Emirate of Sicily
Italy in 1000. The Emirate of Sicily is coloured in light green.
|Status||Province of the Aghlabid Emirate of Ifriqiya (831-909) and of the Fatimid Caliphate (909-948), after 948 autonomous emirate under the Kalbids. After 1044: various emirates in war.|
|Common languages||Sicilian Arabic, Byzantine Greek, Vulgar Latin|
Chalcedonian Christianity (Eastern Orthodox)
|Today part of|| Italy|
Muslim Moors, who first invaded in 652, seized control of the entire island from the Byzantine Empire in a prolonged series of conflicts from 827 to 902, although Rometta in the far northeast of the island held out until 965. An Arab-Byzantine culture developed, producing a multiconfessional and multilingual state. The Emirate was conquered by Christian Norman mercenaries under Roger I of Sicily, who founded the County of Sicily in 1071. The last Muslim city in the island, Noto, was conquered in 1091.
Sicilian Muslims remained citizens of the multi-ethnic County and subsequent Kingdom of Sicily, until those who had not already converted to Christianity were expelled in the 1240s. Until the late 12th century, and probably as late as the 1220s, Muslims formed a majority of the island's population, except in the northeast region of Val Demone which remained predominantly Byzantine Greek and Christian even during Islamic rule. The Islamic and Arabic influence remains in the Maltese language and to a lesser extent in the Sicilian language, as well as in architecture and place names in the region.
In 535, Emperor Justinian I returned Sicily to the Roman Empire, then ruled from Constantinople exclusively. As the power of what is now known as the Byzantine Empire waned in the West, Sicily was invaded by the Rashidun Caliphate during the reign of Caliph Uthman in the year 652. However, this first invasion was short-lived, and the Muslims left soon after. By the end of the 7th century, with the Umayyad conquest of North Africa, the Muslims had captured the nearby port city of Carthage, allowing them to build shipyards and a permanent base from which to launch more sustained attacks.
Around 700, the island of Pantelleria was captured by Muslims, and it was only discord among the Muslims that prevented an attempted invasion of Sicily at that time. Instead, trading agreements were arranged with the Byzantines, and Muslim merchants were allowed to trade goods at the Sicilian ports.
The first true conquest expedition was launched in 740; in that year the Muslim prince Habib, who had participated in the 728 attack, successfully captured Syracuse. Ready to conquer the whole island, they were however forced to return to Tunisia by a Berber revolt. A second attack in 752 aimed only to sack the same city.
In 826, Euphemius, the commander of the Byzantine fleet of Sicily, forced a nun to marry him. Emperor Michael II caught wind of the matter and ordered that General Constantine end the marriage and cut off Euphemius' nose. Euphemius rose up, killed Constantine and then occupied Syracuse; he in turn was defeated and driven out to North Africa. He offered rule of Sicily over to Ziyadat Allah the Aghlabid Emir of Tunisia in return for a place as a general and safety; a Muslim army was sent.
The latter agreed to conquer Sicily, promising to give it to Euphemius in exchange for a yearly tribute, and entrusted its conquest to the 70-year-old qadi Asad ibn al-Furat. The Muslim force counted 10,000 infantry, 700 cavalry and 100 ships, reinforced by Euphemius' ships and, after the landing at Mazara del Vallo. A first battle against the loyal Byzantine troops occurred on July 15, 827, near Mazara, resulting in an Aghlabid victory.
Asad subsequently conquered the southern shore of the island and laid siege to Syracuse. After a year of siege, and an attempted mutiny, his troops were however able to defeat a large army sent from Palermo, also backed by a Venetian fleet led by Doge Giustiniano Participazio. But when a plague killed many of the Muslim troops, as well as Asad himself, the Muslims retreated to the castle of Mineo. Later they returned to the offensive, but failed to conquer Castrogiovanni (the modern Enna, where Euphemius died) and retreated back to Mazara.
In 830 they received a strong reinforcement of 30,000 Ifriqiyan and Andalusian troops. The Iberian Muslims defeated the Byzantine commander Teodotus in July-August of that year, but again a plague forced them to return to Mazara and then to Ifriqiya. The Ifriqiyan units sent to besiege Palermo managed to capture it after a year long siege in September 831. Palermo became the Muslim capital of Sicily, renamed al-Madinah ("The City").
The conquest was a see-saw affair; with considerable resistance and many internal struggles, it took over a century for Byzantine Sicily to be conquered. Syracuse held out for a long time but fell in 878, Taormina fell in 902, and the last Byzantine outpost was taken in 965.
In succession, Sicily was ruled by the Sunni Aghlabid dynasty in Tunisia and the Shiite Fatimids in Egypt. However, throughout this period, Sunni Muslims formed the majority of the Muslim community in Sicily, with most (if not all) of the people of Palermo being Sunni, leading to their hostility to the Shia Kalbids. The Sunni population of the island was replenished following sectarian rebellions across north Africa from 943-7 against the Fatimids' harsh religious policies, leading to several waves of refugees fleeing to Sicily in an attempt to escape Fatimid retaliation. The Byzantines took advantage of temporary discord to occupy the eastern end of the island for several years.
After suppressing a revolt the Fatimid caliph Ismail al-Mansur appointed al-Hasan al-Kalbi (948-964) as Emir of Sicily. He successfully managed to control the continuously revolting Byzantines and founded the Kalbid dynasty. Raids into Southern Italy continued under the Kalbids into the 11th century, and in 982 a German army under Otto II, Holy Roman Emperor was defeated near Crotone in Calabria. With Emir Yusuf al-Kalbi (986-998) a period of steady decline began. Under al-Akhal (1017-1037) the dynastic conflict intensified, with factions within the ruling family allying themselves variously with the Byzantine Empire and the Zirids. After this period, Al-Mu'izz ibn Badis attempted to annex the island for the Zirids, while intervening in the affairs of the feuding Muslims; however, the attempt ultimately failed.
The new Arab rulers initiated land reforms, which in turn increased productivity and encouraged the growth of smallholdings, a dent to the dominance of the landed estates. The Arabs further improved irrigation systems through Qanats. Introducing oranges, lemons, pistachio and sugarcane to Sicily. A description of Palermo was given by Ibn Hawqal, a Baghdad merchant who visited Sicily in 950. A walled suburb called the Kasr (the palace) is the center of Palermo until today, with the great Friday mosque on the site of the later Roman cathedral. The suburb of Al-Khalisa (Kalsa) contained the Sultan's palace, baths, a mosque, government offices, and a private prison. Ibn Hawqual reckoned 7,000 individual butchers trading in 150 shops. By 1050, Palermo had a population of 350,000, making it one of the largest cities in Europe, but behind Islamic Spain's capital Córdoba and the Byzantine capital of Constantinople, which had populations over 450-500,000. Palermo's population dropped to 150,000 under Norman rule, while there was a greater decline in Córdoba's population as Muslims there weakened; by 1330 Palermo's population had declined to 51,000.
Arab traveler, geographer, and poet Ibn Jubair visited the area in the end of the 12th century and described Al-Kasr and Al-Khalisa (Kalsa):
The capital is endowed with two gifts, splendor and wealth. It contains all the real and imagined beauty that anyone could wish. Splendor and grace adorn the piazzas and the countryside; the streets and highways are wide, and the eye is dazzled by the beauty of its situation. It is a city full of marvels, with buildings similar to those of Córdoba [sic], built of limestone. A permanent stream of water from four springs runs through the city. There are so many mosques that they are impossible to count. Most of them also serve as schools. The eye is dazzled by all this splendor.
Throughout this reign, continued revolts by Byzantine Sicilians occurred, especially in the east, and part of the lands were even re-occupied before being quashed.
The local population conquered by the Muslims were Romanized Catholic Sicilians in Western Sicily and Greek speaking Byzantine Catholics mainly in the eastern half of the island, but there were also a significant number of Jews. The two populations were members of one Church until the events of 1054 began to separate them, the sack of 1204 being the last straw as far as the Byzantine "Orthodox" were concerned.
Christians and Jews were tolerated under Muslim rule as dhimmis, but were subject to some restrictions. The dhimmis were also required to pay the jizya, or poll tax, and the kharaj or land tax, but were exempt from the tax that Muslims had to pay (Zakaat). Under Arab rule there were different categories of Jizya payers, but their common denominator was the payment of the Jizya as a mark of subjection to Muslim rule in exchange for protection against foreign and internal aggression. The conquered population could avoid this subservient status by converting to Islam. Whether by honest religious conviction or compulsion large numbers of native Sicilians converted to Islam. About half the population was Muslim at the time of the Norman Conquest. The Fatimids in the mid-10th century adopted a policy of active conversion and increased oppression of Christians. However, even after 100 years of Islamic rule, numerous Greek speaking Christian communities prospered, especially in north-eastern Sicily, as dhimmis. This was largely a result of the Jizya system which allowed co-existence. The co-existence with the conquered population fell apart after the reconquest of Sicily starting in the 1160s and particularly following the death of King William II of Sicily in 1189. The policy of oppression visited upon Christians was applied to Muslims.
The Emirate of Sicily began to fragment as intra-dynastic quarrels took place within the Muslim regime. In 1044, under emir Hasan al-Samsam, who established al-Samsam Emirate of Sicily, the island fragmented into four qadits, or small fiefdoms: the qadit of Trapani, Marsala, Mazara and Sciacca, a certain Abdallah ibn Mankut; that of Girgenti, Castrogiovanni and Castronuovo (Ibn al-Hawwàs); that of Palermo and Catania; and that of Syracuse (Ibn Thumna). By 1065, all of them had been unified by Ayyub ibn Tamim, the son of the Zirid emir of Ifriqiyya. In 1068 he left Sicily, and what remained under Muslim control fell under two qadits: one, led by Ibn Abbad (known as Benavert in western chronicles) in Syracuse, and the other under Hammud in Qas'r Ianni (modern Enna).
By the 11th century mainland southern Italian powers were hiring Norman mercenaries, who were Christian descendants of the Vikings; it was the Normans under Roger de Hauteville, who became Roger I of Sicily, that captured Sicily from the Muslims. In 1038, a Byzantine army under George Maniaces crossed the strait of Messina, and included a corps of Normans. After another decisive victory in the summer of 1040, Maniaces halted his march to lay siege to Syracuse. Despite his conquest of the latter, Maniaces was removed from his position, and the subsequent Muslim counter-offensive reconquered all the cities captured by the Byzantines. The Norman Robert Guiscard, son of Tancred, then conquered Sicily in 1060 after taking Apulia and Calabria, while his brother Roger de Hauteville occupied Messina with an army of 700 knights. The Zirids of North Africa sent a support force, led by Ali and Ayyub ibn Tamin. However, Sicilians and Africans were defeated in 1063, in the Battle of Cerami. The sizeable Christian population rose up against the ruling Muslims. In 1068, Roger and his men defeated again the Muslims forces commanded by Ayu ibn Tamim in Misilmeri. The Africans left Sicily in disarray after the defeat and Catania fell to the Normans in 1071, followed, after one year of siege, by Palermo in 1072. Trapani capitulated the same year.
The loss of the main port cities dealt a severe blow to Muslim power on the island. The last pocket of active resistance was Syracuse governed by Ibn Abbad (known by the Normans as Benavert). He defeated Jordan, son of Roger of Sicily in 1075, and occupied Catania again in 1081 and raided Calabria shortly after. However, Roger besieged Syracuse in 1086, and Ibn Abbad tried to break the siege with naval battle, in which he died accidentally. Syracuse surrendered after this defeat. His wife and son fled to Noto and Butera. Meanwhile the city of Qas'r Ianni (Enna) was still ruled by its emir, Ibn Al-Hawas, who held out for years. His successor, Hamud, surrendered, and converted to Christianity, only in 1087. After his conversion, Ibn Hamud subsequently became part of the Christian nobility and retired with his family to an estate in Calabria provided by Roger I. In 1091, Butera and Noto in the southern tip of Sicily and the island of Malta, the last Arab strongholds, fell to the Christians with ease. After the conquest of Sicily, the Normans removed the local emir, Yusuf Ibn Abdallah from power, but did so by respecting Arab customs.
The Norman Kingdom of Sicily under Roger II has been characterized as multi-ethnic in nature and religiously tolerant. Normans, Jews, Muslim Arabs, Byzantine Greeks, Lombards and native Sicilians lived in relative harmony.Arabic remained a language of government and administration for at least a century into Norman rule, and traces remain in the language of Sicily and evidently more in the language of Malta today. The Muslims also maintained their domination of industry, retailing and production, while Muslim artisans and expert knowledge in government and administration were highly sought after.
However, the island's Muslims were faced with the choice of voluntary departure or subjection to Christian rule. Many Muslims chose to leave, provided they had the means to do so. "The transformation of Sicily into a Christian island", remarks Abulafia, "was also, paradoxically, the work of those whose culture was under threat". Also Muslims gradually converted to Christianity, the Normans replaced Orthodox clergy with Latin clerics. Despite the presence of an Arab-speaking Christian population Greek churchmen attracted Muslim peasants to receive baptism and even adopt Greek Christian names; in several instances, Christian serfs with Greek names listed in the Monreale registers had living Muslim parents. The Norman rulers followed a policy of steady Latinization by bringing in thousands of Italian settlers from the northwest and south of Italy, and some others from southeast France. To this day there are communities in central Sicily which speak the Gallo-Italic dialect. Some Muslims chose to feign conversion, but such a remedy could only provide individual protection and could not sustain a community.
"Lombard" pogroms against Muslims started in the 1160s. Muslim and Christian communities in Sicily became increasingly geographically separated. The island's Muslim communities were mainly isolated beyond an internal frontier which divided the south and western half of the island from the Christian north and eastern half. Sicilian Muslims, a subject population, were dependent on the mercy of their Christian masters and, ultimately, on royal protection. After King William the Good died in 1189 royal protection was lifted, and the door was opened for widespread attacks against the island's Muslims. This destroyed any lingering hope of coexistence, however unequal the respective populations might have been. The death of Henry VI and his wife Constance a year later plunged Sicily into political turmoil. With the loss of royal protection and with Frederick II still an infant in papal custody Sicily became a battleground for rival German and papal forces. The island's Muslim rebels sided with German warlords like Markward von Anweiler. In response, Innocent III declared a crusade against Markward, alleging that he had made an unholy alliance with the Saracens of Sicily. Nevertheless, in 1206 that same pope attempted to convince the Muslim leaders to remain loyal. By this time the Muslim rebellion was in full swing. They were in control of Jato, Entella, Platani, Celso, Calatrasi, Corleone (taken in 1208), Guastanella and Cinisi. Muslim revolt extended throughout a whole stretch of western Sicily. The rebels were led by Muhammad Ibn Abb?d. He called himself the "prince of believers", struck his own coins, and attempted to find Muslim support from other parts of the Muslim world.
However, Frederick II, no longer a child, responded by launching a series of campaigns against the Muslim rebels in 1221. The Hohenstaufen forces rooted out the defenders of Jato, Entella, and the other fortresses. Rather than exterminate the Muslims who numbered about 60,000. In 1223, Frederick II and the Christians began the first deportations of Muslims to Lucera in Apulia. A year later, expeditions were sent against Malta and Djerba, to establish royal control and prevent their Muslim populations from helping the rebels. Paradoxically, Saracen archers were a common component of these "Christian" armies from this era.
The House of Hohenstaufen and their successors (Capetian House of Anjou and Aragonese House of Barcelona) gradually "Latinized" Sicily over the course of two centuries, and this social process laid the groundwork for the introduction of Latin (as opposed to Byzantine) Catholicism. The process of Latinization was fostered largely by the Roman Church and its liturgy. The annihilation of Islam in Sicily was completed by the late 1240s, when the final deportations to Lucera took place. By the time of the Sicilian Vespers in 1282 there were no Muslims in Sicily and the society was completely Latinized.
At the end of the twelfth century ... While in Apulia Greeks were in a majority - and indeed present in any numbers at all - only in the Salento peninsula in the extreme south, at the time of the conquest they had an overwhelming preponderance in Lucaina and central and southern Calabria, as well as comprising anything up to a third of the population of Sicily, concentrated especially in the north-east of the island, the Val Demone.