Roger II of Sicily

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Roger II
Martorana RogerII2008.jpg
Detail of a mosaic showing Roger II (Rogerios Rex in Greek letters) receiving the crown from Jesus Christ (IC), Martorana, Palermo.
Count of Sicily
Reign1105 – 27 September 1130
King of Sicily
Reign27 September 1130 – 26 February 1154
Coronation 25 December 1130
Successor William I
Born22 December 1095
Mileto (Calabria)
Died26 February 1154(1154-02-26) (aged 58)
Palermo, Kingdom of Sicily
Spouse Elvira of Castile
Sibylla of Burgundy
Beatrice of Rethel
Issue Roger III, Duke of Apulia
Tancred, Prince of Bari
Alfonso of Capua
William I of Sicily
Constance I of Sicily
Simon, Prince of Taranto
House Hauteville
Father Roger I of Sicily
Mother Adelaide del Vasto
Religion Roman Catholicism

Roger II (Italian : Ruggero II; 22 December 1095 [1] – 26 February 1154) was King of Sicily and Africa, [2] son of Roger I of Sicily and successor to his brother Simon. He began his rule as Count of Sicily in 1105, became Duke of Apulia and Calabria in 1127, then King of Sicily in 1130 and King of Africa in 1148. [3] By the time of his death at the age of 58, Roger had succeeded in uniting all the Norman conquests in Italy into one kingdom with a strong centralized government.



By 999, Norman adventurers had arrived in southern Italy. [4] By 1016, they were involved in the complex local politics, where Lombards were fighting against the Byzantine Empire. As mercenaries they fought the enemies of the Italian city-states, sometimes fighting for the Byzantines and sometimes against them, but in the following century they gradually became the rulers of the major polities south of Rome. [ citation needed ]

Roger I ruled the County of Sicily at the time of the birth of his youngest son, Roger, at Mileto, Calabria, in 1095. [5] Roger I's nephew, Roger Borsa, was the Duke of Apulia and Calabria, and his great nephew, Richard II of Capua, was the Prince of Capua. Alongside these three major rulers were a large number of minor counts, who effectively exercised sovereign power in their own localities. These counts at least nominally owed allegiance to one of these three Norman rulers, but such allegiance was usually weak and often ignored. [6]

When Roger I died in 1101, his young son Simon became count, with his mother Adelaide del Vasto as regent. Simon died four years later in 1105, at the age of 12. Adelaide continued as regent to her younger son Roger, who was nine. [7]


Rise to power in Sicily

Southern Italy in 1112. The border of the Kingdom of Sicily at the time of Roger's death in 1154 is indicated by a thicker black line encircling most of southern Italy. Southern Italy 1112.svg
Southern Italy in 1112. The border of the Kingdom of Sicily at the time of Roger's death in 1154 is indicated by a thicker black line encircling most of southern Italy.

Upon the death in 1105 of his elder brother, Simon of Hauteville, Roger inherited the County of Sicily under the regency of his mother, Adelaide del Vasto. His mother was assisted by such notables as Christodulus, the Greek emir of Palermo. In 1109, Byzantine Emperor Alexios I Komnenos bestowed upon him the title of protonobilissimos, in recognition of his knowledge of the Byzantine court. [8] In the summer of 1110, Roger was visited by the Norwegian king Sigurd the Crusader, who was on his way to Jerusalem. [lower-alpha 1] [9] The story in Icelandic sources suggests that Sigurd called Roger the king of Sicily twenty years before the latter actually obtained this title.

In 1112, at the age of sixteen, Roger began his personal rule, being named "now knight, now count of Sicily and Calabria" in a charter document dated 12 June 1112. [1] In 1117, his mother, who had married Baldwin I of Jerusalem, returned to Sicily, since the patriarch of Jerusalem had declared the marriage invalid. Roger seems to have felt the slight, and this might explain his later reluctance to go crusading. [lower-alpha 2] [10] Roger married his first wife, Elvira, daughter of King Alfonso VI of Castile and his fourth wife, Isabella, who may be identical to his former concubine, the converted Moor, Zaida, baptised Isabella.

In 1122, Duke William II of Apulia, who was fighting with Count Jordan of Ariano, offered to renounce his remaining claims to Sicily as well as part of Calabria. [11] Roger, in exchange, provided William with 600 knights and access to money for his campaign. [11]

Rise to power in southern Italy

When William II of Apulia died childless in July 1127, Roger claimed all Hauteville family possessions in the peninsula as well as the overlordship of the Principality of Capua, which had been nominally given to Apulia almost thirty years earlier. However, the union of Sicily and Apulia was resisted by Pope Honorius II and by the subjects of the duchy itself.

Royal investiture

Royal mantle of Roger II, bearing an inscription in Arabic with the Hijrah date of 528 (1133-34).
Imperial Treasury, Vienna, in the Hofburg Palace. Weltliche Schatzkammer Wienc.jpg
Royal mantle of Roger II, bearing an inscription in Arabic with the Hijrah date of 528 (1133–34).
Imperial Treasury, Vienna, in the Hofburg Palace.

The popes had long been suspicious of the growth of Norman power in southern Italy, and at Capua in December, the pope preached a crusade against Roger, setting Robert II of Capua and Ranulf II of Alife (his own brother-in-law) against him. After this coalition failed, in August 1128 Honorius invested Roger at Benevento as Duke of Apulia. [12] The baronial resistance, backed by Naples, Bari, Salerno, and other cities whose aim was civic freedom, gave way. In September 1129 Roger was generally recognized as duke of Apulia by Sergius VII of Naples, Robert of Capua, and the rest. He began at once to enforce order in the duchy, where ducal power had long been fading.

On the death of Pope Honorius in February 1130 there were two claimants to the papal throne. Roger supported Antipope Anacletus II against Innocent II. [12] The reward was a crown, [12] and, on 27 September 1130, Anacletus' papal bull made Roger king of Sicily. [13] He was crowned in Palermo on Christmas Day 1130.

The Royal Mantle of Roger II

Roger II's elaborate royal mantle bears the year 528 of the Islamic calendar (1133–34); therefore it could not have been used for his coronation. [14] [15] This lavish item, made for special events to show power and regality, was most likely worn as a symbol of the Norman's victory and new dynasty in Sicily. [16] It was later used as a coronation cloak by the Holy Roman Emperors and is now in the Imperial Treasury (Schatzkammer) in Vienna.

The mantle is an example of the Normans' multicultural court and a mark of trade in Palermo. It is a luxury object made from red silk imported from the Byzantine Empire, its outer panels embellished with gold embroidery, pearls, enamel and jewels. [17] [16] The lining panels are separated into five sections made from three separate silks, each woven with gold. [18] The pearls are from the Persian Gulf, with thousands outlining each section of the embroidery. Pearls were a common decoration on pan-Mediterranean textiles, but were also used and admired on clothing of the Byzantine Empire. [19] The enameled surfaces are also attributed to the Byzantine Empire, as they had many craftsmen specializing in this type of work. The gold embroidery was most likely created by Muslim craftsmen, given the tiraz bands, the Arabic text in calligraphy, and Kufic script. [16] [20] The piece was made in a private royal workshop, dedicated to creating tiraz fabric and other royal garments. [21] It is one of few surviving mementos of Fatimid-style royal garb preserved in its entirety. [22]

The inscription written in the tiraz band along the bottom of the piece states, "Here is what was created in the princely treasury, filled with luck, eminence, majesty, perfection, long-suffering, superiority, welcome, prosperity, liberality, brilliance, pride, beauty, the fulfillment of desires and hopes, the pleasure of days and nights, without cease or change, of glory, devotion, preservation of protection,luck, salvation, victory and capability, in the capital of Sicily, in the year 528 H. [1133-1134]" [16] [23] This mantle was made to promote status, bring the wearer good fortune, and to emphasize Roger II's regal power.

In addition to its lavish decoration and color, the mantle uses striking imagery to convey Roger II's power and victory over the previous dynasty. In a scene evoking domination through primal violence, two lions, a heraldic symbol of a powerful, male ruler, each attack a camel, addorsed on either side of a central palm tree. [16] The lions are stylized rather than realistically portrayed. There are also evocations of the cosmos and constellations in the star shapes on the lions' heads. The mantle's pan-Mediterranean influence is brought out in the materials used to create it, the way it was made, and its design.

Peninsular rebellions

Roger's backing of Anacletus plunged him into a ten-year war. Bernard of Clairvaux, Innocent's champion, organized a coalition against Anacletus and his "half-heathen king". He was joined by Louis VI of France, Henry I of England, and Lothair III, Holy Roman Emperor. Meanwhile, southern Italy revolted.

In 1130, the Duchy of Amalfi revolted and in 1131, Roger sent John of Palermo across the Strait of Messina to join up with a royal troop from Apulia and Calabria and march on Amalfi by land while George of Antioch blockaded the town by sea and set up a base on Capri. [24] Amalfi soon capitulated.

In 1132, Roger sent Robert II of Capua and Ranulf II of Alife to Rome in a show of force in support of Anacletus. While they were away, Roger's half-sister Matilda, Ranulf's wife, fled to Roger claiming abuse. Simultaneously, Roger annexed Ranulf's brother's County of Avellino. Ranulf demanded the restitution of both wife and countship. Both were denied, and Ranulf left Rome against orders, with Robert following.

Roger II riding to war, from the Liber ad honorem Augusti of Petrus de Ebulo, 1196. Roger II Sicily.jpg
Roger II riding to war, from the Liber ad honorem Augusti of Petrus de Ebulo, 1196.

First Roger dealt with a rebellion in Apulia, where he defeated and deposed Grimoald, Prince of Bari, replacing him with his second son Tancred. Meanwhile, Robert and Ranulf took papal Benevento. Roger went to meet them but was defeated at the Battle of Nocera on 25 July 1132. He retreated to Salerno.

The next year, Lothair III came down to Rome for his imperial coronation. The rebel leaders met him there, but they were refused help because Lothair's force was too small. [25] With the emperor's departure, divisions in his opponents' ranks allowed Roger to reverse his fortunes. By July 1134, his troops had forced Ranulf, Sergius, and the other ringleaders to submit. Robert was expelled from Capua and Roger installed his third son, Alfonso of Hauteville, as Prince of Capua. Roger II's eldest son Roger was given the title of Duke of Apulia.

Meanwhile, Lothair's contemplated attack upon Roger had gained the backing of the Republic of Pisa, the Republic of Genoa, and the Byzantine emperor John II, each of whom feared the growth of a powerful Norman kingdom. A Pisan fleet led by the exiled prince of Capua dropped anchor off Naples in 1135. Ranulf joined Robert and Sergius there, encouraged by news coming from Sicily that Roger was fatally ill or even already dead. The important fortress of Aversa, among others, passed to the rebels and only Capua resisted, under the royal chancellor, Guarin. On June 5, however, Roger disembarked in Salerno, much to the surprise of all the mainland provinces. The royal army, split into several forces, easily conquered Aversa and even Alife, the base of the natural rebel leader, Ranulf. Most of the rebels took refuge in Naples, which was besieged in July, but despite poor health conditions within the city, Roger was unable to take it, and returned to Messina late in the year.

Imperial invasion

The Tabula Rogeriana, an ancient world map drawn by Muhammad al-Idrisi for Roger II of Sicily in 1154. North is at the bottom, the reverse of modern cartographic conventions. TabulaRogeriana.jpg
The Tabula Rogeriana , an ancient world map drawn by Muhammad al-Idrisi for Roger II of Sicily in 1154. North is at the bottom, the reverse of modern cartographic conventions.

In 1136, the long-awaited imperial army, led by Lothair and the Duke of Bavaria, Henry the Proud, descended the peninsula to support the three rebels. Henry, Robert, and Ranulf took a large contingent of troops to besiege the peninsular capital of the kingdom, Salerno. Roger remained in Sicily, leaving its mainland garrisons helpless under the chancellor Robert of Selby, while even the Byzantine emperor John II Comnenus sent subsidies to Lothair. Salerno surrendered, and the large army of Germans and Normans marched to the very south of Apulia. There, in June 1137, Lothair besieged and took Bari. At San Severino, after the victorious campaign, he and the pope jointly invested Ranulf as Duke of Apulia in August 1137, and the emperor then retired to Germany. Roger, freed from the utmost danger, immediately disembarked in Calabria, at Tropea, with 400 knights and other troops, probably mostly Muslims. After having been welcomed by the Salernitans, he recovered ground in Campania, sacking Pozzuoli, Alife, Capua, and Avellino. Sergius was forced to acknowledge him as overlord of Naples and switch his allegiance to Anacletus. This moment marked the fall of an independent Neapolitan duchy, and thereafter the ancient city was fully integrated into the Norman realm.

From there Roger moved to Benevento and northern Apulia, where Duke Ranulf, although steadily losing his bases of power, had some German troops plus some 1,500 knights from the cities of Melfi, Trani, Troia, and Bari, who were "ready to die rather than lead a miserable life". On 30 October 1137, at the Battle of Rignano (next to Monte Gargano), the younger Roger and his father, with Sergius of Naples, met the defensive army of Duke Ranulf. It was the greatest defeat of Roger II's career. Sergius died and Roger fled to Salerno. It capped Ranulf's meteoric career: twice victor over Roger. Anacletus II died in January 1138, but Innocent II refused to reconcile with the king.

In spring 1138, the royal army invaded the Principality of Capua, with the precise intent of avoiding a pitched battle and of dispersing Ranulf's army with a series of marches through difficult terrain. While the Count of Alife hesitated, Roger, now supported by Benevento, destroyed all the rebels' castles in the region, capturing an immense booty. In April 1139, at the Second Council of the Lateran, Innocent II declared Roger excommunicated. [26] Ranulf himself, who had taken refuge in his capital Troia, died of malarial fever on 30 April 1139. Roger exhumed his body from his grave in Troia cathedral and threw it in a ditch, only to repent subsequently and rebury him decently.

At this time, with Sergius dead, Alfonso was elected to replace him and together with his brother Roger went off to conquer the Abruzzi.

Consolidation of kingship

AR Scyphate Ducalis, dated year 10 (1140), after the king's victory on July 25. Obverse: Christ. Reverse: King Roger and Duke Roger. Scifato ducale.jpg
AR Scyphate Ducalis, dated year 10 (1140), after the king's victory on July 25. Obverse: Christ. Reverse: King Roger and Duke Roger.

After the death of Anacletus in January 1138, Roger had sought the confirmation of his title from Innocent. However, the pope wanted an independent Principality of Capua as a buffer state between the Kingdom of Sicily and the Papal States, something Roger would not accept. [27] In the summer of 1139, Innocent II invaded the kingdom with a large army, but was ambushed on 22 July 1139 at Galluccio, [28] southeast of present-day Cassino, by Roger's son and was captured. Three days later, by the Treaty of Mignano, the pope proclaimed Roger II rex Siciliae ducatus Apuliae et principatus Capuae (King of Sicily, Duke of Apulia and commander of Capua). The boundaries of his regno were only later fixed by a truce with the pope in October 1144. These lands were for the next seven centuries to constitute the kingdoms of Naples and Sicily.

In 1139, Bari, the 50,000 inhabitants of which had remained unscathed behind its massive walls during the wars of the past year, decided to surrender. The excellentissimus princeps Jaquintus, who had led the rebellion of the city, was hanged, along with many of his followers, but the city avoided being sacked. Roger's execution of the prince and his counsellors was perhaps the most violent act of his life.

While his sons overcame pockets of resistance on the mainland, on 5 November 1139 Roger returned to Palermo to plan a great act of legislation: the Assizes of Ariano, an attempt to establish his dominions in southern Italy as a coherent state. He returned to check on his sons' progress in 1140 and then went to Ariano, a town central to the peninsular possessions (and a center of rebellion under his predecessors). There he promulgated the great law regulating all Sicilian affairs. It invested the king and his bureaucracy with absolute powers and reduced the authority of the often rebellious vassals. While there, centralising his kingdom, Roger declared a new standard coinage, named after the duchy of Apulia: the ducat.


Coin of Roger II of Sicily, silver Ducale, Brindisi mint. RogerIIofSicilySilverDucaleBrindisiMint.jpg
Coin of Roger II of Sicily, silver Ducale, Brindisi mint.

Roger’s reforms in laws and administration aimed not only to strengthen his rule but also to improve the economic standing of Sicily and southern Italy. He was "very concerned to gain money, but hardly very prodigal in expending it". [29]

In 1140 at his assembly at Ariano he introduced new coinage including smaller denominations, to facilitate trade with the rest of the Mediterranean. However, although this new coinage made long-distance trade easier, it was detrimental to local trade, which spread "hatred throughout Italy". [29] By the 1150s most of this coinage was no longer in use and soon after, it disappeared altogether.

Nevertheless, the controversy over the coinage did not hinder the Kingdom's prosperity. Roger II had acquired large wealth not only through his royal patrimony but also through his military campaigns and their financial rewards. For example, gold and silver were gained through the campaigns in Apulia in 1133 and Greece in 1147. [30]

Sicily's geographic situation at the centre of the Mediterranean favored trade with Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. Its primary export was durum wheat; others included foods like cheese and vine fruits. Unlike other states, Sicily also had a strong political and military standing, so its merchants were supported and to some extent protected. [31] This standing allowed for an increase in internal trade and a stronger market, which led to noticeable developments in agriculture. [32]

Later reign

"The Cappella Palatina, at Palermo, the most wonderful of Roger's churches, with Norman doors, Saracenic arches, Byzantine dome, and roof adorned with Arabic scripts, is perhaps the most striking product of the brilliant and mixed civilization over which the grandson of the Norman Tancred ruled." (From the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica). Chapelle Palatine.jpg
"The Cappella Palatina, at Palermo, the most wonderful of Roger's churches, with Norman doors, Saracenic arches, Byzantine dome, and roof adorned with Arabic scripts, is perhaps the most striking product of the brilliant and mixed civilization over which the grandson of the Norman Tancred ruled." (From the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica).

Roger had now become one of the greatest kings in Europe. At Palermo, he gathered round him distinguished men of various races, such as the famous Arab geographer Muhammad al-Idrisi [33] and the Byzantine Greek historian Nilus Doxopatrius [34] or Neilos Doxapatres. Sicily, in the center of the Mediterranean and a natural stopping point for people traveling across it, had been run by several different groups in its history, and Roger welcomed the learned and practiced tolerance toward the several creeds, races and languages of his realm. [35] To administer his domain he hired many Greeks and Arabs, who were trained in long-established traditions of centralized government. [36] He was served by men of several nationalities, such as the Englishman Thomas Brun, a kaid of the Curia, and in the fleet by two Greeks, first Christodulus and then George of Antioch, whom he made in 1132 ammiratus ammiratorum or "Emir of Emirs", in effect prime vizier. (This title later became the English word admiral). Roger made Sicily the leading maritime power in the Mediterranean.

Roger II's "Kingdom of Africa" (Regno d'Africa) pinpointed in red Regnonormanno1160.jpg
Roger II's "Kingdom of Africa" (Regno d'Africa) pinpointed in red

A powerful fleet was built up under several admirals, or "emirs", of whom the greatest was George, formerly in the service of the Muslim prince of Mahdia. Mainly thanks to him, a series of conquests were made on the African coast (1146–1153). From 1135 Roger II started to conquer the coast of Tunisia and enlarge his dominions: Tripoli was captured in 1146 and Cape Bona in 1148. These conquests were lost in the reign of Roger's successor William, however, and never formed an integral part of the kingdom in southern Italy.

The Second Crusade (1147–1148) offered Roger an opportunity to revive attacks on the Byzantine Empire, the traditional Norman enemy to the East. It also afforded him an opportunity, through the agency of Theodwin, a cardinal ever-vigilant for Crusade supporters, to strike up a correspondence with Conrad III of Germany in an effort to break his alliance with Manuel I Comnenus. Roger himself never went on an expedition against Byzantium, instead handing command to the skillful George. In 1147, George set sail from Otranto with seventy galleys to attack Corfu. According to Nicetas Choniates, the island capitulated thanks to George's bribes (and the tax burden of the imperial government), welcoming the Normans as their liberators. Leaving a garrison of 1,000 men, George sailed on to the Peloponnesus. He sacked Athens and quickly moved on to the Aegean Islands. He ravaged the coast all along Euboea and the Gulf of Corinth and penetrated as far as Thebes, where he pillaged the silk factories and carried off the Jewish damask, brocade, and silk weavers, taking them back to Palermo where they formed the basis for the Sicilian silk industry. George capped the expedition with a sack of Corinth, in which the relics of Saint Theodore were stolen, and then returned to Sicily. In 1149, however, Corfu was retaken. George went on a punitive expedition against Constantinople, but could not land and instead defied the Byzantine emperor by firing arrows against the palace windows. Despite this act, his expedition left no enduring effects.

Roger died at Palermo on 26 February 1154 and was buried in the Cathedral of Palermo. He was succeeded by his fourth son, William.

Modern legacy

Roger is the subject of King Roger , a 1926 opera by Polish composer Karol Szymanowski. The last months of his life are also featured in Tariq Ali's book A Sultan in Palermo. Studiorum Universitas Ruggero II, a private non-traditional university connected to Accademia Normanna was incorporated in the U.S. on April 30, 2001 in his honor. [37]


Roger's tomb in the Cathedral of Palermo Tomb of Roger II of Sicily - Cathedral of Palermo - Italy 2015.JPG
Roger's tomb in the Cathedral of Palermo

Roger's first marriage was in 1117 to Elvira, a daughter of King Alfonso VI of Castile. When she died, rumors flew that Roger had died as well, as his grief had made him a recluse. [38] They had six children:

Roger's second marriage was in 1149 to Sibylla, daughter of Hugh II, Duke of Burgundy. [40] They had two children:

Roger's third marriage was in 1151 to Beatrice of Rethel, a grandniece of King Baldwin II of Jerusalem. [40] They had one daughter:

Roger also had five known illegitimate children:

—By a daughter of Hugues I, Count of Molise:

—With unknown mistresses:

See also


  1. Houben quoting Snorri Sturluson, Heimskringla , written in the 1220s. According to the Fagrskinna , Roger was Jarl Rogeirr. [9]
  2. Houben quoting William of Tyre, Chronicon xi.29 [10]

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  1. 1 2 Houben 2002, p. 30.
  2. Abulafia, "Norman Kingdom", 41: Dominus noster Sycilie et Ytalie nec non et tocius Africe serenissimus et invictissimus rex a Deo coronatus pius felix triumphator semper augustus. The definitive source of Sicilian diplomas is K. A .Kehr, Die Urkunden der normannisch-sizilischen Könige (Innsbruck, 1902).
  3. Abulafia, "Norman Kingdom", 35, quoting Ibn al-Athīr.
  4. Barber 2004, p. 209.
  5. Houben 2002, p. xvii.
  6. Matthew 1992, p. 21.
  7. Houben 2002, p. 24.
  8. Britt 2007, p. 24.
  9. 1 2 Houben 2002, p. 26.
  10. 1 2 Houben 2002, p. 29.
  11. 1 2 Houben 2002, p. 37.
  12. 1 2 3 Britt 2007, p. 25.
  13. Chibnall 2006, p. 86.
  14. Bauer 2004, pp. 115–123.
  15. Bauer 2004, pp. 85–95.
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Works cited

General references

Regnal titles
Preceded by Count of Sicily
Kingdom of Sicily created
Preceded by Duke of Apulia and Calabria
Succeeded by
Preceded by Prince of Taranto
Succeeded by
New title King of Sicily
Succeeded by