By Raffaele D’Amato
Porphyra, Supplement 4 (2005)
Introduction: At the beginning of the 11th century Byzantium was at the height of its glory. After the victorious conquests of the Emperor Basil II (976-1025), the East-Roman Empire regained the sovereignty of the Eastern Mediterranean World and extended from the Armenian Mountains to the Italian Peninsula. Calabria, Puglia and Basilicata formed the South-Italian Provinces, called Themata of Kalavria and Laghouvardhia under the control of an High Imperial Officer, the Katepano. But the Empire sought at one time to recover Sicily, held by Arab Egyptian Fatimids, who controlled the island by means of the cadet Dynasty of Kalbits.
The Prôtospatharios Georgios Maniakes was appointed in 1038 by the Emperor Michael IV the Paphlagonian Katepano of Italy, and with the title of Strategos Autokrator (commander in chief) led an army to reconquer the Island. Maniakes was the most brilliant general of his time: in Syria he distinguished himself for his bravery and capacity against the Muslims, gaining for the Empire the important stronghold of Edessa in 1031. Now it seemed to be the right moment for the reconquest of Sicily : the Kalbit Amir Ahmad al-Akhal called for help the East-Romans against internal enemies supported by the african Zirid Dynasty. Maniakes led a composite army: thematic regular troops from Kalavria and Katepanatos, Macedons, 500 Armenian infantrymen and 300 cavalrymen under the command of Katakalon Kekaumenos, including Paulician troops.
In addition to these there were Lombard troops and 300-500 Norman mercenary knights, led by the Lombard Ardouin and by the brothers Drogon and William “Strong-arm”, who were assigned to Maniakes by the Lombard Prince Guaimarius V of Salerno, vassal of the Empire . Furthermore, a detachment of the best Guard regiment, the Varangian Guard, composed by Russians and Scandinavians, fought under his flag, led by the legendary Harald Sigurdson. The campaign began under the best auspices for the Roman Army: 13 cities of East-Sicily – among these Siracusa, Messina, Rometta – were conquered and fortified by Maniakes. At Siracusa he found the remains of Saint Lucia, which he sent to Constantinople. In 1040 the decisive battle took place, nearby Troina, where Maniakes defeated decisively the joint Arabian forces, under the command of Abd-Allah, the Kalif Kairuan’son.