Post-classical history

Roger II of Sicily (d. 1154)

Count (1105-1130) and subsequently king of Sicily (1130-1154).

Younger son of Count Roger I, Roger II succeeded his elder brother Simon as count in 1105. On the death of his cousin William (1127), he also became duke of Apulia and thus ruler of most of mainland southern Italy. Roger took advantage of the papal schism of 1130 to secure the consent of Anacletus II (the pope who held Rome) to his coronation as the first king of Sicily in Palermo cathedral on Christmas Day 1130. The early years of the new kingdom were difficult, since Roger was faced with the hostility of rebel barons on the mainland, of the German and Byzantine emperors (both of whom considered southern Italy to be rightfully part of their dominions), and of Pope Innocent II, the eventual victor in the schism. Nevertheless, by 1140 Roger had defeated his opponents, successfully united southern Italy under his rule, and secured Innocent’s reluctant recognition of his kingship. His fleet conducted operations against Muslim pirates in the Mediterranean, capturing Jerba in 1135, and in 1146-1148 his forces conquered Tripoli, Mahdia, and other towns in Tunisia from their Muslim rulers, although they remained in Sicilian hands for little more than a decade. Roger’s motives in this conquest appear not to have been religious but pragmatic: to secure Sicilian trade and tribute, taking opportunist advantage of internal divisions among the North African Muslims.

Roger II, king of Sicily (1095-1154). Byzantine mosaic from the Church of Martorana, Palermo. (Bettmann/Corbis)

Roger II, king of Sicily (1095-1154). Byzantine mosaic from the Church of Martorana, Palermo. (Bettmann/Corbis)

Roger also played a significant role in the failure of the Second Crusade (1147-1149) in the East. His war with Byzantium led the Emperor Manuel I Komnenos to conclude a truce with the Turks of Asia Minor shortly before the crusade’s arrival, and his fleet attacked Greece while it was under way. Louis VII of France subsequently returned from Outremer via the kingdom of Sicily, and, unlike the Germans, appears to have had good relations with Roger, but attempts to involve the Sicilian ruler directly in the crusade, both in 1145-1146 and in 1149-1150, were unsuccessful.

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