The Full Wiki

More info on Emirate of Sicily

Emirate of Sicily: Map


Wikipedia article:

Map showing all locations mentioned on Wikipedia article:

The Emirate of Sicily was an Islamic state on the island of Sicily (in what is now southern Italymarker), which existed from 965 to 1072.

First Arab invasions of Sicily

In 535, Emperor Justinian I made Sicily a Byzantine province, and for the second time in Sicilian history, the Greek language became a familiar sound across the island. As the power of the Byzantine Empire waned, Sicily was invaded by the Arab forces of Caliph Uthman in the year 652. However, this first invasion was short-lived, and the Arabs left soon after. By the end of the 7th century, with the Umayyad conquest of North Africa, they had captured the nearby port city of Carthagemarker, allowing the Arabs to build shipyards and a permanent base from which to make more sustained attacks.

Around 700, the island of Pantelleriamarker was captured by Arabs, and it was only discord among the Arabs that prevented an attempted invasion of Sicily coming next. Instead, trading agreements were arranged with the Byzantines, and Arab merchants were allowed to trade goods at the Sicilian ports. Attacks from Muslim fleets repeated in 703, 728, 729, 730, 731, 733 and 734, the last two times meeting with a substantial Byzantine resistance.

The first true conquest expedition was launched in 740: in that year the Muslim prince Habib, who had participated on the 728 attack, successfully captured Syracuse. Ready to conquer the whole island, they were however forced to return to Tunisiamarker by a Berber revolt. A second attack in 752 aimed only to sack the same city.

Revolt of Euphemius

In 826 Euphemius. the commander of the Byzantine fleet of Sicily forced a nun to marry him. Emperor Michael II caught wind of the matter and ordered that general Constantine end the marriage and cut off Euphemius' nose. Euphemius rose up, killed Constantine and then occupied Syracuse; he in turn was defeated and driven out to North Africa. He offered rule of Sicily over to Ziyadat Allah the Aghlabid Emir of Tunisiamarker in return for a place as a general and safety; a Muslim army of Arabs, Berbers, Andalusismarker, Cretansmarker and Persians was sent.

The latter accepted to conquer Sicily, with the promise to leave it to Eufemius in exchange of a yearly tribute, and entrusted its conquest to the 70-year-old qadi Asad ibn al-Furat. The Muslim force counted 10,000 infantry, 700 cavalry and 100 ships, reinforced by Eufemius' ships and, after the landing at Mazara del Vallomarker, knights. A first battle against the Byzantine loyal troops occurred on July 15, 827, near Mazara, resulting in an Aghlabid victory.

Asad subsequently conquered the southern shore of the island and laid siege to Syracuse. After a year of siege, and an attempted mutiny, his troops were however able to defeat a large army sent from Palermomarker, also backed by a Venetian fleet led by doge Giustiniano Participazio. But when a plague killed much of the Muslim troops, as well as Asad himself, the Muslims retreated to the castle of Mineomarker. Later they returned to the offensive, but failed to conquer Castrogiovanni (the modern Enna, where Eufemius died) and retreated back to Mazara.

In 830 they received a strong reinforcement of 30,000 African and Andalusi troops. The Iberian Muslims defeated the Byzantine commander Teodotus in July-August of that year, but again a plague forced them to return to Mazara and then to Africa. The African Berber units sent to besiege Palermomarker managed to capture it after a year long siege in September 831. Palermo became Muslims capital of Sicily, renamed al-Madinah.

The conquest was a see-saw affair: with considerable resistance and many internal struggles, it took over a century for Byzantine Sicily to be conquered. Syracuse held for a long time, Taorminamarker fell in 902, and all of the island was eventually conquered by 965.

Period as an Emirate

In succession Sicily was ruled by the Sunni Aghlabid dynasty in Tunisiamarker and the Shiite Fatimids in Egyptmarker. The Byzantines took advantage of temporary discord to occupy the eastern end of the island for several years.

After suppressing a revolt the Fatimid caliph Ismail al-Mansur appointed Hassan al-Kalbi (948–964) as Emir of Sicily. He successfully managed to control the continuously revolting Byzantines and founded the Kalbid dynasty. Raids into Southern Italy continued under the Kalbids into the 11th century, and in 982 a German army under Otto II, Holy Roman Emperor was defeated near Crotone in Calabria. With Emir Yusuf al-Kalbi (990–998) a period of steady decline began. Under al-Akhal (1017–1037) the dynastic conflict intensified, with factions within the ruling family allying themselves variously with the Byzantine Empire and the Zirids. By the time of Emir Hasan as-Samsam (1040–1053) the island had fragmented into several small fiefdoms.

The Arabs initiated land reforms which in turn, increased productivity and encouraged the growth of smallholdings, a dent to the dominance of the landed estates. The Arabs further improved irrigation systems, and items such as oranges, lemons, pistachio and sugarcane were introduced to Sicily. A description of Palermomarker was given by Ibn Hawqal, a Baghdad merchant who visited Sicily in 950. A walled suburb called the Kasr (the palace) is the center of Palermo until today, with the great Friday mosque on the site of the later Roman cathedral. The suburb of Al-Khalisa (Kalsa) contained the Sultan's palace, baths, a mosque, government offices, and a private prison. Ibn Hawqual reckoned 7,000 individual butchers trading in 150 shops.

Arab traveler, geographer, and poet Ibn Jubair visited the area in the end of the 12th century and described Al-Kasr and Al-Khalisa (Kalsa):

Throughout this reign, continued revolts by Byzantine Sicilians occurred, especially in the east, and part of the lands were even re-occupied before being quashed.

Conquered population

The local population conquered by the Muslims were romanized Catholic Sicilians in western Sicily and partially Greek speaking Christians, mainly in the eastern half of the island, but there were also a significant number of Jews. These conquered people were afforded freedom of religion under the Muslims as dhimmi, but were subject to some restrictions. According to Michele Amari, "The dhimmi were forbidden to carry arms, to ride horseback, or to put saddles on their donkeys and mules; to build their homes taller than or even as tall as those of the Muslims; to use Islamic first names and even to use seals with Arabic lettering. Furthermore they were forbidden to drink wine in public, to accompany their dead to the cemetery with funeral pomp and lamentation; the women were forbidden to enter a public bath when Muslim women might be there, or to remain there if Muslim women arrived. And just so that they wouldn’t forget their inferior status for a moment, the dhimmi were enjoined to keep a sign on the doors of their homes, one on their outer garments, to use turbans of a different style and color, and above all to wear a belt made of leather or wool. Along the streets they were forced to yield the right of way to the Muslims or, if they were seated in a group, to stand up at the arrival or departure of a man of the victorious race… …it was forbidden to display crosses in public, to read the gospel so loud that the Muslims could hear it, to speak with them about the Messiah; or vigorously to ring bells or to sound clappers"

The dhimmi were also required to pay the jizya, or poll tax, and the kharaj or land tax. Under Arab rule there were different categories of jizya payers, but their common denominator was the payment of tribute as a mark of subjection to alien rule. The conquered population could avoid this subservient status simply by converting to Islam. Whether by honest religious conviction or socieital compulsion large numbers of native Sicilians converted to Islam. However, even after 100 years of subjugation, numerous Greek speaking Christian communities survived, especially in north-eastern Sicily, as dhimmi. These local Sicilians generally welcomed the Normans when they invaded.


The Emirate of Sicily began to fragment as intra-dynastic quarrels took place between the Muslim regime. By the 11th century mainland southern Italian powers were hiring ferocious Norman mercenaries, who were Christian descendants of the Vikings; it was the Normans under Roger I who captured Sicily from the Muslims. The Norman Robert Guiscard, son of Tancred, invaded Sicily in 1060. The island was split between three Arab emir, and the sizable Christian population rose up against the ruling Muslims. After taking Apuliamarker and Calabria, Roger I occupied Messinamarker with an army of 700 knights. In 1068, Roger de Hauteville and his men defeated the Muslims at Misilmerimarker but the most crucial battle was the siege of Palermo, which led to Sicily being completely in Norman control by 1091. After the conquest of Sicily, the Normans removed the local emir, Yusuf Ibn Abdallah from power, but did so by respecting Arab customs.

The loss of the cities, each with a splendid harbor, dealt a severe blow to Muslim power on the island. The city of Qas'r Iannimarker (modern Enna) was still ruled by its emir, Ibn Al-Hawas, who held out for years. His successor, Ibn Hamud, surrendered, and converted to Christianity, only in 1087. After his conversion, Ibn Hamud subsequently became part of the Christian nobility and retired with his family to an estate in Calabria provided by Roger I. In 1091, Buteramarker and Notomarker in the southern tip of Sicily and the island of Maltamarker, the last Arab stongholds, fell to the Christians with ease. By the 11th century Muslim power in the Mediterranean had begun to wane.


The Norman Kingdom of Sicily under Roger II has been characterized as multi-ethnic in nature and religiously tolerant. Normans, Jews, Muslim Arabs, Byzantine Greeks, Lombards and "native" Sicilians lived in relative harmony. Arabic remained a language of government and administration for at least a century into Norman rule, and traces remain in the language of the island today.

However, once the Normans had conquered the island, the Muslims were faced with the choice of voluntary departure or subjection to Christian rule. Many Muslims chose to leave, provided they had the means to do so. In fact, Muslims were prohibited by their religion from living under non-Muslim rule if they could avoid it. “The transformation of Sicily into a Christian island”, remarks Abulafia, “was also, paradoxically, the work of those whose culture was under threat”. Despite the presence of an Arab-speaking Christian population, Muslim peasants received baptism from the Catholic and Greek Christians and adopted even Greek Christian names; in several instances, Christian serfs with Greek names listed in the Monreale registers had living Muslim parents.

However, the Norman rulers followed a policy of steady Latinization (converting the island to Catholicism). Some Muslims chose the option of feigning conversion, but such a remedy could only provide individual protection and could not sustain a community.

‘Lombard’ pogroms against Muslims started in the 1160s. Muslim and Christian communities in Sicily became increasingly geographically separated. The island’s Muslim communities were mainly isolated beyond an internal frontier which divided the south-western half of the island from the Christian north-east. Sicilian Muslims, a subject population, were dependent on the mercy of their Christian masters and, ultimately, on royal protection. When King William the Good died in 1189, this royal protection was lifted, and the door was opened for widespread attacks against the island’s Muslims. This destroyed any lingering hope of coexistence, however unequal the respective populations might have been. Henry VI’s death in 1197, and that of his wife Constance a year later, plunged Sicily into political turmoil. With the loss of royal protection and with Frederick II still an infant in papal custody, Sicily became a battleground for rival German and papal forces. The island’s Muslim rebels sided with German warlords like Markward von Anweiler. In response, Innocent III declared a crusade against Markward, alleging that he had made an unholy alliance with the Saracens of Sicily. Nevertheless, in 1206 that same pope attempted to convince the Muslim leaders to remain loyal. By this time, the Muslim rebellion was critical, with Muslims in control of Jato, Entella, Platani, Celso, Calatrasi, Corleone (taken in 1208), Guastanella and Cinisi. In other words, the Muslim revolt extended throughout a whole stretch of western Sicily. The rebels were led by Muhammad Ibn Abbād. He called himself the ‘prince of believers’, struck his own coins, and attempted to find Muslim support from other parts of the Muslim world.

However, Frederick II, no longer a child, responded by launching a series of campaigns against the Muslim rebels in 1221. The Hohenstaufen forces rooted out the defenders of Jato, Entella, and the other fortresses. Rather than exterminate the Muslims, In 1223, Frederick II and the Christians began the first deportations of Muslims to Luceramarker in Apulia. A year later, expeditions were sent against Malta and Djerba, to establish royal control and prevent their Muslim populations from helping the rebels. Paradoxically, Saracen archers were a common component of these “Christian” armies from this era.

The Hohenstaufen and their successors (Anjoumarker and Aragonese) gradually "Latinized" Sicily over the course of two centuries, and this social process laid the groundwork for the introduction of Catholicism (as opposed to Eastern Orthodoxy). The process of Latinization was fostered largely by the Roman Church and its liturgy. The annihilation of Islam in Sicily was completed by the late 1240s, when the final deportations to Luceramarker took place.

See also


Embed code:

Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address