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The Siculonorman Army, The unknown enemy of Byzantium

18/10/2017

siculo-norman knight

Modern reconstruction of Sicilian Norman knight Source: http://www.fiefetchevalerie.com

The Normans were descendants of Scandinavian raiders. The Frankish kings gave them the northern provinces of their kingdom in exchange for paying tribute and obligation for military service. The former raiders accepted the French language and Frankish feudal customs, and their heavily armed infantrymen evolved into knights. According to the custom of the time, the first-born son inherited the father’s estate, and the younger ones, if they did not secure a marriage with a wealthy heiress, would leave to seek their fortune by their skill in arms. At that time the Christian kingdoms were hard pressed by Islamic invasions, and determined warriors fighting horseback were precious. The temptation to descend to the mythical South to find their fortune there was great. The arrival of the Normans in Italy took place in the first decades of the 11th century.

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Reconstruction of a 12th century Siculo-Norman helmet

Chronicler Geoffrey Malaterra wrote about the Normans that: «They are particularly distraught by cunning, despising their inheritance in the hope of gaining bigger property, willing to gain and dominate, prone to all sorts of hypocrisy, striding between generosity and greed, and combining peculiarly these two seemingly opposite properties. Their leaders are particularly generous in their desire for reputation. They are also a breed skillful in flattery, absorbed in the study of eloquence, so that even the boys are skillful orators, an unruly breed, unless the yoke of righteousness restrains it. They endure fatigue, hunger, and cold whenever fate throws it upon them. They are absorbed in hunting and falconry, and they especially like horses and all the weapons of war … »

Thanks to their ruthless energy and determination, the Hauteville family managed to be recognized as the Kings of Sicily by the Pope. The Normans retained the Byzantine bureaucracy, but also some elements of the former Islamic rulers. Together with the Norman notion of feudalism, the new sovereigns set up a unique for its time state, maintaining the balance between their Orthodox, Catholic and Muslim subjects, all of whom found a place in the army of the new state.

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The Ηauteville coat of arms from the Μonreale Cathedral in Palermo

The main shock weapon was of course the cavalry, consisting of armored knights. As mentioned above, most of the horsemen were harsh nobles from Normandy but with the passage of time Lombard aristocrats and wealthy Italian bourgeoisie found their way in the heavy cavalry units. The Normans had not forgotten the lesson of the Battle of Ofante where the Byzantines had soundly defeated them. They adapted themselves to the Byzantine tactics, and many of these methods, such as charging with the lance couched, were adopted by them. Initially, most horsemen were Normans, but slowly Sicily began to be flooded with Latin-speaking Lombard refugees who had been persecuted by the Byzantines and the German emperor. However, the recruitment of French-speaking knights seems to have never ceased, nor were the suitable Italian or Greek speaking warriors dissuaded from joining the army of the Sicilian kings.

The wealthy citizenry of the towns formed small cavalry units with the main task of guarding the surroundings from bandits and the repulse of Saracen raiders. These horsemen usually carried a fabric made cuirass or no armor at all, helmet, and shield and were armed with javelins. The Muslim horse-archers began to disappear gradually and being replaced by Lombard settlers, but as long as they existed, they provided light cavalry service.

normknts

Detail from the Palermo Cathedral with a depiction of Norman fighters.

The infantry was usually the militia of the Italian and Sicilian cities. The Calabreans and several Sicilians were Greek-speaking, but the Apulians were mostly Italian speaking in their majority. The infantrymen, armed with helmets, shields, spears, and a single edge short sword usually covered the archers and were a support element for the knights. Most Muslims who remained in the Norman’s Italian holdings were forced into a serving as light infantry archers, in exchange for their religious freedom. It is believed that Sicilian monarchs did not allow them to convert to Christianity in ordered to maintain good light infantry. Various mountain herders armed with clubs and slings were specially recruited in wartime and their sole motivation was to pillage. The infatrymen were useful as a guard in fortified sites and in siege warfare.

The Normans also inherited the well-organized engineer corps of the Byzantines and the Arabs, as well as the siege and anti-siege techniques of their predecessors. Most craftsmen and operators of the siege machines were bourgeois of Italian cities or Sicilian-Muslim conscripts. Another element of support for the army was Salerno’s medical school, which was flourishing away from Western European religious prejudices, resulting in that health care at least for those being able to afford it, was far superior to other armies of the period.

The naval cities of Lower Italy and Sicily provided ships and crews for the Sicilian-Norman navy. Marines originated as mentioned above from the coastal city militias. The most effective officer of the Hauteville was, Admiral Margaritis from Brindisi (from Greek descent), who dominated the Ionian and Aegean Sea, turning the area into Sicilian-Norman lake. This efficient naval power conflicted with the interests of Venice and this explains the Venetian willingness to ally with the Byzantines against the Sicilian-Normans. The kingdom and its army passed through royal marriage under Hohenstaufen domination until their overthrow by the House of Angevin (Anjou)

2abfaLucania - Basilicata - Sepolcro di Roberto il Guiscardo nella Chiesa della Santissima Trinità a Venosa

The grave of Robert «Guiscard» D’Hauteville at Venosa

Sources

Norwich, John JuliusThe Normans in the South 1016-1130. Longmans: London, 1967.

Vincenzo Salerno Sicilian Peoples: The Normans Best of Sicely magazine Oct. 2007

Carlo Trabia  The batte of Palermo Best of Sicely magazine Mar. 2005

http://www.fiefetchevalerie.com/fief/?2007/10/18/61-div-aligncentermiles-siculo-normand-1186

http://www.fiefetchevalerie.com/fief/?2006/10/27/52-essai-sur-le-heaume-entre-1170-et-1205-helm-galea

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