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).
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.
The emergence of the unified monarchy of León-Castile in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries is perhaps one of the most significant developments in the history of Iberia, and one which was to have long-lasting consequences for the religious, political, and cultural configuration of the Iberian peninsula. While traditional Spanish (national) historiography has tended to depict this political development as an inevitable reemergence of a “united Spain” following the rupture inaugurated by the Muslim conquest, more recent scholarship has tended to be wary of such an essentializing approach in which there is institutional and ideological continuity drawn between the Visigothic monarchy and the Christian kingdoms of northern Iberia. Rather than viewing the emergence of the kingdom of León-Castile as a natural political evolution, modern historians have emphasized the importance of the Muslim-Christian frontier in Iberia and the process of Christian conquest and settlement, known as the Reconquista, at the expense of al-Andalus (Muslim-ruled Iberia) as central to the rise of the Christian kingdoms of northern Spain between the tenth and twelfth centuries.