Count of Sicily (1061-1101); conqueror of the island from its Muslim rulers.
The youngest of the twelve sons of Tancred of Hauteville, a minor baron from the Cotentin region of western Normandy, Roger followed his elder brothers to southern Italy around 1056/1057, at about the time when his brother Robert Guiscard became the overall leader of the south Italian Normans, who had already conquered inland Apulia and northern Calabria. Roger assisted Robert in the conquest of southern Calabria (1057-1060), and led a first, reconnaissance, raid on the island of Sicily in the autumn of 1060. Subsequently he undertook the conquest of the island from its Muslim rulers, in a series of campaigns lasting thirty years from 1061 onward. The northeast of the island, including the key port of Messina, was soon conquered, and a major defeat inflicted on the Muslims at Cerami (June 1063), but subsequent progress was slow, hampered by a shortage of troops, difficult terrain, problems with the indigenous Greek Christians, and Roger’s frequent absences on the south Italian mainland. Palermo was eventually captured (with Robert Guiscard’s help) in 1072, Trapani and most of western Sicily by 1077, Syracuse in 1086, and Agrigento in 1087. Only the southeast was now left, and the last town in Muslim hands there, Noto, surrendered in 1091. The last decade of Roger’s life was devoted to the consolidation of Christian rule on the island, and of his rule in Calabria, the latter in alliance with his nephew Roger Borsa, duke of Apulia (1085-1111). Roger refused to take part in the First Crusade (1096-1099); he may well have been reluctant to jeopardize the stability of his rule in Sicily, where the majority of the population remained Muslim.