‘Part of our commonwealth’: a study of the Normans in eleventh-century Byzantine historiography

Normans‘Part of our commonwealth’: a study of the Normans in eleventh-century Byzantine historiography

Alexander Olson (Simon Fraser University)

Simon Fraser University: Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences Master of Arts (2009)


In the eleventh century several Norman mercenaries went to Byzantium where they alternately served or rebelled against the Empire. This thesis examines how Byzantine courtier’s knowledge of Roman histories affected their perception of these Normans. At first, Byzantine courtiers took little notice of the Normans, and did not use Roman histories in order to categorize or portray them. But as various Normans attained significant power within Byzantium, Byzantine courtiers began to struggle with issues of defining them. Two Byzantine courtier-historians, Michael Psellos and Michael Attaleiates, drew material and parallels from Roman histories to argue for the integration of the Normans into the Byzantine elite. These two historians made their arguments by portraying particular Normans as capable leaders, by constructing genealogies that gave the Normans and Byzantines a common ancestry, and by using ancient ethnic labels to define the Normans as a group that had a special relationship with Byzantium.

In the spring of 1074 a Byzantine courtier, the protovestes Basileios Maleses, from his vantage point in Bithynia (now modem Turkey) stared across the straits that separate Europe from Asia. He was waiting for a message from the Byzantine Roman emperor, who was in the imperial palace on the European side of the water. I Maleses had suffered injustices at the emperor’s hands: his property had been seized and his children were being held hostage in Constantinople. He was, however, feeling optimistic about the situation because he was now acting as an advisor to Roussel of Bailleul, a Norman general who had been a successful defender of the empire’s eastern front and had held the prestigious Byzantine title ofvestes? Roussel was leading a rebellion against the emperor and was demanding (through Maleses as an intermediary) that the Roman imperial throne


Click here to read this article from Simon Fraser University


Sign up for our weekly email newsletter!