The beginning of the 11th century was the peak of the glory of Byzantium of the era of the Macedonian dynasty. After the victorious campaigns of Emperor Basil II (reigned in 976-1025), the Eastern Roman Empire regained its sovereignty over a number of territories from the Armenian Mountains to the Italian Peninsula. But Basil was not able to conquer Sicily, albeit he was very close to a Sicilian campaign at the end of his reign.
The conquest of Sicily and a number of territories in Syria and Mesopotamia would become the merits of one of the most talented commanders of the empire, Gevorg (George) Maniakes. History knows only a few examples of the conquest of Christian territories from the Arabs, and Sicily is one of the most important among them.
George Maniakes (Greek: Γεώργιος Μανιάκης, Armenian: Գևորգ Մանյակ; Italian: Giorgio Maniace; died in 1043) was an 11th-century Byzantine commander who conquered Sicily for Byzantium in 1038-1040. Maniakes was an Armenian by descent.
Byzantine Green monk, writer, politician, and historian Michael Psellos mentions his personal impressions from the meeting with Maniakes:
“His height was shy of three meters, and to look at him, people had to lift their eyes as if they were looking at the top of a hill or a high mountain. His manners were not soft or pleasant but reminiscent of a storm. His voice sounded like thunder, and his hands seemed to be able to tear down walls or break bronze doors. He could jump like a lion, and his frown was terrible. And everything else in him was excessive. Those who saw him found any description of him that they had heard to be an understatement.”
In 1038, distinguished during the Eastern wars, protospatharios George Maniakes was appointed the catepan of Italy by Emperor Michael IV the Paphlagonian. At the same time, he was appointed the local strategos. As a catepan, he was entrusted with the obligation to conquer all of Italy and take Sicily from the Arabs.
By this time, Maniakes had been considered the most brilliant general of his time. As already noted [in the source post], he had established himself in Syria, having won an important strong point for the empire of Edessa. And when he was assigned the Italian catepan, it was Sicily’s turn.
The army of Maniakes was complex and included regular troops from the themes of Calabria and Macedonia, 500 Armenian infantrymen and 300 cavalrymen under the command of Kekaumenos, as well as mercenary Lombard troops and 300-500 hired Norman knights under the command of L. Arduen, Drogo brothers, and William (sent by Prince Salerno, a vassal of the Empire). In addition, the Varangian Guard, an elite Byzantine guard regiment consisting of Russians and Scandinavians and headed by the legendary Harald Sigurdsson, fought in the army of Maniakes.
Maniakes’ troops operated in Sicily brilliantly, capturing 13 cities, among them Syracuse, Messina, and Rometta. In 1040, the combined 60,000-strong (according to the most conservative estimates) Arab army of Abdallah suffered a crushing defeat in the battle of Traina. Actively using an approach called “eye, speed, and onslaught”, Maniakes completed the campaign in 1041, conquering Sicily in less than 3 years.
But envy and intrigue would destroy the career of the brilliant general.
Initially, the Normans left his army, dissatisfied with the division of trophies. Then, he had a quarrel with the fleet commander Stefan, the brother of the emperor. As a result, Maniakes was removed from command, accused of treason, and delivered to Constantinople.
Soon, he was released by the new emperor Michael V. He returned to Italy as commander in chief of the imperial troops on the peninsula. But after a victorious campaign against the Apulian rebels, he was again slandered and recalled to Constantinople. The patience of Maniakes burst – he proclaimed himself the emperor but found death in 1043 in the battle with the troops loyal to Emperor Constantine.
P.S. In Sicilian history, George Maniakes remained mainly as the kidnapper of the relics of St. Lucia, the patroness of Syracuse. The saint was buried in the Syracuse catacombs bearing her name. Taking Syracuse, Maniakes broke open the wall covering the tomb, took the body which, according to Amatus of Montecassino, would remain incorrupt and fragrant, and sent it to Constantinople. In the church of Santa Lucia Fuori le Mura, the hole in the wall made by Maniakes through which the relics were stolen can still be seen.
Original material by Grigor Avanesov – Antitopor