The Muslims of Medieval Italy

By Alex Metcalfe | Go to book overview

5
The Norman conquest of Muslim Sicily

The rise of the Normans in south Italy

The third time during the eleventh century that invasion forces from the south Italian mainland landed on Sicily came with the Norman conquest from the 1060s. The enduring consequences of this phase for central Mediterranean history are hard to overstate. By 1072 Palermo had fallen; by 1091 the conquest was complete; and in 1130 Sicily and the south Italian peninsula were fused into a single political entity that retained a declining Muslim population for almost two centuries. The kingdom came to be split with the Treaty of Caltabellotta, ending the Wars of the Sicilian Vespers in 1302, but it survived, more or less, as a political unit until 1861 when it was incorporated into the unified kingdom of Italy in the wake of the Risorgimento movement.

The bulk of the forces that the Norman knights faced in Sicily were Muslim, but the conquest is not generally considered to be a crusade. Apart from the fact that it pre-dated the call for the First Crusade in 1095, there were no overtly religious motives for the Normans’ intervention in Sicily in the sense that they did not set out to conquer the island because it was Muslim. Warfare was to occur between people of different religions, but it was not religiously inspired warfare. However, given the regular raids from Sicily against the mainland for the past 200 years, religious pretexts for war were already well established in the region.

Unlike Maniákes, the Normans showed no interest in the recovery and translation of relics, nor were there holy sites in Sicily to recoup and defend of the magnitude of Jerusalem. Rather, only a few Greek houses of any note had survived, and the island was not yet on a Christian pilgrimage route. The papacy’s long-term aim to ‘Latinise’ south Italy and Sicily implied the establishment of new Latin churches where there had previously been none, although churches of the Greek rite were also supported, providing they recognised the primacy of Rome. For the non-Christian subject population, there was no suggestion that they would be required to change their faith en masse. None the less, it is possible to speak in terms of a nascent proto-crusader consciousness in the years prior to the First Crusade and Spanish Reconquista, and many ingredients

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