirators who had not fled.
It was at this time that the Seljuks became the south of serious anxiety to Constantinople, for they had advanced as far as Antioch and threatened the capital itself. The Greek emperor was therefore unable to turn his attention to Italy, and at the same time the Greek cause suffered a serious loss by the death of Argyros, the son of the patriotic Meles. After many vicissitudes, after suffering exile and imprisonment, he had returned to spend the last four years of his life in Bari, and though at the end he entertained friendly relations with the Normans, he nevertheless remained the representative of the Greek-Italians until his death. It is surmised that he left his personal possessions to Robert Guiscard, for soon after his death the duke appeared before Bari with a fleet and demanded that all the houses which had belonged to Argyros should be handed over to him at once; and as they were a group of buildings resembling a castle rather than a palace, and dominating the city, it is not surprising that the Greeks should have refused haughtily to give them up. By way p218 of adding insult to injury, however, they collected together a vast quantity of precious objects of gold and silver, and carried them in procession upon the ramparts under the blazing sun, so that Robert might be dazzled by the sight of the wealth which was refused him. But he, from his ship, answered smilingly p219 that all he saw was his, and that he was much bounden to the people of Bari for taking such good care of his possessions.
Thereupon he began a siege which lasted two years and eight months, and might have lasted longer had not Count Roger lent his assistance at the last. Robert determined to blockade the city by land and sea, in order to starve it to submission, and while his cavalry encamped on the land side, he shut in the harbour by anchoring before it a number of vessels lashed together with chains; and as the shelving shore would not allow the close approach of ships of such draught, he built out two wooden piers from the beach to the two ends of the line. Meanwhile, the patrician of the city, Bizanzio, went to Constantinople and appealed to the emperor, though Robert made an unsuccessful attempt to intercept him. He returned with a number of ships and a quantity of provisions, and though the Normans sank twelve of the vessels, the remainder succeeded in forcing his blockade, to the great joy of the inhabitants. They made a heroic defence, but within the city there was a strong party in favour of the Normans, under the leadership of Argirizzo, who maintained a correspondence with the duke, and served his end in every way. The siege had lasted two years when Argirizzo caused Bizanzio to be assassinated, and his partisans fired a number of houses belonging to the patriotic party. The latter retorted by an attempt to murder the p220 Guiscard, which only failed by the merest accident. For a sum of money a certain soldier, who had a private grudge against the duke, and had formerly served under him, agreed to do the deed. Slipping out of the city unobserved, and armed with his sling and pike, he turned, when he was at a little distance from the rampart, and slung a few stones towards the city, as if he belonged to the besieging army. Then, entering the Norman camp without difficulty, for it was already dusk, he soon found the duke's quarters, a mere hut made of branches so loosely fastened together that the murderer could see through them into the interior. The great Norman was seated at a low table alone, with the remains of his simple supper before him. He was overcome with fatigue, and as he sat there resting, he nodded, half asleep. The man watched some time by the light of the small oil lamp, and then, taking careful aim, he hurled his pike at the duke's head with all his might, and instantly fled through the darkness. But at that instant the tired man had fallen forward upon the table, his face upon his arms, sound asleep, and the dart had passed harmlessly above his bent neck. It was found on the following day, and the Normans at once built their leader a stone house.
During the long siege Robert had made more than one expedition, and had attempted to take Brindisi back, but had lost there a hundred of his men by a piece of p221 frightful treachery. The Greek governor pretended to treat secretly with him for the betrayal of the city, and at the appointed hour and place the Normans were admitted, one by one, by a ladder. As each one then passed through a door, he was silently killed by the Greeks, and so a hundred perished before those behind knew what was happening. But before Bari fell, Robert took final possession of Brindisi.
p222 During all this time Roger was in Sicily, gradually strengthening his position, and now determined to advance upon Palermo by slow and sure steps. It was in 1068, in the first year of the siege of Bari, that he won the decisive battle of Misilmeri. The Moslem, exasperated by his unceasing ravages, had resolved to face him at last, and to stop his advance at the castle called in Arabic Manzil-al‑Emir, corrupted into Misilmeri. It is the very spot at which, in 1860, Garibaldi joined the Sicilian revolutionaries before seizing Palermo, and is only •nine miles from the city. We know not how many Moslems came out to meet the Normans, but it is told that all were slain. Now the Saracens reared carrier pigeons, feeding them on cornº and honey, and took them in baskets when they went out to war to carry back news of victory or defeat; and some of these were found among the booty. Then Roger indeed sent the news to Palermo, for he took slips of white parchment and dipped them in Saracen blood and fastened them to the birds' necks, and let the pigeons fly. And when the people of Palermo saw them, they knew the worst, and the air was full of the lamentations of women and children.
But Roger did not attempt to take the city itself, for he now fully understood that both an army and a fleet would be necessary for such an undertaking, and the signal defeat he had inflicted upon the Saracens at the very gates of their capital had inspired a wholesome p223 terror of the Normans throughout the island, so that he was more free than heretofore to go and come at his pleasure.
Meanwhile, the siege of Bari proceeded. After the murder of Bizanzio, Argirizzo redoubled his efforts in favour of the Normans, and the people cried out for bread before the doors of the Greek general's palace, bidding him capitulate with the duke unless he could feed them. In reply, he made one last desperate appeal to Constantinople; a messenger was found who dared to run the blockade, and who bore to the emperor the tale of suffering. Then the emperor was moved, and commanded that a fleet should be got ready at Durazzo, under the command of a certain Norman who seems to have been one of the conspirators against Robert's life, who had fled to the East after their failure. The messenger got back into the city unhurt, and he bade the citizens light many torches upon the ramparts at night to guide the rescuing fleet.
But at this time, and at his brother's request, Count Roger had sailed up from Sicily with many good ships; and when the Normans understood what was meant by the torches lighted every night on the city walls, Roger set a lookout to watch for the coming enemy. At last, on a certain night, in the mid-watch, many lights hove in sight, like a constellation of stars which men-of‑war carried in those days, and the admiral's ship p224 carried two. Then Roger sailed out with his fleet, and a great sea-fight was fought in the dark. Roger himself attacked the admiral, recognizing his ship by its lights, and took him prisoner; the ships of the Greek fleet were almost all destroyed or captured, and the torches that were to have guided a rescuing army to Bari lit up the return of a triumphant foe. The last hope of assistance was gone, and Argirizzo now treated almost openly with Robert for the surrender of the city, sending his own daughter as a hostage of his good faith. He immediately seized one of the principal towers of defence, and the negotiations were carried on without further concealment. Yet even now the patriotic inhabitants would have held out; men and women, children, priests, and monks came in throngs to the foot of the tower where Argirizzo was, and lifting up their hands, implored him with many tears not to betray them to the terrible Normans. But Argirizzo turned a deaf ear to their supplications, and would not even look out and see the people; and on the eve of Palm Sunday, in the year 1071, Robert made his triumphal entry into the city.
With the wisdom born of long experience, the great duke disappointed the expectations of a terror-struck people; he neither took from them the rich treasures which they had tauntingly exposed to his gaze, nor exacted satisfaction for an insult that had brought a smile to his lips; he restored to the citizens the lands p225 occupied by the Normans in the neighbourhood during the siege; he allowed no bloodshed nor violence, and treated the Greek garrison as prisoners of war; the only conditions that he imposed upon the city were that Argirizzo should be governor, and that the tribute formerly paid to Constantinople should now be paid to himself. In order that these conditions should be faithfully executed, he established a Norman garrison in the fortifications. To such a degree had a long career of conquest civilized the wild freebooter of San Marco.
The fall of Bari was the end of all Greek claims in Italy, and it had been brought about by the rapid development of the Norman naval power. Up to the year 1060 no mention is found of any Norman navy; ten years later the Norman fleets were more than a match for those of Constantinople, and from their victory at Bari they sailed almost directly to the final capture of Palermo. Bari was taken on the sixteenth of April, and in the first week of August fifty-eight Norman men-of‑war, of which ten were of the largest size, were ready to sail down upon Sicily from the harbour of Otranto, with an army numbering between eight and ten thousand men. Robert had collected not only Normans, but Lombards, Apulians, and Calabrians, and he had taken or forced into his service the soldiers of the Greek garrison taken prisoners. Under his iron hand these men of many nationalities fought p226 with unbroken discipline throughout a campaign that lasted six months. He was not joined by all the Norman princes. Gisulf of Salerno, his own brother-in‑law, Richard of Capua, the Count of Trani, and many smaller lords stood sullenly aloof, expecting to witness his destruction, and one, if not more, took advantage of his absence to invade his dominions; but nothing could turn the sons of Tancred from their purpose, and while Robert marched a part of his forces from Otranto to reggio, the rest pursued their way to the same port by sea.
Roger was already in Sicily when Robert crossed the straits, and hearing of his brother's advance he seized and fortified Catania, of which the alliance had been uncertain since the assassination of Ibn‑at‑Timnah. Roger now took command of the land forces and marched to Palermo through the heart of Sicily, only turning aside to visit his wife Judith in Troina, where he was joined by two nephews. Duke Robert, who seems to have feared the heat in the month of August, sailed with fifty ships to Palermo. With the loss of a few men who were killed while collecting forage, and whose death was amply avenged, Roger reached the entrance to the Golden Shell; and as he gazed down upon the groves of oranges and lemons and carob trees, the villas, and the Moorish palaces, and the gardens of roses that filled the fertile valley then, as now, and as he beheld the walls and minarets and domes of p227 Moslem Palermo beyond, his keen eye may well have descried the white sails of his brother's fleets in the offing, for Duke Robert reached the city almost at the same time. It is certain that the people of Palermo were surprised by the simultaneous appearance of the Normans, both on land and sea, and the invaders took possession of the gardens and orchards and pleasure houses, almost without striking a blow. The few Moslems who fell into their hands were immediately sold as slaves, and what they found they divided among themselves, after choosing for Roger and the princes his nephews 'delectable gardens abounding with fruit and water; and the knights were royally lodged in an earthly paradise.'
The Saracens had built a tower, or castle, at the mouth of the small river Oreto eastwards of the city, by the sea, and as Roger at once saw the necessity of commanding the point, in order that Norman ships might enter the stream, he went up to the walls and defied the Saracens in a loud voice. So they came out and fought, and the Normans killed thirty of them and took fifteen prisoners, and held the tower. Robert Guiscard now landed his army and encamped between the mouth of the Oreto and the quarter still called the Kalsa, which has been already described in the words of Ibn Haukal. Roger took up his position on the south side of the city in the direction of Monreale, and opposite the gate now called Porta Nuova, in the neighbourhood p228 of the papyrus swamp. As the army was not numerous enough to invest Palermo from that point to the sea on the west, the besiegers patrolled the country in order to cut off communication between the inhabitants and the small bay westward of Monte Pellegrino, which the Carthaginians had so successfully utilized in the days of Hamilcar Barca. This fact is to be inferred from our information regarding the famine that soon prevailed in the city. The siege began about the first of September, and was varied by many incidents during the next four months. The people of Palermo invoked the help of the African Arabs, who sent a strong fleet to attack Robert's ships; the Normans protected their own from the stones and darts of their adversaries by means of great pieces of thick red felt, of which they seem to have seized a great quantity in some dyeing establishment in the suburbs; but some writers say that this was an ancient Scandinavian custom. The Arabs ranged their ships in battle order, and came on with a tremendous blare of clarions and trumpets, while the Christians performed their devotions in silence. We do not know how the African ships had succeeded in entering harbour to join those of their allies, though it is clear enough that fifty small vessels could not blockade such a place as Palermo; but we know that the combined fleets of the Moslems sailed out against the Normans and were driven back in a short and furious battle. Some ships p229 were captured and some were sunk, and when the Normans reached the great chain which was drawn against the entrance of the harbour, they broke through it and fired the vessels that lay within.
Now also famine came to the help of the besiegers, and the bodies of the starved dead lay unburied, and poisoned the air. Then the Normans laid loaves of bread upon the ground before the walls to tempt the people out; some came out and took the bread and ate it ravenously and ran back. But on the next day the besiegers placed the bread a little farther away, and farther still on the day after that, and then they caught the miserable people and sold them for slaves.
There were also brave deeds done in single combat. A certain Moslem knight in full armour used to sit upon his horse in one of the gates when it was open and well defended; and one of Roger's nephews rode at him amain, and drove him in and killed him; but when the Norman turned the Moslems had shut the gates, and he was alone within the city. With incomparable courage, seeing that his retreat was cut off, he set spurs to his horse and rode at full speed through the heart of Palermo to another gate, where he slew the guards and let himself out unhurt.
During the long siege Robert received bad news from the continent. The Norman nobles who had refused to join the enterprise, Richard of Capua and p230 many others, after at first making a semblance of neutrality, made incursions into the dukedom, seized the castle of Sant' Angelo in Calabria, and set the whole country in a blaze. A weaker man would have divided his forces and would have sent back a part of them to avenge the outrage and to repel the invaders; but Robert well knew that if he held Palermo and made himself lord of Sicily he could chastise his enemies at his leisure, and he never hesitated in pursuing his purpose. And now the time was come for a general assault, for the Arab fleet had been destroyed, and the garrison was weak from famine and sickness. So Robert prepared fourteen great scaling ladders, seven for Roger's men and seven for his own, and he gave Roger the honour of the first assault.
At dawn on the fifth of January, 1072, Roger made the attempt; the bowmen and slingers went before, bearing the ladders, while the cavalry moved behind them in even order. The Saracens fearlessly opened their gates and rode at Roger's infantry, which gave way under the shock, but the knights soon drove the Moslems back before them in wild confusion, trusting that in the rush they might suddenly enter the city. The defenders within, seeing the great danger, shut the gates and sacrificed their unhappy comrades to save the city. Then the Normans brought up their scaling ladders and set them against the high ramparts, p231 while Duke Robert stood in their midst calling upon them to take that city which was hateful to God and subject to devils, and bidding them know that, though he was their general, Christ Himself was their leader. Then one man, whose name was Archifred, made a great sign of the cross and set his foot upon the ladder, and two others went up with him; but the deed was so fearful that no others would follow. The three reached the rampart and stood upon it, and fought till their shields and swords were broken in their hands; and then, being defenceless, they turned and leaped for their lives, and slipped and rolled and fell down the escarpment, and by a miracle they reached the ground unhurt. Now others, and many, came forward to do as these had done, but the walls were high and the defenders staunch, and Robert saw that he was sacrificing good men for no good end. He therefore ordered Roger to pretend to carry on the assault, while he himself rode round through the gardens to a point of the Kalsa where the enemy expected no attack, and where he had hidden three hundred chosen men with their ladders among certain trees. He was successful at last. Hardly an enemy was upon the walls, and in a few minutes his men were rushing through the streets to open the nearest gate for him. The day had been spent in the long assault, but as the sun went down the Normans were masters of the Kalsa, while the surviving Saracens retired p232 within the Kasr, leaving their heaps of dead where they had fallen in the streets. All night long the Norman soldiers marched up from the encampments and filled the Kalsa, and many of them spent that first night in sacking the rich outer town, slaying the Moslems where they found them, but sparing the children for slaves. Within the fortress the half-vanquished Saracens sat all night in debate, and when the morning came most of them were for surrendering, and they sent out ambassadors to treat with Duke Robert and Count Roger for terms of peace.
The conquerors had learned the worth of mercy and the wisdom of forbearance, and they gave the great city very honourable terms. The Saracens were not to be disturbed in the exercise of their religion; not one of them was to be exiled from Palermo; they were not toº be oppressed by new and unjust laws; and finally, they were to enjoy the right of being judged at law by tribunals of their own.
These points being settled, Roger took a large force, entered the Kasr, and occupied the fortifications, but it was not until the tenth of January that he made his solemn entry. A thousand knights lined the streets through which the army was to pass; Robert Guiscard and his wife Sigelgaita headed the triumphal march, with Count Roger and the others of the house of Tancred, and Guy of Salerno, who had quarrelled with his nephew Gisulf, was also p233 there. So the duke and all the princes and the clergy rode up to Saint Gregory's Church of Our Lady, of which the Saracens had made a mosque, and a solemn mass was said by the Christian Archbishop of Palermo, who had suffered much at the hand of the Saracens. 'Then,' says the devout chronicler, 'a great marvel appeared in this church, for certain good Christians heard in that church the voices of the angels, and very sweet song, which praised God on high, and at divers times this church was lit up with heavenly light, more bright than any light of this world.'
The fall of Palermo did not mean the immediate conquest of all Sicily; lofty Castrogiovanni still held its own, and Marsala, 'the harbour of Allah,' and many strong and good places in the west; but it meant that the Saracen domination was at an end, and then and there the Guiscard and his brother divided Sicily between them. The duke, generous to himself, kept the suzerainty of the whole island with Palermo, the Val‑Demone, and Messina, and Roger received the rest of Sicily, conquered already, or still to be subdued, keeping his vast possessions in Calabria as recognized by his brother. From this time he is known in history as Roger the Great Count.
One of the two principal vassals who were to hold the new country under the brothers was their nephew, Serlo, the other was a certain Arisgot of Pozzuoli, a p234 relative of the house of Tancred; but the former's days were numbered, and not long after the taking of Palermo he came to an untimely end by treachery. He was at that time keeping the peace in Cerami against the incursions of the Arabs of Castrogiovanni. But there was a certain Arab with whom he had sworn brotherhood, by touching ear to ear after the manner of the Saracens; and this man betrayed him and told him treacherously that on a certain day he should not ride to a place named, because a small party of seven Arabs had determined then to make a raid in that direction. But Serlo laughed loud, and rode out with a few companions; and his enemy indeed sent the seven Saracens to the place, but he hid seven hundred in an ambuscade hard by. So Serlo and his comrades were suddenly surrounded and they sprang upon a boulder and fought for their lives. When they had slain many, and their weapons were all broken, they still hurled down stones and earth upon their assailants; but at the last they were all killed, save two, who lay wounded and half dead under the piles of slain. The Saracens cut off Serlo's head and sent it as a present to the emir in Africa; but with their knives they cut out the brave man's heart and apportioned it among them and devoured it, trusting that thereby his courage might enter into their own bodies.
Even then, Robert and Roger did not march p235 against Castrogiovanni, for the place was very strong; but they took hostages of the Saracens, lest such evils should befall again, and slowly strengthened themselves in their possessions. In Palermo they built two fortresses, the one on the site of the modern royal palace at Porta Nuova, and comprising the Saracen fortress that already stood there; and still a lordly vaulted room is pointed out, and the traveller is told that after the siege Count Roger chose it for his own. Also the duke saw that the poor little Church of Saint Mary 'was like a baker's oven' amid the splendid Saracen palaces, and he caused it to be torn down, and gave great sums of money to build a better church on the spot; and still in the porch of the later cathedral one may see the pillars of the mosque, with verses from the Koran graven in the cufic character. In the last months of the year 1072 Robert Guiscard, Duke of Apulia, of Calabria, and of Sicily, returned to the mainland laden with spoil.
While Robert and Roger were conquering Sicily, the Normans of the mainland were engaged in ceaseless dissensions and involved in the complicated history of the Papacy. A large part of their story concerns the doings of Richard of Capua and of a certain William of Montreuil, to whom he gave his daughter in marriage, who quarrelled with his father-in‑law, repudiated his wife, attempted to marry the widowed Duchess of Gaeta, and failing in his plan was reconciled with Richard and p236 took his wife back; who allied himself with Pope Alexander the Second in his struggle against the antipope Honorius, at one time commanding a force of several thousand men, and who would have continued to cause trouble during many years had he not been providentially removed from history by the malarious fever of the Roman Campagna. In the inextricable confusion of small events two principal figures stand out; that of Richard, determined to extend his principality of Capua, and even marching upon Rome itself, from the gates of which he was driven back by the appearance of the Duke of Tuscany with a large army, and, on the other hand, the gigantic personality of Hildebrand, soon to be Pope Gregory the Seventh, fighting, as only he knew how to fight, for the independence of the Papacy and of the Church itself. It would be fruitless for the purposes of the present work to follow the many entangled threads; the story is one of raids and counter-raids, of ruined crops and blazing towns, and of castles won by assault or betrayed by treachery. It ended in a solemn and peaceful ceremony at Monte Cassino at the very time when the Normans of the south were fighting under the walls of Palermo. The devout and indefatigable Abbot Desiderius had built the great church of the abbey, and at its consecration by Pope Alexander himself there were present with Richard of Capua all the great Norman and Lombard nobles who had refused to take part in the conquest of Sicily, p237 besides a vast multitude of nobles and tenants and countrymen, clerks, laymen, monks and soldiers, Campanians, Apulians and Calabrians who, during more than a week, thronged up the steep mountain side to pray at the tomb of the holy Benedict and to receive the Pope's absolution and blessing. The splendid basilica, with its lofty nave and aisles, its double ranks of columns, and its grand choir, in the midst of which rose the tomb of the saint, eight steps above the floor, was totally destroyed by a great earthquake in the year 1349. Desiderius had spared neither pains nor treasure in the work, and had brought columns from Rome and rich marbles from other parts of Italy, and had called artists together, Latins, Greeks, and even Saracens, from Constantinople and from Alexandria. Moreover, a great noble of Amalfi had ordered the bronze doors to be cast and chiselled in Constantinople, and what remains of these is all that is left of Desiderius' abbey church.
The consecration was, however, a favourable occasion for an interview between Richard and all those who were jealous of the house of Tancred, and it is certain that Richard of Capua profited by it to plan his attack upon Apulia, while Gisulf agreed at the same time to make a raid upon the western coast, from Policastro to Sant' Eufemia. The surprise and disappointment of the malcontents at the news that Palermo was taken may be more easily imagined than described, p238 and when Duke Robert came back in triumph to Melfi and convoked his great vassals, more than one of them must have wished that he had been with the Guiscard and Roger at Palermo. He seems to have satisfied himself by visiting his wrath upon the Count of Trani, who had flatly refused to send any help for the Sicilian expedition, and who at first declined to meet the suzerain at Melfi. Being forced to do so, however, he gave haughty answers to all Robert's questions and commands, and the duke was obliged to make war upon him. It was during this short struggle that, having taken the count prisoner, he made use of him in besieging the castles that remained loyal, for when the defenders began to shoot arrows and hurl stones from the ramparts, Robert set the count himself, loaded with chains, in front of his besieging force, and the prisoner, in terror for his life, besought his own people to abstain from defending themselves, lest they should kill him.
As for Richard of Capua, who had advanced as far as Cannae in Apulia, it is merely recorded that when he perceived himself opposed by Divine Providence, he quietly returned to Capua. Robert pardoned him at the time, promising himself to be avenged at a more convenient season; and when, after entirely reducing the south to submission, he forgave the Count of Trani and gave him back most of his possessions, he prepared to make war against the Capuan prince. But at this p239 juncture he fell dangerously ill, and lay long between life and death in Bari; his wife Sigelgaita herself believed that he was at his last gasp, and hastily calling together the Norman knights, she caused them to choose for her husband's successor her own son, the young Roger, to the exclusion of Bohemund, the duke's eldest born by his first marriage. After this election the news went abroad that Robert was dead, and Gregory the Seventh, who had just ascended the pontifical throne, wrote a characteristic letter of condolence to Sigelgaita. The pontiff spoke of the death of Duke Robert, the most beloved son of Holy Church, as a source of grief irremediable to himself, to the cardinals, and to the Senate of Rome; he expressed his goodwill to the widowed duchess, and requested her to bring her son to Rome, in order that he might receive from the hands of the Church's head those possessions which his father had held from former popes.
At this point, when every one who was with the duke believed that he was about to expire, and when even the Pope himself believed him to be already dead, the Guiscard's iron constitution prevailed against the sickness; he suddenly was better, in a few days he was out of danger, and in an incredibly short time he was completely restored to health, to the great joy of his friends, and to the bitter disappointment of his enemies. As the Abbé Delarc says in the closing lines of his valuable work, the Guiscard was still to live twelve p240 years, astonishing and upheaving Italy and Europe from east to west by his daring deeds and by the surprising energy of his restless life.
Fountain at Taormina
p241 These circumstances made it clear from the first that the Moslems might resist a long time, and if they had been firmly united, the issue might have been doubtful; but they were divided among themselves, they made the mistake of opposing themselves separately to the conqueror, and he took their strong places, one by one. It has often been said that the history of the Arabs in Sicily is yet to be written, and their chief historian, the learned Amari, admits that in the whirlpool of their national and civil wars the distinctions between the successively dominating parties is extremely uncertain. The same writer points out that, if they had been unified, the fall of Palermo would have meant the conquest of the whole island, whereas it produced little or no impression upon the Saracens of the south. Furthermore, the fact that the Moslems of Noto, which comprises all the southeast region, had been in a sort of alliance with Roger, had contributed to increase their strength; and when at last revolutionary leader arose in the person of the Arab Ben Arwet, he found such materials ready as made him at once a most dangerous adversary. The man was the last Moslem patriot in Sicily, and his efforts to restore Mohammedan independence have justly been called heroic. Under his leadership the Saracens were soon in arms throughout the south; from the ramparts of numerous castles they defied the Norman cavalry, and when they sallied from their strongholds they skilfully led Roger's troops into ambush. Almost wholly p242 unprovided with siege engines, or with troops accustomed to such operations, the Normans were forced to fight when it pleased the Moslems to face them. Roger, indeed, strongly fortified the heights of Calascibetta over against Castrogiovanni, and he took one or two other strong places; but in the meantime the African Arabs made a wild raid upon the Italian coast at Nicotera, and returning landed at Mazzara and besieged that castle in that place until Roger arrived in person and drove them off. In those years Ben Arwet commanded the whole province, from Syracuse as a base, and his forces were continually increasing. Being obliged to return to Mileto, Roger appointed Hugh of Jersey his viceregent in Sicily, and placed his son Jourdain in command of the troops in the field, enjoining upon both to avoid a pitched battle with the Moslems. But neither had the coolness to resist the temptation to an open fight, and when Ben Arwet sent a decoy party to forage under the very walls of Catania, the young Normans rode out and were drawn into an ambush where Hugh of Jersey was killed, and whence Jourdain barely escaped with his life.
At the news of this disaster Roger's anger knew no bounds, and he arrived in Sicily soon afterwards with such an army as Ben Arwet dared not face. He now advanced directly into Noto, and as it was harvest time he so completely destroyed the crops as to produce a famine in the following year. He next assailed p243 Trapani in the West, and the place was taken at a bold stroke by his son Jourdain.
After a siege of five months, Taormina yielded to starvation and surrendered. But the war was far from ended yet, and nine years after the fall of Palermo, Ben Arwet regained possession of Catania, apparently having bribed the governor of the place to admit him, and it was not till after a battle and a short siege that Ben Arwet fled to Syracuse by night, and the Normans took back the city. And now that same Jourdain, trusting in his own strength and courage, rebelled against his father, and began to occupy certain castles on his own account; and Roger, affecting to attribute his doings to the heat and folly of youth, bade him come with his friends and be reconciled before he had done worse. But when he held them fast he made a strict inquiry, and he put out the eyes of twelve of his p245 sons's chief associates, and sent Jourdain away free, but disgraced.
The war, says Amari, proceeded slowly, because at that time a great part of the Norman forces were with Duke Robert in Greece. For during those years the duke had grown great. Raymond, the Count of Provence, had taken his daughter in marriage, and on the strength of such a great alliance, Robert extended his dominions more and more, and invading Romagna and afterwards Durazzo beyond the Adriatic, of which doings there are elaborate accounts in the monkish chronicles, in the year 1082 he carried war into Bulgaria p246 and won much glory and some spoil, but little else. In the following year, when Henry the Fourth attempted to set up an antipope against Gregory the Seventh, and came to Rome with an army, Duke Robert went up from the south like a whirlwind and burnt half Rome; and the emperor fled before him. After that he returned into Apulia and began to make great preparations for an expedition to the East; and sailing away with a fair wind, and with a vast number of ships, he reached Durazzo, but there he suddenly fell ill, and died in the month of July, in the year 1084. We know little of the manner of his death, for the chronicle merely says that he died, and that his wife Sigelgaita, and his son Roger Bursa, and all the barons, performed the funeral rites with due honours; that his body was brought back to Italy and laid to rest in Venosa; and finally, that in the dispute that arose between Bohemund and Roger Bursa for the succession, Count Roger of Sicily took his namesake's part, in return for which service he received, or appropriated, the other half of Calabria which he had not previously received from his brother.
It was during the dispute about Duke Robert's succession, that Ben Arwet took advantage of the disturbed state of Southern Italy to make a sudden attack upon Calabria. In August or September of the year 1085, he landed by night at Nicotera, •not twenty miles from Roger's favourite city of Mileto, p247 and carried off most of the population captive. Falling upon Reggio next, he sacked the churches of Saint Nicholas and of Saint George, destroying the statues and images; and breaking into the convent of Our Lady at Rocca d' Asino, near by, he took the nuns with him to Syracuse and distributed them among the harems of the chief Moslems. Roger's wrath rose at the outrage, and while he did not fail to propitiate heaven by lavish charity to the poor of Messina, and by walking barefoot from church to church with monks who chanted the litanies, he gathered his forces for a great effort. On the twenty-fifth of May, 1086, he fought Ben Arwet in the harbour of Syracuse; and there, says the monk, the devil entered into the Moslem's heart to drive him to destruction, for when he went against Roger's ship with his own, he was wounded by a dart, and the Great Count attacked him, sword in hand, and he tried to leap to another vessel but fell into the sea, and the weight of his armour bore him down, and he was drowned.
From May to October the Moslems bravely defended their city; then the chief men took Ben Arwet's widow and his son, and fled to Noto, and Syracuse surrendered. After this Roger took Girgenti, and not much later impregnable Castrogiovanni fell into his hands by the treachery, or conversion, of the Governor Hamud. He, being hard pressed, secretly agreed to embrace Christianity, led his best forces into a p248 preconcerted ambush, where they were taken unhurt, and he was received with open arms. He was rewarded with broad lands in Calabria, where he lived out a long and happy life. Butera, on the south coast, was the last city in Sicily that stood a siege, and Noto was the last to capitulate, in the month of February, 1091, the date that marks the final conquest of the island.
Città Vecchia, Malta
I cannot but think that the comparative peace in which the Great Count ruled Sicily during the last ten years of his life is to be attributed to the inborn fatalism of the Moslems. It is certain that they never made any serious attempt to regain independence, but that, on the contrary, they served bravely and loyally in Roger's armies. Thousands of Saracens fought under his standard when he helped his nephew, Duke Roger, to reduce Cosenza, and in 1094 when he assisted him in repressing the dangerous rebellion of William of Grantmesnil in Castrovillari. Roger not only protected p249 them, left them full liberty in their religion, and allowed them tribunals of their own, but, according to the biographers of Anselm of Canterbury, he discouraged their conversion, and punished Saracens who embraced Christianity, fearing perhaps that in the great movement of the first Crusade, his Moslem soldiers would imitate the example of the many Christians p250 who followed his nephew Bohemund to the Holy Land. As is well known, the cautious Norman declined to take part in that great movement, preferring to consolidate his power at home, while princes and kings and people went out to fight in Palestine for an ideal so composite that its pursuit promised gain to the greedy, renown to the fighting man, and a martyr's crown to the ecstatic Christian.
Much confusion exists with regard to Roger's marriages; I have adhered to Delarc's view, and those who prefer to suppose that Roger was thrice married may consult the elaborate and conclusive notes written by the learned French historian, as well as a note of Amari's, which goes to prove that Judith took the name of Eremberga on leaving the convent of Saint Evrault. Be that as it may, this Judith-Eremberga, the faithful companion of so much hardship and of so much glory, died in 1089, and the Great Count soon afterwards married Adelasia or Adelaide, the daughter of one of the great nobles of Northern Italy, and became by her the father of King Roger the First of Sicily, and of another son, who was older, but died in infancy. Judith-Eremberga's only son, Godfrey, is rarely spoken of, is supposed to have been of feeble constitution, and either died young or ended his life in a monastery. Jourdain was illegitimate. Roger had a number of daughters, one of whom he married to the king of Hungary, another, p251 Constance, to Conrad, king of Rome, the emperor's son, a third to Raymond of Provence, and a fourth to Count Robert of Clermont, though Philip the First of France had asked her in marriage for the sake of her dowry.
We know nothing of the illness that ended the great fighter's life. He died at nearly seventy years of age in his favourite Mileto, and there he was laid in the cathedral he had built; but centuries later an earthquake overthrew the city and the sanctuary, and the Great Count's sarcophagus is preserved in the national museum in Naples.
It is manifestly impossible to continue a detailed account of the Norman domination after the final success of Roger's enterprise. The feudal system had now taken root in Europe, and the enormous development which it gave to individualities in the persons of the semi-independent imperial and royal vassals, so multiplies the threads of history that every reign is enveloped in a web of crossing and recrossing lines. The Empire contained kingdoms, the kingdoms principalities, the principalities comprised counties, and there was not a count who had not half a dozen or most small barons and knights who held land under him by feudal tenure. It is possible to give a brief and clear idea of a reign, and the historian may sometimes succeed in describing the condition of the people under this sovereign p252 or that; but a work that should contain a full and accurate account of the doings and dissensions of the great vassals, and of the efforts made by king or emperor to control the latter, would fill many volumes, and could only be produced by the industry of a lifetime. In the minds of most readers of ordinary culture, p253 the end of the eleventh century is filled with the romance of the first Crusade, and disturbed chiefly by the quarrels of the Emperor Henry the Fourth with the Papacy. So far as the Crusade is concerned, its story, from a Christian point of view, is too well known to need telling here; but it is interesting to find that Arabic writers of early times, such as Ibn‑el‑Athir, regarded the general attack upon the Holy Land, not in the light of a religious war, but as the culmination of a great race struggle, retracing its causes to the Norman conquest of Sicily, to the Castilian occupation of Toledo, and to the raids made by Italians upon the African coast. Mohammedans could indeed have understood that they themselves might fight a holy war for the recovery of Mecca and of their own places of pilgrimage; but their contempt for 'men who worship crosses' was then, as it is now, profound and ineradicable, and they found it hard to believe that Christians could be really in earnest, or ready to face danger disinterestedly, for an idea which appeared absurdly unreasonable to the mind of a cultivated Moslem. The worst of it is, that bravely as the Christians fought in the East, they gave their enemies plentiful reason for the supposition that the idea of worldly conquest was intimately connected in the minds of most Crusaders with that of future salvation. Centuries had passed since the Moslems had set out from Arabia p254 to convert the world to Islam, and to keep possession of it when converted, and they did not see the close resemblance that existed between their own religious wars and those which the Christians now began to wage in Asia Minor; but they had not forgotten how they had driven the Western people before them, even to the shores of the Atlantic, and they felt that in the tide of nations the wave of the West was rolling back upon them. In a sense, therefore, it was true that the Crusades resulted more from the opposition of two races than from an antagonism of two religions; and, from an historical point of view, the struggle which began when Peter the Hermit roused Europe with his war‑cry, resulted in the victory of the East, and came to its inevitable conclusion when Mohammed the Second stormed Constantinople in 1453.
It cannot have been very different in the days when King Roger was a little child, and his mother watched over him and ruled for him, when he alone was left to her, to be the great survivor of Tancred's race. There is not much to tell of those times, save that a woman held easily what the Greek count had spent a lifetime in getting by the sword. Fate worked for the young king until he could go out and fight for himself. The Guiscard's son, Roger Bursa, lived but a short life and left a feeble son, William of Apulia, as duke in his stead, who died prematurely, and without male issue. He was scarcely in his grave when Roger of Sicily, son of the Great Count, sailed up to Salerno with his galleys, convoked the Norman nobles, obtained an investiture from the Holy See, and took Apulia for himself; and three years afterwards, on Christmas Day, 1130, he was crowned King of Sicily at Palermo, in the chapel of p260 Santa Maria l' Incoronata, barbarously destroyed by the bombardment of 1860. It was on this spot that the small church of Saint Gregory once stood, which Count Roger compared to an oven amidst the Saracen palaces that surrounded it, and which he ordered to be pulled down and rebuilt, and here for two centuries and a half each king of Sicily was crowned. The little that remains of it stands by the northwest tower of the cathedral.
Mosaic of Christ crowning King Roger
Church of the Martorana, Palermo
A larger scan (548 KB)
Mummy in the vaults
That he did much, if not all that he might have done, for the lands he ruled, there is ample evidence in history and in monument; but the greatest of his doings was that amalgamation of races which took place in his p263 reign. His Moslem subjects were faithful to him and fought for him, even against Moslems, and if it was by their help that he overcame the Pope at San Germano, it was by their arms also that he took Tripoli, the strong Mohammedan city of the African coast; and in the fleet of the Sicilian admiral George of Antioch, which received the submission of Corfù and momentarily wrested all Greece from the enfeebled hold of Constantinople, there were as many free Saracens as there were Christians. That there was an element of fear in the Moslem subjection is true, and the eight-sided tower of King Roger still frowns over Castrogiovanni, the last great stronghold of the Mohammedans, to testify to the strength of his hand; but there was much loyalty also in the Saracens' obedience, and we need not confound submission with servility, nor fear with cowardice.
So far as King Roger's conduct during the second Crusade is concerned, we know not whether to ascribe it to a certain consideration for his Mohammedan subjects, or to his apprehension of losing them; be that as it may, he imitated Count Roger in quietly refusing to join the armies of the Cross, and while the most glorious armament of the century was divided by the dissension of its leaders, decimated by disease, and at last reduced to a remnant by the swords of the Seljuks, King Roger was extending his dominions, increasing his wealth, and preparing for a war which he knew could not be long avoided. When Lewis the Seventh of France was returning p264 from Jerusalem, disappointed and humiliated by the failure of the holy enterprise, and distracted by domestic troubles, he was almost captured on the high seas by treacherous Greeks, and was rescued from what might have proved an ignominious captivity by the timely appearance of the Norman fleet, which had lately ravaged the coasts of Greece; and being brought to Palermo he was royally entertained and sent forward on his journey by King Roger. With something like old Scandinavian daring, the Admiral George sailed up the Hellespont, dropped anchor with his galleys at the entrance to the Golden Horn, and shot a flight of arrows tipped with silver into the imperial gardens; but the Emperor Manuel's anger soon avenged the taunt, George lost nineteen of his galleys on his homeward voyage, Corfù yielded to the emperor after a brave defence, the Eastern Empire was in arms, and King Roger's last war had begun. While Manuel himself fought the Hungarians and the Turks in the East, he prepared a fleet, an army, and a kingdom's ransom in treasure to win back the Norman's possessions. Before he was ready to invade the West, however, King Roger had breathed his last. He died after a long illness, which some have called consumption, but which others have attributed to excesses: his last years, during which the conduct of his wars was intrusted to lieutenants, were spent in close intercourse with the wise men and learned Arabians he had attracted to his court, chief among whom was the geographer p265 Edrisi, whose greatest work, composed under the direction of the king himself, was called 'the book of Roger, the delight of him that journeys through the world,' and was completed a few months before the king's death. It is said that the composition of this great book occupied no less than fifteen years, during which hardly a day passed on which the king did not discuss some subject connected with it, and during which he explored, in the society of his learned Arabians, p266 every department of known science. The book has remained a vast repository of learning, and a chief authority for the times, reflecting no small glory upon the sovereign who presided over its compilation.
The great map of the world which Roger caused to be engraved upon a disk of silver weighing between three and four hundred pounds has been fully described, but it is needless to say that it disappeared in the disturbances of later times; upon it were engraved 'the seven climates with their regions and townships, their coasts and their tablelands, their gulfs, seas, springs, and rivers, their inhabited and uninhabited lands, their highroads measured in miles, and the distances by sea from port to port.' It is even said that the particular description of this plate in the Arabic language may have been the work of King Roger himself; it is at least certain that he deserves much of the credit for it. He had founded a sort of academy at Palermo, over which he presided, and of which the perpetual secretary was descended from the khalifs of Cordova. Owing to the king's death the book was not translated into Latin at the time, but the seven centuries that elapsed before a translation made it accessible to ordinary scholars rather increased than diminished the fame which it was to bestow upon its royal compiler. It would be strange if the churchmen of that day had not found fault with the sovereign who surrounded himself with Moslems, and whose most intimate associate was an Arabian, and indeed the priests p267 and monks said loudly that the king was little better than a Moslem himself. But the Moslems praised him as their Maecenas,º describing the magnificence of his palaces and gardens, the joyous life men led at his court, and the abundance of golden wine, which seems not to have shocked the pious Mohammedans of Sicily in that day. And true it is that Roger both protected and restored the arts, and that if he filled his coffers by Norman means, he spent his wealth royally in beautifying his favourite cities and in the encouragement of learning.
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