Late 11th century Norman expansion into the Arab held areas of Southern Italy and Sicily afforded the  new church and palace building on a grand scale that later influenced cathedral building at Cluny in France.  Among Desiderius' projects was the Cathedral at Salerno (Duomo di Salerno) that combined features of Arabic and Norman architecture. Desiderius' promotion to the papacy as Pope Victor II was at the whim and favor of the new Norman occupiers of Italy and Sicily, who also supported his successor Pope Urban II proclamation of the First Crusade from the pulpit at Clermont on Nov. 27, 1095.  Perhaps no structure reflects the complicity of the Norman conquest of Arab Sicily more than the new cathedral at Monreale, near Palermo.  It was built at the bequest of the Norman king, William II (r. 1165-89) who reputedly spoke Arabic (See Platt, p. 9, citing Ibn Jubayr).  The cathedral's integration of Romanesque ground plan, with Greek or Byzantine mosaic designs and interior elements of Arabic Islamic influence attest to the fusions of styles that raise questions for art historians about the choice to conduct an empire as mere conquest or as assimilation of elites to local conditions and populations.  Further, William II's marriage to Joana of England suggested the Norman need to consolidate their widespread holdings that had only been occupied within the past century.

The study of centers of art production, including the location and relocation of their studios or architectural complexes are a useful way for approaching European art history.  This allows an examination of art production and its social relations.  For a general discussion of the relation of culture, material conditions and cultural form, see  Colin Platt, Marks of Oppulence:  The Why, When and Where of Western Art 1000-1914 (Harper, 2005).  For a guide to the fusion of art and cosmopolitan culture in Southern Italy and Sicily from the 9th to 13th century, see the Museum with No Frontiers website The Normans in Sicily.

Other recent and important studies on Islamic and Norman Sicily include the following:
John Julius Norwich, The Normans in Sicily:  the magnificent story of "the Other Norman Conquest," (Penguin, 2004)
Donald Matthew, The Norman Kingdom of Sicily, (Cambridge U. Press, 1992)
David Abulafia, The Two Italies: Economic Relations Between the Norman Kingdom of Sicily and the Northern Communes (Cambridge U. Press, 2005)
Jeremy John, Arabic Administration in Sicily:  the Royal Diwans. (Cambridge U. Press, 2007)
Alex Metcalfe, Muslims and Christians in Norman Sicily:  Arabic Speakers and the End of Islam. (Routledge, 2011).

An excellent anthology of primary sources on Norman culture is Elizabeth Van Houts, The Normans in Europe. (Manchester Univ. Press, 2000).

Religious toleration, or at the least coexistence, was a policy of the Norman period up through the 1190s.  The coexistence of Muslims, Greek Orthodox, Latin Christian and Jews led forced recognition of each other's space.  These conditions of toleration did not mean prosperity for all.  While the Muslim community was a majority when the Normans conquered Sicily in the 11th century, the Jewish community at Palermo, the chief city in Sicily, numbered 1,500 according the Andalusian Jewish traveler Benjamin of Tudela. However by then the Jewish community was probably not thriving (Nicola Leone, Siculo-Norman Art, p. 97).

Consider the complex melange and meaning of the inscription of the memorial plaque below. This marble and semi-precious inlaid plaque dated to 1149 AD in the Norman period marked the death of Anna, mother to Grisanto, a prominent priest to the Norman King Roger and is inscribed in Arabic, Hebrew, Greek and Latin.  Does it suggest a relatively peaceful coexistence or cosmopolitan relations between the faiths of the mid-12th century?  Or do we need to view this memorial plaque in the context transformations of land ownership in Sicily, in which Muslims are being displaced by Normans and their successors the Hohenstaufen dynasty and the repressive rule of Frederick II?

Fig. 1  Tomb marker with inscription in four languages:
Hebrew at top; Arabic at bottom (badly worn); Latin and Greek to the sides.
A.D. 1148/1149.  Norman.
Marble with decorative marble tesserae.
Zisa Museum, Palermo, Italy.
Image Source:  Museum with No Frontiers

What do the monograms or initials represent?

The monogram IC XC occurs in manuscripts of the Scriptures (the Codex Alexandrinus and the Codex Claromontanus) as early as the fifth and sixth centuries.
Together, IC NIKA represents "Christ Conquers"
Hassett, Maurice. "Monogram of Christ." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 10. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 15 Apr. 2012

Under the administration of the Norman Roger II, Sicily entered a new phase.  The Muslim population which had been ruled by an Arab Principate since the middle of the 9th century now found itself under Norman occupation.  Roger II ordered the installation of an Arabic Diwan,  or administrative bureaucracy to transcribe land deeds, administrative and financial records.  An earlier historiography thought this meant that the Normans under Roger II were carrying out a cosmopolitan policy of tolerance.  However, recent research of previously ignored Arabic manuscripts and records from this period suggest that a very different motive was underway.  Instead of maintaining Arabic records, Roger II actually ordered a trilingual commission of registrars to translate Arabic documents into Greek and then Latin.  The purpose was to enable the ultimate transfer of Arab owned lands into the hands of the Norman state and church.  Great pressure was applied on Muslims to convert, most notably at the town of Corleone in Sicily.  Corleone, which in Arabic was written as Qurulun, had been a Muslim town with a mosque.  After the transfer of deeds to the Normans,  residents of this prosperous town and region near Palermo converted to Christianity and received certain privileges from the Normans in exchange for annual payments to the crown.  (Jeremy John, 2007;  and Alex Metcalfe, 2011)

Selected Sources for Arabo-Norman Architecture and Arts of 12th century Palermo, Sicily:
  1. Norman Royal Palace  (Originally built by Arabs of the Aghlabid period in the 10th century)
  2. Capella Palatina or Palatine Chapel, 1132 - 1143 built by Roger II
    1. (see links below)
  3. La Cuba Palace, built by William II in 1180 CE  - Museum of No Frontiers entry
  4. Palermo Cathedral, 1179 by Archbishop Walter Ophamil
  5. Monreale Cathedral in Monreale, Sicily (near Palermo) c. 1174, built by William II (see below)
  6. Santa Maria dell'Ammiraglio Church, Palermo, Sicily a Greek Orthodox church built by George of Antioch in 1143
    1. (see links below)

Capella Palatina in Palermo  (c. 1132 CE)

The Cappella Palatina was the Royal Chapel of the Norman king of Sicily, Roger II, who had the church commissioned in 1132.  See the Sacred Destinations site on the church.  The structure is noteworthy for its gold mosaics and architectural features that combine Arabic arches and Byzantine domes.  

The authoritative resource for studying the Capella Palatina is the multivolume publication edited by Salvatore Settis, La Cappella Palatina a Palermo (Mirabilia Italiae, 2011). Fortunately there is an accessible online website with photographs that provide some detail.   

Cefalu Duomo or Cathedral

The Paradox Place website has a collection of photographs on the Cefalu Duomo or Cathedral built by King Roger.  The cathedra begun after 1132 CE but not finished until 1267 during the Hohenstaufen Dynasty. 

The Church of Santa Maria dell'Ammiraglio (1143 CE)

This Greek Orthodox church was founded in 1143 by George of Antioch.  This church which initially served the Greek community around Palermo features decorative schemes that are comparable to the Norman elite's chapel, the Capella Palatina.  George of Antioch (so-named because he was born in Antioch, Syria, and raised in North Africa, was bilingual in Greek and Arabic.  He fled Tunisia to seek the service of King Roger, the Norman conqueror of Italy and Sicily.  Roger found him useful and promoted him to various administrative and military posts.  With this status and the wealth derived from his position he commissioned this church.  George of Antioch was one of the main officials leading the so-called trilinguate administration of Norman Sicily, in which Arabic, Greek and Latin were shared administrative languages.  The scheme of this church with its Byzantine styled gold mosaic tiling suggests a more direct Greek and Byzantine influence than what is found at the Capella Palatina or at Monreale.  The following website has useful links and photographs of the decoration:  Paradox Place - Martarona.

Monreale Cathedral in Monreale, Sicily (near Palermo) c. 1174

The spectacular church and cloister complex of Monreale Cathedral was begun in 1174 CE by the Norman king William II. 

Figure: Interior mosaics of the Cathedral at Monreale in Palermo province, Sicily

Figure 2.  The Cloister at the Cathedral of Monreale in Sicily.
Note the composite influences of Arab, Byzantine and Norman design in the archways, capitals and inlaid mosaic decor.

A useful visual guide to the mosaic scheme of both the walls and the floor is found here or at the Wikimedia entry for Byzantine
mosaics in Monreale or at the Web Gallery of Art entry on Monreale, or the Sacred Destinations site. Some of the
floor tiles indicate Arabic design and workmanship from the existing Muslim population on Sicily during Norman rule.  See the Paradox Place guide to Monreale.

A comparison of the representation of the interior at Monreale and its iconography of the creation of Adam and Eve,
and the story of Norah with that of the Sistine Chapel ceiling (1508-1512 CE)  by Michelangelo and assistants. See the interactive guide to the iconography of the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican.

The Tabula Rogeriana by Al-Idrisi What was the Norman world view.  Roger II commissioned the famous Arab mapmaker and geographer, Al-Idrisi to produce a chart of the world in 1154 CE.  It is now called the Tabula Roger, of which a later copy survives.  Consider what this map infer about Norman and Arab knowledge and perceptions of the known world.  For links to detailed reproduciton of Al-Idrisi's map and his mansuscript, go to the French national library website and for a high resolution of the map above. 

BORSOOK E., Messages in Mosaic, The Royal Programmes of Norman Sicily (1130-1187), Oxford, 1990.

BRODBECK S., Les saints de la cathédrale de Monreale. Iconographie, hagiographie et pouvoir royal. Sicile, fin du XIIe siècle, Rome, 2010 (Collection de l’Ecole Française de Rome).

DEMUS O., The Mosaics of Norman Sicily, Londres, 1949.

DITTELBACH T., Rex Imago Christi, Der Dom von Monreale, Bildsprachen und Zeremoniell in Mosaikkunst und Architektur, Wiesbaden 2003.

KITZINGER E., I mosaici di Monreale, Palerme, 1960 ; Id., I mosaici del periodo normanno in Sicilia, V fasc., Palerme, 1992-1996.
The new clerical orders were one of the instruments of Norman expansion.  The Normans granted lands to the clergy as a means of reinforcing Christianity and their own power in the region.  In Sicily and Southern Italy these were regular clergy;  they did not rely on monastic orders.  In other regions where the Normans were too diffuse and few in number to conduct direct colonization, they encouraged and benefited form the zeal of followers of Bernard of Clairvaux and his strict Cisterican order of monks.  As is apparent from the example of Knockmoy in the far west of Ireland, these newly created orders of monks could be used as ideological extensions into new lands.  When Bernard of Clairvaux created his new order of monks he distanced himself from what he considered the excesses of the Benedictine monasteries as at Cluny, whose sculptural decor and lavish wealth he criticised.  With the Anglo-Norman occupation of Eastern Ireland the lack of settlers required the reliance on these new monastic orders to settle areas in the outlying areas of Ireland.  Thus where Anglo-Norman military power could not reach, the Normans founded 10 separate monasteries after their invasion of 1169.  Knockmoy in the far West was founded in 1190, while the largest and last of the Cisterican abbeys, Graiguenamanagh was built in 1202.  Significantly it began to enclose serfs and tenant peasants in a trend that broke with Bernard of Clairvaux' decree that monasteries should be self-sufficient.  Graiguenamanagh represented the acceptance of the feudal land system and arrangment between the clergy and the Norman aristocracy, in patterns already far advanced in France, Germany and England.  Indeed, Bernard of Clairvaux' own pronouncement in favor of crusading and the creation of a military order of monks was convenient to Norman and other late Medieval aristocratic aims at profiteering from expansionary military campaigns.

Arabic Documents of Norman Sicily.  This project at Oxford University will make available a corpus of original Arabic documents from the Norman and Hohenstaufen period in Sicily (1060-1250 CE).

It includes about 80 documents of  records of the Norman administration. Many are land and title descritions of boundaries of estates granted to Christian churches and nobles of lords.  They also include registers of the Muslim families residing on those estates, and documents issued under the authority of the Muslim qadi, the primary official in charge of registering these land and property trasnfers.  From the extensive research of Jeremy John and Alex Metcalf (see above), we have an excellent idea of the nature and context of these documents.  We find various commercial contracts and agreements regarding irrigation, boundary disputes, and documents binding Muslim peasants to pay a land tax and a religious poll tax (jizya) to their Christian lords.

These documents provide insight into the tenuous and difficult positon of the Muslim society living under Christian rule.  Many including those at the town and region of Corleone (yes the same Corleone family as the Godfather of Francis Ford Coppola's film) chose to convert to Christianity and to change their names from Arabic to Latin.

Note that the Judaeo-Arabic commercial letters from the Cairo Geniza are not part of this  project.

A useful link to reasearch on Islamic culture in the Mediterranean is at the Khalil Research Center in Oxford University

The University of Leeds is compiling and making available some of the following texts on the Norman Conquest of Southern Italy and Sicily at  Medieval History Texts

  1. The Annals of Bari, 1035-1102
  2. The Deeds of Robert Guiscard by William of Apulia
  3. The Deeds of Count Roger of Sicily by Geoffrey Malaterra
  4. The Chronicle of St. Clement of Casauria by John Berard

The Norman Kingdom of Sicily Medieval History Texts

  1. G.A. Loud, Roger II and the Creation of the Kingdom of Sicily (Manchester Medieval Sources, to appear in January 2012)
  2. G.A. Loud & Thomas Wiedemann, The History of the Tyrants of Sicily by 'Hugo Falcandus', 1154-69 (Manchester Medieval Sources, 1998)

The Conquest of Southern Italy by Henry VI

  1. The Book in Honour of the Emperor, by Peter of Eboli
  2. The Annals of Montecassino 1189-95
  3. The Genoese Annals of Ottobuono Scriba, 1191, 1194
  4. The Chronicle of Richard of S. Germano, 1189-99

The Normans in Europe: an Introduction

The power of the Norman kingdoms and empire from the late 11th to 12th century reflects a greater concentration of land ownership by the ari...