July 31, 2014

Norman Centuries

Tags: Podcasts, History

Available from iTunes and on its blog, Norman Centuries

Following on from his 12 Byzantine Rulers podcast, Lars Bronworth narrated this history of the Normans. I hesitated to write this review, since as the final episode (a recap and historical context) is yet not published. However, the second last episode was published over a year ago, so unfortunately I’m not sure the series will be finished. Currently 19 well produced audio-only podcasts exist (each around 20 minutes in length). The series is largely a historical chronology of events, ranging from Rollo the Viking to Frederick II the Holy Roman Emperor. Lars has also toned down his grandiosity in these podcasts, so my complaint about that in his previous series is not relevant here.

From a modern perspective, the Normans appear as chancers and warlords carving out dominions in failed states; eventually acquiring respectability along with their lands. Rollo was a Viking leader who repeatedly raided northern France. Eventually the French King offered Rollo the Duchy of Normandy, so he was baptised as Robert and became the protector of the lands he previously ravaged. The Vikings that settled in Normandy becames known as the Normans. The tales of subsequent Dukes of Normandy are detailed until William the Conqueror who became King of England after the Battle of Hastings. William is the last of his line detailed in this series. Strangely, no mention is made of the Normans who ruled over England for the hundred years after William.

The Normans didn’t stop at Normandy and England. The sons of a minor Norman noble, Tancred de Hauteville, sought their fortune in Italy. They succeeded in conquering most of Southern Italy and Sicily. Most of this series is devoted to the Italian Normans and their machinations with, and against, various Popes, Byzantium Emperors, Holy Roman Emperors, and other local rulers. Lars mentions that the elite Varangian Guard soldiers in the Byzantine army included many Anglo-Saxon refugees from Norman England - interesting to see how people moved around Europe over a thousand years ago. The Normans formed the Kingdom of Sicily which stood around a century until absorbed into the Holy Roman Empire after Frederick II, who was both the King of Sicily and Holy Roman Empire, being descended from the Norman Kings and German Emperors. The series ends with a couple of podcasts on Bohemund, a grandson of Tancred de Hauteville without lands in Italy, who became Prince of Antioch after capturing the city in the First Crusade.

An interesting podcast about a period of history when small groups could have a large impact.