The Norman Campaigns in the Balkans 1081-1108, Georgios Theotokis

The Norman Campaigns in the Balkans 1081-1108, Georgios Theotokis

The 11th century saw two Norman conquests - William I's conquest of England, and the Norman conquest of southern Italy and Sicily. That second conquest was slower and less dramatic than William's victory at Hastings, but just as important, creating a kingdom that lasted into the nineteenth century.

When the Normans arrived in southern Italy large parts of the country were still part of the Byzantine Empire, so clashes between the two began right from the start. It was perhaps inevitable that the Norman leaders would look across the Adriatic towards the Empire's Balkan provinces, and even possibly consider a bid for the throne. During this period the Normans carried out two failed invasions of Byzantium's Balkan provinces, and also played a major part in the First Crusade, so clashes between the two powers were a major feature of the period.

The author begins with a series of thematic chapters. First we look at the various primary sources, established who wrote them, when, why and for whom, and how useful they are for military history. Next are three chapters looking at the two opposing military establishments. This background section finishes with a look at how the Normans established themselves in southern Italy. These chapters are essential for setting the scene for what is to come.

The second part of the book focuses on the two Norman invasions of the Balkans, the Byzantine response to the invasion, and the Norman contribution to the First Crusade. The Balkan campaigns saw a surprising number of major battles, a comparatively rare occurrence in Medieval warfare, and something that Byzantine commanders often tried to avoid. The author has done a good job of recreating these campaigns and analysing the battles and sieges from the often limited descriptions in our sources.

You really do get the impression of a clash between two different time periods - while plenty of things had changed, there were still some elements carried over from antiquity within Byzantium (including high ranking Caesars, peltasts and a unit descended from the Roman Vigiles). This is enhanced by the tendency of our Byzantine sources to use ancient terminology even when it was no longer accurate - we thus read about fleets. On the other side we have Norman cavalry, feudal troops and all of the paraphernalia of the Middle Ages. 
I was aware of these campaigns, but not of the details, so I found this book a very useful addition to my library. It should be of value to anyone interested in Byzantium or the Normans, and to a lesser extent to someone interested in the Crusades.

1 - Primary Sources and the Problems of Military History
2 - Norman Military Institutions in Southern Italy in the Eleventh Century
3 - The Byzantine Army of the Tenth and Eleventh Centuries
4 - The Byzantine Naval Forces of the Tenth and Eleventh Centuries
5 - The Establishment of the Normans in Southern Italy and Sicily
6 - Robert Guiscard's Invasion of Illyria
7 - The Norman Advance in the Balkans and the End of the Dream
8 - Bohemond of Taranto and the First Crusade
9 - The Count's Campaign of 1107 and the Treaty of Devol

Author: Georgios Theotokis
Edition: Hardcover
Publisher: Boydell
Year: 2014

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