The Iconography of Royal Power in 12th-c. Norman Sicily

The reign of Roger II (r. 1130-1154), who had began his rule as Count of Sicily in 1105, became Duke of Apulia and Calabria in 1127, and then King of Sicily in 1130, has long fascinated everyone interested in Mediterranean history. It marks a particularly significant period for the consolidation of Norman rule in both Sicily and southern Italy. Roger II instituted a strong royal administration, overcame various challenges to his authority (in the form of rebellions) and inaugurated an expansionist foreign policy that resulted in the incorporation of substantial territories in North Africa into his realm (discussed further here).

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(Image source: http://almostforgotten.squarespace.com/podcast/2018/3/13/episode-35-norman-in-italy-part-2-roger-ii)

In addition to overseeing the transformation of the Norman kingdom into a Mediterranean power that controlled Sicily, southern Italy and parts of modern-day Tunisia and Libya, Roger II’s reign is also distinguished by his patronage of a courtly culture colored as much by Arab-Islamic and Eastern Roman (“Byzantine”) influences as by Latin Christian culture. This is unsurprising, given the rich Islamic and Eastern Roman history of Sicily in the preceding centuries. Indeed, the island’s large population of Christians, Muslims and Jews was predominantly Greek and Arabic speaking during the early 12th century.  This variety of cultural influences and convergence of diverse communities is indicated by the distinctive culture of the Norman kingdom, perhaps best embodied by the wonderful architecture patronized and constructed by Roger II and his successors during the 12th century.

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(Muqarnas in the Palatine Chapel/Cappella Palatina in Palermo, constructed between 1132 and 1180. Image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/bautisterias/24595747119/)

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Castilian “Reconquista,” Ottoman Expansion and the Christianization of al-Andalus

Since its initial conquest by Arab and Berber armies in 711–715, most of the Iberian Peninsula (modern Spain and Portugal) had been under Umayyad Muslim political control between 756 and 1031.[1] Following the collapse of the Umayyad Caliphate of Cordoba in 1031, however, al-Andalus, the Muslim-ruled portions of Iberia, had disintegrated into over two dozen emirates, known as taifas.[2]

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This fragmentation and weakening of Muslim political authority facilitated the rise of the northern Christian powers of Portugal, Navarre, Castile, León, and Aragón. Attempts by local (Andalusi) and foreign (“Berber” Almoravid, Almohad and Marinid) dynasties to resist the southward expansion of these Christian kingdoms ultimately failed, and the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa in 1212, ending in an overwhelming defeat for the Muslims at the hands of a Christian coalition, sealed the fate of most of al-Andalus.[3] Beginning in the eleventh century, Castile and Aragón in particular had capitalized on the collapse of the Caliphate of Cordoba and succeeded in conquering major Andalūsī cities such as Toledo in 1085, Zaragoza in 1118, Lisbon in 1147, Cuenca in 1177, Majorca and Badajoz in 1230, Cordoba in 1236, Valencia in 1238, Jaén in 1246, and Seville in 1248, Algeciras in 1344, Antequera in 1410 and Gibraltar in 1462.[4]

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