The Normans were the people who gave their names to Normandy, a region in northern France. They descended from the original Viking conquerors of the territory and the native population of mostly Frankish and Gallo-Roman stock. Their identity first emerged in the first half of the tenth century, and gradually evolved over succeeding centuries until they disappeared as an ethnic group in the early thirteenth century. The name "Normans" derives from "Northmen" or "Norsemen", after the Vikings from Scandinavia who founded Normandy (Northmannia in its original Latin).
They played a major political, military, and cultural role in medieval Europe and even the Near East. They were famed for their martial spirit and Christian piety. They quickly adopted the Romance language of the land they settled in, their dialect becoming known as Norman, an important literary language. The Duchy of Normandy, which they formed by treaty with the French crown, was one of the great large fiefs of medieval France. The Normans are famed both for their culture, such as their unique Romanesque architecture, and their musical traditions, as well as for the military accomplishments and innovations. Norman adventurers established a kingdom in Sicily and southern Italy by conquest, and a Norman expedition on behalf of their duke led to the Norman Conquest of England. Norman influence spread from these new centres to the Crusader States in the Near East, to Scotland and Wales in Great Britain, and to Ireland.
In Russian historiography, the term "Norman" is often used for the Varangians, as for example in the term "Normanist theory". In French historiography too, the term is often applied to the various Viking groups that raided France in the ninth century before settling down to found Normandy.
Specially marked by cunning, despising their own inheritance in the hope of winning a greater, eager after both gain and dominion, given to imitation of all kinds, holding a certain mean between lavishness and greediness, that is, perhaps uniting, as they certainly did, these two seemingly opposite qualities. Their chief men were specially lavish through their desire of good report. They were, moreover, a race skillful in flattery, given to the study of eloquence, so that the very boys were orators, a race altogether unbridled unless held firmly down by the yoke of justice. They were enduring of toil, hunger, and cold whenever fortune laid it on them, given to hunting and hawking, delighting in the pleasure of horses, and of all the weapons and garb of war.Their quick adaptability expressed itself in the shrewd Norman willingness to take on local men of talent, to marry the high-born local women; confidently illiterate Norman masters used the literate clerks of the church for their own purposes.
In the course of the 10th century, the initial destructive incursions of Norse war bands into the rivers of Gaul evolved into permanent encampments that included women and chattel. The pagan culture was driven underground by the Christian faith and Gallo-Romance language of the local people. The small groups of Vikings that settled there adopted the language and culture of the French majority. After a generation or two, the Normans were generally indistinguishable from their French neighbours.
In Normandy, they adopted the growing feudal doctrines of the rest of northern France, and worked them, both in Normandy and in England, into a functional hierarchical system. The Norman warrior class was new and different from the old French aristocracy, many of whom could trace their families back to Carolingian times, while the Normans could seldom cite ancestors before the beginning of the 11th century. Most knights remained poor and land-hungry; by 1066, Normandy had been exporting fighting horsemen for more than a generation. Knighthood before the time of the Crusades held little social status, and simply indicated a professional warrior wealthy enough to own a war horse. Many Normans of France and Britain would eventually serve as avid Crusaders.
Opportunistic bands of Normans successfully established a foothold far to the south of Normandy. Probably the result of returning pilgrims' stories, the Normans entered the Mezzogiorno as warriors in 1017, at the latest. In 999, according to Amatus of Montecassino, pilgrims returning from Jerusalem called in at the port of Salerno, when a Saracen attack occurred. The Normans fought so valiantly that Prince Guaimar IV begged them to stay, but they refused and instead offered to tell others back home of the prince's request. William of Apulia tells that, in 1016, pilgrims to the shrine of the Archangel Michael at Monte Gargano were met by Melus of Bari, a Lombard freedom-fighter, who persuaded them to return with more warriors to help throw off the Byzantine rule, which they did.
The two most prominent families to arrive in the Mediterranean were descendants of Tancred of Hauteville and the Drengots, of whom Rainulf Drengot received the county of Aversa, the first Norman toehold in the south, from Duke Sergius IV of Naples in 1030. The Hautevilles achieved princely by proclaiming Prince Guaimar IV of Salerno "Duke of Apulia and Calabria". He promptly awarded their elected leader, William Iron Arm, with the title of count with his capital of Melfi. Soon the Drengots had attained unto the principality of Capua, and the Emperor Henry III had legally ennobled the Hauteville leader, Drogo, as dux et magister Italiae comesque Normannorum totius Apuliae et Calabriae in 1047.
From these bases, the Normans eventually captured Sicily and Malta from the Saracens, under the famous Robert Guiscard, a Hauteville, and his young brother Roger the Great Count. Roger's son, Roger II, was crowned king in 1130 (exactly one century after Rainulf was "crowned" count) by Pope Anacletus II. The kingdom of Sicily lasted until 1194, when it fell to the Hohenstaufens through marriage.
The Normans left their mark however in the many castles, such as the Iron Arm's fortress at Squillace, and cathedrals, such as Roger II's at Cefalù, which dot the landscape and give a wholly distinct architectural flavour to accompany its unique history. Institutionally, the Normans combined the administrative machinery of the Byzantines, Arabs, and Lombards with their own conceptions of feudal law and order to forge a unique government. Under this state, there was great religious freedom, and alongside the Norman nobles existed a meritocratic bureaucracy of Jews, Muslims, and Christians, both Catholic and Orthodox.
One of the first Norman mercenaries to serve as a Byzantine general was Hervé in the 1050s. By then however, there were already Norman mercenaries serving as far away as Trebizond and Georgia. They were based at Malatya and Edessa, under the Byzantine duke of Antioch, Isaac Komnenos. In the 1060s, Robert Crispin led the Normans of Edessa against the Turks. Roussel de Bailleul even tried to carve out an independent state in Asia Minor with support from the local population, but he was stopped by the Byzantine general Alexius Komnenos.
Some Normans joined Turkish forces to aid in the destruction of the Armenians vassal-states of Sassoun and Taron in far eastern Anatolia. Later, many took up service with the Armenian states further south in Cilicia and the Taurus Mountains. A Norman named Oursel led a force of "Franks" into the upper Euphrates valley in northern Syria. From 1073 to 1074, 8,000 of the 20,000 troops of the Armenian general Philaretus Brachamius were Normans — formerly of Oursel — led by Raimbaud. They even lent their ethnicity to the name of their castle: Afranji, meaning "Franks." The known trade between Amalfi and Antioch and between Bari and Tarsus may be related to the presence of Italo-Normans in those cities while Amalfi and Bari were under Norman rule in Italy.
Several families of Byzantine Greece were of Norman mercenary origin during the period of the Comnenian Restoration, when Byzantine emperors were seeking out western European warriors. The Raoulii were descended from an Italo-Norman named Raoul, the Petraliphae were descended from a Pierre d'Aulps, and that group of Albanian clans known as the Maniakates were descended from Normans who served under George Maniaces in the Sicilian expedition of 1038.
The Normans were in contact with England from an early date. Not only were their original Viking brethren still ravaging the English coasts, they occupied most of the important ports opposite England across the Channel. This relationship eventually produced closer ties of blood through the marriage of Emma, sister of Duke Richard II of Normandy, and King Ethelred II of England. Because of this, Ethelred fled to Normandy in 1013, when he was forced from his kingdom by Sweyn Forkbeard. His stay in Normandy (until 1016) influenced him and his sons by Emma, who stayed in Normandy after Canute the Great's conquest of the isle.
When finally Edward the Confessor returned from his father's refuge in 1041, at the invitation of his half-brother Harthacanute, he brought with him a Norman-educated mind. He also brought many Norman counsellors and fighters, some of whom established an English cavalry force. This concept never really took root, but it is a typical example of the attitudes of Edward. He appointed Robert of Jumièges archbishop of Canterbury and made Ralph the Timid earl of Hereford. He invited his brother-in-law Eustace II of Boulogne to his court in 1051, an event which resulted in the greatest of early conflicts between Saxon and Norman and ultimately resulted in the exile of Earl Godwin of Wessex.
In 1066, Duke William II of Normandy conquered England. The invading Normans and their descendants replaced the Anglo-Saxons as the ruling class of England. The nobility of England were part of a single French-speaking culture and many had lands on both sides of the channel. Early Norman kings of England were, as Dukes of Normandy, vassals to the King of France. They may not have necessarily considered England to be their most important holding (although it brought the title of King - an important status symbol). King Richard I (the Lionheart) is often thought to epitomise a medieval English King, but he only spoke French and spent more time in Aquitaine or on Crusade than in England.
Eventually, the Normans merged with the natives, combining languages and traditions. In the course of the Hundred Years war, the Norman aristocracy often identified themselves as English. The Anglo-Norman language became distinct from the French language, something that was the subject of some humour by Geoffrey Chaucer. The Anglo-Norman and Anglo-Saxon languages eventually merged to form Middle English.
Even before the Norman Conquest of England, the Normans had come into contact with Wales. Edward the Confessor had set up the aforementioned Ralph as earl of Hereford and charged him with defending the Marches and warring with the Welsh. In these original ventures, the Normans failed to make any headway into Wales.
Subsequent to the Conquest, however, the Marches came completely under the dominance of William's most trusted Norman barons, including Bernard de Neufmarché, Roger of Montgomery in Shropshire and Hugh Lupus in Cheshire. These Normans began a long period of slow conquest during which almost all of Wales was at some point subject to Norman interference. Norman words, such as baron (barwn), first entered Welsh at that time.
In 1096, Crusaders passing by the siege of Amalfi were joined by Bohemond of Taranto and his nephew Tancred with an army of Italo-Normans. Bohemond was the de facto leader of the Crusade during its passage through Asia Minor. After the successful Siege of Antioch in 1097, Bohemond began carving out an independent principality around that city. Tancred was instrumental in the conquest of Jerusalem and he worked for the expansion of the Crusader kingdom in Transjordan and the region of Galilee.
Normans came into Scotland, building castles and founding noble families who would provide some future kings such as Robert the Bruce as well as founding some of the Scottish clans. King David I of Scotland was instrumental in introducing Normans and Norman culture to Scotland, part of the process some scholars call the "Davidian Revolution". Having spent time at the court of Henry I of England (married to David's sister Maud of Scotland), and needing them to wrestle the kingdom from his half-brother Máel Coluim mac Alaxandair, David had to reward many with lands. The process was continued under David's successors, most intensely of all under William the Lion. The Norman-derived feudal system was applied in varying degrees to most of Scotland.
The Normans had a profound effect on Irish culture and history. Initially (that is, the twelfth century) the Normans maintained a distinct culture and ethnicity. Yet, with time, they came to be subsumed into Irish culture to the point that it has been said that they became "more Irish than the Irish themselves." The Normans settled mostly in an area in the east of Ireland, later known as the Pale, and also built many fine castles and settlements, including Trim Castle and Dublin Castle. Both cultures intermixed, borrowing from each other's language, culture and outlook. Norman descendants today can be recognised by their surnames. Names such as French, De Roche and Leacy are particularly common in the southeast of Ireland, especially in the southern part of County Wexford where the first Norman settlements were established. Another common Norman-Irish name was Morell (Murrell) derived from the French-Norman name Morel. Morell is also the modern name for the Medieval Irish name of MacMurchada and MacMurrough.
In Italy, the Normans incorporated elements of the native Islamic, Lombard, and Byzantine architecture into their own, initiating a style known as Sicilian Romanesque. In England, the period of Norman architecture immediately succeeds that of the Anglo-Saxon and precedes the Early Gothic.
In the visual arts, the Normans did not have the rich and distinctive traditions of the cultures they conquered. However, in the early eleventh century the dukes began a programme of church reform, encouraging the Cluniac reform of monasteries and patronising intellectual pursuits, especially the proliferation of scriptoria and the reconstitution of a compilation of lost illuminated manuscripts. The church was utilised by the dukes as a unifying force for their disparate duchy. The chief monasteries taking part in this "renaissance" of Norman art and scholarship were Mont-Saint-Michel, Fécamp, Jumièges, Bec, Saint-Ouen, Saint-Evroul, and Saint-Wandrille. These centres were in contact with the so-called "Winchester school", which channeled a pure Carolingian artistic tradition to Normandy. In the final decade of the eleventh and the first of twelfth century, Normandy experienced a golden age of illustrated manuscripts, but it was brief and the major scriptoria of Normandy ceased to function after the midpoint of the century.
The Wars of Religion in the sixteenth century and French Revolution in the eighteenth successively destroyed much of what existed in the way of the architectural and artistic remnant of this Norman creativity. The first by their violence caused the wanton destruction of many Norman edifices; and the second by its assault on religion caused the purposeful destruction of religious objects of any type and by its destabilisation of society resulted in rampant pillaging.
By far the most famous work of Norman art is the Bayeux Tapestry, which is not a tapestry but a work of embroidery. It was commissioned by Odo, the Bishop of Bayeux and first Earl of Kent, employing natives from Kent who were learned in the Nordic traditions imported in the previous half century by the Danish Vikings.
In Britain, Norman art primarily survives as stonework or metalwork, such as capitals and baptismal fonts. In southern Italy, however, Norman artwork survives plentifully in forms strongly influenced by its Greek, Lombard, and Arab forebears. Of the royal regalia preserved in Palermo, the crown is Byzantine in style and the coronation cloak is of Arab craftsmanship with Arabic inscriptions. Many churches preserve sculptured fonts, capitals, and more importantly mosaics, which were common in Norman Italy and drew heavily on the Greek heritage. Lombard Salerno was a centre of ivorywork in the eleventh century and this continued under Norman domination. Finally should be noted the intercourse between French Crusaders traveling to the Holy Land who brought with them French artefacts with which to gift the churches at which they stopped in southern Italy amongst their Norman cousins. For this reason many south Italian churches preserve works from France alongside their native pieces.
Normandy was the site of several important developments in the history of Western music in the eleventh century. Fécamp Abbey and Saint-Evroul Abbey were centres of musical production and education. At Fécamp, under two Italian abbots, William of Volpiano and John of Ravenna, the system of denoting notes by letters was developed and taught. It is still the most common form of pitch representation in English- and German-speaking countries today. Also at Fécamp, the staff, around which neumes were oriented, was first developed and taught in the eleventh century. Under the German abbot Isembard, La Trinité-du-Mont became a centre of musical composition.
At Saint Evroul, a tradition of singing had developed and the choir achieved fame in Normandy. Under the Norman abbot Robert de Grantmesnil, several monks of Saint-Evroul fled to southern Italy, where they were patronised by Robert Guiscard and established a Latin monastery at Sant'Eufemia. There they continued the tradition of singing.