Arts, architecture, culture in Norman Italy

Literary works : history writing

The writing of history in Norman Italy was part of the tradition of the monastic chronicles, the purpose of which was to emphasize the antiquity and importance of the foundations linked to holy personages, to recall the protection and privileges they enjoyed, and to collate the deeds proving their rights and ownership of property. The main items in this historiography are the chronicles of St Sophia’s at Benevento, St Clement’s at Casauria in the Abruzzi, St Benedict’s at Monte Cassino, and of less famous establishments like St. Bartholomew’s at Carpineto or St Agatha’s at Catania, in Sicily. Over the period of the conquest, the monastic chronicles expressed mixed viewpoints, sometimes hostile to the Normans, but later mostly recognized the legitimacy of the new authority.

Authors and works particularly favourable to the Normans stand out among the output of the monastery scriptoria. One of the most important is "The History of the Normans" by Amatus of Monte Cassino (c. 1073/1080). The history written by Geoffrey Malaterra in c. 1098 at Santa Agatha’s in Catania, and devoted to the reign of Roger I, the Great Count, is original in that it is the work of a Norman immigrant, who came from the abbey at Saint-Evroult-en-Ouche. Also, there is a biography of Roger II written by Alexander, abbot of San Salvatore at Telese, near Caserta, in c. 1140.

The first of the conquest accounts was of a different kind, a late 11th c. verse epic to the glory of Robert Guiscard by William of Apulia. There was also a historiographical production with no direct link to the monasteries. Here the viewpoint of the subjected people could be expressed, as was the case in the chronicle of the Lombard Falco (or Fulk) of Benevento, written after 1154 by a civil servant of the papal curia, or those by circles close to the court, such as the chronicle of Romuald Guarna, archbishop of Salerno and author of a universal history which covers right up to the Norman period (1170-1180).
Among the best-known works, we must mention those of Hugh Falcandus, author of the "Book of the Kingdom of Sicily" (Liber de Regno Siciliae), and of Pierre of Eboli, author of a book dedicated to the emperor Henry VI (Liber ad honorem Augusti). Written at the end of the period (the years 1180-1190), they express sometimes scathing criticisms of intrigue at the court of the Norman kings, and take sides in the dispute between the last of the Hautevilles and the Germanic emperors.


previous page  The Normans in the Mediterranean  next page