Outlook on the Golden Age in the history of Sicily

Outlook on the Golden Age in the history of Sicily

By Jerzy Hauzinski

Slupskie Studia Historyczne, No.17 (2011)

Excerpt: It was Roger II, Roger I’s younger son, whose rule began in 1105, when his brother Simon died and who in fact assumed power on attaining his majority in 1112, who was the leading figure amongst Roger I’s successors. Roger II was crowned in 1130, and in 1137 he incorporated into his state all Norman territories situated in the South of Italy, including Naples. Soon after 1148 he started to gain control over the emirs of Ifriqiya with the help of George of Antioch, the leader of both his army and his fleet. The main branch of the Hauteville family ruled Sicily up to 1189. After the heirless death of William II, the last representative of this branch, favorable conditions appeared for the emperor Frederick I’s son, the “Roman” king Henry VI of Hohenstaufen, who married Constance, Roger II’s daughter, in 1186, to seize control over the island. After the premature death of emperor Henry VI in 1197, the Kingdom of Sicily was inherited by his son Frederick Roger (as the Roman king and emperor, Frederick II of Hohenstaufen). The position of the Hohenstaufen was gradually strengthened both on the island and in the continental part of the Kingdom of Sicily, which under Frederick II’s reign became the most efficiently governed state in Europe (Idealstaat), with flourishing courtly culture, science permeated with influences of the Orient (Islam, Judaism) and with the developing Sicilian school of poetry. These achievements, though of considerable importance in particular disciplines of science, culture and art, did not lead to civilization synthesis.

Focusing for a while on the intercultural dimension of the “Golden Age” of the Norman-Staufen Sicily, two factors stimulating the intercultural rapprochement process should be emphasized. While the first one was the politically calculated religious and racial tolerance the second could be defined as a centralized model of efficiently managed monarchy. The first factor was based on ethnic diversity, while the estimates for particular ethnic groups from the close of the Norman period (c. 1190) determine the number of the Greek and Muslim population as around 50 per cent, descendants of the indigenous inhabitants of Sicily as well as incoming Roman peoples from continental Italy as around 30-35 per cent, Jews as 10 per cent and finally Roman incoming population of the cities as around 5-8 per cent (approximate data based on the assumption that the overall number of the inhabitants of the island equaled 700 thousand people). In that ethnic mosaic there also appears a small population of the Slavic people, whose traces can be detected in Arabic written sources of the 10th century. Apart from the followers of Judaism, there are three components of civilization universum, that is: the universum of Latin civilization, drawing its inspiration from Rome; the universum of Eastern Christendom (Byzantine) and the universum of Islam. The universum of Western Christendom in that time was not very profound, despite the fact that the rulers were forced to support and strengthen church organization of the monarchy as well as to be protectors of numerous monastic houses.

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