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1130-1500 - Early History

In ancient times the Tiber was the boundary between Upper and Lower Italy. The acquisitions of the Holy See in the middle ages changed the ancient landmarks, and transferred a portion of Southern Italy to the Popes. The frontier-line which divided the provinces of Naples from the Papal States, with few trifling exceptions, was the same as it was at the establishment of the monarchy by the Normans in 1130. It commenced on the Adriatic at the Tronto, and terminated on the Mediterranean at Terracina. The length of this line of frontier, following its numerous windings, was about 210 m.; the direct distance not more than 115.

Sicily in the hands of the Mussulmans, the Theme of Lombardy abandoned to the weak suzerainty of the Greek catapans, the Lombard duchy of Benevento slowly falling to pieces, and the maritime republics of Naples, Gaeta, and Amalfi extending their influence by commerce in the Mediterranean, were in effect detached from the Italian regno, beyond the jurisdiction of Rome, included in no parcel of Italy proper.

But a moment had arrived when this vast group of provinces, forming the future kingdom of the two Sicilies, was about to enter definitely and decisively within the bounds of the Italian community. Some Norman adventurers on pilgrimage to St. Michael's shrine on Monte Gargano, lent their swords in 1017 to the Lombard cities of Apulia against the Greeks. Twelve years later we find the Normans settled at Aversa under their Count Rainulf. From this station as a center the little band of adventurers, playing the Greeks off against the Lombards, and the Lombards against the Greeks, spread their power in all directions, until they made themselves the most considerable force in southern Italy.

William of Hauteville was proclaimed count of Apulia. His half-brother, Robert Wiskard or Guiscard, after defeating the papal troops at Civitella in 1053, received from Leo IX. the investiture of all present and future conquests in Apulia, Calabria, and Sicily, which he agreed to hold as fiefs of the Holy Sea. Nicholas II. ratified this grant, and confirmed the title of count. Having consolidated their possessions on the mainland, the Normans, under Robert Guiscard's brother, the great Count Roger, undertook the conquest of Sicily in 1060. After a prolonged struggle of thirty years, they wrested the whole island from the Saracens; and Roger, dying in 11O1, bequeathed to his son Roger a kingdom in Calabria and Sicily second to none in Europe for wealth and magnificence. This, while the elder branch of the Hauteville still held the title and domains of the Apulian duchy, but in 1127, upon the death of his cousin Duke William, Roger united the whole of the future realm. In 1130 he assumed the style of King of Sicily.

This Norman conquest of the two Sicilies forms the most romantic episode in mediaeval Italian history. By the consolidation of Apulia, Calabria, and Sicily into a powerful kingdom, by checking the growth of the maritime republics, and by recognizing the over-lordship of the papal see, the house of Hauteville influenced the destinies of Italy with more effect than any of the princes who had previously dealt with any portion of the peninsula. Their kingdom, though Naples was from time to time separated from Sicily, never quite lost the cohesion they had given it; and all the disturbances of equilibrium in Italy were due in after days to papal manipulation of the rights acquired by Robert Guiscard's act of homage. The southern regno, in the hands of the popes, proved an insurmountable obstacle to the unification of Italy, led to French interference in Italian affairs, introduced the Spaniard, and maintained in those rich southern provinces the reality of feudal sovereignty long after this alien element had been eliminated from the rest of Italy.

Thus was founded a kingdom which has, perhaps oftener than any other European state, been divided and united and handed over from one dynasty of strangers to another. In the twelfth, in the sixteenth, in the eighteenth century, Sicily, the Two Sicilies, one of the Sicilies, found a king in the Western Emperor, but neither the whole nor either of its parts was ever incorporated with the Empire. And the boundaries, strictly so called, of the kingdom hardly changed at all. For the only immediate neighbor of the Sicilian king was his ecclesiastical overlord, the Pope. The question was whether the king of the mainland should be also king of the island. But the successive dynasties which reigned both over the whole kingdom and over its divided parts were for a long time eager to carry out the policy of their first founder, by conquests east of the Adriatic.

The Sicilian kingdom has much in common with the states formed by the crusaders in Asia and Eastern Europe. Both grew out of lands won by Western conquerors, partly from the Eastern Empire itself, partly from Mussulman holders of lands which had belonged to the Eastern Empire. But the order of the two processes is different. The Sicilian Normans began by conquering lands of the Empire, and then went on to win the island which the Saracens had torn from the Empire. The successive crusades first founded Christian states in the lands which the Mussulmans had won from the Empire, and then partitioned the Empire itself.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:01:23 ZULU