In the year 1046 a young Norman arrived on the Italian peninsula who, in the words of the English historian John Julius Norwich (1929-2018), conquered glory, founded his own dynasty and, in the following decades, “would shake the foundations of Christianity , would dictate the fate of one of the most influential popes in history [Gregorio VII] and it would cause the imperial thrones of both East and West to tremble at hearing his name. ” It was Roberto de Hauteville, better known as Guiscard (cunning), who was born around 1015 in Coutances, France, and died four decades after his arrival in southern Italy, in 1089, with the titles of Duke of Apulia, Calabria. and Sicily.
The gripping account of his military campaigns against Byzantines, Lombards, Germans, Arabs and even other Normans, his diplomatic negotiations with emperors and popes (he came to the rescue of Gregory VII despite the fact that he had been excommunicated several times) and his intelligence (from hence his nickname) to get out of all the conflicts that crossed his path, make up the bulk of the story of The Normans in Sicily. The invasion of southern Italy, 1016-1130, which has reissued this January Ático de los Libros. In this essay, Norwich rescues and highlights a historical period in which the Normans consolidated their presence in southern Europe and ended up founding the kingdom of Sicily, which for the historian constitutes “a miracle” of coexistence of cultures that had its reflection in the economy, art and architecture. Of that Norman splendor on the largest island in the Mediterranean Norwich speaks in a second volume, entitled A kingdom in the sun. Sicily, 1130-1194, that the same publisher will launch next April.
“Everyone knows the history of the Normans as Vikings who settle in the north of France, or their involvement in the crusades, and also the invasion of England, even if only from the films, but the lack of knowledge about their presence is surprising. en Sicilia ”, highlights the editor of Ático de los Libros, Joan Eloi Roca, about the importance of both some essays originally published in English in 1967 and 1970 as well as that of their author, a great popularizer of whom the literary label has proposed edit all his work, including his famous trilogy on Byzantium.
“What begins as a military epic, with military and diplomatic feats, ends with a cultural and economic miracle,” says Roca. A miracle that converted the kingdom of Sicily into the third largest state in Europe in the 12th century, even ahead of England, through alliances and disputes with Byzantines, Lombards and Saracens. An epic that would remain in oblivion, except perhaps for a small number of historians, were it not for the passion of Norwich.
The Normans in Sicily It begins in the Italian peninsula with a strange episode narrated in different ways by different ancient historians. Some Norman pilgrims returning from the Holy Land in 1015 visit in Apulia (on the Italian east coast, on the Adriatic) an old sanctuary, that of Monte Sant’Angelo. There they are contacted by a Lombard nobleman from Bari, called Meles, who had already led a rebellion against the Eastern Byzantine Empire, which maintained a difficult balance of power on the peninsula against the Holy Empire of the West. Meles asked them to help them in their fight against the Greeks to consolidate an independent state. The fact is that from 1017, multitudes of Normans began to arrive in the region from France in search of fortune in a rich and fertile land.
The Norman presence, first as mercenaries who placed themselves at the orders of whoever paid them the best, thanks to their excellent skills for warfare, was consolidated in the following decades, but the true turning point occurred from 1046, with the arrival Robert de Hauteville, who Norwich describes as “the most amazing military adventurer between Julius Caesar and Napoleon.” The Guiscard, after consolidating in southern Italy, conquered the Mediterranean island in 1071, then dominated by the Saracens, with the help of his little brother Roger, Count of Sicily. But Robert de Hauteville continued his war against everyone and never returned. He died in 1089, at the age of 70, on the island of Kefalonia precisely in a campaign of conquest against the Emperor of Byzantium.
This first volume concludes with the coronation of Roger’s son as the first king of Sicily, who ascended the throne as Roger II of Sicily in homage to his father, despite the fact that he never became king. And it will be already in A kingdom in the sun. Sicily, 1130-1194 where Norwich counts the years of prosperity in a territory in which Norman French, Greek and Arabic were declared official languages. A splendor of which there are still many remains, and the English writer gives as an example the Palatine Chapel of Palermo, “a natural fusion of the most brilliant of the Latin, Byzantine and Islamic traditions in a unique and harmonious masterpiece”, a basilica of Latin floor with Greek gold mosaics and a ceiling of wooden muqarnas in the Islamic style. And that it was raised, precisely, in the century of the crusades.
Sicily has been disputed and subjugated by all the great peoples who (…) have struggled to extend their influence throughout the Mediterranean. It has belonged to all, but no one has become its true owner ”, writes the historian and diplomat born John Julius Cooper – he changed his surname after becoming the second Viscount of Norwich – in his essay, where he extols the legacy of the Normans against other waves of invaders – Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Goths, Byzantines, Arabs, Germans, Spanish and French – who left their mark on the island. Great in love with that land in the heart of the Mediterranean, Norwich always considered that Sicily underlies “the regret that remains after a long experience of misfortune, lost opportunities and failed promises.” Maybe you long for the splendor that lived in Norman times.