The Ambitious Sichelgaita
In 1076, clad in armor and mounted astride a stallion, Sichelgaita rode up to the walls of Salerno, then ruled by her brother, and demanded the city’s submission. When her brother refused, Sichelgaita and Guiscard besieged the city, and starved him into surrender. She then took command of Salerno, and exiled her brother. In addition to fighting at her husband’s side, Sichelgaita also led men on her own in independent commands. She and her husband were full of ambition, and they even tried to take over the Byzantine Empire by marrying one of their children into the imperial household.
A palace coup in Constantinople foiled that plan, however. So they decided to take over Byzantium the hard way, by straightforward conquest. Sichelgaita’s greatest exploit came in the resultant war at the Battle of Durazo on the Albanian coast, in October, 1081. She led an advance force ahead of the main body, which encountered a powerful Byzantine army that offered fierce resistance. Sichelgaita pressed the attack to keep the Byzantines pinned in place until Guiscard arrived with reinforcements, but her men faltered, and some fled. As seen below, she took charge, and turned the tide of the battle.