In 1017a group of pilgrim knights (Normans, men of the north) went to worship the Archangel Michael in southern Italy. They did this as the Normans were fervent Christians and Archangel Michael was their favourite saint as he was the warrior saint. However, the Normans were not driven by piety alone but by opportunities to plunder and conquer. Southern Italy was the meeting place between the remains of the western and eastern Roman Empire. The west was controlled by the Pope who controlled the western Christian church, the east was Byzantine which had their own Christian religious leaders, who spoke Greek and who still held the traditions of imperial Rome, the Byzantine Empire stretched from southern Italy in the west to Asia Minor . Meanwhile, other Muslims occupied the southern Mediterranean and all were fighting for supremacy. Southern Italy was torn apart by war.

This was seen as a golden opportunity for the Normans who agreed to serve rival rulers of Benevento, Salerno, Naples and Capua as knights. They returned home to create a greater force amongst the knights of Normandy to unite in Italy. As a reward they were given the city of Aversa, but as their numbers increased, they banded together to fight on their own and stay in the south for the luxuries and also for land and territory. In 1030 the defeat of the Byzantines meant they were richly rewarded with a Norman establishment.

In 1027, a few hundred Norman knights fled to southern Italy. These included the sons of d'Hauteville whose estate in Normandy was too small for his twelve sons. His sons were successful and led the Norman conquest of Italy, particularly Robert d'Hauteville

In 1046 Robert d'Hauteville made himself a home in Calabria. Though he struggled to survive there as knights were few and he was poor, he lived on to become bandit chief and plundered the Byzantine people. He was not only a fighter but also a strategist and was known as GUISCARD meaning “the crafty.” One strategy beat the devices of a city when he told the Normans that one of his men had died and requested the monastery inside the city to arrange a funeral. Whilst in the church the “dead” man jumped out of the coffin with swords under him and fake mourners then captivated the city.

Pope_gregory_vii_illustration.jpgIn 1053 Seven years after Guiscard had arrived in Italy and established a Norman kingdom in southern Italy, the Byzantines were still living in fear of Norman attack. In desperation the Byzantines turned to Pope Leo IX, the Norman’s spiritual chief, and sent a complaint about the Normans. Angry at the Normans’ behaviour, the pope entered an alliance with the Byzantines. Pope Leo was a German aristocrat, and called upon troops from Southern Italy and Swabian mercenaries from his native Germany who were fierce warriors. Pope Leo led the army himself. The Normans meanwhile mustered all their forces approx. 3000 knights led by Guiscard. The Pope marched south to meet his Byzantine allies but was intercepted in an old Roman city by Normans ready for battle. Fighting against their spiritual leader stopped them though, until the Swabians mocked them and the Pope took their side. Guiscard began a cavalry charge whilst the Italians fled in all directions. The Normans attacked until the Swabian troops were wiped out and the Pope fled although was still pursued for forgiveness by the Normans who prostrated themselves before him, kissed his feet and the pope reprimanded them and when pardoned they held him hostage for nine months, until he recognised their conquests in Calabria and Puglia. Pope Leo died shortly after being released.

1059: Guiscard agreed to swear an oath of allegiance to the Pope (r. 1059 -1061), whom he protected from being dominated by Germanic rulers. If he was successful in battle, power over Sicily, Calabria and Puglia would be his reward. This launched Robert into a holy war and the Normans received a papal banner for the religious nature of this struggle. Robert sent his younger brother, Roger to conquer Sicily and went himself to conquer Puglia from the Byzantines.For three years they fought and plundered across the island in the name of Christ but Muslim Sicily was still difficult to conquer.

1060: Seljuk Turks burst into the Middle East, defeating the Byzantines in their eastern empire

1064: Reached outskirts of the Sicilian capital, Palermo, the army made camp outside the city, a terrible mistake as the hill was crawling with tarantulas. With fierce resistance from the Muslims the Normans were forced to retreat.

1068: The Normans, led by Roger, Robert’s younger brother met Muslim forces 12km outside Palermo. In this battle the Muslims were defeated and sent homing pigeons with messages from the front to their families in Palermo.

1071: Guiscard finally captured the last Byzantine stronghold, the city of Bari. With Puglia conquered Byzantium’s rule in southern Italy ended, Robert next set out to conquer Constantinople, but he was called back by Pope Gregory VII (r.1073-1085) to defend the papacy against the Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV.

Southern Italy now belonged to the Normans and Guiscard became one of the richest and most powerful Norman leaders in Europe and aimed to capture Sicily through Messina, meaning a holy war as Sicily was a Muslim stronghold, conquered by Islamic armies 250 years earlier. Pope Nicholas II wanted to reclaim Sicily for Christianity and to crush the Muslims. Meanwhile, the Seljuk Turks defeated the Byzantine Empire at the Battle of Manzikert in 1071.

1072: Palermo finally fell to the Normans, 6 years after William the Conqueror had taken England.

1084: Robert Guiscard captured the city of Rome from Henry IV’s army. But when the people of Rome revolted against Robert’s army, Robert sacked and burned the city.

1085: With the death of his brother Robert Guiscard, Roger becomes the ruler of Norman Italy or the “Two Sicilies” as it called – i.e. of the island of Sicily and the southern half of the Italian peninsula.

1091: Roger Guiscard’s conquest of the island of Sicily from the Saracens. The Muslims of Sicily and southern Italy were Berbers from North Africa (the race of St. Augustine) but they were all called Saracens (“People from the East”) by the Italians.


BoemundSavesTancred-l.jpg1095: Christendom felt under siege, Pope Urban II called a council in Clermont in France and announced a holy war between Islam and Christendom. Christians could take the road to Jerusalem, and those who died would earn immediate forgiveness of sins. The First Crusade began a perfect opportunity for Normans to combine piety and conquest. Robert, Duke of Normandy, son of William the Conqueror and from the Normans in Southern Italy, Guiscard’s son Bohemund. He was joined by his nephew Tancred who was worried that warfare was in conflict against the religious exhortation to “turn the other cheek”, on the way to Jerusalem. On their way to Jerusalem they arrived in Constantinople (capital of the Byzantine empire) one of the grandest cities in the world. It had strong defences but the Normans were not welcome here due to their activities in southern Italy and Bohemund himself especially, when a decade before they had defeated the Varangian guard, troops of the Byzantine Empire. The Byzantine Emperor Alexius however needed Norman help with the battle against the Seljuk Turks and made the Crusade leaders swear an oath of allegiance to him, to return to him any Byzantine towns they liberated from the Muslims.

October 1097: They reached Antioch, one of the great holy cities of the Christian world as St Peter became the first ever bishop there. It had been captured by the Seljuk Turks. Thousands of knights met a great Muslim defence and crusaders became starved and riddled with disease. However, Bohemund found a chance to win territory and summoned a council of the crusade leaders and suggested if he could get control of the city by himself or with others he could have the city himself. He had a secret agent, one of the commanders of the city’s defences who was willing to betray the Muslims by leaving a tower undefended.

June 3rd 1098: The crusaders arrived at the Tower of the two sisters. They seized the tower and opened the gates for the Christian army. After 7 months the crusaders had taken Antioch and the Normans were triumphant with Bohemund outwitting the other crusaders He raised his standard and took control of the city, ignoring his oath to the Emperor and made himself prince of Antioch, meanwhile Tancred marched on with the army of crusaders to Jerusalem.


1101-1154: The Normans united Southern Italy and Sicily into a single power state which lasted for over 700 years. The pope decreed that Roger’s son should be crowned rather than being a count for his father’s loyalty, Roger II, King of Sicily Christmas Day 1130. This was a massive achievement, they saw God as giving them another new kingdom to rule. The capital city of his “Kingdom of the Two Sicilies” was Palermo. During the reign of Roger II, a nephew of Robert Guiscard, Naples and Capua were added to the Norman Kingdom. Abruzzo was captured from the Holy Roman Emperors and North Africa from Tripoli to Tunis was taken from the Saracens.

1194: Roger II’s heirs, who had already lost the Norman’s North African possessions ended Norman rule in southern Italy by surrendering the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies to the Holy Roman (German) Emperor Henry VI under the pretext that Henry had married a woman from the Norman court.