|The first Norman rulers|
1038: Normans and Byzantines allied in Sicily
In 1038, the Byzantine emperor organised a great expedition against the Saracens of Sicily, who were divided and weakened by dynastic quarrels. It was led by George Maniakes who appealed to the Italians, who were on good terms with Emperor Michael IV the Paphlagonian (1034-1041). Guaimar IV of Salerno sent, under the command of a Lombard lord, Arduin, a contingent of three hundred Normans including William Iron-Arm and Dreux de Hauteville. Its task was to reinforce the imperial army, and also to get rid of those turbulent mercenaries, always dangerous and a nuisance during periods of peace.
In the battle, the Normans of Italy encountered Scandinavian warriors from the Byzantine imperial guard, the Varangian guard, led by Harold Hardrada, who would become king of Norway in 1047 and unfortunate rival of Harold of England and William of Normandy in 1066. Other Norman adventurers, of a more transitory destiny, such as Roussel de Bailleul were part of the expeditionary corps around Reggio de Calabre before the embarkation.
The expedition lasted more than two years. Messina was taken in autumn 1038; victorious campaigns followed one after the other in the north, west and centre of the island. The audacious reputation of the Normans was maintained. But they remained simple mercenaries. The relations with their superiors deteriorated, and unhappy with their pay and spoils, the Normans and the Varangians abandoned the Greek army in 1040. The Byzantines were forced to retreat.
Even though they were simple players in the hands of a foreign power, this occasion was, however, the first recognition for the Normans and would have important consequences for Sicily.