The Norman Invasion of Sicily, 1061-1072: Numbers and Military Tactics

The Norman Invasion of Sicily, 1061-1072: Numbers and Military Tactics

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The Norman Invasion of Sicily, 1061-1072: Numbers and Military Tactics

By Georgios Theotokis

War in History, Vol.17:4 (2010)

Abstract: By 1060 the Normans of Melfi had greatly expanded their dominions in Apulia and Calabria. The next step in their ambitious plans in the Italian peninsula, the invasion of Sicily, took place in 1061: it was not completed before 1091, mostly owing to a combination of political setbacks in the mainland, along with several inefficiencies in Norman military organization. No comprehensive study of the military aspects of the Norman conquest of Sicily has been written, and this paper intends to cover this specific gap. It deals with the first two stages of the Sicilian conquest, the period between the first invasion of 1061 and the first unsuccessful siege of Palermo in 1064, and the second period, which is marked by the five-month siege and capture of the Muslim capital in 1072. It examines the composition of the Norman and Muslim armies, in terms not only of numbers but also of the ration of cavalry, infantry and auxiliary units.

It also considers how far the Normans had been willing to adapt to the Mediterranean reality of warfare, more specifically the construction of siege engines and of a navy capable of imposing a blockade and transporting troops and horses from the Italian mainland to Sicily; the Norman fighting tactics used in the field of battle against the Muslims; and whether those tactics changed during the several stages of the Sicilian conquest.

Introduction: The only chronicle material that deals solely with the invasion of Sicily by the Normans, and thus the only detailed source we have for this period, is Geoffrey Malaterra’s Deeds of Count Roger of Calabria and Sicily and of His Brother Duke Robert Guiscard. Although we know very little about Malaterra’s life apart from the fact that he had come from a region ‘beyond the Alps’, he himself tells us that he came to Sicily to become a monk at the request of Count Roger, who wished to re-establish the power of the Latin church in the island right after its complete conquest from the Muslims in 1091.

Thus, it must have been during that decade – and most likely at its end – that he began writing his work. Other primary sources contemporary with Malaterra’s work are William of Apulia’s Gesta Roberti Guiscardi, written between 1095 and 1099 by a layman at Roger Borsa’s court, and the History of the Normans by Amatus of Montecassino, written in 1080.

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