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The Norman Conquest of Southern Italy and Sicily by Gordon S. Brown
The Norman Conquest of Southern Italy and Sicily by Gordon S. Brown

Norman Siege of Bari

Background

In 1017, the Normans emerge as a formidable mercenary war band, known for offering their martial services to the highest bidder. It was in this year when they first embarked upon their audacious military exploits in the captivating land of Italy. As the years rolled by, their indomitable spirit and martial prowess led to the establishment of a dukedom in Apulia by 1059. Such was the awe-inspiring might of these Normans that even the Byzantine Empire, the Papacy, the Holy Roman Empire, and the Saracens of Sicily could not help but tremble at the mere mention of their name.

By the time 1068 unfolded its pages, the Normans had attained a position of dominance throughout southern Italy. The only bastion that stood defiant against their inexorable tide was the port town of Bari, a place fortified with unwavering resolve and stout defenses. The Byzantine hold on the region had withstood the test of time within these very walls. Yet, the Normans, with their insatiable hunger for conquest, saw fit to bring an end to Byzantine dominion in this strategic locale and thus set forth on their determined quest to conquer Bari.

The Siege

In swift succession, Robert Guiscard, accompanied by a formidable corps, arrived on the scene. On the 5th of August in 1068, he commenced a determined siege against the Byzantine bastion of Bari. Within the beleaguered city, divergent factions prevailed—one faction espoused steadfast allegiance to the Byzantine Empire, while the other, was more amenable to Norman interests. As the Norman forces approached the city walls, the former faction gained ascendancy. The local barons promptly closed the city gates and despatched an embassy, led by Bisantius Guirdeliku, to petition Emperor Romanos IV Diogenes for military succor. Regrettably, Robert’s overtures were out rightly rebuffed.

Otranto capitulated come October, but at Bari, the Byzantines tenaciously repelled the Norman onslaughts against their fortifications. Undeterred, Robert chose to erect a fortified bridge to obstruct any relief endeavors. Yet, the Byzantines managed to sabotage the bridge and maintained a vital connection with their homeland.

In a strategic move, Romanos IV appointed a new catepan, Avartuteles, and equipped him with a fleet, replete with troops and supplies, destined for Bari. The Byzantine fleet reached the city in the early months of 1069. Meanwhile, a Byzantine field army suffered a defeat at the hands of the resurgent Normans, who subsequently occupied Gravina and Obbiano. Robert did not hasten his return to Bari, instead, he redirected his forces to Brindisi, where he lent aid to the Norman contingents besieging that coastal fortress. Eventually, Brindisi succumbed to Norman dominion during the autumn of 1070.

Within Bari, the circumstances turned dire, as the populace found themselves engulfed in famine. Seizing this desperate moment, Avartuteles conspired to have Robert assassinated, yet his attempts, guided by the Byzantine patricius Byzantios Guideliku, proved futile. Left with no alternative, a delegation of citizens implored the catepan to bolster the city’s defenses or surrender it to the advancing Normans. Avartuteles artfully delayed, dispatching another embassy to Constantinople, seeking salvation. Through his endeavors, he succeeded in securing the arrival of a fleet laden with provisions for Bari. However, when the provisions were depleted, yet another group of citizens urged the catepan to beseech the emperor for an expeditious dispatch of reinforcements.

Romanos IV, confronted with the persistent defeats of his generals against the resolute Normans and hampered by a dearth of available troops, eventually sanctioned the dispatch of twenty ships. These vessels were placed under the command of a certain Gocelin, a Norman turncoat who had sought asylum in Constantinople. Stephen Pateran, appointed as the new catepan of Italy, accompanied him. Regrettably, the Normans intercepted the Byzantine flotilla near Bari, dispersing it in disarray. The intrepid Normans singled out Gocelin’s ship and, despite incurring a loss of 150 men, eventually captured it. In contrast, Stephen successfully navigated his way to Bari. Alas, he soon discerned the untenable situation and consequently dispatched a local noble, Argyritzos, to initiate negotiations with the advancing Normans. The latter, presenting terms deemed acceptable, brought about Bari’s ultimate capitulation in April of 1071.

Aftermath

Upon the city’s fall, Stephen Pateran found himself initially incarcerated, yet later, he and other Byzantine survivors were permitted to return to Constantinople.

With the final fall of Bari, the Byzantine presence in southern Italy, which had endured for a prodigious span of 536 years, was brought to a decisive end. Subsequent attempts, under Emperor Manuel I Komnenos, to reclaim southern Italy in the years 1156-1158, proved lamentably futile.

According to William of Apulia, Robert Guiscard “entrusted the city” to Argyritzos. Nonetheless, the earliest records of Norman rule indicate the presence of a certain Lizius, presumably a Norman, holding the office of a viscount, and a patrikios by the name of Maurelianus, presumably a native Bariot, serving as catepan.

Sources

  • Wikipedia Contributors. (2023, April 15). Siege of Bari. Wikipedia; Wikimedia Foundation. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siege_of_Bari

  • Pergalias, V. (2011). The siege of Bari: Norman power triumphant in southern Italy, 1068-1071. Medieval Warfare1(4), 35–39. https://www.jstor.org/stable/48577886

  • Theotokis, G. (2010). The Norman Invasion of Sicily, 1061–1072: Numbers and Military Tactics. War in History, 17(4), 381–402. http://www.jstor.org/stable/26070819‌‌

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