The Muslims of Medieval Italy

By Alex Metcalfe | Go to book overview

8
The Normans in Africa

Norman Sicily and Zirid Ifrīqiya in the 1140s

In Sicily, the 1140s was a period of internal peace and prosperity for the rapidly maturing kingdom, which was successfully developing and refining its instruments of government. With strategic expansion north into the mountains of the Abruzzo, and south into Ifrīqiya culminating in the capture of Mahdiyya, the kingdom under Roger and George reached the peak of its power, population size and physical extent in a changing Mediterranean. To the east, in the crusader states, the fall of Edessa at the end of 1144 saw the launch of the Second Crusade. Sicily was not directly involved in the crusade, but its progress was undermined by their naval attacks on the Byzantines after the breakdown of negotiations between Roger and Manuel Comnenus. Nor was the central Mediterranean region untouched by conceptual shifts over the nature of religiously inspired hostility, in part stimulated by the preaching of Bernard of Clairvaux, as the physical focus on the Holy Land and the capture and defence of Jerusalem broadened to include personal disposition towards faith and the potentially heretical attitudes of those of other beliefs.

In the western Maghrib, attitudes were also changing. The Almohads - militantly zealous Maṣmūda Berber tribesmen from the High Atlas mountains – consolidated their rule under Abd al-Mu’min at the expense of the Almoravids. From the African mainland they expanded northwards into the Iberian peninsula first taking Cádiz, Jeréz and Seville, while, from the north, Christian forces made significant and lasting gains with the capture of Lisbon in 1147. The Almohads, with their capital established at Marrakesh, advanced swiftly eastwards across the central Maghrib throughout 1152 towards the citystates of Ifrīqiya which had been weakened by more than a century of repeated economic and political crises, exacerbated by Norman incursions against them. It was against this background of unpredictable change and conflict that the kingdom of Sicily again sought to extend its sway into the south Mediterranean with the gradual conquest of towns in Ifrīqiya itself.

Given the events being played out across the Mediterranean at this time, attention paid to the so-called Normans in Africa’ has been understandably

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