Robert Guiscard

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Robert Guiscard de Hauteville
Robert Guiscard (by Merry-Joseph Blondel).jpg
Robert Guiscard (by Merry-Joseph Blondel)
Cotentin, Normandy
Died(1085-07-17)17 July 1085 (aged 70)
Atheras, north of Lixouri
Buried Abbey of the Santissima Trinità, Venosa
Noble family Hauteville family
Spouse(s) Alberada of Buonalbergo
Bohemund I of Antioch
Roger Borsa of Apulia and Calabria
Robert Scalio
Guy, sebastos
Father Tancred of Hauteville

Robert Guiscard (c.1015 – 17 July 1085) was a Norman adventurer remembered for the conquest of southern Italy and Sicily. Robert was born into the Hauteville family in Normandy, went on to become Count of Apulia and Calabria (1057–1059), and then Duke of Apulia and Calabria and Duke of Sicily (1059–1085), and briefly Prince of Benevento (1078–1081) before returning the title to the Pope.

Normans European ethnic group emerging in the 10th and 11th century in France

The Normans are an ethnic group that arose in Normandy, a northern region of France, from contact between indigenous Franks and Gallo-Romans, and Norse Viking settlers. The settlements followed a series of raids on the French coast from Denmark, Norway, and Iceland, and they gained political legitimacy when the Viking leader Rollo agreed to swear fealty to King Charles III of West Francia. The distinct cultural and ethnic identity of the Normans emerged initially in the first half of the 10th century, and it continued to evolve over the succeeding centuries.

Norman conquest of southern Italy historical event in.the European Middle Age

The Norman conquest of southern Italy lasted from 999 to 1139, involving many battles and independent conquerors. In 1130 these territories in southern Italy united as the Kingdom of Sicily, which included the island of Sicily, the southern third of the Italian Peninsula, the archipelago of Malta and parts of North Africa.

Hauteville family noble family

The Hauteville was a Norman family originally of seigneurial rank from the Cotentin. The Hautevilles rose to prominence through their part in the Norman conquest of southern Italy. By 1130, one of their number, Roger II, was made the first King of Sicily. His male-line descendants ruled Sicily until 1194. Some Italian Hautevilles took part in the First Crusade and the founding of the Principality of Antioch (1098).


His sobriquet, in contemporary Latin Viscardus and Old French Viscart, is often rendered "the Resourceful", "the Cunning", "the Wily", "the Fox", or "the Weasel". In Italian sources he is often Roberto il Guiscardo or Roberto d'Altavilla (from Robert de Hauteville).

Latin Indo-European language of the Italic family

Latin is a classical language belonging to the Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. The Latin alphabet is derived from the Etruscan and Greek alphabets, and ultimately from the Phoenician alphabet.

Old French was the language spoken in Northern France from the 8th century to the 14th century. In the 14th century, these dialects came to be collectively known as the langue d'oïl, contrasting with the langue d'oc or Occitan language in the south of France. The mid-14th century is taken as the transitional period to Middle French, the language of the French Renaissance, specifically based on the dialect of the Île-de-France region.


From 999 to 1042 the Normans in Italy, coming first as pilgrims, were mainly mercenaries serving at various times the Byzantines and a number of Lombard nobles. [1] The first of the independent Norman Lords was Rainulf Drengot who established himself in the fortress of Aversa becoming Count of Aversa and Duke of Gaeta. [2]

Byzantine Empire Roman Empire during Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages

The Byzantine Empire, also referred to as the Eastern Roman Empire and Byzantium, was the continuation of the Roman Empire in its eastern provinces during Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, when its capital city was Constantinople. It survived the fragmentation and fall of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century AD and continued to exist for an additional thousand years until it fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453. During most of its existence, the empire was the most powerful economic, cultural, and military force in Europe. Both the terms "Byzantine Empire" and "Eastern Roman Empire" are historiographical exonyms; its citizens continued to refer to their empire simply as the Roman Empire, or Romania (Ῥωμανία), and to themselves as "Romans".

Lombards Historical ethnical group

The Lombards or Longobards were a Germanic people who ruled most of the Italian Peninsula from 568 to 774.

Rainulf Drengot was a Norman adventurer and mercenary in southern Italy. In 1030 he became the first count of Aversa. He was a member of the Drengot family.

In 1038 there arrived William Iron-Arm and Drogo, the two eldest sons of Tancred of Hauteville, a petty noble of the Cotentin in Normandy. [3] The two joined in the revolt of the Lombards against Byzantine control of Apulia. By 1040 the Byzantines had lost most of that province. In 1042 Melfi was chosen as the Norman capital, and in September of that year the Normans elected as their count William Iron-Arm, who was succeeded in turn by his brothers Drogo, Comes Normannorum totius Apuliæ e Calabriæ ("the Count of all Normans in Apulia and Calabria"), and Humphrey, who arrived about 1044.

William Iron Arm Norman adventurer, founder of the fortunes of the Hauteville family

William I of Hauteville, known as William Iron Arm, was a Norman adventurer who was the founder of the fortunes of the Hauteville family. One of twelve sons of Tancred of Hauteville, he journeyed to the Mezzogiorno with his younger brother Drogo in the first half of the eleventh century (c.1035), in response to requests for help made by fellow Normans under Rainulf Drengot, count of Aversa.

Drogo of Hauteville Italian count

Drogo of Hauteville was the second Count of Apulia and Calabria (1046–51) in southern Italy. Initially he was only the leader of those Normans in the service of Prince Guaimar IV of Salerno, but after 1047 he was a territorial prince owing fealty directly to the Emperor.

Tancred of Hauteville Norman petty lord

Tancred of Hauteville was an 11th-century Norman petty lord about whom little is known. His historical importance comes entirely from the accomplishments of his sons and later descendants. He was a minor noble near Coutances in the Cotentin.

Early years

Robert Guiscard was the sixth son of Tancred of Hauteville and eldest by his second wife Fressenda. [4] According to the Byzantine historian Anna Comnena, he left Normandy with only five mounted riders and thirty followers on foot. [5] Upon arriving in Langobardia in 1047, he became the chief of a roving robber-band. Anna Comnena also leaves a physical description of Guiscard:

Langobardia Minor

Langobardia Minor was the name that, in early Middle Ages, was given to the Lombard dominion in central-southern Italy, corresponding to the duchies of Spoleto and Benevento. After the conquest of the Lombard kingdom by Charlemagne in 774 it remained under Lombard control.

This Robert was Norman by birth, of obscure origins, with an overbearing character and a thoroughly villainous mind; he was a brave fighter, very cunning in his assaults on the wealth and power of great men; in achieving his aims absolutely inexorable, diverting criticism by incontrovertible argument. He was a man of immense stature, surpassing even the biggest men; he had a ruddy complexion, fair hair, broad shoulders, eyes that all but shot out sparks of fire. In a well-built man one looks for breadth here and slimness there; in him all was admirably well-proportioned and elegant... Homer remarked of Achilles that when he shouted his hearers had the impression of a multitude in uproar, but Robert’s bellow, so they say, put tens of thousands to flight. [5]

Robert Guiscard, from the 14th-century manuscript Nuova Cronica Robert guiscard.jpg
Robert Guiscard, from the 14th-century manuscript Nuova Cronica

Lands were scarce in Apulia at the time and the roving Guiscard could not expect any grant from Drogo, then reigning, for Humphrey had just received his own county of Lavello. Guiscard soon joined Prince Pandulf IV of Capua in his ceaseless wars with Prince Guaimar IV of Salerno (1048). The next year, however, Guiscard left Pandulf, according to Amatus of Montecassino because Pandulf reneged on a promise of a castle and his daughter's hand. Guiscard returned to his brother Drogo and asked to be granted a fief. Drogo, who had just finished campaigning in Calabria, gave Guiscard command of the fortress of Scribla. Dissatisfied with this position, Guiscard moved to the castle of San Marco Argentano (after which he later named the first Norman castle in Sicily, at the site of ancient Aluntium).

During his time in Calabria, Guiscard married his first wife, Alberada De Macon, known in Italy as Alberada of Buonalbergo. She was the daughter of Reginald I, Count of Burgundy, also known as Renaud I De Macon (Raynald I), Baron of Buonalbergo, and Girard of Buonalbergo, and his wife Alice of Normandy.

Guiscard soon rose to distinction. The Lombards turned against their erstwhile allies, and Pope Leo IX determined to expel the Norman freebooters. His army was defeated, however, at the Battle of Civitate sul Fortore in 1053 by the Normans, united under Humphrey. Humphrey commanded the centre against the pope's Swabian troops. Early in the battle Count Richard of Aversa, commanding the right van, put the Lombards to flight and chased them down, then returned to help rout the Swabians. Guiscard had come all the way from Calabria to command the left. His troops were held in reserve until, seeing Humphrey's forces ineffectually charging the pope's centre, he called up his father-in-law's reinforcements and joined the fray, distinguishing himself personally, even being dismounted and remounting again three separate times, according to William of Apulia. Honored for his actions at Civitate, Guiscard succeeded Humphrey as count of Apulia in 1057, over his elder half-brother Geoffrey. In company with Roger, his youngest brother, Guiscard carried on the conquest of Apulia and Calabria, while Richard conquered the principality of Capua.


Soon after his succession, probably in 1058, Guiscard separated from his wife Alberada because they were related within the prohibited degrees. Shortly after, he married Sichelgaita, the sister of Gisulf II of Salerno, Guaimar's successor. In return for giving him his sister's hand, Gisulf demanded that Guiscard destroy two castles of his brother William, count of the Principate, which had encroached on Gisulf's territory.

The reformist Papacy, at odds with the Holy Roman Emperor (due to the Investiture Controversy) and the Roman nobility itself, resolved to recognize the Normans and secure them as allies. Therefore, at the Council of Melfi, on 23 August 1059, Pope Nicholas II invested Guiscard as duke of Apulia, Calabria, and Sicily. [6] Guiscard, now "by the Grace of God and St Peter duke of Apulia and Calabria and, if either aid me, future lord of Sicily", agreed to hold his titles and lands by annual rent of the Holy See and to maintain its cause. In the next twenty years he undertook a series of conquests, winning his Sicilian dukedom.

Coat of Arms of Robert Guiscard Coat of Arms of Robert Guiscard.svg
Coat of Arms of Robert Guiscard

Subjugation of Calabria

At the time of the opening of the Melfitan council in June, Guiscard had been leading an army in Calabria, the first strong attempt to subjugate that Byzantine province since the campaigns of Iron-Arm with Guaimar. After attending the synod for his investiture, Guiscard returned to Calabria, where his army was besieging Cariati. After his arrival, Cariati submitted and, before winter was out, Rossano and Gerace followed. Only Reggio was left in Byzantine hands when Guiscard returned to Apulia. In Apulia, he worked to remove the Byzantine garrisons from Taranto and Brindisi, before, largely in preparation for his planned Sicilian expedition, he returned again to Calabria, where Roger was waiting with siege engines.

The fall of Reggio, after a long and arduous siege, and the subsequent capitulation of Scilla, an island citadel to which the Reggian garrison had fled, opened up the way to Sicily. Roger first led a tiny force to attack Messina but was repulsed easily by the Saracen garrison. The large invading force that could have been expected did not materialise, for Guiscard was recalled by a new Byzantine army, sent by Constantine X Doukas, ravaging Apulia. In January 1061, Melfi itself was under siege, and Roger too was recalled. But the full weight of Guiscard's forces forced the Byzantines to retreat and by May Apulia was calm.

Sicilian campaigns

Norman progress in Sicily during Robert's expeditions to the Balkans: Capua, Apulia and Calabria, and the County of Sicily are Norman. The Emirate of Sicily, the Duchy of Naples and lands in the Abruzzo (in the southern Duchy of Spoleto) are not yet conquered. Italy and Illyria 1084 AD.svg
Norman progress in Sicily during Robert's expeditions to the Balkans: Capua, Apulia and Calabria, and the County of Sicily are Norman. The Emirate of Sicily, the Duchy of Naples and lands in the Abruzzo (in the southern Duchy of Spoleto) are not yet conquered.

Guiscard invaded Sicily with his brother Roger, capturing Messina in 1061 with comparable ease: they landed unsighted during the night and surprised the Saracen army. [7] This success gave them control over the Strait of Messina. [7] Guiscard immediately fortified Messina and allied himself with Ibn at-Timnah, one of the rival emirs of Sicily, against Ibn al-Hawas, another emir. The armies of Guiscard, his brother, and his Moslem friend marched into central Sicily by way of Rometta, which had remained loyal to al-Timnah. They passed through Frazzanò and the pianura di Maniace, where George Maniakes and the first Hautevilles had distinguished themselves 21 years prior. Guiscard assaulted the town of Centuripe, but resistance was strong, and he moved on. Paternò fell, and Guiscard brought his army to Enna (then Castrogiovanni), a formidable fortress. The Saracens sallied forth and were defeated, but Enna itself did not fall. Guiscard turned back, leaving a fortress at San Marco d'Alunzio, named after his first stronghold in Calabria. He returned to Apulia with Sichelgaita for Christmas.

He returned in 1064, but bypassed Enna making straight for Palermo. His campsite was infested with tarantulas, however, and had to be abandoned. The campaign was unsuccessful, though a later campaign, in 1072, saw Palermo fall, and for the rest of Sicily it was only then a matter of time. As a result of his Sicilian campaign, Guiscard was referred to as "Black Shirt Robert" because throughout the campaign he wore elegant clothing with imported dyes that ran together resulting in black clothing. [8]

Against the Byzantines

The beach of Atheras (north of Lixouri), where Guiscard died. Atheras-paralia.JPG
The beach of Atheras (north of Lixouri), where Guiscard died.
Hauteville family mausoleum, where Robert Guiscard was buried. Trinity Abbey in Venosa, Italy. Tomba degli Altavilla.jpg
Hauteville family mausoleum, where Robert Guiscard was buried. Trinity Abbey in Venosa, Italy.

Bari was reduced in April 1071, and Byzantine forces were finally ousted from southern Italy. The territory around Salerno was already held by Guiscard, and in December 1076 he took the city, expelling its Lombard prince Gisulf, whose sister Sichelgaita he had married. The Norman attacks on Benevento, a papal fief, alarmed and angered Pope Gregory VII. Pressured by the emperor, Henry IV, Gregory VII turned again to the Normans, and at Ceprano in June 1080, he reinvested Guiscard, securing him also in the southern Abruzzi, while reserving Salerno.[ clarification needed ]

In his last enterprise, Guiscard mounted an attack on the Byzantine Empire, taking up the cause of Raiktor, a monk pretending to be Michael VII, [9] who had been deposed in 1078 and to whose son Guiscard's daughter had been betrothed. He sailed with 16,000 men, including 1,300 Norman knights, against the empire in May 1081. He defeated Emperor Alexius I Comnenus at the Battle of Dyrrhachium in October 1081, and by February 1082 he had occupied Corfu and Durazzo. He was recalled to the aid of Gregory VII, however, who was besieged in Castel Sant'Angelo by Henry IV, in June 1083. Also in 1083, Guiscard destroyed the town of Cannae, leaving only the cathedral and bishop's residence. [10] Guiscard was ally to kingdom of Duklja and Constantine Bodin. In 1081 he married his vassal's daughter Jaquinta of Bari to Bodin.

In May 1084, Guiscard marched north with 36,000 men, entered Rome, and forced Henry to retreat. A rebellion, or seditious tumult (émeute), of the citizens led to a three-day sack of the city, after which Guiscard escorted the pope to Rome. Guiscard's son Bohemund, for a time master of Thessaly, had now lost the Byzantine conquests. Guiscard returned with 150 ships to restore them, and he occupied Corfu and Kefalonia with the help of Ragusa and the Dalmatian cities (which were under the rule of Demetrius Zvonimir of Croatia). [11] On 17 July 1085, Guiscard died of fever in Kefalonia, at Atheras, north of Lixouri, along with 500 Norman knights. [12] [13] He was buried in the Hauteville family mausoleum of the Abbey of the Santissima Trinità at Venosa. The town of Fiscardo on Kefalonia is named after him.

Guiscard was succeeded by Roger Borsa, his son by Sichelgaita, as Bohemund, his son by an earlier wife Alberada De Macon (aka Alberada of Buonalbergo), was set aside. Guiscard left two younger sons: Guy of Hauteville and Robert Scalio, neither of whom made any trouble for their elder brothers. At his death Guiscard was duke of Apulia and Calabria, prince of Salerno, and suzerain of Sicily. His successes had been due not only to his great qualities but to the "entente" with the Papal See. He created and enforced a strong ducal power, which was nevertheless met by many baronial revolts, including one in 1078, when he demanded from the Apulian vassals an "aid" on the betrothal of his daughter. In conquering such wide territories he had little time to organize them internally. In the history of the Norman kingdom of Italy, Guiscard remains essentially the hero and founder, though his career ended in "something of a dead end," [14] while his nephew Roger II was the statesman and organizer.


Due to his conquest of Calabria and Sicily, Guiscard was instrumental in bringing Latin Christianity to an area that had historically followed the Byzantine rite. Guiscard laid the foundation of the Salerno Cathedral and of a Norman monastery at Sant'Eufemia in Calabria. This latter monastery, famous for its choir, began as a community of eleven monks from Saint-Evroul in Normandy under the abbot Robert de Grantmesnil.

Although his relationship with the pope was rocky, Guiscard preferred to be on good terms with the papacy, and he made a gesture of abandoning his first wife in response to church law. While the popes were often fearful of his growing power, they preferred the strong and independent hand of a Catholic Norman to the rule of a Byzantine Greek. Guiscard received his investment with Sicily at the hands of Pope Nicholas II, who feared the opposition of the Holy Roman Emperor to the Papal reforms more. Guiscard supported the reforms, coming to the rescue of a besieged Pope Gregory VII, who had once excommunicated him for encroaching on the territory of the Papal States. After the Great Schism of 1054, the polarized religious atmosphere served to strengthen Guiscard's alliance with papal forces, resulting in a formidable papal-Norman opposition to the Eastern Empire. [15]

In literature

In the Divine Comedy , Dante sees Guiscard's spirit in the Heaven of Mars, along with other "warriors of the faith" who exemplify the cardinal virtue of fortitude. In the Inferno , Dante describes Guiscard's enemies as a field of mutilated shades stretching out to the horizon. [16]

Guiscard was the protagonist of Kleist's verse drama Robert Guiskard, incomplete at the author's death (1811). [17]

Historical fiction novels covering the early years of the dynasty, from the arrival of the brothers in Italy to the conquest of Sicily, is covered in Jack Ludlow's trilogy Mercenaries, Warriors and Conquest.

Marriage and issue

Coin of Robert Guiscard Robert Guiscard.jpg
Coin of Robert Guiscard

Married in 1051 to Alberada of Buonalbergo (1032 – aft. July 1122) [4] and had:

Married in 1058 or 1059 to Sichelgaita [4] and had:


  1. The Normans in Europe, Ed. & Trans. Elisabeth van Houts (Manchester & New York: Manchester University Press, 2000), p. 223
  2. Jim Bradbury, The Routledge Companion to Medieval Warfare (London & New York: Routledge, 2004), p. 153
  3. Oscar Browning, A General History of the World (New York: Longmans, Green & Co., 1913), p. 316
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Detlev Schwennicke, Europäische Stammtafeln: Stammtafeln zur Geschichte der Europäischen Staaten , Neue Folge, Band II (Marburg, Germany: Verlag von J. A. Stargardt, 1984), Tafel 205
  5. 1 2 The Alexiad of Anna Comnena, Trans. (from the Greek) E.R.A. Sewter (London & New York: Penguin Books, 1969), p. 54 ISBN   0-14-044215-4
  6. The Normans in Europe, Ed. & Trans. Elisabeth van Houts (Manchester & New York: Manchester University Press, 2000), pp. 236-7
  7. 1 2 Rogers 2010, p. 66.
  8. "Le mythe des rois normands de Sicile". Retrieved 18 October 2012.
  9. The Alexiad, Book 1, Chapter 12
  10. Catholic Encyclopedia
  11. Ferdo Šišić, Povijest Hrvata u vrijeme narodnih vladara, 1925, Zagreb ISBN   86-401-0080-2
  12. James van Wyck Osborne, The Greatest Norman Conquest (1937), page 396.
  13. Loud, p. 223.
  14. Loud, p. 294.
  15. Alexēs Geōrgiu K Sabbidēs, Byzantino-Normannica: The Norman Capture of Italy (to A.D. 1081) and the First Two Invasions in Byzantium (A.D. 1081-1085 and 1107-1108) (Leuven, Belgium; Dudley, Massachusetts: Peeters, 2007) ISBN   978-90-429-1911-2
  16. Edward Moore, Studies in Dante: Scripture and classical authors in Dante (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1899), p. 274
  17. Olive Classe, Encyclopedia of Literary Translation into English, Volume 1 (Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, 2000), p. 767
  18. Ordericus Vitalis, The Ecclesiastical History of England and Normandy,Trans. Thomas Forester, Volume II (Henry G. Bohn, London, 1854), p 482
  19. Detlev Schwennicke, Europäische Stammtafeln: Stammtafeln zur Geschichte der Europäischen Staaten, Neue Folge, Band III Teilband 4 (Marburg, Germany: Verlag von J. A. Stargardt, 1989), Tafel 677

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Robert Guiscard
Born:c.1015 Died: 17 July 1085
Preceded by
Duke of Apulia and Calabria
Succeeded by
Roger Borsa