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The Sicilian vespers : a history of the mediterranean world in the later… (original 1958; edition 1961)

by Steven Runciman (Author)

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279540,505 (4.14)11
Member:henkl
Title:The Sicilian vespers : a history of the mediterranean world in the later thirteenth century
Authors:Steven Runciman (Author)
Info:Harmondsworth : Penguin (1961); Pelican Books nr. A480; Paperback
Collections:Your library, Kast 19 plank 4
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Tags:history, middle ages, mediterranean

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The Sicilian Vespers: A History of the Mediterranean World in the Later Thirteenth Century (Canto) by Steven Runciman (1958)

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The book's title suggests it is about the revolt in Sicily in 1282 which began with a massacre during Vespers in Palermo, but it really has a much broader focus -- the revolt itself, at least the early and dramatic part, occupies six pages, 75 pages from the end of a 312 page book. The book as a whole is about the rise and fall of Charles of Anjou (1226-85), brother of King Louis IX of France (Saint Louis), and also provides the necessary context to understand his rise, by recounting the fortunes and decline the the Hohenstaufen emperors in Italy: Frederick II, who was the Antichrist to Pope Gregory IX; Conrad IV, and King Manfred of Sicily, who Charles took the Kingdom from. It also provides context from the East, which mainly consists of Michael Palaeologus of Nicea's conquest of the Latin Empire set up by the crusaders who took Constantinople some decades earlier.

It's good, but generally bewildering, jumping from person to place at a speedy clip. There is an enormous fold-out genealogical chart of the back of my copy, which would be handy if it weren't sixty years old and printed on the poor quality paper you find in old Pelican paperbacks. I suggest following along with a pencil for drawing these family trees and a few maps handy. Runciman makes the probably-fair assumption early on that you know most of the Kingdom of Sicily consists of southern peninsular Italy -- everything from approximately Naples, south. Sicily proper plays a role mainly for Frederick II and during and after the Vespers. I didn't realise, and that confused the hell out of me initially.

Runciman does have a particular gift for detailed descriptions of events rather than chronologies, and this comes out during the battles of Benevento (Charles v Manfred) and Tagliacozzo (Conradin v Charles), and to a lesser extent smaller battles and events throughout. But most of the book would be better described as a chronology, and although he does attempt to draw some larger points about the Empire, the papacy, and nationalism near the beginning and the end, I don't feel it is as strong a motivation for him as the story itself. Which is fine, in a way. ( )
  seabear | Apr 14, 2013 |
It was hard for me to drag through Runciman's set-up to the Vespers, but his analysis and style made it worthwhile, in the end. ( )
  jorgearanda | Dec 31, 2009 |
1749 The Sicilian Vespers: A History of the Mediterranean World in the Later Thirteenth Century, by Steven Runciman (read 7 Nov 1982) (Book of the Year) This is an almost perfect book. Runciman's views on the Church are not bad--he says Martin IV was a disaster and he is so right--and he tells this story perfectly. First I thought the book drug, because it tells so much 13th century history, which I am not strong in (it is the one century that I have not read much papal history in), but the work is brilliant and shows the Sicilian Vespers--on Easter Monday, March 20, 1282--as the key event it was. Of course, my great enjoyment of Runciman's three volumes on the Crusades in 1974 told me this book would be great. This book makes Charles of Anjou really come alive for me--it is he who was ruling Sicily. Runciman concludes: "By crushing the Universal Empire, which alone might possibly have provided such a support [which all Christendom could trust] the Popes set themselves a hard problem. Their choice of Charles of Anjou is easy to understand; but it was fatal. When Charles' power was broken by the Vespers at Palermo they were too inextricably involved. The story led on to the insult offered to the Holy Father at Anagni, to the Babylonian Captivity at Avignon, and through schism and disillusion to the troubles of the Reformation. It altered fundamentally the history of Christendom." ( )
  Schmerguls | Oct 27, 2008 |
Runciman is a historian of the old school. Straight chronological narrative, no post-modern analysis. Very refreshing and entertaining. After reading I had a better sense of the scale of time and distance and travel and communications in the lives of Medieval people. Also how quickly fortunes changed and how life in the Middle Ages could seem both eternal and fleeting at the same time. ( )
  Stbalbach | Jul 2, 2006 |
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