Friday, July 14, 2023


During the second half of this July month I want to continue my article written 3 months ago and research in detail the extermination of the Italians in the Dalmatian islands (Lissa, Lagosta, etc...), an ethnocide started by the Habsburg and completed by the Croats.

Historically the disappearance started with the barbarian invasions (of the Avars and Slavs) of the eight century, that forced the autochthonous population of the Roman Dalmatians to take refuge in the Dalmatian islands and in some city-islands near the coast (like Ragusa, Trau and Zara, now called Dubrovnik, Trogir and Zadar). These "Adriatic" areas were nearly all romance-speaking until the "Duecento" (XIII century), when started the Ottoman invasion of the Balkan peninsula. Since then the Republic of Venice -that ruled the region until the Dinaric Alps for many centuries- was forced to accept many refugees (mostly Slavs, but also a lot of Slavicized Vlachs called "Morlachs") from the Muslim conquered regions of the western Balkans and soon the newly arrived become majority in the coastal region. When Napoleon conquered the Republic of Venice in 1797, the Italian linguist Bartoli calculated that in the "Dalmatian Venetia" more than two thirds of the population was Croatian speaking (with pockets of Serbian speaking areas): the Dalmatian Italians were a minority of less than 33% of the total Dalmatian population and were concentrated in the main cities. Because of higher fertility rate and further emigration toward the relatively rich and developed Dalmatian coast from the poor inland mountain regions, the Slavs in the first half of the XIX century become more than 80% of the Dalmatian population. The Austrian census done in 1857 registered -south of the Quarnero islands (Cherso, Lussino, Veglia and Arbe, now called Chres, Losinj, Krk and Rab)- 45,000 Dalmatian Italians (nearly all in the islands and in the main cities, where they were the majority in some towns like Zara and Veglia) and 369,310 Slavs: the romance speaking population of coastal Dalmatia & its islands was reduced to less than 20%! (( ) Since then started to appear the Croatian nationalism, soon in fight with the Italian nationalism: in one century and half of wars and political battles of every kind the Dalmatian Italians disappeared (being reduced in the Croatian census of 2011 to a few hundreds in an area that has nearly one million inhabitants!). This fact has originated the suspicion that the disappearance of the Dalmatian Italians could be related to an "ethnocide" (read in Italian:

The exodus of Dalmatian Italians during WW2: the photo shows Dalmatian Italian families from the outskirts of Spalato going toward the ship that will bring them to Venice in September 1943.

The cities on the coast (mainly Zara/Zadar & Spalato/Split) were populated by the most educated and instructed Dalmatian Italians and so are the only that still have Italians residents living there in 2023.

But the islands were populated by poor sailors and farmers and now have no more Italians living there, because all have been reduced to emigrate or to be "assimilated" by the croatian majority (let's remember that it is very difficult to force a "graduated" to change ethnicity for him and/or his descendants!). This is the case -for example- of Lissa/Vis, a central dalmatian island that -according to the Lieutenant Colonel George Duncan Robertson, who occupied Lissa in 1812 for the British empire- was "populated by very friendly but also extremely poor venetian speaking people" (please read now the island has no more romance speaking inhabitants

The only exceptions are the northern dalmatian islands that were inside the Kingdom of Italy from 1918 until 1947: Cherso/Kres & Lussino/Lusinj (where there are -still now- a few dozen Italians). For example, from Lissa/Vis (please read my to Lagosta/Lastovo ( all the italian speaking population of these islands has TOTALLY disappeared!

Excerpts from the book "Esodi diItaliani dalla Dalmazia" of Carlo Cipriani:

.... In 1880 with the support of austrian military force it fell the Italian administration of Spalato/Split. And in the elections held only in 1882, the frauds and a menacing military presence ensured that the Croatian party won; in this city -that was becoming the largest Dalmatian city- all Italian-language schools were closed. The same happened later in all the other cities: little by little the Italians came excluded from all administrations: italian young people had to study in schools with croatian language whereas previously there were schools in Croatian and in Italian. Dalmatians Italians had, where they succeeded for economic reasons, to open private language schools in Italian for their children.
.....In 1909, the Italian language was banned in all dalmatians offices. Only the city of Zara/Zadar managed to maintain a city administration and schools in Italian until 1916. A series of activities completed the Italian presence with societies and clubs, especially sports, which cemented the citizens' italian national spirit. But as these events developed, more and more emigration began for large number of Italian Dalmatians.
.......In the second half of the 19th century started a migration towards the north of the western Adriatic: Trieste, Fiume, Venice and towards the Americas. In part it had the same economic reasons which, in those decades, drove the emigrations from all of Europe, but for the Italian Dalmatians, especially after 1870, perhaps it was added unknowingly a national aspect for the impossibility of educating their children in Italian language, which was possible to do in other places of the Empire. In some cases the abandonment of Dalmatia was motivated by explicit national reasons, as happened to the journalist Arturo Colautti, who in 1880 was attacked by a group of soldiers and had to flee to the Kingdom of Italy. Many Italian Dalmatians declared themselves to live in peace as Croatians, while continuing to speak Italian at home and in public; the evident sign of this emigration and of not publicly declaring oneself Italian, is the progressive decrease of Italians in censuses: from nearly 55,000 (12.5% of the population) in 1865 to 18,000 (2.7% of the population) in 1910.
......At the end of world war 1, the hostility of the president of the USA and the rivalry of the French meant that Italy saw its rights to the Italian territories of the northern and eastern Adriatic contested. The Kingdom of Italy had to confront itself with the newborn Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, Slovenes - SHS- (the citizens of this kingdom up to a few weeks before had previously fought against Italy), for the territories of the eastern Adriatic, which also in large part had been occupied by Italian troops after 4 November 1918. The incapacity of the Italian rulers of the time meant that with the Treaty of Rapallo of 1920, Dalmatia was left to the SHS Kingdom, except for the city of Zara and the islet of Làgosta. The Dalmatian Italians were faced with a triple choice: move to Italy, remain in Dalmatia with Italian citizenship, remain in Dalmatia becoming yugoslavs. This choice divided the families and everyone made a different decision, however we cannot establish with certainty how many Italians remained and how many emigrated; summary calculations speak of at least 3,500 emigrants in Italy and about 7,000 Dalmatians who remained with Italian citizenship in Dalmatia which passed to Yugoslavia until 1920. There was then a certain amount of Italian Dalmatians who hadn't had the courage to leave houses, relatives, interests and who took Yugoslav citizenship to live in peace: it was estimated 300 on the island of Veglia/Krk and about 3,000 in Spalato/Split, but there is no indication for the other locations (obviously the 15,000 and more Dalmatians of Zara are not calculated).
.......One of the problems of the emigrants was the imminent departure organized in a very short time time on the impetus of the Foreign Minister, who showed himself sensitive to requests of yugoslav people. The Italian government of the pro-Yugoslavs, Giolitti and Sforza, in February 1921 established that the cession of Dalmatia occupied by Italy to Yugoslavia would take place in three phases: outermost areas on April 1, 1921, Sebenico/Šibenik district and southern islands on April 21, the Zara/Zadar district successively. The people had to give in in a few days the properties, pack up the household goods and leave for unknown destinations in search of work and a new accommodation. In some cases, such as the abandonment of Sebenico/Šibenik, of the islands of Arbe/Rab, Veglia/Krk and Cursola/Korcula, the dates were suddenly brought forward by a few days throwing the Italians who were leaving into panic and chaos. As far as the Royal Italian Government implemented some support measures, life as refugees was not easy and for years many found themselves moving from one place to another in Italy in search of an accommodation. Life was no easier for the remaining Italian Dalmatians. Those that had Italian citizenship they encountered difficulties in their work, especially the free professionals, in dealings with local authorities and had problems with schools children in smaller towns. The same difficulty also faced those who had accepted to become Yugoslav citizens; the ban was added to the lack of Italian schools for young people of Yugoslav citizenship even if of Italian nationality, when they wanted to attend the few Italian schools left in operation. Then, there was the moral aspect of being culturally Italian, but forced to renounce it in order to survive.
.......Some dalmatian italian families were forced to split up in 1920: it is noteworthy to remember the Tartaglia with Ivo Slavic mayor of Split and his brother Renato who moved to Trieste; the Bettizas with Marino who opted for Yugoslavia while Vincenzo and John chose Italy. Little by little things stabilized even if, gradually, in a quiet flow, many Italian Dalmatians left Dalmatia, until the outbreak of World War II. The Italian Dalmatians living in Yugoslavia indeed had many work and life difficulties. Meanwhile in the city of Zara annexed to the Kingdom of Italy lived a compact Italian community of about 20,000 people and another thousand were on the island of Lagosta (that was also officially part of the Kingdom of Italy until 1947).
.......The terrible violences that happened during WW2 (Foibe, Zara bombing, etc...) caused a new strong wave of refugees. In 1955–1956 of the more than twenty thousand Italians who lived in Zara before the war world 2, there were only a few dozen left.........." be continued the next month "PART 2" with sections (translated in english) of the book written after WW1 in italian by Federico Pagnacco and titled "Italiani di Dalmazia"....


1- "Italiani di Dalmazia" of Federico Pagnacco (

2- "Esodi di Italiani dalla Dalmazia" of Carlo Cipriani (file:///C:/Temp/Esodi_di_Italiani_dalla_Dalmazia_e_.pdf)


4- "Gli internati militari italiani: dai Balcani, in Germania e nell’Urss.1943-1945" of Maria Teresa Giusti

5- "La Gran Bretagna e la questione Jugoslava (1941-1947", of Rosario Milano (

Saturday, July 1, 2023


The "Norman Southern-italian kingdom" in north Africa (1135-1160 AD)

We all know that the mediterranean coast of Africa has been under christian-european control during some centuries, from the roman-byzantine centuries to the colonial era in the XIX & XX centuries. But in some circumnstances there has been some periods when the rule lasted only a few decades, like when the Normans of Southern Italy created their "kingdom of Ifriqiya" from 1135 to 1160 AD.

Map I have created in wikipedia, showing the Norman Kingdom of Africa (that lasted only 25 years) between red points.

I am going to research -this month of July- what has happened in those 25 years:

First of all, let us remember that from the times of the berber Saint Augustine all north Africa was a christian country that has been -more or less, of course- fully romanised (mainly in the area that is now Eastern Algeria/Tunisia/Western Libya), until the arab invasion of the VIII century.

The long muslim domination of the north Africa region started with the bloody defeat of the christian berber queen Kahina and the deportation as slaves of nearly half a million christian berbers to be sold as slaves in the Damascus & middle-east markets (it was one of worst massacres in human history! they were forced to walk from southern Tunisia until Syria, while crossing desert areas and consequently dying by the many dozen of thousands before arriving to the markets).

Only in southern Tunisia and in the Nile delta survived some christian communities: in the year 1000 AD there were christians (speaking the romance language called "African Latin") in the coastal and southern areas of Tunisia, like in Gafsa - according to the arab Al-Idrisi.

Indeed amongst the Berbers of Ifriqiya, African Romance was linked to Christianity, a religion which survived until the 14th century in North Africa outside of Egypt (where it it is still existing with the Copts). Spoken Latin or Romance is attested in Gabès by Ibn Khordadbeh; in Béja, Biskra, Tlemcen, and Niffis by al-Bakri; and in Gafsa and Monastir by al-Idrisi, who observes that the people in Gafsa "are Berberised, and most of them speak the African Latin tongue." There is also a possible reference to spoken Latin or African Romance in the 11th century, when the Rustamid governor Abu Ubayda Abd al-Hamid al-Jannawni (who lived in the Nafusa Mountains of northwestern Libya) was said to have sworn his oath of office in Arabic, Berber and in an unspecified "town language", which might be interpreted as a Romance variety.

It is noteworthy to pinpoint that in their quest to conquer the Kingdom of Africa in the 12th century, the Normans were aided by the remaining Christian population of Tunisia, who some linguists - among them Vermondo Brugnatelli - argue had been speaking a Romance language for centuries since the end of the eastern roman empire rule of the region.

Indeed in 1135 AD the norman king Roger II made his first permanent conquest (if Pantelleria in 1123 is not counted African): the isle of Djerba. This little island, according to Arabic sources, "acknowledged no sultan" and was a den of pirates, was captured by Roger, who carried off many of its inhabitants. Sicilian Muslims participated in the conquest of Djerba, but it is unknown what happened to the ancient Jewish community on the island, which was still there (or re-established) in the early thirteenth century. Djerba gave Roger a base from which to exert more influence over Mahdia, which, unable to pay for its grain, was forced to become a protectorate of Sicily by 1142. Its foreign affairs fell to Roger, who forbade alliances with other Muslim states inimical to Sicily, and probably received its customs revenues in lieu of payment for the grain needed to feed it.

Roger II conquered all the coast of northern Africa from eastern Algeria to Tripolitana in Libya. But he died in 1154 AD and soon his kingdom started to be attacked by the Arabs, who reconquered it in a few years: in 1160 the capital Mahdia was lost by the Normans of southern Italy and the kingdom was "history" after only a quarter of a century.

Only the islands of Gabes and Kerkenna were reconquered for more than a century by the southern Italian kingdom of Sicily from 1284 to 1392 (while Libya's Tripoli was conquered for a few years from 1510 to 1551), as can be seen in the following map:

Here there are some excerpts from a very well written and detailed book: Bridging Europe and Africa:Norman Sicily’s Other Kingdom, by Charles Dalli of the University of Malta.

The Norman conquest of Sicily detached the island from its North African framework, and a century of Latin Christian rule effectively transformed its society. But the island was not completely disconnected from the southern Mediterranean, as long term trade contacts, political links and military ambitions intervened to cast relations between the two sides. A Norman thalassocracy in the mid-12th century created a short-lived political bridge between Europe and Africa.

A variety of factors contributed to step up Sicilian ambitions to formalize their regional hegemony. Sicily under Roger II was steered towards an adventurous but ultimately misguided foreign policy by the ruler and his admirals, including cAbd ar-Rahmān or Christodoulos, and George of Antioch. In particular, George of Antioch, a political exile who rose to serve as chief minister to Roger II, and to become a major exponent ofthe Sicilian thalassocracy20. In a sense, the new generation of leaders ater Roger I and Temīm were drawn into the dominant political-religious discourse which governed the Muslim-Christian conlict around the Mediterranean. The regional balance of power which had rested on peaceful commercial exchange was challenged on the drawing board with stillborn plans in Ifrīqiya to regain Sicily, and upset in fact with a partlyrealized programme in Palermo to establish a Norman kingdom of Africa.

The Normans learned how to exploit to their own advantage the factional divisions which weakened the control of the Zīrid prince of al-Mahdīya in other parts of Ifrīqiya. Sicilian-African hostilities broke out in 1117-18 when Roger II was called to assist the governor of Gabes against the emir of al-Mahdīya. Signiicantly, the conlict was triggered by a plan to attract foreign commerce to the port of Gabes, thereby challenging al-Mahdīya’s monopolist pretensions. According to Ibn al-Athīr, Roger exchanged bitterly-worded letters with the ambitious prince at al-Mahdīya, Alī, leading the latter to invoke Almoravid help for the Muslim reconquest of Sicily22. Roger demanded the release of his trading agents, and the immediate renewal of the Sicilian-African agreement, but it became increasingly clear that the Sicilians were determined to draw more political advantages as regional power brokers.

An ill-thought provocation soon provided the pretext for war when an Almoravid squadron attacked the Calabrian town of Nicotera in 11, sailing away with captive women and children. Knowing that Norman retribution was only a matter of time, the terriied rulers at al-Mahdīya contacted the Fātimid court in Egypt to intercede with Roger II on behalf of Ifrīqiya. George of Antioch was dispatched as Roger’s envoy to Egypt, but the diplomatic exchange did not halt the Sicilian war plans. In 1123 Roger II dispatched a leet of three hundred ships, carrying an army led by ‘a thousand and one knights’, to capture al-Mahdīya. he Sicilian armada was dispersed by a storm; some ships reached Pantelleria. A large number of its men were killed, while the women and children were captured, and the island was annexed to Sicily. According to Ibn al-Athīr, when the Sicilian forces reached the African coast and took control of the castle of ad-Dīmās, they were surprised by the determined Muslim resistance. Galvanized with cries of Akbar Allāh, the Muslims fell on the invaders, forcing the enemy troops to kill their own horses and lee to their ships. he Christian garrison of the castle of ad-Dīmās, lacking provisions and exhausted from constant battling, inally surrendered and were killed to the last man. Abandoning the siege of al-Mahdīya, the remainder of the Sicilian forces sailed away. Underlining the new discourse legitimating violence, Ibn al-Athīr remarked that this victory was celebrated around the Muslim world in verse by several poets. Four years later, another Almoravid force sacked Syracuse after making landings at Patti and Catania.

All the same, Muslim audacity did not bring an end to the Sicilian ruler’s role as regional power broker. he internal divisions of Ifrīqiya played in the hands of the Sicilian thalassocrats. he emir of al-Mahdīya enjoyed little efective authority outside his capital, and the provincial governors could not be expected to show loyalty towards the Zīrid prince. In an ironic twist, the same prince, al-Hasan ibn cAlī, who triumphed against the Sicilian invaders in 1123, was forced to invoke Roger’s protection in 1135 to ward of a Hammādid invasion. Reportedly, it was the discontented subjects of the Ifrīqiyan vassal king who had appealed for the intervention of Yahyā, Hammādid emir of Bougie, in 1134. Following a successful intervention by the Sicilian leet, Roger II obtained from al-Hasan extensive rights in Ifrīqiya, including the control of all customs revenues generated through trading activities, purportedly to ensure the regular collection of the Sicilian tributes. From 1135 onwards, al-Mahdīya was virtually Roger’s protectorate. Forced to accept ignominious terms, al-Hasan efectively agreed to partition Ifrīqiya with Roger II by recognizing the latter’s right to impose Sicilian authority over those parts of Ifrīqiya which were not under direct Zīrid government. Moreover, Muslim communities which were to rise in revolt against Norman rule were to get no help from al-Mahdīya.

George of Antioch captured the island of Djerba in 1135 ater surrounding it with his ships. In a letter addressed to the Fātimid caliph in Egypt, Roger II explained that he had occupied Djerba to destroy its pirates, thereby protecting Sicilian shipping. George of Antioch’s occupation of Djerba, marked by the pillage of the island and the deportation of captive women and children to Sicily, confirmed his thalassocratic ambitions. Roger granted the surviving Djerban community the "amān" (or safe conduct) to ransom their relatives and friends.

Roger II, the "King of Southern Italy and Africa" (Statue in front of Napoli's Royal Palace)
Al-Idrīsī remarked, almost in justification of the Sicilian occupation, that the Berber kharijite inhabitants of Djerba were generally “brown-skinned, inclined towards evil and of a hypocritical character. [Both] the upper classes and the rest of population speak only Berber. They are wont to rebel and disobey”. Following their rebellion against Norman occupation in 1153, the Djerbans were “reduced to slavery and transported to Palermo”.

A Norman-held Djerba, with a royal governor installed there, opened the way for further expansion along the North African coast. It was also a consequence of a marked shit in policy, from peaceful commercial cooperation to military intervention, already signalled in the failed Sicilian attack on al-Mahdīya. From 1123 to its capture by George of Antioch in 1148, the Zīrid capital was transformed into an economic and political satellite. Despite the consideration that the risks would outweigh the beneits, and that gains would be made at too heavy a price, the Christian rulers of Sicily embarked on an expansionist programme in the Maghrib, formalizing the advantages. The programmes assumed the ability to establish, and manage in the long run, profitable forms of overlordship as had been achieved in the wake of the Sicilian conquest. They must have known that the making of a Christian realm in Sicily was still very much a work in progress. Naturally, this expansionist policy entailed administrative and inancial restructuring at home.

Allowing for the fact that al-Maqrīzī was writing in the 15th century, his biographical sketch of George of Antioch provides vital insight on Roger II and his chief minister. The ‘orientalization’ of Roger II’s image, court, and trilingual administration, and the extension of Norman lordship to parts of Ifrīqiya, were, in a sense, an acknowledgment of the strategic location of the Norman kingdom as a bridge between civilizations. Whilst nourishing wider ambitions in the Latin East – claiming, unsuccessfully, the principality of Antioch ater Bohemond II’s death in 1130 – Roger’s best opportunity for Mediterranean expansion seemed to lie southwards. These ambitions had immediate international reverberations – in 1135 it was reported at a German imperial meeting by alarmed Byzantine and Venetian envoys that Roger had taken “Africa, which is known to be a third part of the world”.

The 1140s were very difficult years for Ifrīqiya, which was troubled by large scale famine, as well as the plague. According to Ibn al-Athīr, the “great mortality” struck the country in 1142-3, killing many people, while those with means led to Sicily, “where they met with cruel suferings”

Recurring famines which alicted Ifrīqiya constrained al-Mahdīya to depend increasingly on Sicilian grain shipments, forcing the emir al-Hasan to sink deeper in debt with Roger. In a show of force, in 1141/2, George of Antioch appeared with his fleet of Ifrīqiya, seizing shipments sent from Egypt to alleviate al-Mahdīya’s plight, to enforce payment3. Despite the renewal of the protectorate, in 1142/3 the Sicilian fleet attacked several coastal areas of the kingdom, claiming to act on behalf of al-Mahdīya against rebellious communities. he town of Tripoli “of the West”, which had asserted its autonomy from al-Mahdīya under the Banū Mātrūh chiefs, was attacked in June 1143, but Arab help enabled the Libyan town to repel the Sicilian attack36. Rearming in Sicily, the leet went out again, this time burning down the Hammādid town of Djidjel, between Bougie and Bône. In 1144/45 the port of Bresk was taken. According to Ibn al-Athīr, its inhabitants were massacred, while women and children were enslaved and sold in Sicily “to the Muslims”.

The same fate met the inhabitants of the Kerkenna islands north of Djerba, which were captured in 1145/46; al-Hasan wrote to Roger to remind him of their bond, but Roger justiied his action by claiming that the islanders were disobedient towards al-Mahdīya. Ibn al-Athīr noted the following under the year 541 (= 13 June 1146-1 June 1147) “This year the Franks, may God curse them, took possession of Tripoli of the West”. “Roger the Frank, king of Sicily”, prepared a great fleet and sent it to Tripoli, which was surrounded by land and by sea on the third day of Muharram (15 June). The Tripolitanians came out to combat the invaders, and the battle lasted for three days. Exploiting internal divisions in Tripoli, where a town faction had expelled the Banū Mātrūh and brought it an Almoravid militia (the Mulattāmīn), the Sicilians took possession of Tripoli. Following the usual pillage of goods and capture of women, a universal amān was issued, allowing those who had led the town to return. Soon they delegated authority to the Banū Mātrūh. Under Roger’s overlordship, Tripoli prospered. According to al-Idrīsī, who recorded the slaughter of the townsmen and the enslavement of their women, the town lourished under Roger, and its district was “without equal in the products of the land, unlike any other inhabited place in the world”. Nevertheless, Roger’s geographer was careful to refer to Tripoli’s earlier period of splendour as a trading centre, blaming tribal attacks for its decline.

In 542 (= 2 June 1147- 21 May 1148) it was the turn of Gabes to be taken by a Sicilian force, exploiting a chaotic situation in that town resulting from the disputed succession to the late governor al-Rashīd. A scheming freedman named Yūsuf threatened al-Mahdīya to submit Gabes to Roger of Sicily, as the governors of Tripoli had done, unless he was allowed to place Muhammad, a minor in his inluence, in the governor’sseat. Roger II duly dispatched Yūsuf his robe and charter as wālī or governor. The emir al-Hasan sent an army from al-Mahdīya to quell the rebellion in Gabes, and Yūsuf met an ignominious death. Following this incident at Gabes, where Norman expansion was checked, Roger was determined to eliminate Zīrid rule at al-Mahdīya, taking advantage of the widespread famine which continued to ravage the Maghrib. Indeed, if Ibn al-Athīr is to be trusted, “the worst came in the year 542, so that the notable families abandoned the towns and the countryside [of Ifrīqiya], and in their majority crossed over to Sicily; while the others ate each other, and there was a great mortality”.

The Sicilian fleet – which, according to al-Maqrīzī, included two hundred galleys, and one hundred oared horse-carriers – passed by Pantelleria, where it encountered a ship coming from al-Mahdīya. Taking carrier pigeons from the Ifrīqiyan ship, George tried to deceive al-Hasan by sending him news that the Sicilian leet was sailing eastwards to attack the Byzantine islands. Nevertheless, a terrible wind “unleashed by God” wrecked George’s plan to take al-Mahdīya by surprise. he Sicilian commander requested alMahdīya’s help to defend the rights of the young Muhammad at Gabes. Realizing that this was just a pretext for capturing the capital, the Zīrid ruler declared that he could not join the Christian force to ight against fellow Muslims at Gabes. At the same time, he could not stay behind to defend his capital, because the Norman force was superior and it would block the city’s access to provisions. Preferring “the salvation of Muslims more than [his] kingdom”, the ruler and his household abandoned the city and found refuge in the ruins of ancient Carthage. Many of his subjects also led the city, while other Muslims hid in Christian churches. By the time the wind had abated, permitting the Norman ships to drop their anchors inside the port, many inhabitants were already gone. George entered the royal castle and took possession of the Zīrid treasure and the prince’s numerous concubines. Following a two-hour sack of al-Mahdīya, the pillage was stopped and a general amān was decreed, extending to the militiamen of the city, and the large numbers of inhabitants who had managed to escape. George was even reported to provide transports for the women and children. Having taken possession of al-Mahdīya, George sent armies to occupy Sfax and Sousse, treating the populations there with similar moderation.

There can be little doubt that Rome looked favourably at the Norman annexation of coastal Ifrīqiya; an “Archbishop of Africa” was consecrated in 114841. According to Ibn al-Athīr, Roger would have conquered “the whole of Africa” were it not for his conlict with Byzantium. Towards the end of his life, there are signs that Roger wished to be seen as a great Christian ruler. A Norman leet commanded by George of Antioch’s successor in the admiralty, the eunuch Philip of al-Mahdīya, captured the city of Bône in 1153. Upon his return, Philip was arrested and accused of having shown excessive clemency towards the Muslim population. Moreover, he was charged with practising Islam in secret, and condemned to death. In a public display of Christian zeal, Roger had his former admiral burned at the stake. he story, which was recorded by Ibn al-Athīr, was noted in great detail by a later editor of the chronicle of Romuald of Salerno, but the emphasis in the latter text is on Roger’s unimpeachable credentials as a Christian king – a man “consumed by love for the Christian faith” – who would not desist from punishing his closest servants for their sins43. A blow to Sicilian Muslims, Philip’s execution marked a traumatic ending to Roger’s reign – for “God allowed Roger to live for onlya short time afterwards”.

Photo of pages from a french book ("Mahdia.Notes historiques et archeologiques", of J.J. De Smet) about the Normans in Mahdia

The network established by the Sicilian thalassocracy across parts of Ifrīqiya seems to have extended to the important city of Tunis – the modern-day capital – only in a secondary way. For a time, according to a Venetian source, Tunis was forced to pay tribute to the Norman rulers of Sicily44. he project of Norman Ifrīqiya involved the resettlement of immigrant Christians across new areas under Norman lordship. It also brought about new hopes for surviving Christian communities in Ifrīqiya. Very recently, a major study has revealed some of the complexities of the evolving relationship between the Norman rulers of Sicily and the papacy45. The beneits accruing from the extension of Christian rule in the eastern Maghrib were not lost on Rome. Norman Africa, and the prospect of Christian expansion there, may have provided an additional motive for Rome’s reapprochement with Palermo in 1156. William I’s chief minister, Maio of Bari, a chief broker of the Siculo-Roman peace, may have shited the focus from African to Italian politics in this crucial period, and was popularly blamed for the loss of Norman Africa in 1160. The ammiratus ammiratorum Maio was assassinated later that year in a revolt lead by Matthew Bonello; and Maio’s character was likewise assassinated by ‘Hugo Falcandus’ in the pages of his "Liber de Regno Sicilie".

The present contribution has underlined the medieval historian’s role in tracing the evolution of the relationship across the Mediterranean waters from one of commercial cooperation, to one of unequal exchange, to the establishment of a Sicilian protectorate over al-Mahdīya, and the Norman military interventions leading to a short-lived overlordship. It has been claimed that “Norman rule in Africa aimed to be benign”.

Nevertheless, a benevolent form of government, including the delegation of administrative tasks to local notables, could hardly mask the reality of subjection to a Christian overlord. he accounts of the uprisings in 1158-59 leave no room for doubt; in the minds of Sicily’s African subjects, the beneits of living under a restored Muslim rule vastly outweighed any consideration of mild Christian government. Sporadic signs of resistance to Christian rule emerged in the early 1150s, notably the Djerban revolt in 1153, which was crushed thanks to a major naval expedition, leading to the Norman re-conquest of the island, together with the subjection of the Kerkenna archipelago. In William I’s early years of rule Sicily’s leets ranged across the Mediterranean, in a campaign in the Nile Delta (1155), as well as expeditions against Byzantine Negropont and Muslim Ibiza (1157). At the approach of the Almohad army, a series of revolts spread quickly to bring the Norman presence to an end. Town ater town rapidly subjected themselves to the Almohads. he Muslim reconquista of Ifrīqiya was accelerated, according to Ibn al-Athīr, when the Almohads created two huge mountains of wheat and barley. The politics of grain were not lost on the Almohads, it seems.

The campaign culminated in the triumphal entry of the Almohads into al-Mahdīya in January 1160; the Almohad caliph cAbd al-Mucmin is said to have wondered why the last Zīrid ruler of the city, who had become his protégée, had surrendered the fortress to Roger in 1148. Although a formal peace was not reached with Sicily before 1180, it has been shown how Genoese merchants were actively involved in linking Sicily and its former Ifrīqiyan domains under the new Almohad princes.

The formalization of Sicilian regional hegemony in the establishment of a Norman Ifrīqiya was the inal stage of a process which originated in commercial cooperation across the Christian-Muslim divide in the central Mediterranean. Radically redrawn with the Norman conquest of Sicily, the divide was shown to be bridgeable through peaceful commercial exchange. By the early 12th century, Sicily and Ifrīqiya were linked through their economic interdependence. From 1135, al-Mahdīya became a de facto Sicilian protectorate, and in the 1140s much of coastal Ifrīqiya was subjected to Roger II’s overlordship while the Zīrid state ceased to exist. By 1160 it was the turn of Roger’s African dominion to meet the same fate. Ironically, the inal Muslim victory saved Norman Ifrīqiya from historiographical extinction – by drawing Muslim chroniclers to write at length about the developments that would lead to a inal Muslim victory. In doing so, they also recorded the degeneration of a relationship which, at irst, avoided confrontation and turned to commercial cooperation to bridge the Christian-Muslim divide. Seizing on an excellent example, which foreshadowed the Muslim defeat of the Latin East and marked the prestigious success against a notable Christian thalassocracy, they became its chief narrators.Exploiting the beneits of hindsight, the Muslim historians reconstructed with meticulous detail the chain of events marking the rise and fall of Norman Ifrīqiya, relaying precious information on the making of a short-lived policies which, for hardly 3 decades, bridged the Mediterranean.

Another photo of pages from the same book of De Smet, related to what happened with christians in Mahdia in the next centuries after the end of the Norman Ifriqiya