chapter  7
20 Pages

Urban Communities and the Normans in Southern Italy

ByPaul Oldfield

Modern historiography on the interrelationship between the Normans and the cities of southern Italy has long interpreted it in negative and antagonistic terms.1 Broadly, it suggests that in the eleventh century the opportunistic and warlike Norman infiltrators oppressed city life and restricted urban autonomy at precisely the moment when the cities were displaying signs of the sort of communal governments which were emerging in the North of Italy at the same time. Even worse, so the argument goes, the suffocating Norman presence was crystallised in 1130 when Roger II of Sicily, of the Norman Hauteville lineage, established a new kingdom of Sicily which incorporated both the island of Sicily and the adjacent mainland. It was a controversial creation encompassing territories claimed by Popes, Germans and Byzantines. For the first time since the aftermath of the Gothic Wars, the South was unified and governed through a strong administrative state. The kings of Sicily have often been portrayed as tyrants. Thus, they exercised a firm and deleterious grip over the Church, as well as over the cities of the realm, within which the political, economic and even cultural agendas were dominated by the monarchy.2 Modern historians repeatedly employ negative adjectives such as ‘doomed’ and ‘repressed’ to

1 I am most grateful to Graham Loud, whose comments on this chapter have greatly improved it. It should also be noted that the primary focus of this survey is mainland southern Italy. The cities of Sicily itself, which fell under Norman rule between 1060 and 1091, display some evident differences from those on the mainland, most notably as regards population make-up, Arab-Islamic influences and, later, proximity to the centre of Norman royal power; but it is also apparent that many of the issues discussed here do pertain to Sicilian cities, which increasingly showed clear signs of assertive and powerful action in the second half of the twelfth century, something which I will return to in a forthcoming work. For further investigation of some of the themes covered in this chapter, see P. Oldfield, City and Community in Norman Italy (Cambridge, 2009).