War with the Normans

War with the Normans (1082-83) (i-vii) : Alexius’ First Battle with Heretics – John Italus (viii-ix)

I And meanwhile Robert, entirely freed from anxiety, collected all the booty and the Imperial tent, and, with these trophies and with much exultation, settled down again in the plain which he had occupied before when besieging Dyrrachium. After a short rest he began to consider whether he ought to make another attempt on that city’s walls, or postpone the siege to the following spring and for the present invest Glabinitza and Joanina, and winter there, while lodging all his troops in the sequestered vales that lie above the plain of Dyrrachium.

But the inhabitants of Dyrrachium (the majority of whom were colonists from Amalfi and Venice, as already stated), on hearing of the Emperor’s misfortune, and the terrible carnage, and the death of so many valiant men and the departure of the fleet and Robert’s intention of renewing the siege in the coming spring-on hearing all this they began individually to deliberate what action they had better take to ensure their safety and not incur such risks again. Consequently they called an assembly where they openly stated their private opinions and after discussing the vital points they thought they had found the only path, as it were, out of a pathless wood, which was to decide to listen to Robert and surrender the city to him.

One of the colonists from Amalfi still further incited them to this course, so they allowed themselves to be persuaded by his arguments, and threw open the gates and gave Robert entrance. After taking possession, he sent for the troops and dividing them according to race, enquired of each soldier individually whether he had been seriously wounded or had perhaps received a slight scratch from a sword; at the same time he found out how many and what class of men had fallen in the preceding battles. And, during the winter which was then close at hand, he intended to collect a second army of mercenaries and recruit foreign troops, and at the coming of spring to march against the Emperor with his whole army.

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And I could mention several of them, had not time obliterated their names from my memory. All this took place before my father was elevated to the throne. On his accession he found all education here in a very poor way and the regular study of letters apparently banished afar, he lost no time in raking the ashes together to see whether some live sparks might perchance be bidden under them.

Those who were inclined to learning (and they were but few and had not passed beyond the vestibule of Aristotelian philosophy) he did not cease from encouraging but bade them prefer the study of the sacred writings to Greek literature. He found Italus throwing everything into confusion and leading many astray, so he deputed the Sebastocrator Isaac to examine him, as he was very literary and accustomed to undertaking important duties. When Isaac found that Italus was as report said, he openly censured him in a public meeting and then passed him on to the ecclesiastical tribunal by order o

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IX This man then was the acknowledged master of all philosophy and the youth flocked to him. (For he expounded to them the doctrines of Plato and Proclus, and of the two philosophers, Porphyry and Iamblichus, but especially the rules of Aristotle; and he gave instruction in the system to those who wished, as affording a serviceable tool and it was on this that he rather prided himself and to this he devoted his attention.) Yet he was unequal to exerting a very good influence on his pupils as his violent temper and his general instability of character stood in the way.

And look, I pray, at his pupils-there were Solomon John, and an Iasitas and Serblias and others devoted to learning maybe; most of them I saw myself later, as they often came to the palace. They knew no literary subject accurately, but would pose as dialecticians, making ungainly movements and mad contortions of their limbs, they understood nothing sound but put forth ideas, even those about metempsychosis, i

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Consequently his language was not adaptable nor at all polished. For the same reason, too, his character was austere and entirely unadorned with grace. His studies too had contracted his brows and he literally exhaled harshness. His writings were crammed full of dialectic exordiums and his language in disputations redounded with ‘attempted proofs,’ more so in his discourses than in his written works. He was so strong in his arguments and so difficult to beat that his opponent would automatically be reduced to silence and to despair.

Temper annulled and obliterated the credit

For he would dig a pit either, side of his question and hurl his interlocutor into a well of difficulties. Such skill the man had in dialectics, and by a rapid succession of questions he would overwhelm his opponents by confusing and daunting their minds. And it was impossible for anyone, who had once argued with him, to free himself from these labyrinths. In other ways he was m

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This man had not studied very much under learned professors, but through his natural cleverness and quick intelligence and further by the help of God (which he had obtained by his mother’s ardent supplications, for she often spent whole nights in the church of God weeping and making invocations to the holy picture of the Virgin on her son’s behalf) he had reached the summit of all knowledge, was thoroughly acquainted with Greek and Chaldoean literature and grew famous in those days for his wisdom. Italus, then, became this man’s disciple, but he was never able to plumb the depths of philosophy for he was of such a boorish and barbarous disposition that he could not endure teachers even when learning from them. He was full of daring and barbarous rebelliousness and even before learning a thing, imagined he surpassed everybody else and from the very start he entered the lists against Psellus himself.

Being well versed in dialectics he caused daily commotion

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VIII When he arrived he found the church in a very perturbed condition, and did not even have a short period of relaxation. But as he was a true apostle of the church, and now found it vexed by the teachings of Italus, although he was anxious to march against Bryennius (the Frank who had taken Castoria, as we have said) yet even under these circumstances he did not neglect his faith. For at this time the doctrines of Italus had obtained a great vogue and were upsetting the church.

Now this Italus (for it is necessary to give his history from the beginning) was a native of Italy and had spent a considerable time in Sicily; this is an island situated near Italy. For the Sicilians had rebelled against the Roman rule and were preparing for war against them and invited the Italians to join them; amongst those w1lo came was the father of Italus who brought his son with him, although he was not of military age, and the boy accompanied and tripped along with him and received a mil

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And Bohemund seeing them come rejoiced as ‘a lion who has met with mighty prey,’ to use a Homeric expression, even so he, when he saw the men and the Protostrator Michael with his own eyes, dashed at them with all his forces in an irresistible rush, whereupon they immediately turned and fled. Uzas (who was thus named after his race), a man famous for his bravery and skilled, as Homer says, ‘in wielding, now right now left, the tough bull’s hide that formed his target,’ bent to the right as he was coming out of the entrance and, turning sharply, hit the Latin following him, who straightway f ell headlong to the ground. But Bohemund pursued the fugitives as far as the river Salabrias.

During the flight this same Uzas pierced Bohemund’s standard-bearer with his spear and plucking the standard from his hands waved it aloft a minute, and then lowered it to the ground. When the Latins saw their standard lowered, they were confounded and fled a

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But when he heard the news sent by Bryennius and realized the craftiness and the victory won by guile he was naturally, indeed, furious with the Emperor, but in no wise cast down, so brave was he. A few selected Franks in full armour who were with him, then mounted a small hill opposite Larissa. Directly our heavy troops caught sight of them they demanded very eagerly to be allowed to attack them, but Alexius restrained them from this enterprise.

Nevertheless quite a number from the different divisions and of various types did join together and mounted the hill and attacked the Franks, who immediately rushed at them and killed about five hundred. Then the Emperor guessing at the spot where Bohemund was likely to pass, dispatched brave soldiers with the Turks and Migidenus as chief commander, but as they drew near, Bohemund set upon them and beat them and pursued them to the river.

VII As dawn broke on the following day Bohemund crossed the river we have mentioned

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After thus disposing his own forces, he again followed his usual mode of procedure and thinking the Emperor was where he saw the imperial ensigns in the middle of the line, he dashed down upon this deception like a whirlwind. After a short resistance his opponents turned their backs and he rushed after them in mad pursuit as in our previous descriptions. Meanwhile the Emperor saw his own troops fleeing far, and Bohemund in mad pursuit of them, and when he judged that Bohemund was at a safe distance from the Roman camp, he jumped on his horse, bade his followers do the same, and fell upon Bohemund’s encampment.

Once inside it he slew a number of the Latins he found there and carried off all the booty; then he took another glance at the pursuers and pursued. And observing that his own men were really pretending flight and Bohemund chasing after them and behind him Bryennius, he called George Pyrrhus, a famous archer, and having detached other brave men, and a goodly nu

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And this was to entrust all the divisions to his relatives; as chief commanders he appointed Melissenus Nicephorus and Curticius Basileios, also called ‘Little John’; this man was an outstanding figure renowned for his bravery and military skill, a native of Adrianople. But not only the divisions did he entrust to them but also all the royal standards. Moreover he enjoined them to draw up the army on the same plan as he had drawn it up in the foregoing battles, and advised them first to try the vanguard of the Latin army by a skirmishing attack, then to raise their battle-cry and make a general attack.

But directly the troops were fully engaged they were to turn their backs to the Latins and flee precipitately as if making for Lycostomium. Whilst the Emperor was giving these orders, suddenly all the horses in the army were heard to neigh. Astonishment seized them all; however, the Emperor and the more intelligent of his audience at once interpreted it as a good

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Therefore please make haste if you wish to help us and if you could possibly drive away our assailants, then thanks be to God. But, if not, I, at least, have done my duty; and shortly (for how is it possible to struggle against nature and its imperious demands?) we must bow our heads to necessity and we intend to surrender the fort to the enemy who are pressing us hard and literally throttling us. But if this calamity should eventually come to pass, then may I be accursed! But I now take the liberty of speaking openly to your Majesty.

If you do not hasten with all speed to extricate us from this danger, as we are unable to support the overwhelming burden of warfare, as well as famine, any longer; if you, our Sovereign, do not hasten to bring help when you have the power to do so, then, I say, you will certainly not escape the imputation of betrayal.” From this the Emperor realized that in one way or another he must overcome the foe; and he was oppressed by anxieties