roger ii of sicily


Roger II (22 December 1095 – 26 February 1154) was King of Sicily, 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, and then King of Sicily in 1130. 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.

The term Norman-Arab-Byzantine cultureNorman-Sicilian culture or, less inclusive, Norman-Arab culture, (sometimes referred to as “Norman-Arab civilization”) refers to the interaction of the Norman, Arab and Byzantine cultures following the Norman conquest of Sicily from 1061 to around 1250. This civilization resulted from numerous exchanges in the cultural and scientific fields, based on the tolerance showed by the Normans towards the Greek-speaking populations and the Muslim settlers. As a result, Sicily under the Normans became a crossroad for the interaction between the Norman-Catholic, Byzantine-Orthodox and Arab-Islamic cultures.

An intense Norman-Arab-Byzantine culture developed, exemplified by rulers such as Roger II of Sicily, who had Islamic soldiers, poets and scientists at his court. Roger II himself spoke Arabic perfectly and was fond of Arab culture. He used Arab troops and siege engines in his campaigns in southern Italy, and mobilized Arab architects to help his Normans build monuments in the Norman-Arab-Byzantine style. The various agricultural and industrial techniques which had been introduced by the Arabs in Sicily during the preceding two centuries were kept and further developed, allowing for the remarkable prosperity of the Island. For the following two hundred years, Sicily under the Norman’s rule became a model and an example which was universally admired throughout Europe and Arabia.
The English historian John Julius Norwich remarked of the Kingdom of Sicily: “Norman Sicily stood forth in Europe –and indeed in the whole bigoted medieval world– as an example of tolerance and enlightenment, a lesson in the respect that every man should feel for those whose blood and beliefs happen to differ from his own.”
John Julius Norwich
During Roger II’s reign, the Kingdom of Sicily became increasingly characterized by its multi-ethnic composition and unusual religious tolerance.Normans, Muslim Arabs, Byzantine Greeks, Longobards and “native” Sicilians uniquely existed in harmony,  and Roger II was known to have planned for the establishment of an Empire that would have encompassed Fatimid Egypt and the Crusader states in the Levant up until his death in 1154.
One of the greatest geographical treatises of the Middle Ages was written for Roger II by the Andalusian scholar Muhammad al-Idrisi, and entitled Kitab Rudjdjar (“The book of Roger”). Although the language of the court was French (Langue d'oïl), all royal edicts were written in the language of the people they were addressed to: Latin, Greek, Arabic, or Hebrew.
Roger’s royal mantel, used for his coronation (and also used for the coronation of Frederick II), bore an inscription in Arabic with the Hijri date of 528 (1133–1134).
Islamic authors would marvel at the forbearance of the Norman kings:
“They [the Muslims] were treated kindly, and they were protected, even against the Franks. Because of that, they had great love for king Roger.”
Ibn al-Athir
Interactions continued with the succeeding Norman kings, for example under William II of Sicily, as attested by the Spanish-Arab geographer Ibn Jubair who landed in the island after returning from a pilgrimage to Mecca in 1184. To his surprise, Ibn Jubair enjoyed a very warm reception by the Norman Christians. He was further surprised to find that even the Christians spoke Arabic, that the government officials were still largely Muslim, and that the heritage of some 130 previous years of Muslim rule of Sicily was still intact:
“The attitude of the king is really extraordinary. His attitude towards the Muslims is perfect: he gives them employment, he choses his officers among them, and all, or almost all, keep their faith secret and can remain faithful to the faith of Islam. The king has full confidence in the Muslims and relies on them to handle many of his affairs, including the most important ones, to the point that the Great Intendant for cooking is a Muslim (…) His viziers and chamberlains are eunuchs, of which there are many, who are the members of his government and on whom he relies for his private affairs.”
Ibn Jubair, Rihla.
Ibn Jubair also mentioned that many Christians in Palermo wore the Muslim dress, and many spoke Arabic. The Norman kings also continued to strike coins in Arabic with Hegira dates. The registers at the Royal court were written in Arabic. At one point, William II of Sicily is recorded to have said: “Everyone of you should invoke the one he adores and of whom he follows the faith”.

Adelaide del Vasto

Countess Consort of Sicily and Queen Consort of Jerusalem

Born c. 1075 –  Died 1118 

Claim to fame: became regent of Sicily in her mid-20’s and later entered into a bigamous marriage with Baldwin I of Jerusalem

From an illustrious family, Adelaide (also known as Adelasia or Azalaïs) became the third wife of Roger I of Sicily when she was in her early teens, and bore him two children. After Roger’s death in 1101, Adelaide became regent at the age of 26. She received much praise for her leadership by suppressing rebellions, employing local officials, respecting the ethnic diversity of Sicily and donating generously to local Greek monasteries. A Greek and Arab charter from 1109 describes Adelaide as “the great female ruler… protector of the Christian faith.” Though she continued to play a role in governance, Adelaide’s regency ended when her son Roger II reached his majority in 1112.

In 1113 Adelaide agreed to become the third wife of King Baldwin I of Jerusalem on the condition that the kingdom would pass to her son if the new union produced no children. Unbeknownst to Adelaide, Baldwin was still considered married to his previous wife whom he had abandoned, leading to his condemnation by Pope Paschal II and the annulment of his marriage to Adelaide in 1117.

Adelaide returned to Sicily and died the following year. Roger II was so outraged by his mother’s treatment that he never forgave the Kingdom of Jerusalem and refused to assist the Crusader states.


Interior of the Capella Palatina, commissioned by Roger II of Sicily in 1132, following the Norman conquest of Sicily. Built for a Roman Catholic ruling dynasty, decorated in Byzantine-style mosaic and with an arabic vaulted ceiling (muqarnas) constructed by muslim craftsmen, the Capella embodies Sicily’s multi-ethnic and multi-faith makeup during the 12th century.


I’ve been doing some in-depth research on Cefalu Cathedral and the mosaics that decorate the walls. The Presbyterian Mosaic that inhabits the icon “Christ Pantokrator”, was instructed to be created by King Roger II of Sicily, said to be the “Greatest King in Europe” beginning his rein in 1130. During his rein, he succeeded in uniting all the Norman conquests in Italy into one kingdom, with a strong centralised government. 

The image on the right is a section of mosaic in the Martorana Church in Sicily. What I find interesting about this image is it is depicted as a moment that happened in the King’s life. I suppose the imagery is used to represent King Roger as an important and powerful individual, because he was personally blessed (and crowned) by Jesus.  In both images, the figures  of Jesus are not looking directly at you. Maybe this suggests that they look “above” you, because they are “above” you. And Jesus is depicted as being “above” Roger II, because he literally is in the image, but it also metaphorically represents him as being more important and more powerful than the King! Also the fact the King is bowing to Jesus, while looking towards you could mean he suggests you do the same.