Bridging Europe and Africa: Norman Sicily’s Other Kingdom
By Charles Dalli
Bridging the Gaps: Sources, Methodology and Approaches to Religion in History, edited by Joaquim Carvalho (Pisa University Press, 2008)
Abstract: The Norman conquest of Sicily detached the island from its North African framework, and a century of Latin Christian rule effectively transformed its society. But the island was not completely disconnected from the southern Mediterranean, as long term trade contacts, political links and military ambitions intervened to cast relations between the two sides. A Norman thalassocracy in the mid-12th century created a short-lived political bridge between Europe and Africa. In the age of the crusades, regional forces across the central Mediterranean could not be contained within the model of direct Christian rule experimented in the Latin east.
The present chapter studies the transition from informal control to the establishment of direct rule, which led to the formation of a ‘Norman Ifrīqiya’. The short-lived Norman overlordship across Ifrīqiya was mainly recorded in the pages of medieval Muslim historians, conditioning the methodology used by its modern historians.
The study of Norman Ifrīqiya became possible thanks to a remarkable Muslim historiographic effort to explain Christian intervention in the affairs of Ifrīqiya, underlining the historian’s powerful role as arbiter. It is the Muslim historian who becomes the main narrator of Sicily’s ‘other Kingdom’.