The Muslims of Medieval Italy

By Alex Metcalfe | Go to book overview

11
Monreale and the Muslims

William II’s reign: diplomatic successes and expensive failures

Falcandus’ dense and thorny narrative of Sicilian affairs ends abruptly with the earthquake of 1169. Thereafter, sources which deal with the Muslims, even tangentially, throughout most of the 1170s are limited. When they resume with the detailed eye-witness account of Ibn Jubayr, we see a Muslim community in crisis and in which serious differences of opinion had begun to emerge. Prior to the fuller and wider range of evidence supplied by charters from the late 1170s and 1180s, it is possible to infer that, for most of the 1170s, the Sicilian Muslims continued their decline under the hereditary leadership of Abū l-Qāsim, a momentous figure who formed a vital link between the palaces and the wider Muslim communities, especially that of western Sicily.

Otherwise, there were grounds for cautious optimism by the mid-1170s, at least for the long-term survival of the Hauteville dynasty and for the kingdom of Sicily which had maintained its integrity into a third generation of kings. The threat of invasion from the north was again averted when Frederick Barbarossa’s army suffered defeat at the hands of Lombard League forces at the battle of Legnano in May 1176, a defeat which directly informed the delicate negotiations behind the Treaty of Venice signed the following year, sealing a fifteenyear peace between Sicily, the papacy, the German emperor and the towns of north Italy. The improving relations with the Holy Roman Empire would ultimately lead to a proposed intermarriage between ruling houses. Remote from the lives of the Sicilian Muslims that this move appeared at the time, it would have far-reaching consequences for the kingdom and its Muslim population in the thirteenth century.

If one leaves aside the resumption of costly overseas expeditions (first, the failed attacks against Salāh al-Dīn’s Egypt in 1174, which Romuald played up at the Venice negotiations as evidence of William’s crusader credentials and, secondly, the attempt of assuming power at Constantinople in 1185 via a pretender claiming to be Alexios II, which came to nothing), then the kingdom internally enjoyed political stability for most of William II’s reign. This earned him a reputation for peace and piety as well as the later, enduring epithet of

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