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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

NOBILIARIO DI SICILIA
Barone di Santo Stefano di Mistretta [+donna Maria-Carolina Trigona, dei principi di S.Elia, n.1896; o Pier Marino Albanese, figlio di donna Giovanna Albanese, nata Trigona].

Trigona.
Azzolina
Santo Stefano di Mistretta

Dott. A. Mango di Casalgerardo
NOBILIARIO DI SICILIA
da Traversa a Trovato

Santo Stefano Di Camastra ME
Santo Stefano Di Camastra ME

Barone di Contrada Felicita
Barone di Contrada Sparta
Barone di Contrada Antara
Barone di Contrada Puzzarello

Europe's Cro-Magnon people.
Hg U5a1a – (HV-2: 309+C) – Italy or N Caucasus
Hg U5ala – (HV1+2: 16270T, 16256T, 16399G, 309+C)- Italy / Adygei
SW France, N. Spain

M343A - Hg R1b - W. Europe
P-25A – Hg R1b1 - SW France, N Spain
M269C – Hg R1b1c - SW France, N Spain

35,000 YBP, M343 are the direct descendants of Europe's Cro-Magnon people.
The Franks or the Frankish peoples were mainly proto-German speaking peoples such as the Salians, Sicambri, Chamavi, Tencteri, Chattuarii, Bructeri, Usipetes, Ampsivarii. These peoples formed one of several ever changing west Germanic federations and first appeared in history around 260. Sometimes they allied with non-Dutch, or Old Frankish speaking tribes as the Frisians and Chatti and occasionally with Saxons. They were not originally grouped into one official tribe, but "as with the other barbarians, they belonged to much smaller groups that would join constantly changing confederations."[1] Most of those peoples were living at the northern borders of the Rhine in, and opposite to the Insula Batavorum in a region then called "Francia" in the Panegyrici Latini. They formed a constant pressure on the Roman borders but also took active service in the Roman army, climbing up the ranks to dominating positions, such as at the time of Arbogastes. They slowly replaced the Batavians in their native domains and according to Ammianus Marcellinus expanded their territory on Roman soil to the delta of the Scheldt, where the Salians blocked grain supplies for the Roman Army. With later invasions of the Salians Chlodio and Childeric they moved up the Scheldt and homed around Tournai, from where those Salians finally conquered the Roman army, that was supported by other Franks.

The Merovingian family of Childeric united all Franks in Gaul and slowly expanded their influence to other territories until a new dynasty called the Carolingians took over and conquered a major part of western Europe. The location of Francia moved with the Franks untill finally around the year 1000 it became to be known as France.

Etymology

Some histories asserted that the Merovingian kings were descended from the Sicambri, a Germanic tribe, asserting that this tribe had changed their name to "Franks" in 11 BC, following their defeat and relocation by Drusus, under the leadership of a certain chieftain called Francio. The Chronicle of Fredegar is the earliest source for this chieftain, and it is widely agreed among historians (including A. C. Murray, Ian Woods, Rosamund McKitterick, and J. M. Wallace-Hadrill) that "Francio" is a Fredegarian invention.

The ethnonym has also been traced to *frankon (Old English franca), meaning "javelin, lance." This would compare to the seax (knife) after which the Saxons were named or the halberd (battle-axe) after which the Lombards may have been named. The throwing axe of the Franks is known as the francisca) but, conversely, the weapon may have been named after the tribe. A. C. Murray says, "The etymology of 'Franci' is uncertain ('the fierce ones' is the favourite explanation), but the name is undoubtedly of Germanic origin."

The meaning of "free" (e.g. English frank, frankly, franklin) arose because, after the conquest of Gaul, only Franks had the status of freemen.

Earliest records of the Franks

The earliest Frankish history remains relatively unclear. Our main source, the Gallo-Roman chronicler Gregory of Tours, whose Historia Francorum (History of the Franks) covers the period up to 594, quotes from otherwise lost sources like Sulpicius Alexander and Frigeridus, and profits from Gregory's personal contact with many Frankish notables. Apart from Gregory's History, some surviving earlier Roman sources such as Ammianus and Sidonius Apollinaris mention the Franks.

Gregory states that the Franks originally lived in Pannonia, but later settled on the banks of the Rhine. Additional sources beginning with the 7th century Chronicle of Fredegar and the anonymous work called Gesta regnum Francorum (completed 727) likewise relate that a Cimmerian or Scythian tribe called the Sicambri migrated in prehistoric times from the mouth of the Danube on the Black Sea to the Rhine, where they took the name "Franks." This legend of a Scythian or Cimmerian background is not unique to the Franks; it is similar to the origin legends of many other European nations as well.

Modern scholars of the Völkerwanderung are in agreement that the Frankish confederacy emerged at the beginning of the third century out of the unification of various earlier, smaller groups, including the Sicambri, Usipetes, Tencterii, and Bructerii, who inhabited the lower Rhine valley and lands immediately to the east. The confederacy was a social development perhaps accelerated by increasing upheaval in the area arising from the war between Rome and the Marcomanni beginning in 166 and subsequent conflicts of the late second and the third centuries. A region in the northeast of today's Netherlands — north of the erstwhile Roman border — still bears the name Salland, and may have received that name from the Salians, who formed the core of the Frankish pirates.

Since the very end of the second century, Franks appear in Roman textual and archeological sources and on Roman soil as both enemies and allies (laeti or dediticii). Around 250, one group of Franks, taking advantage of a weakened Roman Empire, penetrated as far as Tarragona in present-day Spain, plaguing this region for about a decade before Roman forces subdued them and expelled them from Roman territory. About forty years later, the Franks had the Scheldt region under control and were raiding the Channel, disrupting transportation to Britain. Roman forces pacified the region, but did not expel the Franks, who were feared as pirates along the shores at least till the time of Julian the Apostate (358), when some of them were settled as foederati in Toxandria according to a treaty with the Roman authority.[citation needed] They participated in the spectacular episode known as the Conspiratio Barbarica (367–369).

Northern Spain [Basque] 19.05% - Aragonese
Germany: Saxony [Sorbs] 18.18% - Swabians - Lombards

2.3% - SC - Scotland - Anglo-Saxons - Normans
2.0% - FI - Finland - Longobards - Lombards

Aragonese - People and dynasty of Aragon in northeastern Spain.

Swabians - People of Swabia region in southern Germany.

Lombards - People of Lombardy in northern Italy, by 1200 descended from both Germanic Longobards and native Romans.

Normans - People of Frankish and Nordic (Viking) origin in Normandy who conquered parts of Italy and Britain in 11th century.

Sicilian Peoples: The Swabians
by Vincenzo Salerno

Barbarossa with his sons Frederick and the future Henry VI.If the Normans brought Sicily back into the European orbit following centuries of Byzantine and Arab rule, the Swabians made it one of the most important regions of Europe. Swabia is a region of southwestern Germany which in the twelfth century included part of Bavaria and eastern Switzerland. Swabia takes its name from a Germanic people, the Suabi, and borders the region once ruled by the Alemanni, another Germanic tribe.

The Swabian Staufer (Hohenstaufen) family emerged as a powerful dynasty before 1100. Their name comes from Stauf Castle, built near Göppingen in the Jura Mountains by Count Frederick (died 1105). Their early history was not too different from those of other central European nobility emerging in the high medieval era, but the Dukes of Swabia became Kings of Germany during the rule of the distinguished Frederick I "Barbarossa" ("Redbeard") in 1152. From 1138 until 1254, the Hohenstaufen ruled as emperors of the loose feudal confederation known as the Holy Roman Empire. The sovereign state of Swabia itself was dissolved after 1268, its lands seized by lesser families, but in the 1190s it was the focal point of a kind of vaguely defined German unity.

It was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire, but the confederation founded by Charlemagne was Europe's most powerful monarchy. In 1186, Constance Hauteville, the youngest child of King Roger II of Sicily, was betrothed to Henry VI, second son of Frederick Barbarossa. This was seen as a way of sealing the Normans' rapport with the dynasty which controlled not only the Alpine regions but most of Italy north of Bologna.

By virtue of his consort, Henry claimed the Sicilian crown in 1194 following the brief and ineffectual reign of Tancred, Constance's illegitimate nephew through her eldest brother, Roger (died 1149).

When Henry VI was crowned in Palermo, he found himself in control of the island of Sicily and all of mainland Italy except for a central region (the Papal State) controlled by the Papacy, a situation the Pope and other sovereigns Seals of husband, wife and son.found disturbing --indeed overtly threatening.

The Emperor's power was not absolute. Eventually, a rivalry between factions developed, with the Guelphs (Welfs) opposing the Ghibellines (Hohenstaufen supporters who took their Italianized name from the Staufenfortress of Waiblingen). In time, the Guelphs supported the Pope (and the Angevins) against the Swabians. This undercurrent determined Imperial politics in some parts of Italy.

His wife may have been a Norman princess, but the Sicilians did not welcome Henry and his suite of German knights and retainers very warmly. The new king installed several commanderies of recently-founded Teutonic Order of knights in Sicily, appropriating for them Palermo's Magione Church and constructing for them the Church of Saint Mary of the Germans in Messina. Though only a few walls and arches remain, Saint Mary is one of the few examples of more-or-less pure Gothic architecture in Sicily. Constance gave birth to Frederick II who, like his grandfather Roger II, was one of Europe's most enlightened rulers.

Henry VI died in 1197. While his widow raised their young son in Sicily, many of the unruly Imperial vassals reneged on their feudal obligations. Upon reaching the age of majority, Frederick sought to remedy this. His realm included regions from Saxony to Palestine, effectively ruled from Palermo, though he traveled almost continually. The kingdoms of Sicily and Jerusalem were not part of the Holy Roman Empire; strictly speaking, they were separate realms which just happened to be ruled by the same monarch. Furthermore, the kingship of Germany was one thing, the emperorship something more.

Some historians regard the Swabian (or Suabian) period as a continuation of the Norman rule of Sicily. However, Sicily changed greatly under the Swabians. Despite Frederick's quarrels with the Papacy, leading to excommunication, the church in Sicily became almost completely Latinized during his long reign. By 1250, there were no Byzantine parishes in Sicily --only a few Orthodox monasteries remained. Following a series of revolts, a few thousand Muslim Arabs were "exiled" to Lucera in Apulia, while thousands more converted to Catholicism. By 1250, mosques were a rare sight. In 1200, Sicily was a multicultural kingdom; by the end of the Swabian era a half-century later it was an essentially "European" one. This was true of customs, language (Sicilian) and law. All bore the mark of Arab and Byzantine influences but were now almost "Italian."

It was during the Swabian period that the Sicilian language later recognized by Dante and then Boccaccio truly evolved. The sonnet is thought to have been born at the court of Frederick II.

Architecture gradually lost its Byzantine and Arab features. An Italianate "Gothicized" Romanesque prevailed. Though present in some Norman-era castles and churches, most of the arched two-light windows visible around Sicily date from the Swabian period or the century following it. Frederick built a number of castles, such as the fortress at Catania.

The people themselves did not immediately change. Sicily was still the heart of an important realm, even if absentee administration became commonplace. In the countryside, feudalism flowered.

The term "Swabian" is misleading. Many of the arrivals were German or Lombard but not Swabian. Lombard garrisons loyal to Frederick were installed in several towns, the native "Norman" nobles regarded as too fickle. Initially, Frederick also had Saracen (Arab) troops. Constance of Aragon, Frederick's wife, brought an Iberian influence to the Sicilian court.

While Frederick was a brilliant man, it appears that he was not generally liked by the Sicilians. Indeed, Swabian rule generally appears not to have been appreciated either by the nobility or the other classes. Despite this, a stronger national identity was being forged among the Sicilians, continuing what had begun in Norman times. At Frederick's death, in 1250, Pope Innocent IV tightened his grip on the island. The strong papal influence, which eventually led to Angevin rule and consequently, in 1282, the War of the Vespers, was not at all progressive. For comparison, we may consider that England's Magna Carta, issued in 1215, set forth royal and baronial rights and duties for centuries to come. In Sicily, despite numerous "parliaments" and declarations over the years, nothing comparable ever emerged, even though there were numerous laws, such as the remarkable Assizes of Ariano of Roger II.

Following the death of Frederick in 1250, three of his descendants claimed the throne in succession, but the antipathy of the Guelphs and the Papacy had not abated. Frederick's son Conrad IV died inHohenstaufen coat of arms and eagle insignia. 1254. An illegitimate son, Manfred, was killed at the Battle of Benevento in 1266 when his army was defeated by an Angevin force commanded by Charles of Anjou, the papal choice to succeed as king of Sicily. Frederick's grandson, Conradin (Conrad's son), was executed in 1268 at the age of sixteen. With the end of the Hohenstaufen dynasty, southern Italy passed into the hands of the House of Anjou, which ruled Sicily from Naples until the House of Aragon, and the Sicilians themselves, challenged French authority in 1282.

The end of Hohenstaufen rule was a turning point in history because henceforth Sicily would only rarely be ruled by resident kings. Instead, it was usually administered by viceroys. Moreover, the island nation lost her importance in world affairs. There is also a cultural factor to be considered. Had the thirteenth-century popes (and their Guelphic allies) not had their way, Italy might have evolved into a state with a society in some ways more Germanic than Latin.

We do not know how many Germans and Lombards remained in Sicily following the Swabian period. Those who received feudal lands certainly stayed, and in several towns certain surnames --and even some commonly used words-- bear the mark of Germanic influences. The Teutonic Knights maintained several Sicilian commanderies well into the 1300s, undisturbed by subsequent dynasties.

Sicilian Peoples: The Aragonese
by Vincenzo Salerno

Eleanor of Aragon, by Laurana.The Aragonese period of Sicily can be said to have lasted from 1282 until 1492, bridging the medieval and modern eras. The Kingdom of Aragon, which by the middle of the thirteenth century encompassed Catalonia and other lands, was an ethnically diverse region with its own language and a flourishing capital, Barcelona. Indeed, Aragon emerged as a powerful "Spanish" state in an age when most of the Iberian monarchies were struggling against the Moors, a conflict which was to continue well into the last years of the fifteenth century. Until the end of the Middle Ages, Spain was not a unified nation.

The royal house of Aragon effectively ruled Sicily from the time of the War of the Vespers in 1282, when the conspiracy of Sicilian nobles acting against Charles of Anjou, King of Naples and Sicily, brought about a popular uprising that ousted thousands of Angevins from the island. King Peter of Aragon, whose wife was considered the last heir of the Hohenstaufen dynasty of Swabia, thus became King of Sicily, succeeded in turn by two of his sons.

In principle, the crowns of Aragon and Sicily were to remain separate, meaning that the same prince could not simultaneously be king of both Aragon and Sicily. In practice, of course, this was not always the case.

In 1302, a treaty known as the Peace of Caltabellotta (for the city where it was signed) established an Angevin-Aragonese truce. By that time, the dynasties of Aragon and Naples were related through marriage, and the Aragonese presence was well-established in Sicily. The House of Anjou, meanwhile, cast its aspirations toward Hungary and elsewhere, and the Neapolitan crown was inherited by the House of Aragon in the middle of the fifteenth century.

Initially, the Aragonese period brought peace and prosperity to Sicily. This was sometimes interrupted by periods of unrest, and the nobility never seemed content. Yet it was during this era that most of Sicily's remaining castles and medieval palaces were constructed. Pure Gothic styles were rarely followed. Instead, various Romanesque styles flourished, often enhanced by certain Gothic features and therefore called "Gothic." The Chiaramonte Gothic style was associated with one of the noble families of Sicily which (as we shall see), in the absence of a resident king, usurped royal power for several decades. This was essentially a continuation of the Swabian style used in fortified structures. In the fifteenth century, as the "closed" fortified residences (castles) gave way to more airy "modern" palaces, the Catalan Gothic style was influenced by Aragonese and Catalonian trends, while the Renaissance Gothic style was based on northern Italian architecture. In general, however, the Renaissance influence --despite exceptional artists such as Antonello da Messina-- was minimal in Sicily compared to northern Italy. Nevertheless, in churches statues gradually replaced icons and bas-reliefs, and outside the Church a few enlightened patrons supported the arts.

Socially, feudalism became the norm, though in reality (despite claims to the contrary) very few Sicilian noble families identified in the eighteenth century are descended in the male line from ancestors living before 1400. Also, most Sicilians bearing Spanish surnames are descended not from Aragonese forebears but from Spanish ones arriving well after 1500.

There were very few Orthodox communities in Sicily after 1300, though an influx of Albanians arrived two centuries later. As far as we know, the Muslims had all converted to Catholicism by 1300. Whereas many towns had once had thriving Jewish communities, most Jews were now migrating to the larger cities. By 1400, Sicily was an essentially Roman Catholic and "Latin" country.

The Aragonese introduced a number of nobles to the island, and envy by the native "Latin" nobility, represented by families such as the Chiaramonte, provoked a destructive "war" against the Alagona and other "Catalan" clans, who ostensibly acted in Aragonese interests. The roots of this movement can be traced to certain families seizing fiefs formerly belonging to the defeated Angevin nobility, but simple greed and avarice were the Courtyard of the Steri, Palermo.real causes. Aggravated by the absence of the king and the presence of the Plague, the chaos led to much rural destruction for several decades.

The Chiaramonte (probably descended from the Norman nobility) built castles across Sicily. In Palermo, their socio-economic rivalry with the local Grua family became architectural, pitting the Steri palace (shown here) against the Sclafani palace --both constructed as fortresses just in case the need for defence should arise. The legitimate rulers could not afford to be absent forever. In 1392, Martin of Aragon was crowned king. The Alagonas, Peraltas, Ventimiglias, Gruas and Artales were brought under control, but the deepest royal wrath was reserved for the arrogant Chiaramontes, the last of whom was hung before his lavish residence in Palermo, which became the royal palace and viceroy's residence of Sicily. (It later became the local seat of the Inquisition.) Usurping royal prerogatives and riches was a dangerous game.

During the Aragonese period a number of foreigners were present in Sicilian cities. Catalan cloth merchants, Genoese traders, Venetian bankers and even English vendors arrived. Today, certain urban churches reflect the heritage of these communities. Saint Joseph of the Neapolitans and Saint George of the Genoans, both in Palermo, come to mind. In the country, however, deforestation continued in an effort to provide timber for the building of Aragonese ships. It isn't difficult to imaging the overzealous Chiaramontes and Ventimiglias destroying entire forests for economic gain.

In Spain, the fall of Granada, the unification of the nation under what became a single dynasty, and the expulsion (or conversion) of the last non-Christians --Jews and some remaining Muslims-- in 1492 mark the beginning of the modern "Spanish" era. The arrival of Columbus in America in the same year definitively removed the Mediterranean, and its largest island, from the stage of world events. In the immediate aftermath of these developments, the kings of Spain were also kings of Sicily, though the Sicilian crown was to be passed from dynasty to dynasty in the centuries to follow. There were no more Muslims in Sicily, but most of the island's Jews converted to Catholicism. As many Jews left, this had a negative effect on the economy of cities such as Palermo. Until around 1500, Messina was the second most important city in Sicily. Henceforth, Catania gradually challenged her for importance in the eastern part of the island.

Except for a few years of resurgent independent feeling every few decades --usually coinciding with a "parliament"-- national Sicilian identity gradually declined after 1300. By 1492, it was all but invisible. Even following the Vespers, most "parliaments" held in Sicily under Angevin rule were little more than meetings of barons convened on royal authority, usually with the purpose of "confirming" royal proposals.

Despite isolated prosperity, Aragonese Sicily was undistinguished for economic or social initiative, and was usually exploited to support Aragon's treasury and wars. In many ways, the Sicilian nobility became a sleepy, unmotivated social class uninterested in genuine economic development or progress. A true middle class failed to develop, and literacy decreased at a frightening rate. These conditions worsened under Spanish rule in the decades and centuries to come. Coupled with foreign --often distant-- rule, a reactionary Catholicism didn't help matters. In the waning years of the Middle Ages, the benefits of an "Italian" Sicily on the model of the northern city-states probably would have outweighed those of a distant "Spanish" one. These harsh realities would haunt the Sicilians well into the twentieth century.

Sicilian Peoples: The Normans
by Vincenzo Salerno

Bayeau Tapestry. Knights at the Battle of Hastings resembled those at the Battle of Messina five years earlier.To call them "Vikings" (Norsemen) is to oversimplify the culture of the medieval Normans, for their society, heritage and genetic make-up were as Frankish and Roman as they were Norse. The term "Norman" refers to the residual Norse and Frankish civilization of Normandy. Much as the Lombards of Lombardy were not purely Longobardic, the Normans of Normandy were not purely Norse. In fact, they were descended not only from Vikings but from Franks, Romans and Celts, and their language was a dialect of French. Unlike their Viking forebears, the Normans were Christians, and their society was highly evolved in its government, law, art, architecture and literature, which during the twelfth century profoundly influenced not only Normandy but England and southern Italy.

The Norsemen ("Viking" comes from the early Scandinavian word vikingr for "pirates") were Danish, Norwegian and Swedish adventurers who rose to power in the ninth century, raiding the coasts of northwestern Europe in places like England and Ireland, and sailing as far as North America. The Swedish element penetrated overland and along rivers into the Baltics and Russia to the Black Sea. Constantinople's Varangian Guard consisted of Vikings such as Harald Sigurdsson ("Hardrada") who fought alongside Normans with George Maniakes in Byzantine Sicily. The Vikings were initially pagans, and their colorful mythology has given us the English names of several days of the week (Wednesday for Woden, Thursday for Thor, etc.), following an earlier Roman custom of naming the days for gods (as in the Italian Mercoledì for Mercury and Giovedì for Jove or Jupiter).

The Franks were a Germanic tribe which settled in Gaul (France and southern Belgium) during the decline of the Roman Empire. The Romans abandoned part of Belgium to the Franks in AD 358. By 507, much of France was united under the Christianized Frankish king Clovis. This included what is now Normandy.

By 900, Vikings were raiding this region but also establishing outposts there. In antiquity, the region of the Seine and Eure valleys had Norman knights depicted in the cloister of Monreale Abbey, outside Palermo.been Celtic. It fell under Roman control through the efforts of Julius Caesar. The Franks had ruled not only in the person of Clovis, but under the reign of Charlemagne. After 911, Charles III "the Simple" ceded Normandy to the Norse chieftain Hrolf (Rollo), who became a Christian. Immigration rapidly increased, and by 1000, following several generations of intermarriage with the "native" Frankish-Celtic population (i.e. Viking men marrying Frankish women), a distinct ethnic culture had emerged. In the decades to follow, Norman knights arrived in Italy, first as pilgrims and then as mercenaries, taking part (on both sides) in the wars between Byzantines and Lombards. In some cases, these were the younger sons of nobles who (under Frankish law) could not inherit lands destined for eldest sons. In others, they were simply wandering men-at-arms.

In general, the Normans of England were somewhat higher-born than their compatriots in Italy, their surnames typically based on familial fiefs in Normandy. Like the conquest of England, the Normans' conquest of Italy was characterized by social and political motivations, though it was much slower than the English campaign. The patriarchs of Rome (the popes) resented Byzantine influence in Italy, and the power of the Lombard feudatories (in peninsular Italy) was viewed as a nuisance. There were also more racist motives. Whereas the competition between Saxons and Normans for England was largely a question of Saxon English-ness versus Norman greed, the campaign against the Sicilian Arabs had all the makings of a "holy war," whether justified or not. The Papacy made it clear that restoring Sicily to Latin Christiandom (separating its Orthodox Christians from Constantinople's influence) was at least as important as reducing the influence of Islam on the island. In the event, the Normans did not Latinize Sicily rapidly enough for Papal tastes, nor did they immediately seek to convert the island's Muslims. In fact, they were often at odds with the popes.

In 1054, the Church separated. The Great Schism left the Latin ("Roman") West distinctive of the Byzantine ("Greek") East, resulting in the churches now described as "Catholic" and "Orthodox." In truth, the conflict had been brewing for two centuries or more, and far transcended theology. In 1061, having assumed control of much of southern Italy, a Norman force crossed into Sicily at Messina and seized the city from its Saracen garrison. The Sicilian conquest now underway was slow and difficult. In 1066, a Norman force, including some knights who had fought in the Italian campaigns, won the Battle of Hastings (based in part on tactics learned at Messina), establishing the Norman presence in England. London was taken soon afterward. In Sicily, on the other hand, the de Hauteville brothers, Robert "Guiscard" and Roger, reached Palermo only in 1071. While Saxon lords paid fealty to William "the Conqueror" of England almost immediately, it took Roger and his knights more than a decade following the Battle of Palermo to bring the entire island under Norman control. (Emir Ibn Hamud of Kasr Yanni surrendered only in 1087.) It was worth the effort. Their Norman coin, 1150.Mediterranean jewel was more important --and far wealthier-- than William's rainy realm in the North Sea; revenues from the city of Palermo alone eclipsed those of all England.

For all that, the Normans were not the first northern European invaders to reach Sicilian shores during the Middle Ages. That distinction belongs to the Vandals and Goths, whose rule was short-lived and left few visible traces. By contrast, vestiges of Norman Sicily are everywhere to be found. --particularly churches and castles.

Sicilian society was more sophisticated than what the Normans encountered in England or even mainland Italy. The polyglot culture of the Arabs and Byzantines was a prosperous intellectual, artistic and economic environment at the center of the most important region of the "Western World" --the Mediterranean. It was a geographic crossroads between north and south, east and west. The beautiful Romanesque architectural style of Normandy (Cefalù's cathedral is based on Caen's Saint Etienne church), so important in changing the face of Saxon England, was welcome in Sicily, but it merely embellished what the Byzantines and Arabs already knew. The "Norman-Arab" style of art and architecture was unique, combining Byzantine, Moorish and northern European movements in a new expression of aesthetics.

More important than this was the evolution of the social fabric of Norman Sicily, adapting essentially Arab institutions to European realities. Throughout the Norman era (roughly from1070 to 1200), ethnic and religious tolerance were generally accepted as integral parts of Sicilian society. Though there were conflicts, multicultural co-existence usually prevailed. The Church, but also the Sicilian language, was gradually Latinized. European institutions such as feudalism were introduced. In effect, Norman Sicily became part of Europe rather than Africa (under the Moors) or Asia (under the Byzantines).

On a humanistic level, its multicultural orientation was important enough, but Sicily's emergence as one of Europe's most important regions ushered in a "Golden Age" which continued into the "Swabian" era (of Frederick II) during the thirteenth century. It was probably Sicily's finest hour. The twelfth century saw Sicily become a kingdom under Roger II (whose realm included not only Sicily but most of Italy south of Rome). The Norman government included clerics and from England and Normandy, great Arab thinkers such as Abdullah al-Idrisi, and a young Anglo-Norman queen.

Nowadays, "New World" nations such as Canada, the United States and Australia seem to represent the epitome of tolerant, multicultural societies. In the Middle Ages, however, the concept was a novel one. True, the Roman Empire had embraced many cultures, but it could be argued that Norman Sicily supported a truer equality than most places offered, and it was more benevolent than ancient Rome. Slavery was eventually all but abolished, and serfdom was never as prevalent as it was in England, France or Germany, while freedom of speech and literacy came to be considered every Sicilian's birthright. The Normans' system of justice allowed separate --but equal-- jurisdictions based on Shari'a law for Muslims, Judaic law for Jews, Byzantine Greek law for Byzantines and Norman feudal law for Normans. Important documents were multilingual. True, a Latin (and Roman Catholic) orientation eventually prevailed, but until the reign of Frederick II a more or less egalitarian society existed. At least for a time, it was a successful experiment, and a necessary one.

Despite its ethnic diversity, or perhaps because of it, Norman Sicily evolved into an enduring "nation" with Sicilians as its "people." In other Italian regions such developments were literally centuries away. (This was even true of Sardinia, which, as an island, might reasonably be expected to assume a "national" identity long before it did.) In time, the territory ruled by the Normans, contiguous to Magna Graecia, became known to Italians simply as "il Regno" ("the Kingdom"). Palermo (the Arabs' Bal'harm) was the capital of this realm and later, under Frederick II, the capital of the entire Holy Roman Empire. The period beginning with the arrival of the Normans in 1061 and ending with the death of their descendant, Frederick, in 1250, was a brief --but remarkable-- shining moment in European history.

The Normans retained much of Arab society. After all, there was no need to change certain things which functioned well. Some North meets South and East meets West in Palermo in 1148. Tomb inscriptions in Latin, Greek, Hebrew and Arabic.everyday sights, like the souks (street markets) and Romanesque windows, still exist, of course, but throughout the twelfth century it was the Arabs' institutions that truly distinguished Sicily from other Norman territories, particularly England. Instead of abolishing existing policies and institutions, the Normans built upon what already existed, adapting these as they found necessary. This was enlightened rule, especially from renegades and mercenaries who just a few decades earlier were pillaging the Italian countryside.

It is generally believed that most red-haired and blue-eyed Sicilians owe their coloring to the medieval Normans or the Lombards who often accompanied them. Yet we do not know how many Normans settled in Sicily. Most were men, most were knights or other soldiers, and many were feudatories, effectively constituting the earliest medieval Sicilian landed aristocracy. Most married Sicilian-born women. The best estimate of the Norman migration places it at fewer than eight thousand persons arriving between 1061 and 1161, but even this is highly speculative. It certainly was not a mass immigration comparable to those of the Arabs (Saracens) or ancient Greeks. The first Norman incursions into Sicily were measured in hundreds of Norman knights accompanied by greater numbers of non-Norman infantry, and not all of them remained here. Except for Benedictine and diocesan clergy, there were few men of learning among the Norman arrivals.

Change did not come overnight. Some localities were more Orthodox Christian and Greek-speaking while others were predominantly Muslim and Arabic-speaking. Mosques stood alongside churches and synagogues. The Norman vassals and knights, though Christian, were Roman Catholic. It was the Normans who Latinized Sicily (just as they Latinized the language of Saxon England), both linguistically and ecclesiastically. Some isolated Orthodox monasteries in the northeast of Sicily survived this process for a time, but most of Sicily's greatest Norman churches, though boasting some superficially Byzantine elements, were founded (or re-constructed) as Latin (Roman Catholic) ones.

The Norman era lasted through four rulers (two Rogers succeeded by two Williams), followed by a Swabian (German) wed to Constance, the last surviving Norman princess, in a land where --at least in theory-- only men ruled. Her son, Frederick II, could be said to have continued the Norman tradition but he was a Hohenstaufen and not a Hauteville. In the event, the "home rule" of Sicily from its own capital effectively ended with his death in the middle of the thirteenth century. Henceforth, the island was to be governed from Naples or from cities even further afield. The Sicily of the Normans represents a unique time in history which, like all such periods, was not to last forever. In the words of John Julius Norwich:

"Norman Sicily stood forth in Europe --and indeed in the whole bigoted medieval world-- as an example of tolerance and enlightenment, a lesson in the respect that every man should feel for those whose blood and beliefs happen to differ from his own."

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