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Muslim Lucera and the Holy Roman Emperor

Muslim Lucera and the Holy Roman Emperor

Fact is stranger than fiction, it’s stated and so it’s for the story of Muslim Lucera. It’s a story entwined with the life and occasions of the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II. We can’t name Muslim Lucera the Muslim “capital” of the Holy Roman Empire, however for a time, it very almost was. Lucera hosted certainly one of Frederick’s many palaces and castles. Certainly one of his main palaces was solely 30 kilometres distant, within the metropolis of Foggia, and Frederick himself has been referred to as the “Sultan of Lucera” (though the label is a wild exaggeration). So allow us to discover the story.

The town of Lucera nonetheless stands on a strategic hill which rises within the coronary heart of the Tavoliere plain, in south-east Italy. Based earlier than the Romans, the town suffered periodic destruction within the fortunes of conflict. On this respect, she shared the destiny of the cities of the area, who have been steadily the goal of such destruction, although typically they might spring to life once more. Originally of the thirteenth century, the hill of Lucera both hosted an present group or it was nothing however haunted ruins (relying on the supply you comply with). Simply the identical, for the Emperor Frederick, Lucera was an answer to a substantial drawback.

Frederick himself is a curious determine. He was the son of the German Holy Roman Emperors on his father’s aspect and on his mom’s aspect (in spirit and flesh) the grandson of the Roger II, the best king of the Norman kingdom of southern Italy. Frederick has a status for brutality but in addition a love of scholarship. He turned a ward of the Pope in his infancy, as his mom died when he was solely three. However as he grew to maturity his relationship with the Pope turned strained and finally they turned enemies.

The difficulty between Emperor and Pope was older than Frederick’s personal time, for we’re within the time when the western Christian world was in turmoil and violence over whether or not Pope or Emperor was to be supreme authority. It’s a world whose echoes we will nonetheless hear in Umberto Eco’s guide The Identify of the Rose. On this world the partisans of Pope (the Guelphs) and partisans of the Emperor (the Ghibellines) confronted one another repeatedly each on and off the battlefield.

The world of his time was additionally divided between the Christian north and west and the Muslim south and east. Regardless of these typically violent fractures, the divides have been by no means sharp in a world of shifting alliances by which Christians and Muslims typically discovered themselves on the identical aspect. It was furthermore a world of commerce and cultural change. The scientific and cultural achievements of the Arabic talking world have been a factor to be emulated and admired. Frederick, like his Norman forebears spoke not solely languages akin to Pugliese, Latin and Greek, but in addition Arabic. In Frederick’s day it was a language of science and poetry of Europe; as a lot as Africa and Asia. Amongst Frederick’s works was a guide on the artwork of falconry, which mirrored not solely European studying, but in addition Arabic sources on which Frederick drew. Though his many detractors threw many accusations at him, even his enemies admitted the greatness of his achievements.

Frederick had promised the Pope that he would undertake a campaign to re-capture Jerusalem from the Muslims. But it was a promise he appeared detest to maintain, even (in accordance with Papal partisans) feigning sickness to keep away from the fulfilment of his pledge. Frederick II doubtless knew his enterprise. His most harmful enemies have been to not the south, however slightly his fellow Christians, whose rebelliousness and dynastic squabbles have been countless and who have been a lot nearer at hand. In frustration, the Pope excommunicated the Emperor: declaring assaults on him lawful.

Frederick II responded, with some irony, by fulfilling the promise, however on his personal phrases, and never as agent of the Pope. He negotiated a peaceable handover of Jerusalem from its Muslim rulers (aside from the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock). For their very own causes, the Muslims additionally wished to keep away from a struggle with the western Christian Emperor.

Frederick II then topped himself King of Jerusalem. His lower than delicate demonstration of divine favour was little question a explanation for some irritation and maybe embarrassment to his enemies, given the excommunication underneath which he had been positioned. Like most medieval monarchs, Frederick’s life is a listing of battles, rebellions, diplomacy and political intrigue. Ruling a realm that stretched from Denmark to Jerusalem, he had extra issues than most.

In such a context, the issue that introduced concerning the creation of a Muslim Lucera was not the best Frederick confronted, nevertheless it was not insignificant both. It was maybe extra necessary to Frederick, for he beloved his southern Italian domains, spending most of his reign there.

For 2 centuries Sicily had been a Muslim kingdom. Afterwards, for a time the Siculo-Norman kingdom had fused collectively its Greek, Latin and Muslim heritage. Its most in a position Norman rulers have been capable of keep concord between the various communities of their kingdom by way of a cautious balancing of communal pursuits. But occasions have been altering. Latin affect was rising and the Greek and Muslim populations was fading into subordination as Latin energy grew. The king William II positioned a lot of the Muslim inhabitants underneath management of the church hierarchy. It was a method for battle and led to a riot of a lot of the Muslim inhabitants of Sicily from the 1180s. A era later they have been nonetheless preventing for his or her liberty. In the long run their wrestle was doomed. Frederick led his forces towards them and from the 1220s to the 1240s he deported their complete inhabitants from their beloved island, forbidding their return.

They have been resettled at Lucera, depopulating the elements of Sicily from which they got here. The goals have been clear sufficient: transfer a rebellious inhabitants removed from co-religionists in Africa, and put them in the midst of a plain with out quick access to the ocean. Estimates of what number of have been relocated range, from 15,000 to 60000. Regardless of the quantity, it was very giant for the 13th century, rivalling or considerably exceeding the inhabitants of the town within the mid-nineteenth century. Undoubtedly the exodus was accompanied by a lot struggling, though the archeological proof suggests it was nicely organised and orderly, for nothing was left behind.

For Frederick the enterprise had clear financial functions as properly. The Muslims of Lucera have been to be “servants of the crown”. His concept of the wealth they might generate is obvious from his “funding” in a present to them of 6000 head of cattle (later to be topic of imperial taxation). They weren’t allowed to go away the town. They have been expert, practising a variety of professions as reported by Metcalfe:

… rearers and keepers of pigs, goats, sheep, horses, donkeys and bees …, shepherds, butchers, tanners, saddlers, falconers and huntsmen, millers, bakers, potters, stonemasons, cotton growers, vintners and fruit growers, tailors, tentmakers, carpenters, troopers, guards, castellans and stewards, along with a variety of smiths and metal-workers, buglers, musicians, bath-house keepers, notaries, minor officers and qa’ids.

Alex Metcalfe, The Muslims of Medieval Italy, p288

Muslim Lucera turned affluent economically, offering an ongoing income for the Emperor. A few of the occupations above nevertheless had army connotations. Of their new context, the Muslim inhabitants now removed from its origins, and surrounded by hostile communities, turned intensely loyal to the Emperor. They manufactured weapons for him and offered tens of hundreds of warriors (notably archers and cavalry). Right here have been topics on whom he might now rely. Topics who would persist with him, and who have been resistant to excommunication, his or theirs.

Frederick beloved nothing greater than passing his days in Puglia, together with indulging in his love of searching. He administered his empire from his cellular courtroom within the many castles and residences he had there. However hassle was by no means distant, notably his troubles with the Pope. In 1245 Frederick was once more excommunicated. Among the many grounds of excommunication was his alleged closeness to the “Saracens”. This in fact was not on the coronary heart of the difficulty. It was the nonetheless unresolved query of Pope vs. Emperor. In these unusual occasions, the brand new individuals of Lucera the place hostages, and extra hassle was in retailer for them (however that may be a story for an additional time). It’s maybe proper to offer the final phrase to Ibn Hamdis, a Muslim poet of Sicily, who earlier than the Muslims of Lucera, had led to his life in exile:

I keep in mind Sicily, and my grief

is woke up by remembering her

The abode of youthful pleasures stands empty

and its residents have been a individuals of magnificence

But when I’ve been pushed out of paradise

then let me nonetheless recount its story

If weeping weren’t salt water,

I might assume my tears have been a river

At twenty, I laughed with youthful pleasures

at sixty, I cry for her burdens

Ibn Hamdis, in Karla Mallette, The Kingdom of Sicily, 1100-1250 : A Literary Historical past, p 134


Julie Anne Taylor, Muslims in Medieval Italy: the Colony at Lucera, Lexington Press, 2003

David Abulafia, The Final Muslims in Italy, in Dante Research, with the Annual Report of the Dante Society, No. 125, Dante and Islam (2007), pp. 271-287

Julie Nottingham, Lucera Sarracenorum: A Muslim Colony in Medieval Christian Europe, in Medieval Research, 1999, 43

Alex Metcalfe, The Muslims of Medieval Italy, Edinburgh College Press, 2009

Karla Mallette, The Kingdom of Sicily, 1100-1250: A Literary Historical past, College of Pennsylvania Press, 2005


The Emperor Frederick assembly the Sultan Al Kamil within the handover of Jerusalem