Best of Sicily
Food & Wine
Map of Sicily
Angevins - People and dynasty of Anjou in France.|
Arabs - Semitic, Arabic-speaking peoples of Arabia and other regions. Also Moors and Saracens.
Aragonese - People and dynasty of Aragon in northeastern Spain.
Byzantine - Pertaining to Byzantium or its culture. Relating to medieval successor of the Eastern Roman Empire until 15th century.
Byzantium - Constantinople (see below).
Christianity - Religion based on the teachings of Jesus Christ (c. 4 BC- c. AD 28) as Son of God (and Messiah), revealed particularly through the Bible, including the New Testament.
Constantinople - Later name for Byzantium, city founded by Greeks on the Bosporus strait.
Islam - Religion founded by Muhammad (570-632) in Arabia as Prophet of Allah (God), whose message is revealed in the Koran. Islam is Arabic for "surrender" or "submission."
Jews - People whose religion is rooted in Judaism (see below). Often, those whose ethnic origins are Hebrew and Jewish.
Judaism - Monotheistic religion of the Hebrews, based on the Biblical Old Testament and Talmud. From "Judea," a kingdom and later a Roman province.
Latin - Language of Rome, also Italic culture of Rome, the Western Roman Empire and the Roman Catholic Church.
Lombards - People of Lombardy in northern Italy, by 1200 descended from both Germanic Longobards and native Romans.
Middle Ages - Period dated from fall of Rome (AD 476) to Goths until fall of Constantinople to Turks (1453), or from 500 to 1500.
Moors - Also Saracens. Arab peoples, usually Muslim, who conquered medieval Sicily, Spain and northwestern Africa.
Normans - People of Frankish and Nordic (Viking) origin in Normandy who conquered parts of Italy and Britain in 11th century.
Orthodoxy - Relating to the original Christian Church and its traditional teachings maintained in the East, as opposed to the Roman Catholic Church of the West.
Roman Catholic - Church of Rome, particularly following the Schism of 1054.
Swabians - People of Swabia region in southern Germany.
Anjou is a region of west-central France traditionally
held as a fief of the French ruling family. The term "Angevin"
refers to both the "Plantagenet" dynasty of England from 1154
to 1399 (descendants of Geoffrey, Count of Anjou, and Matilda, daughter
of Henry I) and the dynasty that ruled southern Italy from Naples beginning
in the thirteenth century. In the time of Frederick
II and the Swabian rule of Sicily, France was
ruled by the Capetians (so-called for their descent from Hugh Capet). One
of the dynasty's most remarkable rulers was Louis IX (the saint). Louis'
less-remarkable younger brother, Charles, Duke of Anjou, was crowned King
of Naples and Sicily in 1266 by authority of Pope Clement IV, a Frenchman.
Following a series of battles, the last Hohenstaufen,
the young Conradin (a grandson of Frederick II), was executed in 1268. From
this death was Italy's Angevin period born, in a dynastic change representing
the ultimate form of papal hegemony. Following the death of Frederick II,
it seemed that no pope would be content to share the Italian peninsula with
so formidable a force as a Holy Roman Emperor who also ruled southern Italy.
The Angevin era defined the decline of Sicily, and particularly Palermo,
as a center of political and economic power. While acknowledging that Sicily
was a kingdom in its own right, Charles ruled from Naples, which previously
had been a prosperous but politically less important city than Palermo,
Bari or Salerno.
In Sicily, the changes were immediate. Thousands of French troops arrived,
and taxes were increased. For the first time in centuries, Sicily was the
"dominion" of a "foreign" ruler who saw no reason to
visit the island. Worse, the Sicilians themselves were made to feel like
In the years following 1268, Sicily was almost entirely Latinized. Except
for a few monasteries in the Nebrodi region, the
Christians were Catholic, and with Charles' help a later pope, Gregory X,
attempted to subjugate the Eastern (Orthodox) Church of Constantinople.
The new regime openly resented the Arabs of Lucera (in Puglia) and Sicily.
Mosques were gradually abandoned; many were converted to churches. Jews
were tolerated, though their communities became fewer outside the major
The Sicilian language had emerged as a Latin tongue, albeit with many
Greek and Arabic words.
In name, the Sicilian nobility had Norman, Swabian and Lombard roots. Truth
be told, most Sicilian nobles had Arab or Byzantine ancestors, too. From
the beginning, the nobility viewed the Angevin French in a negative light,
initially as something of a nuisance and then as a repressive instrument
of royal power. Charles of Anjou was anything but an enlightened ruler.
His son, Charles "the Lame" of Salerno, was viewed by all, including
his father, as weak and incompetent.
Around Sicily a number of structures remain from the rather brief Angevin
period. Palermo's Church of Saint Francis of Assisi (the portal is shown here), begun in 1255, exemplifies the "Italianate Gothic" style
--Italian but not particularly Gothic.
The expansionist policies of Charles were not limited to Italy. Apart
from influence in northern Italy, he claimed the crown of Jerusalem borne
by Frederick II. After Louis IX died on crusade in Tunisia in 1270, his
son, Philip (who ruled France as Philip III), fell under the influence of
By 1282, Charles ruled Sicily and southern Italy, Jerusalem, Albania,
Provence, Anjou, Maine and part of Tunisia. He was preparing an invasion
of Constantinople which would have finally brought the Byzantine
world --and particularly its Church-- under Latin control. The new pope,
Martin IV, a Frenchman, openly encouraged this. Charles was, without doubt,
the most powerful European monarch.
Two decades earlier, Manfred Hohenstaufen, an illegitimate son of Frederick
II (but presumed heir to the thrones of Sicily and Germany) killed by Charles'
Angevin forces at the Battle of Benevento in 1266, had betrothed his daughter,
Constance, to Peter of Aragon. On this tenuous basis, a number of Sicilian nobles exiled from Charles' Kingdom since the 1260s sought the alliance
of Peter I of Aragon, whose realm based at Barcelona included Catalonia
and other prosperous regions of northeastern Spain. Based on the Sicilians'
requests, but also on various other political issues, Peter soon began preparations
for a war against Charles.
Clearly, the rivalry between Guelphs (supporters of the Papacy and now the Angevins) and Ghibellines (supporters of the Holy Roman Emperor and Swabians) had not abated,
but what followed was completely unexpected.
On Easter Monday, 30 March, 1282, a popular revolt broke out, leading
to the deaths of thousands of French, including numerous civilians. The
uprising, later called the "Sicilian Vespers," spread across
the island in a matter of days. The "War of the Vespers" was the
first feudal revolt of this kind. Its efficiency and ruthlessness frightened
monarchs far beyond Naples and Rome. Almost simultaneously, the French castellans
and garrisons of Sicily's fortified cities were isolated and killed, in
Palermo, Caccamo, Vicari, Caltanissetta, Girgenti (Agrigento), Caltanissetta,
Milazzo, Castrogiovanni (Enna), Taormina, Catania... In September, Peter
was formally nominated King of Sicily by the island's nobles. That, however,
was not the end of the war.
In a series of battles at sea and skirmishes on land, the Angevin forces
were defeated by Aragonese-Sicilian ones. In one of the war's comical episodes,
Charles and the younger Peter were to meet for a duel to decide the fate
of Sicily, each accompanied by a hundred fighting knights. This was to take
place in June 1283 at Bordeaux, capital of the neutral French territories
of Edward, King of England. Each king agreed to appear with his
suite but it was tacitly understood that each would arrive at a
different time. Then each sovereign claimed that the other was
a coward. In another incident, King Charles' incompetent son, Charles of Salerno,
was taken prisoner at a sea battle in June 1284 and held in the citadel
When Charles died in January of 1285, Angevin power in Sicily had essentially
vanished. The new king of Naples, Charles "the Lame," was still
a prisoner, and Pope Martin at first refused to recognise
him as the late monarch's heir. In the event, Martin himself died a few
months after King Charles. In a gesture of alliance with his Angevin cousins,
Philip III of France, attacked Aragon, his army soon defeated as much by
malaria as by arms. Philip died in October 1285. Peter of Aragon died a
Following imprisonment in Catalonia, Charles the Lame eventually returned
to Naples to reign as Charles II. James, the second son of Peter of Aragon,
became King of Sicily. He was nineteen years old, crowned at Palermo in
February 1286. He eventually left Sicily to ascend the Aragonese throne.
A series of intrigues continued until 1302, with an Angevin-Aragonese treaty
known as the Peace of Caltabellotta, following which King Frederick (younger
brother of James) wed Eleanora, youngest daughter of Charles II. James had
wed Blanche, another daughter of Charles II, in an effort to resolve through
marriage what could not be settled with armed conflict. Iolanda, their sister,
married Charles' son, Robert.
The Angevin presence in Sicily was short-lived. Understandably - in light
of the Vespers - their descendants in Sicily were few. To historians, the
Angevin legacy in Sicily is essentially a dynastic question. For the remainder
of the Middle Ages into the modern era, the island might occasionally be
ruled from Palermo but its rulers were Aragonese (and Spanish).
About the Authors: Luigi Mendola is the History Editor of Best of Sicily and author of several books. Palermo native Vincenzo Salerno, who contributed to this article, has
written biographies of several famous Sicilians, including Frederick II and Giuseppe di Lampedusa.