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Roger II of Sicily

Roger II
Detail of the mosaic with Roger II receiving the crown from Christ, Martorana, Palermo. The mosaic carries an inscription Rogerios Rex in Greek letters.
King of Sicily
Reign 27 September 1130 –
26 February 1154
Coronation 25 December 1130
Successor William I
Born (1095-12-22)22 December 1095
Mileto, Calabria
Died 26 February 1154(1154-02-26) (aged 58)
Palermo, Sicily
Burial Cathedral of Palermo, Sicily
Spouse Elvira of Castile
Sibylla of Burgundy
Beatrice of Rethel
House House of Hauteville
Father Roger I of Sicily
Mother Adelaide del Vasto

Roger II (Mileto, Calabria 22 December 1095[1]Palermo, Sicily 26 February 1154) was King of Sicily, son of Roger I of Sicily and successor to his brother Simon. He began his rule as Count of Sicily in 1105, became Duke of Apulia and Calabria in 1127, and then King of Sicily in 1130. By the time of his death at the age of 58, Roger had succeeded in uniting all the Norman conquests in Italy into one kingdom with a strong centralized government.


  • Background 1
  • Reign 2
    • Rise to power in Sicily 2.1
    • Rise to power in southern Italy 2.2
      • Royal investiture 2.2.1
      • Peninsular rebellions 2.2.2
      • Imperial invasion 2.2.3
      • Consolidation of kingship 2.2.4
    • Economy 2.3
    • Later reign 2.4
  • Family 3
  • Notes 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6


By 999, Norman adventurers had arrived in southern Italy.[2] By 1016, they were involved in the complex local politics where Lombards were fighting against the Byzantine Empire. These mercenaries fought the enemies of the Italian city-states, but in the following century they gradually became the rulers of the major polities south of Rome.

Roger I ruled the County of Sicily at the time of the birth of his youngest son, Roger, at Mileto, Calabria, in 1095.[3] Roger I's nephew, Roger Borsa, was the Duke of Apulia and Calabria, and his great nephew, Richard II of Capua, was the Prince of Capua. Alongside these three major rulers were a large number of minor counts, who effectively exercised sovereign power in their own localities. These counts at least nominally owed allegiance to one of these three Norman rulers, but such allegiance was usually weak and often ignored.[4]

When Roger I died in 1101, his young son, Simon of Hauteville, became Count, with his mother Adelaide del Vasto as regent. Simon died four years later in 1105, at the age of 12. Adelaide continued as regent to her younger son Roger, who was just nine years old.[5]


Rise to power in Sicily

Southern Italy in 1112. The border of the Kingdom of Sicily at the time of Roger's death in 1154 is indicated by a thicker black line encircling most of southern Italy.

Upon the death of his elder brother, Simon of Hauteville, in 1105, Roger inherited the County of Sicily under the regency of his mother, Adelaide del Vasto. His mother was assisted by such notables as Christodulus, the emir of Palermo. In 1109, Byzantine Emperor Alexios I Komnenos, bestowed upon him the title of protonobilissimos, in recognition of his knowledge of the Byzantine court.[6] In the summer of 1110, Roger was visited by the Norwegian king Sigurd Jorsalfare, who was on his way to Jerusalem.[7] The story suggests that Sigurd gave Roger the name King of Sicily, twenty years before he actually obtained this title.

In 1112, at the age of sixteen, Roger began his personal rule, being named "now knight, now Count of Sicily and Calabria" in a charter document dated June 12, 1112.[1] In 1117, his mother, who had married Baldwin I of Jerusalem, returned to Sicily, since the Patriarch of Jerusalem had declared the marriage invalid. Roger seems to have felt the slight, and this might explain his later reluctance to go crusading.[8] Roger married his first wife, Elvira, daughter of Alfonso VI of Castile, and his fourth queen, Isabella, who may be identical to his former concubine, the converted Moor, Zaida, baptised Isabella.

In 1122, William II the Duke of Apulia, who was fighting with Count Jordan of Ariano, offered to renounce his remaining claims to Sicily as well as part of Calabria.[9] Roger, in exchange, provided William with 600 knights and access to money for his campaign.[9]

Rise to power in southern Italy

When William II of Apulia died childless in July 1127, Roger claimed all Hauteville family possessions in the peninsula as well as the overlordship of the Principality of Capua, which had been nominally given to Apulia almost thirty years earlier. However, the union of Sicily and Apulia was resisted by Pope Honorius II and by the subjects of the duchy itself.

Royal investiture

Royal mantle of Roger II, bearing an inscription in Arabic with the Hegira date of 528 (1133–34).

The popes had long been suspicious of the growth of Norman power in southern Italy, and at Capua in December, the pope preached a crusade against Roger, setting Robert II of Capua and Ranulf II of Alife (his own brother-in-law) against him. After this coalition failed, in August 1128 Honorius invested Roger at Benevento as Duke of Apulia.[10] The baronial resistance, backed by Naples, Bari, Salerno, and other cities whose aim was civic freedom, gave way. In September 1129 Roger was generally recognized as duke of Apulia by Sergius VII of Naples, Robert of Capua, and the rest. He began at once to enforce order in the duchy, where ducal power had long been fading.

On the death of Pope Honorius in February 1130 there were two claimants to the papal throne. Roger supported Antipope Anacletus II against Innocent II.[10] The reward was a crown,[10] and, on 27 September 1130, Anacletus' papal bull made Roger king of Sicily.[11] He was crowned in Palermo on Christmas Day 1130. Roger II's elaborate royal mantle bears the date 528 of the Islamic calendar (1133–34), therefore it could not be used for his coronation.[12][13] It was later used as coronation cloak by the Holy Roman Emperors and is now in the Imperial Treasury (Schatzkammer) in Vienna.

Peninsular rebellions

This plunged Roger into a ten-year war. The famous Louis VI of France, Henry I of England, and the Lothair III, Holy Roman Emperor. Meanwhile, southern Italy revolted.

In 1130, the Capri.[14] Amalfi soon capitulated.

In 1132, Roger sent Robert II of Capua and Ranulf II of Alife to Rome in a show of force in support of Anacletus. While they were away, Roger's half-sister Matilda, Ranulf's wife, fled to Roger claiming abuse. Simultaneously, Roger annexed Ranulf's brother's County of Avellino. Ranulf demanded the restitution of both wife and countship. Both were denied, and Ranulf left Rome against orders, with Robert following.

Roger II riding to war, from Liber ad honorem Augusti of Petrus de Ebulo, 1196.

First Roger dealt with a rebellion in Apulia, where he defeated and deposed Grimoald, Prince of Bari, replacing him with his second son Tancred. Meanwhile, Robert and Ranulf took papal Benevento. Roger went to meet them but was defeated at the Battle of Nocera on 25 July 1132. Roger retreated to Salerno.

The next year, Lothair III came down to Rome for his imperial coronation. The rebel leaders met him there, but they were refused help because Lothair's force was too small.[15] With the emperor's departure, divisions in his opponents' ranks allowed Roger to reverse his fortunes. By July 1134, Roger's troops had forced Ranulf, Sergius, and the other ringleaders to submit. Robert was expelled from Capua and Roger installed his third son, Alfonso of Hauteville as Prince of Capua. Roger II's eldest son Roger was given the title of Duke of Apulia.

Meanwhile, Lothair's contemplated attack upon Roger had gained the backing of Pisa, Genoa, and the Byzantine emperor John II, each of whom feared the growth of a powerful Norman kingdom. A Pisan fleet led by the exiled prince of Capua dropped anchor off Naples in 1135. Ranulf joined Robert and Sergius there, encouraged by news coming from Sicily that Roger was fatally ill or even already dead. The important fortress of Aversa, among others, passed to the rebels and only Capua resisted, under the royal chancellor, Guarin. On June 5, however, Roger disembarked in Salerno, much to the surprise of all the mainland provinces. The royal army, split into several forces, easily conquered Aversa and even Alife, the base of the natural rebel leader, Ranulf. Most of the rebels took refuge in Naples, which was besieged in July, but despite poor health conditions within the city, Roger was not able to take it, and returned to Messina late in the year.

Imperial invasion

The Tabula Rogeriana, an ancient world map drawn by Muhammad al-Idrisi for Roger II of Sicily in 1154. Note that the north is at the bottom, and so the map appears "upside down" compared to modern cartographic conventions.

In 1136, the long-awaited imperial army, led by Lothair and the duke of Bavaria, Henry the Proud, descended the peninsula to support the three rebels. Henry, Robert, and Ranulf took a large contingent of troops to besiege the peninsular capital of the kingdom, Salerno. Roger remained in Sicily, leaving its mainland garrisons helpless under the chancellor Robert of Selby, while even the Byzantine emperor John II Comnenus sent subsidies to Lothair. Salerno surrendered, and the large army of Germans and Normans marched to the very south of Apulia. There, in June 1137, Lothair besieged and took Bari. At San Severino, after the victorious campaign, he and the pope jointly invested Ranulf as duke of Apulia (August 1137), and the emperor then retired to Germany. Roger, freed from the utmost danger, immediately disembarked in Calabria, at Tropea, with 400 knights and other troops, probably mostly Muslims. After having been welcomed by the Salernitans, he recovered ground in Campania, sacking Pozzuoli, Alife, Capua, and Avellino. Sergius, terrified, was forced to acknowledge him as overlord of Naples and switch his allegiance to Anacletus: that moment marked the fall of an independent Neapolitan duchy, and thereafter the ancient city was fully integrated into the Norman realm.

From there Roger moved to Benevento and northern Apulia, where Duke Ranulf, although steadily losing his bases of power, had some German troops plus some 1,500 knight from the cities of Melfi, Trani, Troia, and Bari, who were "ready to die rather than lead a miserable life." On 30 October 1137, at the Battle of Rignano (next to Monte Gargano), the younger Roger and his father, with Sergius of Naples, met the defensive army of Duke Ranulf. It was the greatest defeat of Roger II's career. His son fought with courage, and Sergius died honourably in battle, but Roger himself fled the field to Salerno. It capped Ranulf's meteoric career: twice victor over Roger. Anacletus II died in January 1138, but Innocent II refused to reconcile with the King.

In spring 1138, the royal army invaded the Principality of Capua, with the precise intent of avoiding a pitched battle and of dispersing Ranulf's army with a series of marches through difficult terrain. While the count of Alife hesitated, Roger, now supported by Benevento, destroyed all the rebels' castles in the region, capturing an immense booty. Ranulf himself, who had taken refuge in his capital Troia, died of malaric fever on 30 April 1139. Later, Roger exhumed his body from his grave in Troia cathedral and threw it in a ditch, only to repent subsequently and rebury him decently.

At this time, Sergius being dead, Alfonso was elected to replace him and together with his brother Roger went off to conquer the Abruzzi.

Consolidation of kingship

AR Scyphate Ducalis, dated year 10 (1140), after the king's victory on July 25. Obverse: Christ. Reverse: King Roger and Duke Roger.

After the death of Anacletus in January 1138, Roger had sought the confirmation of his title from Innocent. However, the pope wanted an independent Principality of Capua as a buffer state between the Kingdom of Sicily and the Papal States, something Roger would not accept.[16] In the summer of 1139, Innocent II invaded the kingdom with a large army, but was ambushed at Galluccio on (22 July 1139),[17] southeast of present-day Cassino, by Roger's son and was captured. Three days later, by the Treaty of Mignano, the pope proclaimed Roger II rex Siciliae ducatus Apuliae et principatus Capuae (king of Sicily, duke of Apulia and commander of Capua). The boundaries of his regno were only later fixed by a truce with the pope in October 1144. These lands were for the next seven centuries to constitute the kingdoms of Naples and Sicily.

In 1139, Bari, the 50,000 inhabitants of which had remained unscathed behind its massive walls during the wars of the past year, decided to surrender. The excellentissimus princeps Jaquintus, who had led the rebellion of the city, was hanged together with many of his followers but the city avoided being sacked. Roger's execution of the prince and his counsellors was perhaps the most violent act of his life.

While his sons overcame pockets of resistance on the mainland, on 5 November 1139 Roger returned to Palermo to plan a great act of legislation: the Assizes of Ariano, an attempt to establish his dominions in southern Italy as a coherent state. He returned to check on his sons' progress in 1140 and then went to Ariano, a town central to the peninsular possessions (and a centre of rebellion under his predecessors). There he promulgated the great law regulating all Sicilian affairs. It invested the king and his bureaucracy with absolute powers and reduced the authority of the often rebellious vassals. While there, centralising his kingdom, Roger declared a new standard coinage, named after the duchy of Apulia: the ducat.


Coin of Roger II of Sicily, silver Ducale, Brindisi mint.

Roger’s reforms in laws and administration not only aimed to strengthen his rule but also to improve the economic standing of Sicily and southern Italy. He was "very concerned to gain money, but hardly very prodigal in expending it."[18]

In 1140 at his assembly at Ariano he introduced new coinage to make it easier to trade with the rest of the Mediterranean, as there were smaller denominations of the previous coins, to allow more accurate and efficient trading. However, although this new coinage made long distance trade easier it was very detrimental to local trade which spread "hatred throughout Italy."[18] By the 1150s most of this coinage was no longer in use and soon after, it disappeared all together.

Nevertheless, the controversy over the coinage did not hinder the Kingdom’s prosperity. Roger II had not only acquired large wealth through his royal patrimony but also through his military campaigns and their financial rewards. For example, gold and silver were gained through the campaigns in Apulia in 1133 and Greece in 1147.[19]

Sicily's geographic situation at the centre of Mediterranean made it a brilliant location for trade with Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. Its primary export was durum wheat; others included foods like cheese and vine fruits. Unlike other states, Sicily also had a strong political and military standing so its merchants were supported and to some extent protected.[20] This standing allowed for an increase in internal trade and a stronger market which led to noticeable developments in agriculture.[21]

Later reign

"The Cappella Palatina, at Palermo, the most wonderful of Roger's churches, with Norman doors, Saracenic arches, Byzantine dome, and roof adorned with Arabic scripts, is perhaps the most striking product of the brilliant and mixed civilization over which the grandson of the Norman Trancred ruled" (from 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica).

Roger had now become one of the greatest kings in Europe. At Palermo, he gathered round him distinguished men of various races, such as the famous vizier. (This title later became the English word admiral). Roger made Sicily the leading maritime power in the Mediterranean.

The "Kingdom of Africa" (Regno d'Africa) pinpointed in red of Roger II

A powerful fleet was built up under several admirals, or "emirs", of whom the greatest was George, formerly in the service of the Muslim prince of Mahdia. Mainly thanks to him, a series of conquests were made on the African coast (1146–1153). From 1135 Roger II started to conquer the coast of Tunisia and enlarge his dominions: Tripoli was captured in 1146 and Cape Bona in 1148. These conquests were lost in the reign of Roger's successor William, however, and never formed an integral part of the kingdom in southern Italy.

The punitive expedition against Constantinople, but could not land and instead defied the Byzantine emperor by firing arrows against the palace windows. Despite this act, his expedition left no enduring effects.

Roger died at Palermo on 26 February 1154 and was buried in the Cathedral of Palermo. He was succeeded by his fourth son, William. Roger is the subject of King Roger, a 1926 opera by Polish composer Karol Szymanowski. The last months of his life are also featured in Tariq Ali's book A Sultan in Palermo. Studiorum Universitas Ruggero II, a private non-traditional university connected to Accademia Normanna was incorporated in the U.S. on April 30, 2001 in honor of this king.[23]


Roger's tomb in the Cathedral of Palermo.

Roger's first marriage was in 1117 to Elvira of Castile, a daughter of King Alfonso VI of Castile. When she died, rumors flew that Roger had died as well, as his grief had made him a recluse.[24] They had six children:

Roger's second marriage was in 1149 to Sibylla of Burgundy, daughter of Hugh II, Duke of Burgundy.[25] They had one son:

  • Henry (b. 29 August 1149 – d. young);

They also had a stillborn child (16 September 1150).[25]

Roger's third marriage was in 1151 to Beatrice of Rethel, a grandniece of King Baldwin II of Jerusalem.[25] They had one daughter:

  • Constance (b. posthumously, 2 November 1154 – d. 28 November 1198),[25] who married with the Emperor Henry VI, later King of Sicily in his right.[26]

Roger also had five known illegitimate children:

—By a daughter of Hugues I, Count of Molise:

—With unknown mistresses:

  • A daughter, wife of Rodrigo Garcés (later Henry, Count of Montescaglioso)
  • A daughter, wife of the neapolitan nobleman Adam;
  • Clenenza, married Hugues II, Count of Molise;
  • Adelisa (d. aft. 1184/87) married firstly Joscelin, Count of Loreto, and secondly Robert of Bassonville, Count of Loritello;
  • Marina, married the great admiral Margaritus of Brindisi.


  1. ^ a b Houben, p. 30.
  2. ^ Barber, Malcolm (2004). The Two Cities: Medieval Europe 1050-1320. Routledge. p. 209.  
  3. ^ Houben, Hubert (1997 (English translation 2002)). Roger II of Sicily: a Ruler Between East and West. Cambridge University Press. pp. xvii, Chronology.  
  4. ^ Matthew, p. 21.
  5. ^ Houben, p 24
  6. ^ Roger II of Sicily: Rex, Basileus, and Khalif? Identity, Politics, and Propaganda in the Cappella Palatina, Karen C. Britt, Mediterranean Studies, Vol. 16, (2007), 24. JSTOR
  7. ^ Houben, p 26, quoting Snorri Sturluson, Heimskringla, written in the 1220s
  8. ^ Houben, 29, quoting William of Tyre, Chronicon xi.29
  9. ^ a b Houben, p. 37.
  10. ^ a b c Roger II of Sicily: Rex, Basileus, and Khalif? Identity, Politics, and Propaganda in the Cappella Palatina, Karen C. Britt, Mediterranean Studies, Vol. 16, (2007), 25. JSTOR
  11. ^ Marjorie Chibnall, The Normans, (Wiley & Sons, 2006), 86.
  12. ^ Rotraud Bauer: Der Mantel Rogers II. und die siculo-normannischen Gewänder aus den königlichen Hofwerkstätten in Palermo. In: Hg. Wilfried Seipel.: Nobiles Officinae. Die königlichen Hofwerkstätten zu Palermo zur Zeit der Normannen und Staufer im 12. und 13. Jahrhundert. Milano 2004, ISBN 3-85497-076-5, pp. 115–123.
  13. ^ Rotraud Bauer: Zur Geschichte der sizilischen Gewänder, später Krönungsgewänder der Könige und Kaiser des Heiligen Römischen Reiches. In: Wilfried Seipel (Hg.): Nobiles Officinae. Die königlichen Hofwerkstätten zu Palermo zur Zeit der Normannen und Staufer im 12. und 13. Jahrhundert. Milano 2004, ISBN 3-85497-076-5. pp. 85–95
  14. ^ Houben, 60. Norwich, 11.
  15. ^ Houben, p. 63.
  16. ^ Houben et al., p.71
  17. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica, 1911.
  18. ^ a b Houben p 159
  19. ^ Houben p 161
  20. ^ Houben p 164
  21. ^ Houben p 163
  22. ^ Maurice Keen, Pelican History of Medieval Europe, Routledge Kegan & Paul 1968
  23. ^
  24. ^ Houben, 65.
  25. ^ a b c d e Houben, 96.
  26. ^ Italy and Sicily under Frederick II, Michaelangelo Schipa, The Cambridge Medieval History, Vol. IV, ed. J.R. Tanner, C. W. Previté-Orton and Z.N. Brooke, (Cambridge University Press, 1957), 131.


  • Alexander of Telese, The Deeds of Roger.
  • Aubé, Pierre. Roger II de Sicile. 2001.
  • Barber, Malcolm. The Two Cities: Medieval Europe, 1050-1320, Routledge, London, second edition 2004, chapter 9, The Kingdom of Sicily
  • Hamel, Pasquale L'invenzione del regno, dalla conquista normanna alla fondazione del Regnum Siciliae (1061/1154) (Palermo, 2009)
  • Holmes, George, The Oxford IllustratedHistory of Medieval Europe. OUP, 1988.
  • Houben, Hubert (translated by Graham A. Loud and Diane Milburn). Roger II of Sicily: Ruler between East and West. Cambridge University Press, 2002.
  • Matthew, Donald. The Norman Kingdom of Sicily (Cambridge Medieval Textbooks), 1992.
  • Alex Metcalfe The Muslims of Medieval Italy (Edinburgh, 2009)
  • Francois Neveux. The Normans, Constable & Robinson, London, 2008 (translated by Howard Curtis).
  • Norwich, John Julius. The Normans in the South 1016-1130. Longmans: London, 1967.
  • Norwich, John Julius. The Kingdom in the Sun 1130-1194. Longman: London, 1970.
  • Rowe, John Gordon. "The Papacy and the Greeks (1122-1153) (Part II)." Church History, Vol. 28, No. 3. (Sep., 1959), pp 310–327.
  • Wieruszowski, Helen. "Roger II of Sicily, Rex-Tyrannus, In Twelfth-Century Political Thought." Speculum, Vol. 38, No. 1. (Jan., 1963), pp 46–78.

External links

  • Adrian Fletcher’s Paradoxplace – Palermo and the First Normans – Photos
  • Al-Idrisi And Roger’s Book , written by Frances Carney Gies.
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Count of Sicily
Kingdom of Sicily created
Preceded by
William II
Duke of Apulia and Calabria
New title King of Sicily
Succeeded by
William I
Preceded by
Bohemond II
Prince of Taranto
Succeeded by
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