Home | Valente and DiRenzo Family History - Historical Background Maps - Norman Conquest of Southern Italy

The Norman Conquest of Southern Italy in the 11th Century A.D.

Maps and chronology ...

The Holy Roman Empire c. 1100 AD

Apart from the Norman Principalities (or prince-doms), the States of the Church (Papal States), the Republic of Venice and the lands southeast of Verona, all places on the map below were part of the "Holy Roman Empire" at the end of the 11th Century. In the north the Empire extended to the Jutland Peninsula and the North Sea, a distance from Rome of about 825 miles.

Map of Italy under the Holy Roman Empire, circa 1100 A.D., 7 KB

The area on the map to the east of Tuscany was only nominally under papal rule.

A large duchy of Benevento was established in 571 as a papal state, and under the Normans the municipality of Benevento remained a papal city.

Some of the south-eastern territory of Spoleto, namely Abruzzo, became part of the Norman Kingdom of Naples in the first half of the 12th Century.

Map Source: the map above is based by RWA on the map titled "Germany and Italy at the time of the Investiture Conflict" in the book The Middle Ages: 395-1500 by Joseph Strayer and Dana Munro, 4th edition (New York, 1959), page 210.

Chronology of the Norman Conquest

[Before the Normans | The Normans | After the Normans]

I. Before the Normans

The Western Roman Empire declines as Roman military power in western Europe fails. The Italian peninsula is overrun and sacked by various northern European peoples.

[Background: Italy in the 5th-8th Centuries A.D.]

The Byzantine Emperor Justinian I (r. 527-565) has Italy reconquered for the Eastern Roman Empire (i.e. Byzantium) by defeating the Ostrogoths, who have ruled Italy since 493 AD.
The Lombard invasion of Italy begins. The Lombards will divide the lands they conquer into duchies, and the Lombard dukes of Benevento (which includes the area of Molise) will be almost independent rulers.
The Frankish King Pepin "the Short" and later his son Charlemagne (in 774) invade Italy and make the Lombard Kingdom of Italy the Frankish Kingdom of Italy. The popes have called on the Franks to save Rome from the Lombards; the Lombards (who are not Roman Catholic) do not recognize the secular power of the papacy. Under Frankish rule, the Franks and Lombards follow their own laws; the Italians continue to use Roman law.

The Franks are a Germanic people living to the west of the Rhine River. Since the conversion of their King Clovis I in 496, they have been Roman Catholics, professing the Athanasian Creed. Charlemagne will conquer the Germanic lands to the east of the Rhine and create the Holy Roman Empire (of which the pope will crown Charlemagne the first emperor), making northern Europe an heir to Roman civilization, a union of the western and eastern Rhine that will formally last until 843.

However, following the death of Charlemagne in 814 imperial authority will begin to disintegrate: feudalism will reach its fullest development: local lords will become masters of their own territories. The dukes of Benevento will call themselves princes of the Lombards and sometimes be loyal to the Franks, sometimes to Byzantium. Normans from France will gradually gain power in southern Italy; they will take part in local quarrels between Lombard princes and the people of Puglia and the Byzantine governors. Expeditions sent against the Normans by the Holy Roman emperors will be defeated.

Magyar raids through the Principality of Benevento into Puglia. In 969 Benevento is made the see of an archbishop.

II. The Normans

The Norman Conquest of southern Italy begins. The first adventurers from the coast of Normandy, France, hire themselves out to the rival rulers of Benevento, Salerno, Naples, and Capua. As a reward they are given the city of Aversa. But as their numbers increase, the Normans band together to fight on their own.
By this time Robert Guiscard (i.e. "the Wise", or, "Wily") has established a Norman kingdom in southern Italy. He conquers Calabria (the toe of the Italian peninsula), Benevento (1054 A.D.), and allies himself with Pope Nicholas II (r. 1059-1061), whom he protects from being dominated by Germanic rulers, and receives papal sanction to rule Calabria, Puglia (the heel of the Italian peninsula), and the island of Sicily. Robert sends his younger brother Roger to conquer Sicily, and himself sets out to conquer Puglia from the Byzantines.

The Normans have many classical texts translated from the Greek and Arabic into Latin. Together with the Greek texts that are collected in Byzantium and rediscovered in the libraries of the monasteries of Europe, these works will bring about a revolution both in Roman Catholic theology and in secular learning.

Robert Guiscard captures Bari. With Puglia conquered, and with it Byzantium's rule in southern Italy ended, Robert next sets out to conquer Constantinople. But he is called back by Pope Gregory VII (r. 1073-1085) to defend the papacy against the Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV.

Map of the Norman Conquest of Southern Italy, 11 KB

Map Source: the above map is based by RWA on the map titled "Norman Conquest of South Italy" in the book The Middle Ages: 395-1500 by Joseph Strayer and Dana Munro, page 210.

Robert Guiscard captures the city of Rome from Henry IV's army. But when the people of Rome revolt against Robert's army, Robert sacks and burns the city.
Roger Guiscard's conquest of the island of Sicily from the Saracens. The Moslems of Sicily and southern Italy are Berbers from North Africa (the people of St. Augustine of Hippo) and Spanish Moslems, a diverse people but they are all called Saracens ("People from the East") by the Italians.
With the death of his brother Robert Guiscard, Roger becomes the ruler of Norman Italy or the "Two Sicilies" as it is called -- i.e. of the island of Sicily and the southern half of the Italian peninsula.
During the reign of Roger II, a nephew of Robert Guiscard, Naples and Capua are added to the Norman Kingdom. Abruzzo is captured from the Holy Roman Emperors, and North Africa from Tripoli to Tunis is taken from the Saracens.
Roger II changes his title from Count to King. The capital city of his "Kingdom of the Two Sicilies" is Palermo.
Roger II's heirs, who have already lost the Norman's North African possessions, end Norman rule in southern Italy by surrendering the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies to the Holy Roman (i.e. German) Emperor Henry VI under the pretext that Henry has married a woman from the Norman court.

III. After the Normans

Henry IV's son, Frederick II (r. 1212-1250), who has united the Two Sicilies with the Holy Roman Empire under one king, establishes his court at Foggia and has a castle-palace built in that city. He reigns as an absolute monarch and in a new code of law preserves all the baggage of feudalism, including the rights of lords over their serfs, and surrounds himself with people who are not Italian. Frederick, however, also founds the University of Naples in 1224.
Frederick II makes war on the Lombard cities of northern Italy and on the Papal States with the intention of creating an undivided empire, in the manner of the Roman Empire. The faction that supports Emperor Frederick is called Ghibelline, that which supports Pope Gregory IX is called Guelf. This war continues until Frederick's death.
The papal city of Benevento is sacked by Frederick II's army.
At his death, Frederick leaves his son Manfred as regent of Italy.
To end the war between the Ghibellines and Guelfs, Pope Urban IV (r. 1261-1264) offers the Two Sicilies as a fief to King Louis IX of France. The king lets his brother Charles of Anjou accept the pope's offer. Charles marches south with a French army, defeats Manfred, and establishes his French court at Naples.
Charles of Anjou asks St. Thomas Aquinas to reorganize the University of Naples.
The tyranny of Charles of Anjou's French government and army incites the bloody "Sicilian Vespers" rebellion. Fearing the vengeance of Charles and of Pope Martin IV, the Sicilians offer their island to Pedro III of Aragon. After some 20 years of war, Pedro's Spanish army establishes the rule of the House of Aragon over the island of Sicily. And in this way the "Two Sicilies" is divided in two, with the Kingdom of Naples continuing to be ruled by the House of Anjou.

Source: The chronology is based mostly on volumes of Will Durant's The Story of Civilization, ca. 1950 and earlier, and old encyclopedias (Partial bibliography). It is general background for my family history, not scholarship.

[Continue with History Outline - Italy and America]

The URL of this Web page: https://www.roangelo.net/valente/conquest.html
Last revised: 3 March 2007 : 2007-03-03 by Robert [Wesley] Angelo.

Back to top of page

Home | Site Map | Site Search | Valente and DiRenzo Family History - More Historical Background