The rise of Robert Guiscard

The Normans and the popes : the battle of Civitate (1053)

In order to understand the fluctuations of papal policy with regard to the Normans, it should be remembered that the church considered Mezzogiorno to be under the direct judicial authority of the Holy See. This was why the Church went as far as forgery to support these claims ‘the donation of Constantine’, by which the first Christian Emperor had supposedly delivered to the pope, the basis for papal and jurisdictional claims in Rome and Italy. This claim and affirmation of supremacy, at least spiritual, over all the sovereigns of the Christian world, led the popes to follow a consistent policy to protect their rights in the region. They were faced with the rival claims of the Western emperors (basileus Byzantine) and the Eastern (German emperor) equally seeking the legacy of the Roman Empire.
Thus was formed the first anti-Norman coalition. Pope Leo IX, with the help of his relative, Emperor Henry III, and an alliance of Lombard noblemen undertook a political and military initiative. Their aim was to force out the Normans, going as far as to make a pact with the Byzantines. They confronted the Normans near the river Fortore, not far from Civitate, in Capitanate. Despite an offer of negotiation from the Normans, the battle took place on 18 June 1053. One of the heroes of the battle was Robert Guiscard, one of the youngest of the Hauteville brothers. The papal army was annihilated and the Pope was imprisoned and kept captive for ten months in Benevento.
This defeat was decisive for subsequent relations between the papacy and the Normans. The quarrel regarding the question of Episcopal investiture led to lasting confrontation between the papacy and the German Empire, while in 1054, the separation of Rome and Byzantium was concerned with the question of schism of the Western and Eastern churches. The Pope needed allies. The Normans, from being ‘troublemakers’ had become the armed wing of Christianity.

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