Commerce and Coexistence: Muslims in the Economy and Society of Norman Sicily
By Timothy James Smit
PhD Dissertation, University of Minnesota, 2009
Abstract: This dissertation aims to assess the economic role that Muslims played in Norman Sicily, and how that economic role tied them into the society of Norman Sicily in general. Muslims in Sicily were allowed considerable autonomy and tolerance by the Christian rulers of the island, and the tolerance shown to them was always tied to their usefulness to the crown. Others have looked at this phenomenon in the context of their role in the administration of the Regno, how Muslims served the crown in that fashion. I would argue that their economic role was just as important, particularly in the early years of Norman control. With Muslims making up the majority of merchants, a situation which continued into the late twelfth century in places such as Palermo, they provided an integral service in creating the vaunted wealth of the island. Beyond the role played by the commercial elite of the cities, the more humble Muslims of the island also played a vital economic role. They were the majority of cultivators, and as agriculture was always the primary source of wealth of the island they were necessary for that wealth as well. They were also involved in other kinds of production, in particular in the textile trade. Because of this, they remained important to the counts and kings of Sicily after the Normans became more established in their rule. Even as their role diminished over the course of the twelfth century, as Muslims lost their majority status and were replaced in some of their economic roles by Latin Christian peasants and Italian merchants, they still remained important. Their economic role fueled their coexistence with the Christians of the island.