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Kingdom of the Two Sicilies

The divide between North and South has affected Italy since Unification in 1861. It is impossible to travel over Italy without observing the striking difference between its northern and southern provinces. Encircled with mountains, at the mouth of deep gorges from which a torrent dashes into the gulf below, its churches, towers, »nd arcaded houses, grouped together in picturesque irregularity, are backed by precipices of wild magnificence, and lighted up by that magic coloring which belongs to the atmosphère of Southern Italy. While southern regions have an average per capita income of roughly €17,000 a year (£14,400), less than that of Portugal, Lombardy, in the North West, is one of the richest regions in Europe.

In order to maintain some thread of continuity through the perplexed and tangled vicissitudes of the Italian people, it has been necessary to disregard those provinces which did not immediately contribute to the formation of its history. 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 eventually the moment arrived when this vast group of provinces, forming the future kingdom of the two Sicilies, entered 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.

The Kingdom of the Two Sicilies consisted of the Hither Sicily, commonly called the Realm of Naples, and the Further Sicily, usually denominated the Realm of Sicily Proper. Of all the Italian States, none was richer and more fertile in historical recollections, architectural remains, and natural phenomenana than the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. Italy, south of a line drawn from the Tronto to Rieti, and from that again to Terracina, was the arena of Norman conquest; the genius of Robert Guiscard, of Richard of Aversa, and after them of Roger of Sicily, formed this part of Italy into a political entity which, lasting for 800 years, was variously called "the kingdom of Sicily," "the two Sicilies," or more familiarly the "Regno" or "Kingdom."

The battle of Cannae in ancient days, and the revolt of Mass Aniello in more recent, cloud the brilliant page of Neapolitan history. The earlier annals of Sicily are stained with the massacre of Selinus, and the latter with the horrors of the Sicilian Vespers. Herculaneum, Pompeii, and Pajstum still consecrate the soil of Naples. The fields of Sicily are still hallowed by Segesta, Selinus, and Agrigentum. The plains of Naples are as often overflowed by the lava of Vesuvius, as the vallies of Sicily are devastated by the fiery torrents of Etna.

The Realm of Naples formed the southern extremity of the Italian peninsula. It is traversed from north to south by the Apennines, from which chain proceed several branches, forming capes and headlands on the eastern and western coasts. It is washed by the Adriatic Sea on the eastern side, by the Ionian on the southern and by the Tuscan on the western side. Of the four provinces into which the territory was formerly divided, Abruzzo, in the north, is mountainous and barren ; the Terra di Lavoro, in the center, is beautiful and fertile ; Apulia, in the east, has an immense plain, called the Tavoliere di Puglia, which serves as a sheep-walk; and Calabria, on the south, is rich and well wooded. The climate in the mountainous parts is as cold and bracing, as it is sultry and relaxing in the plains. On the western side, the shores are marshy and unwholesome; on the eastern, dry and perfectly healthy.

There was no country in Europe whose population was composed of a greater variety of peoples than the kingdom of Naples. They were never extinguished or absorbed by the conquests of Rome, or by the political changes during the middle ages. In the capital there had always been a mixture of many nations; but in the provinces there were still the descendants of the Marsi, the Samnites, the Bruttii, the Lucanians, the Calabri, the Greeks, and others of antiquity. The wars of these tribes with Home thinned their numbers, and deprived them of their independence, but did not destroy their nationality. Even the Latin colonies planted among them failed to effect more than a temporary fusion.

The island of Sicily, washed on the northern side by the Tuscan Sea, on the eastern by the Ionian Sea, and on the southern and western by the African Sea. The interior of the island presents a vast assemblage of lofty mountains, divided from each other by fruitful vallies. The appearance of the northern and eastern coasts is bold and romantic : the aspect of the southern and western coasts is far less striking. The climate in general is healthy. The most remarkable wind is the scirocco, which checks perspiration, dries up the skin, and produces weariness and languor.

According to the traditions of ancient Greek mariners, Sicily was once inhabited by Cyclopes, Gigantes, Lotophagi, Laestrygones, etc. The most ancient inhabitants of Sicily were a prehistoric race, our scanty knowledge of whom is gleaned from flint implements and rude pottery. They were followed by the Sioani, who were believed by some authorities to be of Iberian, by others of Celtic origin. In 210, after the conquest of Agrigentum , the island became the first Roman province, and was divided into two districts or qusesturae, Lilybaetana (with the capital Lilyboum, now Marsala) and Syracusana.

At first the Romans endeavoured to improve the agriculture of the island, which had suffered seriously during the protracted wars, with a view to render Sicily a more profitable province. The civil war between Octavianus and Sextus Pompey, who had made himself master of Sicily (43-36) but was defeated by Agrippa in the naval battle of Nanlochus (on the N. coast, near Mylse), also accelerated its ruin, so that Augustus was obliged in a great measure to repeople the island and re-erect the towns. Little is known of its internal affairs after this date. After another servile war had devastated the country (259 A.D.), Syracuse began, in 278, to suffer from the incursions of barbarian hordes, when it was plundered by a handful of wandering Franks.

Odoacer made himself master of Sicily, and the island afterwards became subject to the Ostrogoths. In 535 Belisarius brought it under the sway of the Eastern emperors, who retained it till its conquest by the Arabs. - The Romish church had great possessions in Sicily, and Pope Gregory I. was a zealous promoter of the cultivation of the island. Constans II. even transferred the seat of the E. empire to Syracuse in 663, but he was murdered there in 668, and the city was plundered by the Arabs the following year, although they were unable to maintain its possession.

In 827 the Saracens, under Asad ibn Forât, on the invitation of the governor Euphemius, landed near Mazara. Four years later Palermo fell into their hands, and that city now became the capital, and swayed the destinies of the island. The Saracens, conquering one city after another, overran the whole island, and in 878 Syracuse was taken by Ibrahim ibn Ahmed. The latter half of the 10th cent, was the most prosperous period of Sicily under the Mohammedan sway.

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Page last modified: 30-03-2014 18:33:39 ZULU