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The Normans in Sicily: The Normans in the South 1016-1130 and the Kingdom…

by John Julius Norwich

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1633125,635 (4.29)7
This omnibus volume is made up of John Julius Norwich's first two works of history published 20 years ago - The Normans in the South and The Kingdom in the Sun. The books tell the story of the dazzling Norman kingdom of Sicily founded in the 11th century by an enterprising band of adventurers from Normandy under Robert Guiscard. The state they founded was outstanding in medieval civilization.… (more)



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Nasty, brutish and tall--that was the Normans. They were the original "men who came to dinner" but in their case, thugs who came to dinner fits better. They were descendants of the Vikings but, if we are to believe the author, traded their boats for horses and headed south to make their fortune. They arrived in Italy by chance after a pilgrimage and took over. Then conquered Sicily and a part of north Africa. They even tried for Constantinople.

They took the best and squabbled (that means had wars, killed, raped, pillaged, destroyed whole towns--all the things that everyone was doing those days). They squabbled among themselves, with the Germans from the Holy Roman (some say evil northern) Empire, with the Popes and anti-Popes for a century or so. Finally a Norman King had no sons after foolishly marrying off his daughter to the Emperor and pffft, the Emperor took over. The Normans were finished as Kings (in Sicily and Italy; they still had England).

The book tells the story in many, many pages. But is a big story with many characters, that is fine. The Normans were not kind to us readers in that half seem to be named Roger, but there are charts to help. And maps with all the obscure city names. This is the perfect nighttime book, just interesting enough to pick up but not so interesting that you cannot put it down at a decent hour and get some sleep. Also, since the Normans had a campaign every year where some were killed and some were not, you can lose you place and not notice too much.

The author's voice keeps the book alive. It is not just one damned thing after another. Norwich applauds bravery and all the "good" qualities of his fighters. He would have made a great fighting Pope, with all the right values for those years. He evaluates the major characters when they die. William the Bad was not really so bad and his son William the Good was just lucky.

I do recommend this book. I learned much. How those Normans were not only in England but also in Sicily. Who would have thought? ( )
  kerns222 | May 25, 2018 |
Norwich writes of three chapters in the epic of the Norman domination of South Italy: (1) the 1043 assembly of pioneer Norman barons at Melfi when the early arrivees "divided their conquered territories into the twelve counties of Apulia" (p. 321); (2) when Robert Guiscard had received his three duchies from Pope Nicholas II; and (3) when Robert's younger step-brother, Roger, gathered his vassals ("all the bishops, abbots and counts of Apulia and Calabria to a solemn Court at Melfi" (p. 320) to have them swear a great oath both to him but also to his sons and to a general peace to uphold order and justice (in short, establishing a penal code). Thus was his son, Roger II, able to crown himself King of Sicily on Christmas Day, 1130. If the above is meaningless to you, it will not be after reading this fascinating, rewarding volume that fills in a gap of European history usually neglected in today's university curricula.

The story of the Normans in Sicily is one of those periods in history that was unusually rich in events and personalities (not that the two are easily distinguishable), but in the hands of author John Julius Norwich, the tale is a page-turner overflowing with tales of deceit, treachery, cunning, diplomacy and the machinations of 11-12C European history. This work is a true historical epic--so colourful, so rich, and so laden with Norwich's wit and wry phrasing that it has rightfully long been regarded as one of the great tomes on Sicily, which is far too narrow a category for this work. Clearly it is 'must' reading for anyone interested in European or Mediterranean history, or for that matter, the Normans (successors of the Vikings of the north who settled in France ['Normandy'] and then made world history in 1066 at the Battle of Hastings), the Crusades, the Papacy, Venice .... Maps and a family tree are necessities and this volume includes both, plus the added treasure of a list of Norman ruins that can still be seen in Sicily today.

The book is hard to find; none of the libraries I searched in had a copy (which I eventually found in the library of a well-travelled friend) but worth the search. Now to find a copy of his History of Venice. ( )
  pbjwelch | Jul 25, 2017 |
Norwich is - or should be - famous for his massive histories of Byzantium and Venice. This book was originally two of his less well known works - 'The Normans in the South' (Otherwise known as 'The Other Conquest'), and 'The Kingdom of the Sun'. It is a narrative of the Norman involvement in Sicily, Italy and the Mediterranean from 1016 to 1194 AD. Norwich is a scholar and a story-teller; and writes with a traveler's and an art historian's eye. As in his other works, this book explores big themes played out over centuries. In this case it is the meeting of Norman and Mediterranean society, Christian and Muslim faiths, and how their conflict drove history, and their synthesis energised culture and art. The two original books were published in 1966 and 1967, and brought together by Penguin under the title 'The Normans in Sicily' in 1992. This is not a difficult read, but it is a long one. The story-telling is perhaps not as engaging or coherent as Norwich's 'Venice' or 'Byzantium', and part of the problem is that it is not played out in just one place, but across the Mediterranean and Europe. On the other hand this is the most lyrical of the three, saturated in art and architecture. It may also be the case that it was originally more easily tackled as two books. Norwich writes so visually that others have described it as a book for a tourist or an art historian. An example of Norwich in full flight is the last sentence of the work quoted in Librarything. The enjoyment of the book will definitely be enhanced if it is read alongside some photographic record of the places, architecture and artworks described therein. A book to read before visiting Sicily, or to take along on a leisurely holiday. It certainly is worth reading alongside Runciman's 'History of the Crusades' and Norwich's other works. Highly recommended. ( )
  nandadevi | Mar 9, 2012 |
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For Anne. For my mother.
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To the traveller, heading eastwards from Foggia to the sea, the gaunt grey shadow of Monte Gargano looms over the plain like a thunder-cloud.
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This omnibus volume is made up of John Julius Norwich's first two works of history published 20 years ago - The Normans in the South and The Kingdom in the Sun. The books tell the story of the dazzling Norman kingdom of Sicily founded in the 11th century by an enterprising band of adventurers from Normandy under Robert Guiscard. The state they founded was outstanding in medieval civilization.

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