Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Roman Historian Cassius Dio Claimed To Be Divinely Inspired To Write History




Some modern historians probably feel like they have a calling for history, but their sense of purpose may not be as intense as that of Cassius Dio (c. 163-235 CE), a Roman historian of Greek descent from Bithynia, who lived through the reigns of some of the most notorious emperors, such as Commodus and Caracalla. Although we know Dio mainly as a historian, he was also a very successful politician—he held two consulships and served as governor of several provinces. Yet, during the reign of Septimus Severus (c. 193-211), Dio took on a job that would set him on the path to cementing his name firmly in history.

In typical Roman fashion, Emperor Septimus Severus achieved power by winning a civil war with an army loyal only to himself. Around this time, Cassius Dio became suddenly inspired to write a biography about Severus, focusing especially on the prophetic dreams that the new emperor allegedly experienced, which prompted him to seize power. When Dio’s biography was published, Emperor Septimus Severus was impressed by what he read—he personally sent Dio a congratulatory letter, praising his work.

Thankfully for us, Cassius Dio did not shy from writing about his own life. We can, therefore, read in Dio’s own words about the profound impact the emperor’s letter had on the emerging historian:

“I had written and published a memoir about the dreams and portents which led Severus to hope for the imperial power, and after he had read the copy I sent him he wrote me a handsome acknowledgement. Receiving the letter in the evening, I soon went to sleep, and as I slept the divine power commanded me to write history. Thus I came to compose the present account [The Roman History].”
The Roman History (73. 23. I-3, 5) by Cassius Dio, translated by Ian Scott-Kilvert (Penguin Classics, 1987).

Spurned on by whatever forces drove him to write history, Cassius Dio literally created a work that attempted to describe the entirety of Roman history. He started by writing an account of the civil wars that brought Septimus Severus to power. When the document received praise, Dio found the encouragement he needed to continue writing. And write he did—Cassius Dio wrote an eighty-volume history, beginning with Aeneas’ arrival in Italy after the Trojan War, and ending with his own age in the Roman Empire of the 3rd-century. Dio claimed that completing the history was a twenty-two year endeavor, with ten years of research and twelve years of composition.

Unfortunately, much of Dio’s history has been damaged and lost, but his account of events from around 69 BCE to 46 CE, thankfully, remain remarkably whole. In particular, Dio’s volumes on the reign of Emperor Augustus (c. 27 BCE- 14 AD) are still regarded as one of the most comprehensive Augustan histories from the ancient world.

Written by C. Keith Hansley.

Top picture attribution: (Cicero Denounces Catiline (zoomed and cropped) painted by Cesare Maccari (1840–1919), c. 1889, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).

Source:
  • The Roman History by Cassius Dio, translated by Ian Scott-Kilvert. New York: Penguin Classics, 1987.  
  • https://www.britannica.com/biography/Septimius-Severus 
  • https://www.britannica.com/biography/Dio-Cassius 

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Emperor Augustus Never Used The Name “Octavian”



Historians have given Julius Caesar’s great-nephew (and later adopted son) the name, Octavian. In reality, the name of this important figure is much more complicated. The man known today as Octavian actually was called, Gaius Octavius, a name he would use until he was eighteen years old.

The assassination of Julius Caesar on the Ides of March, 44 BCE, was the trigger that led to Gaius Octavius’ first change of name. In his last will and testament, Julius Caesar posthumously adopted Gaius Octavius as his son and named the youth as his heir. To strengthen his ties to the fallen dictator’s legacy, Gaius Octavius then took upon himself the name of his adoptive father—Gaius Julius Caesar.

The man we know of as Octavian actually used the name “Caesar” for around seventeen years, persisting even a few years after Marc Antony and Cleopatra committed suicide. In 27 BCE, on the suggestion of Lucius Munatius Plancus, the second Caesar accepted his third name, Augustus.

Ancient Roman historians, including Cassius Dio (c. 163-235 CE; writer of the most complete ancient account of Augustus’ reign), also never used the name, Octavian. When addressing Gaius Octavius after 44 BCE, the ancient historians simply called him, Caesar, until he officially adopted the name of Augustus in 27 BCE. Understandably, having two successive dictatorial military leaders known by the name of Caesar can ultimately become confusing to readers, so later historians thankfully began referring to Julius Caesar’s heir as Octavian, for the sake of simplicity.

Written by C. Keith Hansley.

Top picture attribution: (Augustus of Prima Porta, c. 1st century CE, located in the Vatican Museum, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).

Sources:
  • The Roman History: The Reign of Augustus (Books 50-56) by Cassius Dio, translated by Ian Scott-Kilvert and introduced by John Carter. New York: Penguin Classics, 1987. 

Monday, September 18, 2017

While Alexios I Komnenos Focused On War, He Gave His Mother Administrative Control Of The Byzantine Empire



When Alexios Komnenos became emperor of the Byzantine Empire in 1081, he immediately handed over the governance of the realm to his mother while he went off to fight the Norman invader, Robert Guiscard. Alexios’ decision is hardly surprising once you begin to learn about her. After all, his mother, Anna Dalassena (or Dalassene), was the mastermind behind the rise to power of the Komnenos Dynasty.

Anna Dalassena’s affiliation with the Komnenos family began when she married John Komnenos, a powerful lord in the Byzantine Empire who, unfortunately for his wife, was a content man who felt no need to climb any higher in the imperial hierarchy. John’s complacency was so complete that when his extremely ill brother, Emperor Isaac Komnenos (r. 1057-1059), literally handed him the imperial throne, John Komnenos declined the offer. Anna Dalassena watched in horror as the crown passed over her husband and fell to Constantine X Doukas (r. 1059-1067). Anna would have a life-long grudge against the Doukas family because of this incident.

In 1067, Constantine X Doukas, and Anna Dalassena’s husband, John Komnenos, both met their deaths. Anna, now the matriarch of the Komnenos family, would spend the next fourteen years navigating through enough audacious court drama to fill an HBO miniseries, but will try to keep it brief. Here is a taste of what happened: Constantine’s widow, Eudokia, became regent of the Byzantine Empire while her son, Michael VII Doukas, grew to adulthood. Instead of remaining a single widow, she married a general named Romanos IV Diogenes (r. 1067-1071) and named him the new emperor. While most of the empire disapproved of Romanos, Anna Dalassene supported the new imperial couple, if only to harm the Doukas family. Nevertheless, Romanos IV was captured by the Turks in the 1071 Battle of Manzikert, allowing Michael VII Doukas (r. 1071-1078) to take the throne. For her support of the now blinded and executed Romanos, Anna Dalassena was momentarily exiled, but quickly returned and was restored to a favorable position in the empire.

The drama continued when Emperor Michael VII abdicated to become a monk, leaving the throne to the elderly Emperor Nikephoros III Botaneiates (r. 1078-1081). Awkwardly, Maria Doukas of Alania, who was the former wife of Michael VII (now a monk), agreed to marry the new emperor, likely hoping her son, Constantine Doukas, would become the next heir. Yet, things did not go according to plan—Botaneiates wanted to crown his nephew as his heir, instead of Maria’s son. Fortunately for Empress Maria Doukas, her elderly husband was a poor leader, and she had a lot of upstarts and rebels that she could throw her support behind. She eventually sided with Anna Dalassena’s sons, Isaac and Alexios Komnenos, who had been making names for themselves by fighting foreign armies and rebels.

By the end of Emperor Botaneiates’ reign, the Komnenoi brothers were household names in the Byzantine Empire, with Alexios Komnenos being especially prestigious. He increased his power further when he (to his mother’s annoyance) forged an alliance with the Doukas family by marrying the young Eirene Doukiana. In 1081, Anna Dalassena succeeded in convincing her sons to rebel against the emperor. It was not hard to convince the Komnenoi, because the emperor, in fear of Alexios’ power, had been plotting to have both brothers blinded. In Alexios’ 1081 uprising, he sacked the empire’s capital of Constantinople and took the throne, forcing Nicephoros III Botaneiates to become a monk.

Although he had the throne, Alexios’ challenges were far from over. Within the year (1081), Robert Guiscard led an army of Normans in an invasion of the Byzantine Empire. While Alexios faced off against this formidable foe, he left the empire in the hands of the best organizer and administrator he knew—his mother.

In his chrysobull (golden bull) of August 1081, Alexios Komnenos gave his mother, Anna Dallassena, incredible powers to rule in his stead. Anna Komnene (Alexios’ daughter, c. 1083-1153) recorded the short, but substantial, four-paragraph document in the history she wrote about her father, The Alexiad. In the chrysobull, Alexios decreed that his mother would be given complete control over his empire’s political and civil affairs. Her power included the ability to appoint and promote tribunals, government positions and offices, as well as distribute gifts and honors to subjects she deemed worthy. Furthermore, she had the unquestionable right to adjust the empire’s tax rates, salaries, and to make any other similar decisions that were in the best interest of the empire’s economy. Finally, all of the decisions that Anna Dalassena made were to be treated as if they were coming directly from the hand or mouth of Emperor Alexios, and would remain permanent and unaltered, even after Alexios regained full control of the empire’s administration.

Anna Komnene, who admired both her father and her grandmother greatly, summarized Alexios’ early government philosophy in an interesting statement:

“Wars against the barbarians, with all their attendant trials and tribulations, he was prepared to face himself, but the entire administration of affairs, the choice of civil magistrates, the accounts of the imperial revenues and expenditure he left to his mother.”
(Anna Komnene, The Alexiad (Book III), trans. E. R. A. Sewter, 2009).

Written by C. Keith Hansley.

Top picture attribution: Medieval illustration of Emperor Alexios Komnenos (r. 1081-1118), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons. Yes, it has been cropped and augmented.

Sources:
  •   The Alexiad by Anna Komnene, translated by E. R. A. Sewter. New York: Penguin Books, 2009.
  • http://www.encyclopedia.com/women/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/anna-dalassena-c-1025-1105 
  • http://www.roman-emperors.org/annadal.htm 
  • http://www.womeninworldhistory.com/dalassena.html 
  • http://www.gutenberg.us/articles/anna_dalassena  

Friday, September 15, 2017

The Puzzling Life Of Alexander I, The 5th-Century BCE King Of Macedonia



Alexander I (r. approximately 498-450 BCE) is said to have been the tenth Argead king of Macedonia. Although he was far from the founder of Macedonia (his dynasty began around 700 BCE), he was the first Macedonian king to be fairly well documented in history, and he set the Macedonian Kingdom on its course to greatness.

Alexander I’s reign was prominent enough for early historians, such as Herodotus, to mention the Kingdom of Macedonia (and its kings) in their writings. Yet, much of the information recorded about him was exaggerated into folklore or augmented by biases. What historians can all agree on is that Alexander I became the king of Macedonia around the start of the 5th-century BCE, after the death of his father, King Amyntas I. Alexander, like his father, was either an ally, or a subservient vassal, to the Persian Empire. As a result of this alliance, Alexander I joined Xerxes’ Persian invasion of Greece that occurred in 480 BCE. After the significant Greek victories at the Battles of Salamis (480 BCE) and Plataea (479), Alexander I was able to portray a sense loyalty to Persia, while also expanding his own personal domain to the Strymon River (modern Struma) and the silver-rich Mount Dysorus.

Despite siding with Persia against the Greeks, Alexander also strove to be accepted by the Greek states. His motives, mind-set and true allegiance are still debated, to this day, but Alexander I seemed to be able to exploit both sides of the Greco-Persian War. Either during his life, or posthumously, Alexander I gained the title “Philhellene,” which, when translated, resembles “friend of the Greeks.”  In efforts to associate himself with Greek society, Alexander I demanded that he be allowed to compete in the Olympic Games. Although he faced stiff opposition—Herodotus wrote that many Greeks considered the Macedonians to be non-Greek barbarians—Alexander eventually succeeded in gaining admittance by tracing his Argead Dynasty back to the Greek city of Argos and the hero, Heracles. Historically, the Argead Dynasty is thought to have originated from a location near the modern Aliákmon River in the northwest of modern Greece, yet Alexander’s Argos story worked, and he was allowed into the Olympics. The Macedonian King also is said to have donated a golden statue to Delphi, possibly funded by his subtle maneuverings against Persia.

This interesting clash between Macedonia’s welcomed benefits from their political alliance with Persia and Alexander I’s preference for Greek culture is particularly illustrated by one of the stories recorded by Herodotus. Like many of Herodotus’ tales, this account of Alexander I is more than likely just exaggerated myth and hearsay. Yet, this story should be retold for the glimpse it provides into what a 5th-century Greek man thought about Alexander I, if not simply for the sole purpose of entertainment.

The folktale about Alexander I that Herodotus told was set soon after Macedonia allied itself with Persia. Seven Persian warriors were sent to the court of Alexander’s father, Amyntas I, to receive gifts of earth and water, which would serve as ceremonial symbols of Macedonia’s submission to Persia. King Amyntas gave the Persians all the signs and symbols that they wanted, and he even invited the seven foreign soldiers to a magnificent feast.

The guests enjoyed their meals and were still partaking of the Macedonian king’s wine selection, when the Persian soldiers requested that local women to be brought into the dining room. To this, King Amyntas clearly stated that the Macedonian custom was to keep men and women separate while they dined. Yet, in a show of good will to the Persians, Amyntas called for women to be brought into the room.

The women were instructed to sit opposite of the Persian soldiers. The Persians, wrote Herodotus, were not content with looking. Exploring with their eyes quickly transitioned into fondling with their hands. King Amyntas was disturbed by the sight, but was not brave enough to take action. His son Alexander I, however, was infuriated by the actions of the Persians—if the king would not do something, he would. Eventually, Alexander insisted that his father, King Amyntas, retire early for bed. The old king assented to the idea, but not before warning his son against doing anything rash, foolish or dangerous.

Soon after King Amyntas departed from the room, Alexander announced that he would take the women to freshen up in a warm bath before they would return to please the Persians for the remainder of the approaching night. Once the women were outside of the dining room, he calmed them and told them to return to their quarters. Finally, Alexander gathered several sets of women’s clothing and secretly called together a meeting of his most trusted soldiers.

A few minutes later, the inebriated Persian warriors were still drinking wine in the dinning room when the objects of their desire marched into the room, with Alexander I leading the formation. The Persians were much too drunk to notice the increased muscle mass on these Macedonian “women,” nor the hidden daggers they were carrying. Nevertheless, Alexander cheerfully matched each Persian soldier with a Macedonian partner. When the Persian hands began, once again, to creep and wander, the disguised Macedonian soldiers pulled out their concealed daggers and stabbed the Persian soldiers to death.

With the deed done, all that was left to do was to dispose of the evidence. After the bodies were hidden, Alexander I destroyed anything and everything connected to the Persian envoy. According to Herodotus he killed the Persian servants…and destroyed their carriages…and even made their luggage disappear. To ensure that the Persians continued to see Macedonia in a favorable light, Alexander (again, according to Herodotus) paid a large sum of money to Bubares, the Persian official tasked to investigate the missing envoy. As a final assurance of loyalty, Alexander arranged a marriage between his own sister, Gygaea, and Bubares.

Even without sensational stories such as the one narrated above, the reign of Alexander I was undeniably significant. He played both sides of the Greco-Persian Wars against each other, and made his kingdom of Macedonia powerful and rich. Even though Alexander I’s exact motivation and ideology remain a puzzle, his reign in the 5th-century BCE was a vital stepping-stone toward the successes of later rulers of the Argead Dynasty, most notably Philip II and Alexander the Great.

Written by C. Keith Hansley.

Top picture attribution: (Coin believed to depict King Alexander I of Macedonia (modified), c. 498-450 BCE, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and the Classical Numismatic Group).

Sources:
  • The Histories by Herodotus, translated by Aubrey de Sélincourt and revised by John Marincola. New York: Penguin Classics, 2002.  
  • http://www.academia.edu/5911382/When_did_Alexander_I_of_Macedon_get_his_cognomen_Philhellene 
  • https://www.britannica.com/biography/Alexander-I-king-of-Macedonia  
  • http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/9781444338386.wbeah04020/abstract

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

In Homer’s Mythology About The Trojan War, Poseidon Almost Blasted An Opening Into The Realm Of Hades



If you want a decent modern visual depiction of the scenes that Homer poetically described in his epics on the Trojan War, you need look no further than a superhero movie that pits different powerful beings against other entities with incredible power. In Homer’s vision of the Trojan War, the ancient Greek gods split into separate factions (favoring either the Trojans or the Greeks) and fought it out in a series of separate, intense battles that could make scenes from The Avengers movies seem pitifully weak.

This concept is perfectly illustrated in one of the final skirmishes in The Iliad, right before Achilles killed Hector, the champion of the Trojans. In this awesome battle, many of the gods joined the fray, either by directly fighting, or by more subtle means, such as mystically inspiring troops or using their powers to sabotage enemy soldiers to give their own men an advantage. According to Herodotus, an intrigued Zeus gave off cracks of thunder as he watched his divine kin join their respective sides in the Trojan War. On the side of Troy were Apollo, Artemis, Leto, Aphrodite, the river-deity Scamander, and Ares (who would later switch sides). Siding with the Greeks were Hera, Athena, Poseidon, Hephaestus and Hermes.

In a battle of epic proportions, all of the participating gods became embroiled in one-on-one fights. The gods of war, Ares and Athena, crossed blades. The queen of the gods, Hera, faced off against the huntress, Artemis. The formidable messenger of the gods, Hermes, found himself battling Leto, the mother of Apollo and Artemis. The river-deity, Scamander, met flame-wielding Hephaestus in battle. Yet, possibly the most impressive match-up was between Apollo and Poseidon, a fight between the sun and the seas.

The battle between Apollo and Poseidon, unfortunately, proved quickly to be one-sided—Apollo suddenly decided he didn't want to fight his uncle, and wisely called a truce. It is safe to say that Apollo made a good choice; Homer vividly described the palpable power flowing from Poseidon, brother of Zeus:

“The foothills and peaks
Of Mount Ida of the many springs were shaken; Ilium and the
Greek ships trembled; and in the underworld Hades, lord of the
Dead, took fright and leapt with a cry from his throne. He was
Afraid earthshaker Poseidon might split open the ground above
His head and expose to mortal and immortal eyes the horrible
Decaying chambers that fill the gods themselves with loathing.”
  • (Homer, The Iliad, Book 20, Penguin Classics, 2014).

Such was the awful power that Poseidon exhibited in his frenzied state of excitement as he prepared to faced down the archer-god, Apollo. With this power, shaking the earth to the depths of Hades, Poseidon and his comrades in the pro-Greek faction were able to win the day, overwhelming the gods who had sided with Troy. Bolstered by their victorious divine support, the Greek forces were able to press the Trojans back into their city of Ilium, and Achilles brought the scene to a climax by killing the Trojan champion, Hector. Yet, despite this show of force, the Trojan city of Ilium did not fall. It would take some cleverness from Odysseus for that to finally occur.

Written by C. Keith Hansley.

Top picture attribution: (Poseidon graphic (augmented), [Public Domain] via maxfreepixel.com)

Sources:  
  • The Iliad by Homer, translated by E. V. Rieu and edited by Peter Jones. New York: Penguin Classics, 2014.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Laurentius, The Second Archbishop Of Canterbury, Supposedly Was Whipped Into Action By The Long-Dead Apostle Peter



In 604, Laurentius (also known as Laurence) became the second archbishop of Canterbury. When he took his prestigious position, the future of the Catholic Church in Britain must have looked bright—two major kings, Æthelbert (or Ethelbert) of Kent and Saberht of Essex, had converted to Christianity, supporting and protecting the religion in their realms.

Yet, twelve years later, Laurentius’ worst nightmares became reality. In 616, both Æthelbert and Saberht died simultaneously. Even worse, the heirs to their kingdoms were all pagans. Adding insult to injury, the new king in Kent even married his own stepmother, which was against the rules of the church. As Catholicism in Kent and Essex began to be flooded by “heathen” pressure, many of Laurentius’ bishops decided to flee from Britain and return to France. Some of the most skilled churchmen quickly left the country, including Melitus and Justus, the future third and fourth archbishops of Canterbury.

Laurentius, himself, apparently made up his mind that a Catholic Church in England was a lost cause, and decided to stay one last night before leaving the British Isles, for good. He planned to spend his final night in a church that was dedicated to the two apostles, Peter and Paul. This decision was either his best or his worst idea, depending on your reaction to the weird finale of this story.

Unfortunately, the archbishop of Canterbury would not sleep peacefully in that church. No, not by far. According to Venerable Bede (673-735 CE), the long-dead apostle Peter—one of the leaders of Jesus’ apostles and supposedly the first bishop of Rome—was extremely displeased with Laurentius. As the story goes, Peter was so irked by the actions of Laurentius that he personally descended from heaven to set the archbishop of Canterbury back on the right path.

What followed was weird. Peter appeared before Laurentius and chastised the priest for abandoning his flock, while others (Peter included) had faced martyrdom for their religion. While criticizing the archbishop with accusations such as these, the apostle supposedly struck Laurentius with savage blows from a heavy whip, or scourge. By morning, the bizarre mystical beating had convinced Archbishop Laurentius to remain in Britain.

Laurentius immediately sought, and obtained, an audience with the pagan king of Kent, Eadbald (r. 616-640), the son of Æthelbert. When he stood before King Eadbald, the sore and tired archbishop described the miraculous punishment that he had experienced during the night. According to Bede, he then dramatically removed his robe and let the king look upon his holy welts, in all of their bruised glory. As the story goes, King Eadbald was convinced by the sight and immediately converted, promising to follow and protect the Catholic Church.

Written by C. Keith Hansley.

Top picture attribution: (Archbishop of Canterbury (probably Edmund), Illustrations from the Nuremberg Chronicle, by Hartmann Schedel (1440-1514), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

Sources:
  •   Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People (and relevant letters), translated by Leo Sherley-Pride, R. E. Latham and D. H. Farmer (Penguin Classics, 2003). 
  • http://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofEngland/Archbishops-of-Canterbury/  
  • https://www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-Laurentius-of-Canterbury 
  • https://www.britannica.com/biography/Eadbald  
  • https://www.britannica.com/biography/Saberht

Monday, September 11, 2017

The Unstable Sea Battle of Corfu Between Robert Guiscard And Venice



By the end of 1084 or early 1085, Robert Guiscard, a Norman lord who managed to build himself an impressive empire in Italy and Sicily, had been at war with the Byzantine Empire for several long years. In 1081, he led an invasion to challenge the new Byzantine emperor of Constantinople, Alexios Komnenos (r. 1081-1118), and was initially successful in his endeavor. The Normans won several victories in the early years of the war. They took the coastal fortress and city of Dyrrakhion, and defeated an army led by Emperor Alexios, in the process. Led by Guiscard’s son, Bohemond, the Normans raided the empire, pressing into central Greece, even reaching Ionia and the eastern reaches of the Byzantine Empire, in modern Turkey. Yet, as the years went on, Emperor Alexios began to turn the tide of the war—the man just never gave up. He kept evading unwise battles and kept rebuilding his forces, waiting for an opportune moment to strike. Alexios’ patience paid off; he soon began to win victories against the Normans, and was able to push the bulk of the invasion back all the way to Albania.

That brings us back to the Battle of Corfu in late 1084 or early 1085. Even though Bohemnond’s campaign against the Byzantine Empire had taken a definite turn for the worse, Robert Guiscard was not ready to give up on his ambitions in Greece. Instead, he mobilized another army and navy for a second invasion of the Byzantine Empire.

After dropping troops off in Greece at Butrint, Guiscard sailed toward the rebellious island of Corfu, situated between the heel of Italy and Greece. According to Anna Komnene (daughter of Emperor Alexios), the Byzantine emperor discovered that Corfu was Guiscard’s destination. Emperor Alexios then sent this valuable information to his allies, the Venetians, and they coordinated together in hunting down the Norman fleet. When Guiscard received word that the Byzantine and Venetian navies were closing in on him, he set up a defensive position at Kassiopi, on the northeastern end of the Island of Corfu. There, Robert Guiscard suffered two successive defeats, but he emerged from the battles with his fleet still intact.

According to Anna Komnene, the Byzantine and Venetian navies parted and went their separate ways after their moderate victory over Guiscard at Kassiopi. The Venetians headed to the port in the main city of Corfu, while the other allied ships sailed back to mainland Greece. Robert Guiscard, however, was battered, but not defeated—he left Kassiopi and pursued the Venetians to the port of Corfu.

Guiscard’s sudden attack caught the Venetian fleet totally by surprise. According to Anna Komnene, the Normans charged the Venetians, who made an interesting fortification out of their ships—they apparently chained their fleet together in a circle, with large ships on the outside and small vessels within. The Norman siege of this floating fortress went on for a long time. If Anna Komene’s sources were correct, the battle raged on for such a length of time that the Venetian fleet ran out of their stockpile of supplies, making their ships much lighter in weight than usual. Ultimately, the Normans triumphed over the Venetians in the Battle of Corfu. Anna Komnene recorded an interesting theory about the battle’s final moments; she wrote that the Venetian ships had become so light by the end of the battle, that when the soldiers rushed to defend the assaulted sides of their ships, the vessels tilted and began to take on water. Komnene estimated that around 13,000 Venetian sailors drowned as a result of the battle. The ships and crew that survived the battle were captured by the Norman fleet.

Although Robert Guiscard won an impressive victory in the Battle of Corfu, the Venetians would have their revenge. Another Venetian fleet hunted down the Norman camp at Butrint and won a redemptive victory. Nevertheless, the biggest blow to Norman ambitions in the Byzantine Empire was the death of Robert Guiscard, who died in 1085, after falling ill mere months after the Battle of Corfu. Yet, even though Robert Guiscard was gone, his son, Bohemond, would continue to be a very real threat to the Byzantine Empire for decades to come.

Written by C. Keith Hansley.

Top picture attribution: (A 19th century engraving of a Venetian galley fighting at the battle of Curzola in 1298, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).

Sources:
  • The Alexiad by Anna Komnene, translated by E. R. A. Sewter. New York: Penguin Classics, 2009.  
  • https://www.britannica.com/biography/Robert-duke-of-Apulia