Cities of the Norman worlds


Today a humble northern town in the province of Basilicata, on the slopes of Mount Vulture, in Norman times Melfi owed its importance to its position in the border area between Byzantine Apulia and the old Lombard principalities. It also played a founding role for the Hauteville dynasty.

After the Sicilian expedition of 1038, the Norman mercenaries, of whom the Prince of Salerno had thought himself rid, withdrew to Melfi, a Byzantine fortified town founded by the catepan Basile Boioannes in c. 1018-1028. Among these Normans were the elder Hautevilles, William Bras de Fer, Dreux and Humphrey, who soon became the heads of a "republic" of twelve counts sharing the town and the conquered territories.

Arriving later in Italy and being sent to Calabria by his elder brothers, Robert Guiscard returned to Melfi to succeed to his brother Humphrey, who died in 1057. It was there that, benefiting from the conflict between the papacy and the Holy Roman Empire, Robert obtained from Pope Nicholas II title to the duchies of Apulia, Calabria and Sicily yet to be conquered. Desiderius of Monte Cassino brokered this decisive synod at Melfi in 1059.

Robert Guiscard stayed regularly at the first Norman castle, refitted in the 13th c. The present-day cathedral, which came in for a great deal of damage, was founded under the monarchy in 1153. Its bishop had the privilege of coming directly under the Holy See. Finally, Melfi was very close to the dynastic sanctuary of Venosa where Robert Guiscard is buried.

After the centre of Norman power was moved to Salerno (1077), and later the founding of the monarchy at Palermo (1130), Melfi remained a crossroads in the organization of the Norman domains. In 1089, four years after the death of Robert Guiscard, Pope Urban II came to Melfi to preach the peace of God and the crusade. In 1129, Roger II proclaimed a general peace at Melfi before his accession to the monarchy. The city was loyal to the Normans and in 1137 opposed the expedition of the Holy Roman Emperor Lothair III. Later, Frederick II chose it to be one of its places of residence and in 1231 promulgated the laws of his kingdom, the Constitutions of Melfi.

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