The Death of Roger II of Sicily: February 26th, 1154

By Cavendish, Richard | History Today, February 2004 | Go to article overview

The Death of Roger II of Sicily: February 26th, 1154


Cavendish, Richard, History Today


THE NEPHEW OF Robert Guiscard and son of Count Roger I of Sicily, Roger II succeeded to Sicily at the age of nine in 1105 and took personal control in 1112, when he was sixteen. Subduing all opposition, he ruled it until his death in Palermo at the age of fifty-eight and it was said of him that he accomplished more in his sleep than other people did when awake. He was brought up by Greek and Muslim tutors and secretaries in an island populated by Arabs and Greeks, and he emerged with a subtler, more sophisticated cast to his character than his hard-bitten, rough-and-ready Norman ancestors. He allied shrewd diplomacy to aggression and in the 1120s he completely out-maneouvred his Hauteville cousins and took over Apulia and Calabria in Southern Italy. He still lacked a royal title and when the papacy, was disputed between Innocent II and Anacletus II in 1130, Roger supported the latter in return for a coronation on Christmas Day in Palermo cathedral. Anacletus died in 1138 and Roger defeated Innocent II's army the following year; took Innocent prisoner and forced the pope to confirm his position as King of Sicily and overlord of Southern Italy. In a mosaic in a Palermo church Roger had himself depicted like a Byzantine emperor, being crowned by Christ.

Roger built and beautified churches, but most of his Sicilian subjects were Muslims and hc was tolerant in religious and intellectual matters. Whether out of genuine feeling, or as a tactical device against Rome, he flirted with Greek Orthodoxy. He lived in deliberately ostentatious magnificence, while counting every penny spent, and created an efficient civil service and an effective navy, which he used to take over North Africa between Tunis and Tripoli, seize Malta and Corfu, harry the coasts of Greece and abduct numerous women silk workers from Thebes to staff his court silk factory. …

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