Graham A. Loud. The Age of Robert Guiscard: Southern Italy and the Norman Conquest. The Medieval World. Essex: Longman, 2000. xii + 329pp. $26.00 (paper), ISBN 978-0-582-04529-3.
Reviewed by Louis I. Hamilton (Core Humanities Department, Villanova University)
Published on H-Italy (August, 2001)
Graham Loud is one of the most important scholars of Norman Italy in the English speaking world today and his Age of Robert Guiscard is especially welcome. Eleventh-century southern Italy is of increasing interest to scholars today as the origin of the "twelfth-century renaissance," the launching point of European expansion east, and an important basis for the reforming papacy's conflict with imperial partisans. It is a fascinating culture in its own right where Latin, Greek, and Arab worlds met and (as Loud demonstrates repeatedly) often coexisted fruitfully. For at least these reasons, Robert Guiscard has been the subject of recent monographs in French and German (Jean-Marie Martin, Italie Normandes XIe- XIIe siecles [Paris, 1994]; Huguette Tavianni-Carozzi, La terreur du monde; Robert Guiscard et la conquete normande en Italie [Paris, 1996]; and Richard Bunemann, Robert Guiskard 1015-1085, Ein Normanne erobert Suditalien [Koln, 1997]). In Italian there is Paolo Delogu, I Normanni in Italia: Cronache della conquista e del regno (Naples, 1984). Anglophone readers, meanwhile, have been hampered by the lack of a reliable monograph on the topic and Loud's work provides an excellent resource for future students of southern Italy in general and Norman Italy in particular. While The Age of Robert Guiscard has weaknesses, the significance of the subject, the gap in the historiography, as well as the quality of the scholarship are such that any institution where medieval Italy is studied should have a copy of this work.
The strengths of Loud's scholarship are political and social and the work reflects these. Loud provides the reader with a very useful overview of "Southern Italy before the Normans" (chapter I, pp. 12-48) prior to a long discussion of the arrival of the Normans and their "conquest" of the southern Italian peninsula and Sicily (chapters II- IV, pp. 60-165). The remaining two chapters are separate essays on "The Normans, the papacy, and the two empires"(chapter V, pp. 186-223), and "Government and society in Norman Italy" (chapter VI, pp. 234- 278). A brief conclusion, genealogical tables, five maps, and a bibliographic essay complete the work.
Robert Guiscard's career was an exciting one, even if it was, as Loud observes, "something of a dead end" (p. 294). There can be little doubt that his legacy left a permanent mark on Southern Italy and the Mediterranean, destabilizing both Byzantine and Arab control of the Mediterranean, and merging Norman with Lombard Italy. That his was not a conquest of Southern Italy per se, however, has everything to do with the gradual "infiltration" of Normans in the early eleventh century and the need for Guiscard to assert himself as the leader of established rulers rather than their equal. His constant campaigning in Southern Italy and the Mediterranean emerges here in great political detail as a struggle not between Lombards and Normans, Greeks and Latins, Muslims and Christians, or empires and insurgents, but rather as a whole series of permutations of these possible relationships (pp. 235 and 268 for examples). The variability in the alliance between Guiscard and Gregory VII, or between Desiderius, the Lombard abbot of Montecassino, and Guiscard, for example, can now be more fully appreciated in terms of the shifts in Italian, Mediterranean, or pan-European political dynamics that were always their context. Thus, Loud finds "no evidence that there was any long-term papal policy" toward the Normans, and that too much has been made of the oath of fealty, or lack thereof, to the papacy (pp. 207-208). Loud's study is most successful in tracing out just these sorts of shifting dynamics, and so avoiding unnecessary teleologies. He has also very helpfully laid out the five basic kin-groups in Norman Italy that should enable the reader to work in the sources with similar dexterity (pp. 246-252).
Loud concludes the body of this work by proposing that another book ("Social Change in Norman Italy") would be required to fully detail his discussion of Italo-Norman society. This is entirely appropriate as much work remains to be done on Norman Italy and the "defects" in The Age of Robert Guiscard can largely be ascribed to gaps in our knowledge of the period. For example, I know of no reliable, full-length military study of the Italo-Normans, neither does Loud cite such a study. As a result, in a book where military matters lie behind so many of the events, and where ninety-two pages are given over to the subject of "conquest" there is no detailed military description of any of the numerous battles, of Guiscard's forces, or how he deployed them. It will be hard to write such a history since the sources are often greatly in conflict in their description of military matters, and very often untrustworthy. Students of that other Norman Conquest might find this absence surprising.
If Loud had chosen to commit a chapter to the sources themselves he would have greatly helped the reader understand why he chose one source in preference of another in military or other matters. A study of the Norman historians exists (Kenneth B. Wolf, Making History the Normans and their Historians in the Eleventh Century [Philadelphia, 1995]) that Loud describes as "interesting but flawed" without explanation (p. 320).
Also absent from the work is any substantial treatment of the use of ritual or architecture to create or enforce the power of Guiscard. And even though San Matteo, the Duomo Guiscard built and Gregory VII dedicated in Salerno, graces the cover of the work it is never considered in detail (H. E. J. Cowdrey, The Age of Abbot Desiderius; Montecassino, the Papacy, and the Normans in the Eleventh and Early Twelfth Centuries [New York, 1983] provides some useful comments). It is also surprising that while Loud is concerned with Latin and Greek rites he makes no suggestions to the reader concerning the liturgy of Southern Italy in his bibliography. Closer attention to Guiscard's building campaigns and use of ritual will help future scholars define the shift from military raids to actual conquest and kingdom building more closely. (For questions of Southern Italian liturgy and architecture in the eleventh century a useful beginning might be made via the essays in Thomas F. Kelly, ed., La cathedrale de Benevent [Ghent, 1999]; and Helene Toubert, _Une art dirige: Reforme gregorienne et iconographie [Paris, 1990]).
Nor does Sichelgaita, a powerful leader in her own right, receive extended scrutiny. Interested readers may consult Dorotea Memoli Apicella, Sichelgaita: tra longobardi e normanni (Salerno, 1997).
Much work remains to be done on eleventh-century Southern Italy and Loud often points out cases where more work is needed. This is an important period for students of medieval Italy, and Graham Loud has provided a much-needed overview of the Norman conquest of Southern Italy that will serve as the fertile ground for many future studies.
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Louis I. Hamilton. Review of Loud, Graham A., The Age of Robert Guiscard: Southern Italy and the Norman Conquest.
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