Roussel de Bailleul: Norman Opportunist, Adventurer, and Traitor

R/I ~ AA


The Normans were by their very nature an opportunistic people. They were among Medieval Europe’s best at making lemonade out of lemons. Descended from Norsemen who settled the northern coast of France, these French speaking descendants of Scandinavians helped to shape the development of Europe into the little continent that we know today. They conquered and reshaped England, settled in France, Italy, Sicily, and invented a lot of the norms of Medieval warfare such as the Motte and Bailey. They also had a habit of incorporating conquered cultures into their own. With the Normans everyone had a seat at the table and no new ideals were too extreme to be tested.

This opportunistic streak would sometimes put them in hot water however, such as the case with one Roussel de Bailleul. Not much is known about Roussel other than the fact that he was born in Normandy and that he was an adventurer. It is theorized that he got into hot water in Normandy, apparently pissing off somebody important, and had to leave for greener pastures when he wore out his welcome in his home country. This would prove to be a recurring theme for Roussel.

Being a good and feisty Norman with ample training Roussel soon found that he had a knack for kicking ass and taking names, all in the name of the Lord of course. The Christian world in the east found usage in Roussel’s fighting prowess as he eventually found his way into the ranks of one Roger de Hauteville. Roussel and Roger found themselves battling the Saracens of Sicily at the Battle of Cerami.

The battle was heavily uneven, with the Muslim forces outnumbering the Christians by the thousands. The battle was fought on a hill and should have been an easy victory for the Saracens. Despite the odds being against them the Normans somehow won. A force of just a few hundred, with Roussel being amongst them, defeated an Islamic force of some several thousand, finalizing the Norman conquest of Sicily.

This victory in battle put an important notch on Roussel’s belt and gained him notoriety amongst his peers. This newfound rep skyrocketed his prestige. While at Cerami he had only commanded a few hundred men he soon found himself at the head of a force that numbered in the thousands on his way into Asia Minor fighting for the Byzantines against the Seljuk Turks.

While he had promised to fight for the Byzantines Roussel’s opportunistic nature got the better of him. While in Asia Minor he claimed part of the territory that he had promised the Byzantines as his own. He claimed some territory in Galatia and declared himself the prince of this newly independent territory. He might have gotten away with it too had he not used his forced to raid and sack part of the Byzantine territory.

It would seem his viking ancestry got the better of him as he just couldn’t resist the urge to pillage and raid his neighbors. The people of Galatia were at first happy with him because he did a decent job of keeping the Seljuks off of their borders, but one could only irritate the Byzantines for so long before the Byzantines reacted.

An admixture of Byzantine political sabotage and Seljuk alliance caused Roussel’s forced to be overrun by Turks and Roussel himself to be taken hostage. While imprisoned Roussel’s wife managed to come up with some money to pay his ransom, not that that helped him much in the long run. He had saved his head from the Seljuks but the Byzantines had a long memory.

Upon being returned to the Byzantines Roussel was ransomed into military service. Roussel was sent to battle the rebel Nicephorus Botaniates. Being the sneaky bastard that he was Roussel decided to join forced with Nicky because…..well Roussel had to Roussel.

Unfortunately this is where Roussel’s story ends. He was shortly betrayed again and taken by the Turks. This time he was given as hostage to the Byzantines and the Byzantines had gotten tired of his shenanigans. He was promptly executed so that the Byzantines would stop having to deal with his sneakiness.

Some References:


  1. Do you view the Crusaders as Christians? Were they acting on behest of God or were they sinners in your worldview? 
  2. Would you be willing to fight someone for your religion? Why or why not? 

Dollarmenu Jesus

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