Realignments

[1149-58]

The Emperor Manuel often held that it was an easy matter for him to win over the peoples of the East by gifts of money or by force of arms, but that over those of the West he could never count on gaining a similar advantage; for they are formidable in numbers, indomitable in pride, cruel in character, rich in possessions and inspired by an inveterate hatred of the Empire.

Nicetas Choniates, 'Manuel Comnenus', VII, i

Considerate host that he was, Manuel Comnenus showed no sign of impatience while Conrad lingered in Constantinople, nor any desire to speed the parting guest; the moment he had bidden his friend goodbye but, he set off to rejoin his forces at Corfu, where the siege had continued throughout the winter. Recent reports of its progress had not been encouraging. The Sicilian-held citadel rose apparently impregnable from its high crest above the old town, almost out of range of Byzantine projectiles. The Greeks, wrote Nicetas, seemed to be aiming at the very sky itself, while the defenders could release downpours of arrows and hailstorms of rocks on to the besiegers below. (People wondered, he adds disarmingly, how the Sicilians had captured the place so effortlessly the previous year.) By now it seemed clear that the only hope of victory would be to starve out the garrison; but they had had a full year in which to provision themselves, and even then the Byzantine blockade might at any moment be broken by a Sicilian fleet arriving with supplies.

A long siege could impose just as great a strain on the attackers as on those within; and by spring the Greek sailors and their Venetian allies were barely on speaking terms. The climax came when the Venetians occupied a neighbouring islet and set fire to a number of Byzantine merchantmen anchored offshore. By some mischance they also managed to gain possession of the imperial flagship, on which they even went so far as to stage the elaborate charade mentioned in the previous chapter,1 dressing up an Ethiopian slave in the imperial vestments and staging a mock coronation on the deck, in full view of the Greeks. Whether the Emperor arrived in time to witness this insult we do not know. He certainly heard about it afterwards, and never forgave the Venetians their behaviour; but he needed them too much to protest. Patience, tact and his celebrated charm soon restored tolerably good relations. Meanwhile the siege continued, with himself now in personal command. There would be time enough, later, for revenge.

Within months he was rewarded: in the late summer Corfu fell -probably through treachery, since Nicetas tells us that the garrison commander subsequently entered the imperial service. The Emperor sailed at once to the Dalmatian port of Avlona, whence he proposed to cross the Adriatic to keep his rendezvous with Conrad in Italy; but he was delayed by storms and was still waiting for the weather to improve when reports were brought to him of a major insurrection by the Serbs, to whom the neighbouring Kingdom of Hungary was giving active military assistance. He also heard to his fury that George of Antioch had profited by his absence to take a fleet of forty ships right up the Hellespont and through the Marmara to the very walls of Constantinople. Thence, after an unsuccessful attempt to disembark, the Sicilians had sailed some distance up the Bosphorus, pillaging several rich villas along the Asiatic shore, and before departing had even fired a few impudent arrows into the grounds of the imperial palace.

Here was another unpardonable insult that the Emperor would not forget; but the Serbian uprising was a good deal more serious -particularly if, as seemed more than likely, the King of Sicily were behind it. The Serbs and the Hungarians were certainly hand in glove, and Roger - whose cousin Busilla had married King Coloman - had always maintained close ties of friendship with the Hungarian throne. What Manuel did not know was that, in his determination to sabotage the projected expedition against him, Roger had engineered a similar diplomatic coup against the King of the Romans by financing a league of German princes under the leadership of Count Welf of Bavaria, Conrad's still-hopeful rival for the imperial throne. Thus it was that the King of Sicily, facing the most formidable military alliance that could be conceived in the Middle Ages, that of the Eastern and the Western Empires acting - as they rarely acted in the six and a half centuries of their joint

1 Sec p. 88.

history - in complete concert one with the other, had succeeded in the space of a few months in immobilizing both of them. He may have been, in Manuel's eyes, a usurper of imperial lands and an unprincipled adventurer to boot; but he was at least a worthy adversary.

On 29 July 1149, King Louis VII and Queen Eleanor landed in Calabria on their way from Palestine and rode inland to the little town of Potenza, where Roger of Sicily was waiting to greet them. Louis was not in a good mood; he had rather misguidedly entrusted himself and his household to Sicilian ships - dangerous craft in which to brave Byzantine waters - and somewhere in the Aegean had encountered a Greek squadron (presumably on its way to or from Corfu) which had turned at once to the attack. He himself had managed to escape by running up the French flag, and Eleanor - whose relations with her husband were now such that she was travelling on a separate vessel - was rescued by Sicilian warships just in time; but one of the escorts, containing several members of the royal household and nearly all the baggage, had been captured by the Greeks and borne off to Constantinople. For Louis, who had already persuaded himself that Manuel Comnenus had been solely responsible for the failure of the Crusade, this incident had been the last straw; and he was only too ready to listen to the proposal now made to him by the King of Sicily.

Briefly, it was for a European league against the Byzantine Empire. Roger explained, clearly and convincingly, how in his hatred of the Christian cause Manuel had allied himself with the Turks, whom he had doubtless kept fully informed about the progress of the Crusading army: the locations of its camps, the state of its preparedness, the routes it proposed to follow. With such a viper in its nest, he continued, the Crusade had been doomed before it started. The first priority, therefore, was to eliminate the basileus altogether, together with the depraved and schismatic Empire over which he ruled. Then and only then could the allies launch a victorious Third Crusade to wipe out the humiliations of the Second.

The whole proposal could hardly have been more disingenuous. The King of Sicily was no Crusader, either by temperament or conviction. For the fate of the Christians of Outremer he cared not a rap; as far as he was concerned, they deserved all they got. He himself infinitely preferred the Arabs, who made up a considerable portion of his Sicilian population, who ran much of his civil service, and whose language he spoke perfectly. On the other hand, there were his claims on Antioch and

path had been effectively surmounted. At Flochberg in 1150 Count Welf and his friends suffered a defeat from which they never recovered, while after a punitive expedition led by Manuel himself the following year, the Serbs and the Hungarians had, for the moment, no more fight left in them. At last the forces of the two Empires were free to march into South Italy. The much-delayed campaign was confidently planned for the autumn of 1152. Venice had pledged her support. Even Pope Eugenius had finally been won over. For Roger, the future had never looked blacker.

Then, on 15 February 115 2, Conrad died at Bamberg at the age of fifty-nine. In the two centuries since the restoration of the Western Empire by Otto the Great, he had been the first Emperor-elect not to have been crowned at Rome - a failure which somehow seems to symbolize his whole reign. 'A Seneca in council, a Paris in appearance, a Hector in battle', in his youth he had shown high promise; but he died with that promise unfulfilled - never an Emperor, just a sad, unlucky King. The presence at his bedside of several Italian doctors — probably from the famous medical school of Salerno - gave rise to inevitable mutterings about Sicilian poison; but although King Roger must have welcomed this timely removal of his arch-enemy there is no reason to suspect that he was in any way responsible.

Conrad's mind remained unclouded to the end, and his last injunction to his nephew and successor, Frederick of Swabia, was to continue the struggle which he had begun. So far as the King of Sicily was concerned, Frederick asked nothing better. Encouraged by the Apulian exiles at the German court, he even hoped at one moment to improve on his uncle's original schedule and to march against Roger immediately, picking up the imperial crown on the way as he passed through Rome. As always, however, the succession brought its own problems, and he soon had to accept an indefinite postponement. Where he parted company with Conrad was on the matter of Byzantium. Temperamentally he was quite unable to accept any arrangement which might diminish the power and prestige of his Empire. The very thought of a rival Emperor in the East was bad enough; the idea of sharing, let alone making over, the disputed South Italian provinces was anathema to him. If Manuel Comnenus wished to join him in fighting the King of Sicily, well and good; but any victory would have to be its own reward. Barely a year after his accession he had signed a treaty with the Pope at Constance, by the terms of which it was agreed that Byzantium would be allowed no concessions on Italian territory; if its Emperor were to attempt to seize any by force, he would be expelled. The brief honeymoon between the two Empires was at an end.

The death of King Conrad, on the other hand, was only the beginning. On 8 July 1153 Pope Eugenius died suddenly at Tivoli. He had not wished to be Pope - till the day of his death he continued to wear, under his pontifical robes, the coarse habit of a Cistercian monk - and he had shown little talent for the role that had been thrust upon him; but his gentleness and unassuming ways had earned him the love and respect of his flock and he was deeply mourned. The same cannot be said of Bernard of Clairvaux, who only six weeks later followed him to his grave. All his life Bernard had exemplified that fortunately rare phenomenon, the genuine ascetic who feels himself compelled to intervene in the political field; and since he saw the world with the eye of a fanatic, his interventions were almost invariably disastrous. His launching of the Second Crusade had certainly led to the most shameful Christian humiliation of the Middle Ages. Many might have believed him to be a great man; few would have called him a lovable one.

Next, on 26 February 1154, King Roger died at Palermo. His son and successor - generally known as William the Bad - did not altogether deserve his nickname, which was largely due to his alarming appearance1 and herculean physical strength; but he was lazy and pleasure-loving, with little of his father's intelligence and diplomatic finesse. We cannot imagine Roger, for example, writing as William did to the Byzantine Emperor within weeks of his coronation, offering him in return for a treaty of peace the restitution of all his Greek prisoners and all the spoils of George of Antioch's Theban expedition. Manuel Comnenus rejected the offer outright. To him, it could only mean that the new King was afraid of an imperial invasion. If he was afraid, he was weak; if he was weak, he would be defeated.

The last in the series of deaths that brought a whole new cast of characters on to the Western European political stage was that of Pope Eugenius's successor, the old and ineffectual Anastasius IV. His seventeen-month reign had been concerned chiefly with his own self-glorification; but when, in the last days of 1154, his body was laid to rest in the gigantic porphyry sarcophagus that had previously held the remains of the Empress Helena — transferred, on his orders, to a modest

1 He was a huge ogre of a man, 'whose thick black beard lent him a savage and terrible aspect and filled many people with fear' {Chronica S. Mariae de Ferraria).

urn in the Ara Coeli a few weeks before — he was succeeded by a man of a very different calibre: Adrian (or Hadrian) IV, the only Englishman ever to wear the Triple Crown. Nicholas Breakspear had been born around 1115 at Abbot's Langley in Hertfordshire. While still a student he had moved first to France and then to Rome, where his eloquence, ability and outstanding good looks had caught the attention of Pope Eugenius - who was, fortunately for Nicholas, an enthusiastic Anglophile.1 Thereafter his rise had been swift; and a mission to Norway in 115 2 with the purpose of reorganizing the Church throughout Scandinavia had been accomplished with such distinction that on Pope Anastasius's death two years later he was unanimously elected in his place. His election came, as it turned out, not a moment too soon: within six months he was called upon to face a major crisis, which would have utterly defeated either of his two predecessors. Frederick Barbarossa had arrived in Italy and demanded his imperial coronation.

Frederick, now thirty-two, seemed to his German contemporaries the very nonpareil of Teutonic chivalry. Tall and broad-shouldered, attractive rather than handsome, he had eyes that twinkled so brightly under his thick mop of reddish-brown hair that, according to one chronicler who knew him well,2 he always seemed on the point of laughter. But beneath this breezy, light-hearted exterior there lurked a will of steel, dedicated to a single objective: to restore his Empire to its ancient greatness and splendour. In pursuit of this ambition no concessions would be made, no quarter given - to the Pope, the Eastern Emperor or anyone else. Arriving in North Italy in the first weeks of 115 5, he had been surprised and infuriated by the intensity of republican feeling in the cities and towns, and had immediately decided upon a show of strength. Milan, that perennial focus of revolt, had proved too strong for him; but he had made an example of her ally Tortona, which he had captured after a two-month siege and then razed until not one stone was left on another.

After celebrating Easter at Pavia - where he had received the traditional Iron Crown of Lombardy - Frederick had descended through Tuscany at such a speed as to cause the Roman Curia serious alarm. Several of the older cardinals could still remember how, in1111, his forebear Henry V had laid hands on Paschal II in St Peter's itself, and

1 He once told the English scholar and diplomat John of Salisbury that he found his countrymen admirably fitted to perform any task they attempted, and thus to be preferred to all other races -except, he added, when frivolity got the better of them.

2 Accrbus Morena, podtsta of Lodi, one of the first lay historians of North Italy.

had held him prisoner for two months until he capitulated; and they had heard nothing of the new King of the Romans to suggest that he would not be fully capable of doing the same. Adrian therefore decided to ride up to meet him; and on 9 June the two met at Campo Grasso, near Sutri. The encounter was not a success. According to custom, at the approach of the Pope the King should have advanced towards him on foot and led his horse the last few yards by the bridle, finally holding the stirrup while the Pope dismounted; but he did not do so, and Adrian in return refused to bestow on him the traditional kiss of peace.

Frederick objected that it was no part of his duty to act as papal groom; but Adrian held firm. This was not a minor point of protocol; it was a public act of defiance that struck at the very root of the relationship between Empire and Papacy. It was Frederick who finally gave in. He ordered his camp to be moved a little to the south; and on the morning of 11 June, near the little town of Monterosi, the ceremony was restaged. This time the King advanced on foot to meet the Pope, took his horse by the bridle and led it the distance, we are told, of a stone's throw; then, holding the stirrup, he helped him dismount. Adrian settled himself on the waiting throne; Frederick knelt and kissed his feet; the kiss of peace was duly bestowed; and conversations began.

There seemed no longer any reason to delay the coronation; on the other hand, since the ceremony had last been performed the Roman people had established a Commune and revived their Senate; and the delegation of senators which appeared a few days later at the imperial camp adopted an attitude at once bombastic and patronizing, insisting that before receiving his crown Frederick should make a sworn guarantee of the city's future liberty, together with an ex gratia payment of five thousand pounds of gold. Frederick replied calmly that he was claiming only what was rightfully his. There could be no question of any guarantees; as for gifts of money, he would bestow these when and where he pleased. The senators withdrew in discomfiture; but they left the Pope - who had previous experience of the Commune - in no doubt that serious trouble was to be expected. If they were to avoid it, both he and Frederick would have to move swiftly.

At dawn the following morning - it was Saturday, 17 June - the King of the Romans entered Rome by the Golden Gate and went straight to St Peter's where the Pope, who had arrived an hour or two before, was awaiting him on the steps of the basilica. A quick Mass was celebrated, after which, standing directly above the tomb of the Apostle, Adrian hurriedly girded the sword of St Peter to Frederick's side and laid the imperial crown on his head. As soon as the brief ceremony was over the Emperor, still wearing the crown, rode back to his camp outside the walls, while the Pope took refuge in the Vatican to await developments.

It was not yet nine o'clock in the morning; and the senators were assembling on the Capitol to decide how best to prevent the coronation when the news reached them that it had already taken place. Furious to find that they had been outmanoeuvred, they gave the call to arms. Soon a huge mob was pressing across the Ponte S. Angelo, while another advanced northward through Trastevere. Back in their camp above the city, the German soldiers received the order to prepare at once for battle. Had not their Emperor sworn before them all, just a few hours ago, to defend the Church of Christ? Already, it seemed, it was under threat. For the second time that day Frederick entered Rome, but he wore his coronation robes no longer. This time he had his armour on.

All that afternoon and evening the battle raged between the Emperor of the Romans and his subjects; night had fallen before the imperial troops had driven the last of the insurgents back across the bridges. Losses had been heavy on both sides. For the Germans we have no reliable figures; but among the Romans almost a thousand are said to have been slain or drowned in the Tiber, and another six hundred taken captive. The Senate had paid a high price for its arrogance; but the Emperor too had bought his crown dearly. His victory had not even gained him entrance into the city, for the sun rose next morning to show all the Tiber bridges blocked and the gates barricaded. Neither he nor his army were prepared for a siege; the heat of the Roman summer was once again beginning to take its toll, with outbreaks of malaria and dysentery among his men. The only sensible course was to withdraw, and - since the Vatican was obviously no longer safe for the Papacy - to take Pope and Curia with him. On 19 June he struck camp and led his army up into the Sabine Hills. A month later he was heading back towards Germany, leaving Adrian, isolated and powerless, at Tivoli.

For Manuel Comnenus, following these events from Constantinople, the whole situation was now changed. Since Conrad's death he could no longer expect any help from the Western Empire. True, he was unaware of the precise terms of the Treaty of Constance and may still have believed in the possibility of some sort of Italian partition; but it was clear from Frederick's attitude that from now on he would have to fight for it. If - as seemed likely sooner or later — the Germans did march against William of Sicily, it was essential that a strong Byzantine force should be present, ready to defend the legitimate rights of Constantinople; if they did not, he would have to take the initiative on his own.

The good news was that the Norman barons in Apulia were once again on the point of open revolt. They had always resented the house of Hauteville, whose origins were after all no more distinguished than their own and who had established their supremacy as much by intrigue and low cunning as by any conspicuous courage in the field; and they had rebelled more than once in the past, not only against King Roger but against Robert Guiscard before him. Roger's death, and the comparative weakness of William as his successor, had encouaged them to make yet another effort to shake off their Sicilian shackles; as always, however, they needed support. They had first put their trust in Frederick, and had been much disappointed by his hasty departure; but they felt no special ties of loyalty to him. Now that he had let them down, they were perfectly ready to accept help from Manuel instead.

And Manuel was ready to give it. He could not offer a full-scale expedition: the war with Hungary had flared up again and he needed his army along the Danube. But in the summer of 115 5, as a first step, he sent two of his senior generals, Michael Palaeologus - a former Governor of Thessalonica - and John Ducas, across to Italy. Their brief was, essentially, to make contact with the principal centres of resistance among the Norman barons and to coordinate a general rising throughout the province, which would be supported by a small Byzantine army and any other mercenary forces that could be recruited locally; if, however, Frederick was still in Italy and there was any chance of intercepting him on his way back from Rome, they were to make one last effort to persuade him to join forces. As an eventuality, it seemed improbable enough; but on their arrival in Italy a few inquiries soon revealed the Emperor to be in the imperial city of Ancona, where he willingly received them.

Frederick had marched northward with a heavy heart. The Pope had already implored him to keep to his original plan and lead his army without further delay against King William of Sicily, and for his own part he would have been delighted to do so. But his ailing German barons would not hear of it. They had had enough of the remorseless sun, the unaccustomed food and the clouds of insects that whined incessantly round their heads; and they longed only for the day when they would see a firm mountain barrier rising between themselves and the scene of their sufferings. After this second approach by Palaeologus and Ducas, Frederick tried once again to inject a little of his own spirit into his followers, but with no better success. Sadly, he had to confess to the envoys that there was nothing more he could do; they would have to launch their campaign alone. Manuel was not unduly worried by the news. Strategically, it might have been useful to have the German army fighting his battles for him; diplomatically, on the other hand, the situation would be very much simpler without, and it was plain from the reports he was receiving that there would be no shortage of allies. The revolt was now spreading all over South Italy under a new leader -the King's own first cousin, Count Robert of Loritello. In the late summer of 1155, Robert met Michael Palaeologus at Viesti. Each was able to provide just what the other lacked. Palaeologus had a fleet of ten ships, seemingly limitless funds and the power to call when necessary on further reinforcements from across the Adriatic. Robert could claim the support of the majority of the local barons, together with the effective control of a considerable length of coast - a vital requirement if the Byzantine lines of communication were to be adequately maintained. Agreement was quickly reached; then the two allies struck.

Their first objective was Bari. Until its capture by Robert Guiscard in 1071, this city had been the capital of Byzantine Italy and the last Greek stronghold in the peninsula. The majority of its citizens, being themselves Greek, resented the government of Palermo and looked gratefully towards any opportunity of breaking free from it. A group of them opened the gates to the attackers; and though the Sicilian garrison fought bravely from the old citadel and the church of St Nicholas, they were soon obliged to surrender and to watch while the Bariots themselves fell on the citadel — by now the symbol of Sicilian domination - and, despite Palaeologus's efforts to stop them, razed it flat.

News of the fall of Bari, coupled with a sudden spate of rumours of King William's death - he was indeed seriously ill - shattered the morale of the Apulian coastal towns. Trani yielded in its turn; then the neighbouring port of Giovinazzo. Further south, resistance was still fierce: William of Tyre reports that when the Patriarch of Jerusalem landed that autumn at Otranto on his way to visit the Pope, he found the entire region in such turmoil that he was forced to re-embark and make his way up the coast by sea as far as Ancona. Only at the beginning of September did King William's army make its appearance, under his Viceroy Asclettin. It consisted of some two thousand knights and a considerable force of infantry, but it was no match for the rebels and was largely destroyed outside the walls of Andria. The loyalist lord of that town, Count Richard of Andria, who had fought heroically for his King, was unhorsed during the battle and finished off by a priest of Trani who, we are told, ripped him open and tore out his entrails. Seeing him lying dead, the local population surrendered on the spot. For those still faithful to King William, the future looked grim.

From Tivoli first and later from Tusculum, Pope Adrian had followed these developments with satisfaction. Though he had no love for the Greeks, he greatly preferred them to the Sicilians; and it delighted him to see the detested William, having escaped the vengeance of Barbarossa, finally receiving his deserts. Whether it was he who now took the initiative to ally himself with the Byzantines, or whether the first approach came from Manuel Comnenus in Constantinople or Michael Palaeologus in Apulia, is not altogether clear. At all events, discussions were held in the late summer, in the course of which Adrian undertook to raise — almost certainly at Byzantine expense — a body of mercenary troops from Campania. On 29 September he marched south.

It may seem surprising, only a century after the great schism between the Eastern and Western Churches, to find an Emperor of Byzantium in military alliance with the Pope of Rome; but Adrian doubtless saw in the South Italian situation an opportunity that might never recur. He was encouraged, too, by the exiled Apulian vassals who, seeing the possibility of regaining their old fiefs, joyfully agreed to recognize him as their suzerain in return for his support. Already on 9 October Prince Robert of Capua and several other high-ranking Norman barons were reinvested with their hereditary possessions, and before the end of the year all Campania and most of Apulia was in Byzantine or papalist hands. Michael Palaeologus, mopping up the few pockets of resistance that remained, could congratulate himself on a success greater than he could have dared to hope. In barely six months he had restored Greek power to a point almost equal to that of a hundred and fifty years before. News had recently come to him that his Emperor, encouraged by such rapid progress, was sending out a full-scale expeditionary force to consolidate his gains. At this rate it might not be long before all South Italy acknowledged the dominion of Constantinople. King William would be annihilated; Pope Adrian, seeing the Greeks succeed where the Germans had failed, would acknowledge the superiority of Byzantine arms and would adjust his policies accordingly; and the great dream of the Comneni — the reunification of the Roman Empire under the aegis of Constantinople - would be realized at last.

King William was a man who found it hard ever to leave his palace; but once he was obliged to go forth, then - however disinclined to action he had been in the past - he would fling himself, not so much with courage as in a headstrong, even foolhardy spirit, in the face of all dangers.

So writes Hugo Falcandus, the most detailed - and by far the most readable - chronicler of Norman Sicily whose work has come down to us. He is also the most destructive and, even when paying tribute to his sovereign as here, nearly always allows his malice to show through. But there is truth in what he says. In this particular case, William's initial inertia was understandable. From September until Christmas he lay in Palermo desperately ill, leaving his Kingdom to be effectively governed by his 'Emir of Emirs', the Lombard Maio of Bari; next, in the opening weeks of 1156 while still convalescent, he was obliged to deal first with riots in the capital itself and then with a rebellion of Sicilian barons in the south of the island. He was, however, successful in both operations; and his victory over the barons provided him with just the moral encouragement he needed. The spring had come, his health was restored, his blood was up. He was ready to tackle the mainland.

Army and navy met at Messina; this was to be a combined operation, in which the Greeks, the papalists and the rebel barons were to be attacked simultaneously from land and sea. In the last days of April, the army crossed to the mainland and set off through Calabria, while the fleet sailed down through the straits and then turned north-east towards Brindisi. For the Byzantines and the rebel forces alike, it had been a bad winter. First, thanks to the increasing arrogance of Michael Palaeologus, there had been a split between them, Robert of Loritello having ridden off in disgust. Then Palaeologus himself had died, after a short illness, in Bari. For all his overbearing ways he had been a brilliant leader in the field, and his death had been a serious blow to his countrymen. John Ducas had eventually got the army moving again and had even achieved a reconciliation with the Count of Loritello; but the old confidence between the two was never quite restored, the momentum of 1155 never altogether regained.

For three weeks already Brindisi had been under siege. The royalist garrison in the citadel was putting up a heroic resistance, and had effectively brought Byzantine progress in the peninsula to a stop. And now, with the news of King William's advance, the Greeks saw their rebel allies begin to fall away. The mercenaries chose, as mercenaries will, the moment of supreme crisis to demand impossible increases in their pay; meeting with a refusal, they disappeared en masse. Robert of Loritello deserted for the second time, and many of his compatriots followed him. Ducas, left only with the few troops that he and Palaeologus had brought with them, plus those which had trickled over the Adriatic at various times during the past nine months, found himself hopelessly outnumbered. Of the Sicilian forces, it was the fleet that arrived first, and for another day or two he was able to hold his own. The entrance to Brindisi harbour is by a narrow channel, barely a hundred yards across. Twelve centuries before, Julius Caesar had blocked it to Pompey's ships; and now John Ducas, by drawing up the four vessels under his command in line abreast across its mouth and stationing detachments of infantry along each bank, employed similar tactics. But when William's army appeared on the western horizon, Byzantine hopes were at an end. Attacked simultaneously from the land, the sea and the inner citadel, Ducas could not hope to hold the walls; he and his men were caught, in the words of Cinnamus, as in a net.

The battle that followed was short and bloody, and the Greek defeat was total. The Sicilian navy, having occupied the little islands that circled the harbour entrance, effectively prevented any escape by sea. Ducas himself, the other Byzantine survivors and those Norman rebels who had not already fled, were taken prisoner. The four Greek ships, were seized, together with large sums of gold and silver which had been entrusted by Manuel to Michael Palaeologus, for the payment of mercenaries and for whatever bribes might be necessary. On that one day - it was 28 May 1156 - all that the Byzantines had achieved in Italy over the past year was wiped out as completely as if they had never come.

The King treated his Greek captives according to the recognized canons of war; but to his own rebellious subjects he showed no mercy. For him as for his father before him, treason remained the one crime that could not be forgiven. Of the erstwhile insurgents who fell into his hands, only the luckiest were imprisoned. The rest were hanged, blinded or tied about with heavy weights and thrown into the sea. Brindisi, which had resisted valiantly, was spared; Bari, which had readily capitulated to the invaders, paid the price. William gave the inhabitants two clear days in which to salvage their belongings; on the third day the city was destroyed, including the cathedral. Only the great church of St Nicholas and a few smaller religious buildings were left standing.

It was the same old lesson — a lesson that should by now have been self-evident, but one that the princes of medieval Europe seemed to find almost impossible to learn: that in distant lands, wherever there existed an organized native opposition, a temporary occupying force could never achieve permanent conquest. Whirlwind campaigns were easy, especially when backed by bribes and generous subsidies to the local malcontents; when, however, it became necessary to consolidate and maintain the advantage gained, no amount of gold was of any avail. The Normans had succeeded in establishing themselves in South Italy and Sicily only because they had arrived as mercenaries and remained as settlers; even then, the task had taken them the best part of a century. When they embarked on foreign adventures - such as the two invasions of the Byzantine Empire by Robert Guiscard and Bohemund - even they were doomed to failure. Manuel Comnenus had presumably trusted those communities of Apulia and Calabria who still spoke Greek and maintained, after a fashion, their Greek traditions to declare in his favour - as indeed the people of Bari had done. What he had not taken into account was, first, that such communities represented only a small minority of the total population and, second, that William of Sicily's forces were a good deal better placed than his own to deal with any trouble that might arise. The outcome of the recent campaign - however promisingly it had begun - had not been unlucky. It had been inevitable.

The news of the catastrophe was received with horror in Constantinople. Poor John Ducas, unable to defend himself from his Palermo prison, proved a convenient scapegoat; but everyone knew that the ultimate responsibility was the Emperor's, and Manuel felt his humiliation bitterly. It was made all the greater the following summer, when a Sicilian fleet of 164 ships, carrying nearly ten thousand men, swooped down on the prosperous island of Euboea, sacking and pillaging all the towns and villages along its coast. From there it continued to Almira on the Gulf of Volos, which received similar treatment; then - if we are to believe Nicetas Choniates — it sped up the Hellespont and through the Marmara to Constantinople, where a hail of silver-tipped arrows was loosed upon the imperial palace.1

The time had come, it was clear, for a radical change in the Empire's

1 Is Nicctas confusing this raid with that of George of Antioch in 1149, described on p. 103? Possibly, though there is no reason why the exploit should not have been repeated. Where he is almost certainly wrong is in identifying the palace as that of Blachernae, which would have been inaccessible unless the Sicilians had launched an expedition on terra firma the length of the Land Walls or had sailed up the Golden Horn. Their target is much more likely to have been the old imperial palace on the Marmara.

foreign policy. If Manuel could not recover the lost Italian provinces by force of arms, nor - at least in the long term - could his rival, Frederick Barbarossa; but Frederick, full of energy and ambition, would certainly lead another expedition into the peninsula as soon as he was free to do so, and might even succeed in toppling William from his throne. In such an event, dreaming (as he was known to dream) of uniting the two Empires under a single sceptre - his own - might he not make Byzantium his next objective? The conclusion was plain. William, upstart as he was, was a good deal preferable to Frederick. Some form of agreement with him would have to be reached - though it would have to be a less humiliating one than that which he had imposed upon Pope Adrian who, deserted by his allies, had already been forced to come to terms. The result had been the Treaty of Benevento, signed in June 1156, in which the Pope had recognized William's dominion not only over Sicily, Apulia, Calabria and the former Principality of Capua, but also over Naples, Amalfi, Salerno and the whole region of the Marches and the northern Abruzzi. It was addressed to

William, glorious King of Sicily and dearest son in Christ, most brilliant in wealth and achievement among all the Kings and eminent men of the age, the glory of whose name is borne to the uttermost limits of the earth by the firmness of your justice, the peace which you have restored to your subjects, and the fear which your great deeds have instilled into the hearts of all the enemies of Christ's name.

Manuel had no intention of putting his name to any document of this kind; he intended to deal with the King of Sicily from a position of at least relative strength. And so, some time during the summer of 1157, he sent a new emissary to Italy: Alexis, the brilliant young son of his Grand Domestic Axuch. Alexis's orders were ostensibly much the same as those given earlier to Michael Palaeologus - to make contact with such rebel barons as were still at liberty, to hire mercenaries for a new campaign along the coast, and generally to stir up as much disaffection as he could; but Manuel had also entrusted him with a second task - to establish secret contact with William and discuss terms for a peace. The two objectives were not as self-contradictory as might appear at first sight: the fiercer the preliminary fighting, the more favourable to Byzantium William's conditions were likely to be.

Alexis discharged both parts of his mission with equal success. Within a month or two of bis arrival he had Robert of Loritello once again ravaging Sicilian territory in the north and another of the leading rebels,

Count Andrew of Rupecanina, driving down through the Capuan lands and seriously threatening Monte Cassino - beneath which, in January 1158, the Count even defeated a royalist army in pitched battle. Meanwhile, although Alexis's own support for these operations debarred him from undertaking peace talks in person, he was able to call on the services of the two most distinguished of the Greeks who were still held captive in Palermo, John Ducas and Alexius Bryennius; and through their mediation, some time in the early spring, a secret agreement was concluded. Alexis, having deceived his Apulian supporters into thinking that he was going to fetch more men and supplies, left them in the lurch and slipped away to Constantinople; William, though still understandably suspicious of Byzantine motives, returned all his Greek prisoners and dispatched a diplomatic mission to Manuel under his sometime tutor and close friend, Henry Aristippus.1 A treaty of peace was duly signed, though its provisions are unknown; and the Norman barons, suddenly bereft of funds, had no course but to abandon their new conquests and seek another, more reliable champion.

1 Henry returned with a valuable present from the Emperor to the King - a Greek manuscript of Ptolemy's Almagest. This tremendous work, a synthesis of all the discoveries and conclusions of Greek astronomers since the science was born, was hitherto known in the West only through Arabic translations.

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