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7-08-2015, 23:44

Introduction: muslims, byzantines and lombards

The last seventy years of the ninth century were an era of disorder and continued crisis in southern Italy. The government of the principality of Benevento, which ruled over most of the south of the peninsula, was riven by succession disputes which led to the formal partition of the principality in 849. But far from ending the contention, this division gave only a brief pause in the internecine strife.Muslim attacks from Sicily andNorth Africa threatened to swamp a feeble and divided Christian defence, and the local rulerswere far more intent on their internal power struggles than on making any coherent and effective stand against the invader. However, the years round about 900 marked a very significant change, with regard both to the internal stability of southern Italy and also to its relative freedom from external threat – or at least from the threat of conquest rather than sporadic raiding. For much of the tenth century the land was not exactly peaceful, but freed at least from the dreary litany of civil war and the establishment of territorial footholds for further Muslim advance that had made the previous period a troubled one, the impact of which had been reflected in the pessimism of contemporary chroniclers such as Erchempert, and in the number of charters mentioning relatives or fellow monks captured by the Saracens. This change was marked by three factors. First, there was the revival of Byzantine power in the late ninth century. Under the governorship of Nikephoros Phokas in the 880s the Byzantines had recovered much of northern Calabria and consolidated their hold in southern Apulia (see above, p. 460). The creation of the new theme of Langobardia in this period was part of the process of consolidation, as was the creation of new dioceses in Calabria after 886. Visits by local rulers to Constantinople, such as those of Guaimar I of Salerno (880–900) in 887 and Landulf I of Benevento in 910, as well as the use once again of the regnal years of the Byzantine emperor in the dating clauses of documents from both the cities of the west coast and in the Lombard principalities, demonstrate the restored prestige of the empire.1 Secondly, there was much greater internal stability in those parts of southern Italy not ruled by Byzantium. In 900 a bloodless coup had installed Atenulf I of Capua (900–10) as ruler of Benevento, and a few months later another coup displaced Guaimar I of Salerno, who was despatched to end his days as a monk. But while these events might seem to have been merely a continuation of the ninth-century chaos in the Lombard principalities, in fact they marked its end. The union of the two principalities of Capua and Benevento was to last for eighty-one years, and Guaimar I was merely replaced by his son, who remained as prince, apparently unchallenged, until his death in old age in 946. Thirdly, there was the threat from Islam. The conquest of Taormina, the last major Byzantine bastion in Sicily, early in 902, was indeed the prelude to a renewed invasion of the Calabrian mainland in the late summer of that year. But the death of its leader, Ibrahim ‘Abd-Allah, at Cosenza in October marked not just the end of that invasion, but also the end of serious threat for many years; internal instability proved as much of a problem in Islamic Sicily in the tenth century as it had in Lombard southern Italy in the ninth. Thus from around 900 onwards the political structures of southern Italy remained, at least outwardly, more or less in equilibrium. Apulia and Calabria were ruled by the Byzantine empire, each with its own provincial government, based respectively at Bari and (probably) at Reggio. Southern Campania and the Cilento region formed the Lombard principality of Salerno, which had been created by the division of 849. The central mountain region and the bulk of the Terra di Lavoro – the two principalities of Capua and Benevento2 – were ruled by the descendants of Atenulf I of Capua, to judge by their surviving diplomata largely from Capua. Three coastal duchies, Gaeta, Naples and Amalfi, retained their independence from the Lombard principalities, as they had always jealously done, but each was really just one city with a very small dependent territory. Given how limited were their hinterlands, their economies were largely dependent on overseas trade. The effective cessation ofMuslim attempts at conquest after 902 still left one very serious problem for the security of the principalities of the west coast unresolved, namely the Saracen colony at the mouth of theGarigliano river, established around 881. From here the north of the principality of Capua and the Abruzzi region lay at the invaders’ mercy. Indeed in 881– 3 raiders from the Garigliano had destroyed the famous and prosperous inland monasteries ofMonte Cassino and San Vincenzo al Volturno, whose surviving monks had had to take refuge in Capua for a generation or more. A first attack on the Garigliano base, launched by Atenulf I of Capua in 903, failed, not least because of support lent to the Saracens by the forces of the duke of Gaeta.3 Under papal auspices a second, successful attack was made in 915. A prolonged diplomatic campaign by the papacy and the Byzantine government deprived theMuslims of their Christian allies – the coastal cities of Amalfi and Gaeta, whose trading interests had led them to seek accommodation with the Arabs. It also secured the reinforcement of the local armies of Capua and the duchy of Naples by troops from central Italy and from Byzantine Apulia, under the personal command of the strat¯egos of Langobardia.4 The destruction of the Garigliano colony ensured that southern Italy was in future free from serious Muslim threat; raids on Calabria continued intermittently for much of the century, but were often bought off by the payment of tribute. Occasionally such attacks also menaced southern Apulia; for example, Oria was sacked in 925 and Taranto a few years later. But these were essentially plundering expeditions, not attempts to establish bridgeheads for further conquest. As such, they were of only very limited significance.

 

 

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