restricted access The Norman Kingdom of Sicily (review)
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272 Reviews Matthew, Donald, The Norman Kingdom of Sicily (Cambridge medieval textbooks), Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1993; rpt; paper, pp. xvi, 418; 2 maps, R.R.P. AUS$49.95. Undergraduate students of medieval history are perennially interested in the 'Other' Norman Conquest: the Norman setdement in Southern Italy and Sicily. However, they find it a frustrating topic to investigate because the scholarship available on it in English is limited in scope and uneven in quality, and because virtually no primary sources have been translated. There is a lack of secondary literature to set against the jejune and romanticized account of J. J. Norwich in The Normans in the South 10161130 (1967), also published as The other conquest in the U.S.A., and The kingdom in the sun 1130-1194 (1970), which overplayed the 'enlightened' nature of Norman rule over conquered Muslim and Greek populations. There are many specialist studies but dieir setting off against the narrative of Norwich is too difficult for students. Aziz Ahmad's A history of Islamic Sicily (1975) is a good corrective but is insufficiently detailed in its Norman chapterstoprovide sufficient ammunition. This new work by Professor Matthew in a series specifically designed for undergraduate students istobe welcomed with endiusiasm. It displays by its carefully considered mastery of the primary sources and secondary literature the commendable results of what are no doubt many years of research. It is in all ways superior beyond pass to Norwich's work and should immediately consign the latter to oblivion. In two introductory chapters, Matthew does a fine job of tracing the fundamental political history of die Norman's infiltration of southern Italy and Sicily and the establishment of their rule there. The body of the book then deals with the structures of the Kingdom under Roger II (1130-54) and his successors: William I (1154-66) and William II (1166-89). Final chapters deal with 'The kingdom in disarray' (1189-1220), 'The kingdom revitalized' (the reign of Frederick II, 1220-1250), and 'The kingdom betrayed' (the reigns of the last Hohenstaufens to the conquest by Charles of Anjou in 1266). Traditional scholarship has attributed to the Norman regime a number of characteristics which set it apart from other medieval feudal-monarchical regimes. Fhst, a centralization of power in the monarchy, a consequent controlling of the feudal nobility, and the creation of a royal ideology and bureaucracy which facilitated the construction of a centralized state. Reviews 273 Secondly, the establishment of a relatively tolerant Latin mie over Muslims and Greeks which led to harmonious social and religious relations which were only broken down in the second half of the twelfth century. Matthew has addressed these issues with erudition and common sense. Together with Jeremy Johns, David Abulafia, Ahmad, and others, he has shown that the character of Norman mie was not so much enlightened as self-interested, tolerant rather than appreciative. It is possible that Roger II was an exception to the rule and had a genuine empathy for at least some aspects of Muslim and Byzantine civilization. But even in his case, the empathy was limited to particular interests. The position of the 'minorities' began to deteriorate as soon as sufficient numbers of Latin settlers made their presence felt: French and Norman nobility in the first instance, followed by Latin clergy, North Italian nobility and peasantry, and bourgeoisie from the North Italian communes settling in the great port cities of Messina, Palermo, and Trapani. The last Greek chief minister, 'admiral', 'amir of amirs', amiratus amiratorum, was Philip of Mahdia (t 1153). By the time that Ibn Jubayr visited Sicily in 1185, Muslims wanting socio-political advancement were having to practice their faith in secret and naturallyrebelliousadolescent children weretiirowingoff parental authority by converting to Christianity. By the same period, the Greek community was waning and many of its monasteries were being abandoned to Latins for lack of Greek monks. Matthew is to be congratulated for producing thefirstreally judicious overall assessment of Norman rule in Sicily designed for undergraduate students in any language. His book should find a wide market, both among medievalists interested in the Mediterranean world and also amongst all those interested in interfaith relations anywhere. John...