The Muslim colony of Lucera in Apulia (southern Italy) was a result of the expulsion of the Muslim population of the island of Sicily by Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor and king of Sicily. Between the early 1220s and the mid-1240s, some 15,000-20,000 Muslim families were systematically driven from the island and forcibly established on the Italian mainland in and around the town of Lucera. The Muslims of Lucera were given a degree of self-government and the right to practice their religion freely, but they were isolated and dependent on the kings of Sicily for protection. As a prosperous agricultural community and trade center, Lucera was subject to heavy royal taxation and owed military service in the king’s army; its Muslim soldiers thus became an important regular element of the armies of the Staufen dynasty that fought in northern Italy in the 1230s and 1240s.
The fate of the Muslim colony of Lucera was closely bound up with the history of the Italian crusades and the struggle between the Staufen dynasty and the popes. In the 1230s Pope Gregory IX called for attempts to convert the Lucera Muslims, albeit without much success. Until the 1250s, there was no systematic resistance against the presence of a Muslim colony in Apulia, nor did the Lucera Muslims become a particular target of the papacy’s rhetorical or military strategies.
This situation changed in the context of the crusade against Manfred, son of Frederick II, launched by Pope Alexander III in 1255. For the first time, the papacy fully exploited the association of the Staufen ruler with the Lucera Muslims by accusing Manfred of having concluded an impiumfoedus (impious alliance) with the enemies of the Christian religion. At the same time, Alexander III drew Lucera into a focal position in papal crusade propaganda by making the destruction of the Muslim colony one of the main strategic aims of the crusade. Similarly, Urban IV and Clement IV used the reference to Lucera as a propaganda element in support of Charles I of Anjou, their candidate for the throne of Sicily. After the battle of Benevento in 1266, the Lucera Muslims initially submitted to Angevin rule, but they turned against Charles in joining Conradin of Staufen’s rebellion two years later. In reaction, Clement IV for the first time called for a crusade specifically directed against the Muslim colony.
After the battle of Tagliacozzo (August 1269), the Angevin crusade army forced the Lucera Muslims to surrender. Rather than destroying the Muslim colony, Charles I merely disarmed the Muslims and followed the Staufen rulers in exploiting their economic and fiscal potential. They thus no longer played a military role, and their autonomy was curtailed by the Angevin rulers. The end of Muslim Lucera came under Charles II of Anjou, king of Naples, who in 1300 expelled the Muslims from Lucera, sold many of them into slavery, and confiscated their goods.