War with the Normans part 14

And this was to entrust all the divisions to his relatives; as chief commanders he appointed Melissenus Nicephorus and Curticius Basileios, also called ‘Little John’; this man was an outstanding figure renowned for his bravery and military skill, a native of Adrianople. But not only the divisions did he entrust to them but also all the royal standards. Moreover he enjoined them to draw up the army on the same plan as he had drawn it up in the foregoing battles, and advised them first to try the vanguard of the Latin army by a skirmishing attack, then to raise their battle-cry and make a general attack.

But directly the troops were fully engaged they were to turn their backs to the Latins and flee precipitately as if making for Lycostomium. Whilst the Emperor was giving these orders, suddenly all the horses in the army were heard to neigh. Astonishment seized them all; however, the Emperor and the more intelligent of his audience at once interpreted it as a good omen.

After he had given them these injunctions he left them to the right of Larissa, and after waiting for the sunset, he ordered some picked men to follow him, and went through the narrow pass of Libotanium, skirted Rebenicus and through the so-called “Allage ” he reached the left side of Larissa; there he explored the nature of the ground and finding a slight depression, he crouched down with his companions.

The Roman divisions

At the same time when the Emperor, as just related, was on the point of entering the defiles of Libotanium in his haste to place an ambush, the leaders of the Roman divisions selected and sent forward a detachment of the Roman troops against the Franks to draw the latter’s attention to themselves and not allow them leisure to spy out whither the Emperor was going.

So the Romans descended to the plain, attacked the Franks, and after a short battle, stopped, as night completely prevented further fighting. On reaching the desired spot the Emperor bade all dismount and kneel down and hold their reins in their hands; and he himself accidentally alighted on a bed of germander and bending down likewise lay the rest of the night on his face.

VI At sunrise Bohemund saw the Roman troops drawn up in array, and the royal standards and the silver-studded spears and the horses with their royal red saddle-cloths, drew up his own army against them as well as he could, dividing his forces into two, and leading one half himself and over the other he put Bryennius [=Count of Brienne, Constable of Apulia] as commander, who was one of the most illustrious Latins and called ‘Constable’ by them.

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