A short account of the Battle of Dyrrhachium (1081)

One of the most important battles of the eleventh century took place on October 18, 1081 at Dyrrhachium (present-day Durrës in Albania). Here Robert Guiscard, Duke of Apulia and Calabria and his Norman forces defeated Emperor Alexios I Comnenus and the Byzantine Empire.
Several accounts of this battle exist, but we wanted to present for you a short entry from Annales Lupi Protospatharii, a chronicle written in southern Italy by Lupus Protospatharius. This work offers year-by-year accounts, starting in 855. The entries at the beginning are short, usually just one sentence long, but as it goes to its end point at the year 1102, the accounts get more detailed. The Annales offers an interesting look at the Norman arrival in Italy during the 11th century, and the many conflicts they had in the region.

The description of the Battle of Dyrrhachium is not long. Protospatharius begins by noting that in the year earlier the deposed Byzantine Emperor Michael VII Doukas had arrived in Italy seeking Duke Robert’s help to restore him to this throne. Robert agreed and in the spring of 1081 launched a fleet to invade Greece.

The chronicle then states:

And Duke Robert reached Otranto with the aforementioned Emperor Michael. He sent ahead ships to the island of Corfu, and they captured it; and he went there himself after a short time, along with the Emperor. And in the month of July they laid siege to Durrës, both by land and sea; but the Venetian fleet came and broke the blockade, and opened the sea to the inhabitants of Durrës.

Protospatharius then places the next set of events in the year 1082, but this is because he has the beginning of the year start in September for all his entries. He writes:

And this year the Emperor Alexius [I Comnenus] gathered a large army and began with Duke Robert not far from Durrës, and he was forced to turn and flee. More than 6000 of his men fell in that battle; there had been more than 70,000 in his army. And in the month of January Duke Robert took the city of Durrës through the treachery of a few of the Venetians.

Historians estimate that the Byzantine Empire was much smaller in size - between 20,000 and 25,000, but that figure of 6000 dead is in line with other figures. The capture of Durrës / Dyrrhachium also more likely took place in February of 1082, with Venetian or Amalfian citizen opening the gates to the Normans.

This translation comes from The Annales Barenses and the Annales Lupi Protospatharii: Critical Edition and Commentary, by William Joseph Churchill Jr. a PhD Dissertation from the University of Toronto in 1979.

Map by MapMaster / Wikimedia Commons

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