The Battle of Civitate - 18th June 1053

The Battle of Civitate - 1053

The Normans had begun to arrive in Italy around 1015, initially as pilgrims visiting the shrine of Saint Michael, "the warrior saint", at Monte Gargano in Apulia, Southern Italy. Their warlike nature was soon acknowledged by various local warlords and soon they found themselves in demand as mercenaries for the patchwork of Italo-Lombard kingdoms and dukedoms that sprawled across the centre of the Italian peninsular. As well as their internal rivalry, these small kingdoms also feared attack from their two more powerful neighbours, the Holy Roman Empire to the north and the Byzantine Empire to the south, not to mention raids by pirates and Muslim forces who occupied Sicily. In short, the need for good quality, hard fighting mercenaries was never in so much demand and the Normans were only too happy to help anyone with sufficient payment, with more and more arriving from France as each year passed. When some of their employers began to run low on money they opted for gifts of territory instead and by the 1040's they had established three distinct dukedoms of their own; Aversa, south of Naples was held by Richard Drengot who had arrived in 1046 with 40 knights, Melfi on the Apulian border on the east coast was held by Humphrey D'Hauteville, and finally Robert Guiscard held territory in Calabria, the toe of the Italian boot.

In 1049 a new pope was anointed, Pope Leo IX and the following year he went on a tour of southern Italy to assess the political situation throughout the land. He was shocked to find that almost everywhere he heard bad things about the Normans, their brutality in local governance and constant use of strong arm tactics against innocent people. They were after all, masters of the feudal system, but the pope found it abhorrent and the following year when he went to visit the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry III, he requested military assistance to bring the Norman nuisance to an end. This almost happened in 1052, when Henry agreed and sent an army south, only for it to be recalled before crossing the Alps after his advisors persuaded him not to intervene, albeit for their personal reasons of not particularly liking the pope. Undeterred, the pope asked the Duke of Lorraine for help and he sent 700 Swabians, fierce Germanic infantry famed for their two handed swords. In addition to these various other regions from Germany and around Italy sent men; Apulia, Gaeta, Campania, and many more - basically everyone that the Normans had ever rubbed up the wrong way. By 1053 Pope Leo had around 6,000 men and in addition to that he then agreed an alliance with the Byzantines. A plan was conceived that the Papal army would march south east and the Byzantines north to surround and defeat the largest Norman territory of Melfi on the east coast. Hearing of these plans, Humphrey requested all available help from the two other Norman territories and both Richard and Robert force marched cross country to join him in what was going to be possibly the end of the Normans in Italy. Despite these two joining Humphrey, the Normans could still only muster 3,500 men, it was therefore vital to stop the pope and the Byzantines from joining forces and with that in mind the Normans advanced north to face Pope Leo's army near Civitate.

Suggested initial set up for the Battle of Civitate 1053

ORDERS OF BATTLE using figure/men ratio of 1:25


Humphrey D'Hauteville Duke of Apulia - Commander in Chief - Veteran, Elite, Fierce Warrior, Inspirational Leader

Norman Knights (1000 men) - 40 figures - Heavy cavalry, close order, armoured, veteran, fierce warriors, lance, shield

Richard of Aversa - Sub Commander - Veteran, Elite, Fierce Warrior, Inspirational Leader

Norman Knights (1000 men) - 40 figures - Heavy cavalry, close order, armoured, veteran, fierce warriors, lance, shield

Robert Guiscard -Sub Commander - Veteran, Elite, Fierce Warrior, Inspirational Leader

Norman Knights (1000 men) - 40 figures - Heavy cavalry, close order, armoured, veteran, fierce warriors, lance, shield

Slavic Infantry (500 men) - 20 figures - Open Order infantry, light armour, trained, steady, spear, shield


Rudolf, Prince of Benevento - Commander in Chief - Veteran, Experienced, Average Leader

2 units of Crossbowmen ( 2 x 300 men) 2 x 12 figures - Trained, inexperienced, militia, crossbow

2 units of Infantry (2 x 700 men) 2 x 28 figures - Trained, inexperienced, militia, spear, shield

2 units of Knights (2 x 1000 men) 2 x 40 figures - Heavy cavalry, close order, armoured, trained, experienced, lance, shield

Werner Von Maden - Sub Commander - Veteran, Elite, Fierce Warrior, Good Leader

Swabian Infantry (700 men) 28 figures - Close Order, Heavy infantry, veteran, elite, armour, 2 handed swords, shield

Albert Von Winterthur - Sub Commander - Veteran, Experienced, Average Leader

German Archers - (300 men) 12 figures - Open Order infantry, light armour, trained, steady, bow

German Infantry - (700 men) 28 figures - Close Order infantry, medium armour, trained, steady, spear, shield


Pope Leo had opted not to been seen fighting a battle so had taken refuge in the town of Civitate with his Papal Guard, appointing Rudolf of Benevento as his field commander. There were in fact quite a lot of Dukes and Lords in the Papal army due to it's multi-dukedom make up, each with their own group of troops. This led to a rather disorganised deployment, with the infantry especially appearing more like a rabble than organised soldiers.

The battle opened with Richard of Aversa leading a powerful charge of his knights across the open ground towards Rudolf's men. Despite being hugely outnumbered, these Normans thundered through the poorly formed infantry, scattering them before then crashing into the cavalry. The ferocity of the charge sent the entire left wing of the Papal army into flight back to Civitate with Richard and his knights in hot pursuit.

In the centre, Humphrey charged the Swabians to his front who held a good position on the crest of a ridge that ran across the battlefield. Unlike their Italian comrades they stood their ground and wielding their two handed swords repulsed the charge. Humphrey regrouped and charged again, and again, and again, each time the Swabians stood firm, causing increasing casualties to the Norman knights. One witness reportedly said he saw "bodies of knights cut in two with dismembered horses laying along the line of battle". Robert Guiscard, initially holding back as a reserve, now charged forward too, smashing into the German infantry to his front and with his Slavic infantry sent them into a rout. Unlike Richard who chased after the Papal soldiers, Robert rallied his men and turned to smash the flank of the Swabians to support Humphrey's next full frontal charge. Even being attacked on two sides did not weaken the Swabian's resolve, who now formed a tight square of swordsmen and continued to hold back the Norman charges, inflicting heavy losses on the mounted knights. Just as Humphrey was beginning to think further attacks looked futile against such stubborn resistance, Richard of Aversa returned with his knights and charged the Swabians in the other flank and rear. Now totally surrounded and vastly outnumbered with no means of escape, the Swabians began to lose men, gradually forming a smaller and tighter formation, they opted to keep fighting to the last man.

After hours of bloody, savage fighting, the Normans had won the battle. As they advanced to Civitate the citizens of the town overwhelmed the pope and his guard and threw them out of the city walls to the Normans, who promptly took Leo as hostage. He was held prisoner for the next nine months until written assurances were granted by all their enemies that the Norman lands would be recognised as legitimate hereditary territories. They expanded on these over future generations and notably Robert Guiscard with his brother Roger captured Sicily from the Muslims, creating the Norman Kingdom of Sicily in 1130.


This is an excellent engagement to fight in miniature, and a fantastic change to the usual Norman v Saxon "hastings" style wargames. The Papal army would look very much like their Norman opponents in armour and dress, but with generally round shields instead of kite ones, so it should be easy to form up both sides.

If you're inspired to re-fight this battle then we suggest two looks at our online store.

The fabulous 15mm Dark Age range form Splintered Light Miniatures (USA) and available exclusively in the UK and Europe from ourselves.

Or for those who prefer boardgames, the brilliant Cry Havoc hexmap game called GUISCARD lets you re-fight Robert Guiscard's battles across southern Italy and Sicily. The artwork of the counters is out of this world which helps make this range of games still hugely popular over 40 years after being first created.