Self evidently a book with the title ‘The Norman Campaigns in the Balkans 1081-1108’ is going to be on my must read list. The story of the Normans in Italy, as brilliantly told by John Julius Norwich, inspired my interest in the Normans much more than the Norman conquest. A Sicilian-Norman army served me well for many years on the wargames table.
It is one of history’s great stories. How a handful of Norman knights made their way from mercenaries to rule impressive and multicultural kingdoms.
Norwich covers the Norman conquest of Italy and Sicily, but says little about Robert Guiscard’s invasion of the Byzantine Empire in the Balkans. Georgios Theotokis in this new study (in affordable paperback) covers similar ground in his description of the events in Italy. He describes the Norman and Byzantine institutions and their respective armies. He also covers a neglected subject, the navies of both sides.
The invasion of the Balkans is covered in just two chapters, less than a quarter of the book. In fairness, he covers all the primary sources and therefore there probably isn’t much else to say. None the less, the title is a bit misleading.
The most famous battle is Dyrrhachium 1081, which GDWS did as a display game at the Glasgow Wappinshaw show in 2005. Not forgetting the role played by Guiscard’s wife Sichelgaita in rallying the Normans.
This is a solid academic study, although far removed from Norwich’s glorious narrative that reads more like a work of historical fiction. If you have read nothing about this period, I would read this book first and then move on to the story telling master that is John Julius Norwich.