Creation of the Kingdom of Sicily Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The establishment of the Kingdom of Sicily created a realm that dominated the central Mediterranean.

Summary of Event

In the early eleventh century, an increasing number of landless Norman knights found service as mercenaries in the confused struggles in southern Italy and on Sicily. This region was at the crossroads of three cultures—Byzantine, Latin, and Arabic. Apulia and Calabria remained under the power of the Byzantine Empire. The central provinces were governed by Lombard lords. Across the narrow straits of Messina, the island of Sicily was under Muslim control. [kw]Creation of the Kingdom of Sicily (1127-1130) [kw]Sicily, Creation of the Kingdom of (1127-1130) Sicily, Kingdom of Italy;1127-1130: Creation of the Kingdom of Sicily[1840] Government and politics;1127-1130: Creation of the Kingdom of Sicily[1840] Robert Guiscard Roger I Roger II

Taking service with Lombard princes, the pope, or the Byzantines as circumstances prescribed, the Normans soon made a name for themselves in southern Italy, in 1030 acquiring their first territorial possession. As the family property proved unable to keep pace with the family fertility, increasing numbers of Norman warriors sought their fortunes in southern Italy, including nine of the twelve sons of Tancred d’Hauteville. By the end of 1042, William d’Hauteville was proclaimed count of Apulia and Calabria.

In 1046, the sixth son of old Tancred, Robert, called Guiscard (the foxy or the cunning), arrived and in 1057 effectively succeeded his brothers in Apulia and Calabria. At the synod of Melfi in 1059, Pope Nicholas II formally invested Robert Guiscard Robert Guiscard with Apulia, Calabria, and Sicily, even though at that time Robert had never set foot on the island and the only claim of the pope to sovereignty was the fictitious Donation of Constantine.

Before acting to enforce his claims to Sicily, Robert strengthened his position on the mainland, restricting the Byzantines to Bari in Apulia and eliminating them from Calabria. On Sicily, three Muslim emirs engaged in fratricidal conflict, while a large part of the population remained Christian, open to the blandishments of the Normans. A Byzantine attack on Apulia called Robert away from Sicily, so it was his youngest brother Roger Roger I (conqueror of Sicily) who became the major force in the island’s conquest.

In May, 1061, the Normans captured Messina, giving them an opening to the entire island. In alliance with Emir Ibn at-Timnah of Palermo, they soundly defeated Emir Ibn al-Hawas at Enna. Despite these early successes, limited resources and intermittent internecine quarrels meant that the Norman conquest would not be quick. The Norman victory at Misilmeri in 1068 broke the back of Saracen. Count Roger also built up his fleet, which appeared before Palermo. After a five-month siege, the city surrendered in 1071. Meanwhile, Duke Robert brought Byzantine power in southern Italy to an end with the capitulation of Bari, also in 1071. During the next fifteen years, he successfully fended off rebellions among his vassals, conflicts with other south Italian powers, and the enmity of Pope Gregory VII, expanding his holdings by the conquest of Amalfi and Salerno and becoming the indispensable ally of the pope in his struggle with Emperor Henry IV Henry IV (Holy Roman Emperor) . Duke Robert also turned his energies against his earliest opponents, the Byzantines, dying in 1085 on Cephalonia. He was succeeded by his son Roger Borsa, who was immediately challenged by a half brother, Bohemond.

Although Robert Guiscard remained the titular overlord of Sicily, he was busy with the defense and enlargement of his possessions on the mainland, and he left control to his brother Roger I. After the capitulation of Palermo, Roger began to incorporate elements of the native Muslim population into his administration and army. In 1075, he concluded a treaty of friendship with the Zirid sultan at Mahdia, thus depriving the Sicilian Muslims of any hope of aid from Africa. In 1085, Syracuse was captured, but it was not until 1091 that Noto, the last Muslim stronghold, surrendered.

Robert Guiscard, whom in 1059 Pope Nicholas II formally invested with Apulia, Calabria, and Sicily.

(H. Bricher)

Conquest was quickly followed by conciliation, creating a new, multilingual, and multireligious society. Although Muslims and Jews had to pay a special tax, Latins, Greeks, Jews, and Saracens enjoyed the protection of their own laws. The Muslims Islam;Sicily were granted extensive religious toleration, continued possession of their lands, and inclusion in many military and administrative positions. The Greek Christians had to swallow the bitter pill of Roman primacy; however, they not only kept their own language and liturgy but also gained the rebuilding of their churches and the foundation of fourteen Basilian monasteries. The Latins obtained the Church hierarchy and the choicest fiefs. Court ceremonies were more Byzantine than feudal. Although allied with the Papacy, Roger held firm control of the Sicilian Church, in 1098 receiving from Pope Urban II for himself and his successors the authority of a papal legate. By the time Roger I died in 1101, he had established one of the most remarkable states of medieval Europe, a hybrid of three cultures at the focal point of the Mediterranean world.

Roger I was succeeded by his son, Roger II, Roger II (king of Sicily) under the regency of his widow, Adelaide of Savona. Relying in large part on her Greek and Arab subjects, Adelaide weathered many difficulties, establishing her court at Palermo. By 1113, Roger II was ready to take up the government. The island realm was prosperous and well protected by the strong fleet founded by the Great Count. On the mainland, Roger Borsa and his son William showed none of the abilities of Robert Guiscard. In 1125, the childless Duke William recognized Roger II as his heir and died two years later at the age of thirty. Roger rushed to Salerno, gained possession there, and, after ineffective resistance by the pope and disgruntled barons, in 1128 was invested by Honorius II as duke of Apulia, Calabria, and Sicily. He then held a grand court at Melfi, where the feudal nobility of Apulia and Calabria were required to swear loyalty to himself and his sons, to forswear private warfare, and to surrender criminals to the ducal courts. Thus the foundations were laid for the extension to the mainland of the strong kingly power that his father had established on Sicily. Somewhat later in that same year, the only remaining independent Norman lord in southern Italy, Robert of Capua, submitted to Roger’s suzerainty. Taking advantage of a disputed papal election, Roger obtained a bull raising him to the royal dignity. After obtaining the agreement of his vassals at assemblies held at Salerno and Palermo, Roger was crowned the first king of Sicily in Palermo cathedral on Christmas Day, 1130.


King Roger ruled for another twenty-four years, continuing to strengthen his already impressive realm. He was succeeded in 1154 by William the Bad William the Bad (king of Sicily) , and he in turn by his son, William the Good William the Good (king of Sicily) , who died in 1198. This period from Roger I to William II was a golden age in Sicilian history, when good government provided peace, some degree of protection against the greed and violence of feudal lords, and more toleration than anywhere else in the contemporary Mediterranean world.

With William II’s death in 1198, the throne passed to the Hohenstaufen dynasty, which involved Sicily in the endless struggles between Papacy and empire. Papacy;relations with Holy Roman Empire This connection was especially strong under Emperor Frederick II Frederick II (1194-1250), with the southern realm sharing in the glories and the downfall of this enigmatic sovereign, who died in battle against the forces allied with the Papacy. Not long thereafter, Sicily passed under the control of Frederick’s illegitimate son, Manfred. In his capacity as feudal suzerain, Pope Urban IV offered the crown to Charles of Anjou, brother of King Louis IX Louis IX (king of France)[Louis 09 (king of France) of France, who conquered Sicily in 1266. The harshness of Angevin rule encouraged dissatisfaction, and the island of Sicily rose in a rebellion known as the Sicilian Vespers Sicilian Vespers (1282) in 1282. The crown of Sicily was offered to Peter III of Aragon, husband of Manfred’s daughter Constance. The Angevins were never able to regain control, so there were two claimants to the Sicilian crown, on the island and on the mainland. In 1504, Ferdinand of Aragon conquered the mainland, after which the two Sicilies remained part of the Spanish monarchy until the extinction of the Spanish Habsburgs. In 1735, both Sicilies were joined under a Bourbon line that, with the exception of the Napoleonic period at Naples, ruled until 1860, when this monarchy, officially called the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies only in the nineteenth century, was united to form the new Italian national state.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Allibone, Finch. In Pursuit of the Robber Baron: Recreating the Journeys of Robert Guiscard, Duke of Apulia and “The Terror of the World.” Luton, Beds: Lennard, 1988. An examination of Robert Guiscard and his role in the events surrounding Sicily. Bibliography and maps.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Brown, R. Allen. The Normans. 2d ed. Woodbridge, England: Boydell & Brewer, 1995. Emphasizes the capacity of the Normans for leadership and organization.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Houben, Hubert. Roger II of Sicily: A Ruler Between East and West. Translated by Graham A. Loud and Diane Milburn. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002. A biography of Roger II, king of Sicily, that examines his life and world. Illustrations, maps, and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Loud, G. A. The Age of Robert Guiscard: Southern Italy and the Norman Conquest. New York: Longman, 2000. A biography of Robert Guiscard that examines the world he lived in and the Norman conquest. Bibligraphy and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Norwich, John Julius. The Normans in Sicily: The Normans in the South, 1016-1130, and the Kingdom in the Sun, 1130-1194. 1967 and 1970. Reprint. London: Penguin, 1992. An examination of the Norman conquest and the establishment of the Kingdom of Sicily. Bibliography and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wolf, Kenneth Baxter. Making History: The Normans and Their Historians in Eleventh-Century Italy. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1995. Begins with an overview of the Norman conquests in Italy and Sicily and examines the Normans’s history in the Mediterranean. Bibliography and index.

Categories: History