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The Normans in Puglia

The Normans in Puglia

The Normans’ first arrival in southern Italy is reputed to be around the year 999, with a brief stay in Salerno. When the Norman knights saw a space for lucrative military opportunities, it is said they sent word back to Normandy. This is referred to as the “Salerno tradition”.

However, some records do not include this early appearance, with some stating a Norman arrival sometime in the first two decades of the 11th century. This latter appearance saw them join Lombard rebels in the fight against Byzantium rule in Bari, the capital of Puglia. This is referred to as the “Gargano tradition”.

It is thought they were likely returning from the Holy Land when persuaded to partake in the fight against the Catapanate of Italy. Although this was initially in vain, Normal rebels remained in the region and formed small clusters of groups to fight in separate armies in a further effort to conquer the south.

Small in number, they formed fiefdoms to conquer well-defended towns. They targeted precious food and commercial output, using intimidation and destroying land in an attempt to seize land in Puglia. In 1038, the Normans invaded the Greek-ruled Puglia. Led by William de Hauteville, they took Melfi from the Byzantines and established control. Puglia then became an autonomous duchy.

William ‘Iron Arm’ was then named the Duke of Puglia and Calabria. Puglia would remain a duchy until 1130 when the Duke became King of Sicily. This set off a chain of events crucial to Puglian history. Puglia would remain a duchy for 150 years before forming part of the Kingdom of Naples until the historic unification of Italy in 1861.

Within this period of Norman rule, Puglia’s famous Swabian Castle was built. Despite being destroyed and rebuilt, the castle remains to this day as an important tourist attraction in Bari.

The Normans were also capable of intelligence and calculating chess moves. When the Pope visited Puglia in the mid-1000s to investigate Norman treatment of church property, they took him prisoner, charming him and managing to negotiate a settlement. Shortly after, they undermined the Pope by invading Rome and placing Nicolas II on the throne.

A huge influence in this move was Norman adventurer Robeert Guiscard. He then launched a patient but strategic attempt to slowly take over Sicily. Inspired by William ‘Iron Arm’s successful capture and establishment of Puglia, iIn 1086, after capturing Messina several years earlier, Guiscard he took Syracuse. Thus, Sicily became under Normal rule.

However, the capture of Sicily caused the Normans to undergo a troubled period made up of internal power struggles and “issues of governance”.

In 1130, under a faction formed with Roger II at the helm, they created the Kingdom of Sicily. Over 100 years after the Normans first set their eyes on Italy, by 1130 the whole of Sicily and southern Italy were ruled by one Norman king.

After Roger’s death in 1154, the mantle was passed to William I and then William II. The latter’s illegitimate son Tancred of Leece then ruled for five years. After his death in 1194, he was succeeded by William III of Sicily. However, he was to prove the final Normal King in Sicily. His kingdom was conquered by German Emperor Henry VI and thus ended Normal rule in Puglia and Italy.