East and West
Pope Leo IX stared down from the ramparts with horror. On the battlefield before him lay an army of corpses. Once vigorous men of war, they had marched under the papal banner at his command to this forsaken place in southern Italy, a town named Civitate.
This post is the first in reviewing this second book from what is intended to be a four-part history of Christendom – from Pentecost to our day. Strickland begins with a brief review of the events immediately prior to the Great Schism of 1054. And he begins with this battle, taking place in the prior year.
The intent was to rid southern Italy of the Normans. Never before had a Pope raised an army under his banner. He came to this after failing to receive help from Byzantium – no surprise, given the low state of relations at the time. He did receive a battalion from the emperor, Henry III. Beyond this, he raised and financed his own army.
He had consecrated its violence by equating combat with martyrdom. Dying beneath the papal banner had become, in his case at least, a path to salvation.
The Pope’s army greatly outnumbered the Normans, yet were beaten. A Norman commander, Robert Guiscard, managed to outflank the papal forces. They were destroyed, while their leader watched helplessly.
The environment at the time included the Western Church just coming out of more than a century of scandal – the Vatican serving as a brothel, with nepotism and bribery rampant. Michael Cerularius, in the East,
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