Cities of the Norman worlds


Salerno holds a special place in the history of the Norman Mezzogiorno. The city had been detached from the Lombard duchy of Benevento to become the capital of an independent principality. According to Amatus of Monte Cassino, it was there that a band of Norman knights returning home from a pilgrimage routed some Moslem pirates in 999. Thereafter, antagonism between the Lombard princes of Salerno and Capua enabled the Norman Drengot dynasty to carve out a domain to rival that of the first Hautevilles.

In 1059 however, Robert Guiscard took as his second wife the sister of the last Lombard prince of Salerno, and in 1077 he seized the city. Salerno then became the residence of the Duke of Apulia who had his palace built there, also that of his successors, his son Roger Borsa (1085-1111) and his grandson William (1111-1127). Three years before being crowned king in Palermo (1130), Guiscard’s nephew, Roger II, returned to Salerno to be invested with the duchy of Apulia. The cathedral, consecrated in 1084, still bears the dedicatory inscriptions of Robert Guiscard and the remains of Gregory VII, the reforming pope, who died in exile in 1085, after recognizing the Norman conquest.

For this rich Lombard city, ideally located at the bottom of a gulf opening onto the Tyrrhenian Sea and Sicily, the Norman period was its age of splendour. The Normans set up their seigniories in the hinterland and foreign colonies prospered in the harbour: the Genoese from faraway and the neighbouring Amalfitans, the Greek, Jewish and Arab merchants, who were also the guardians of the knowledge of the famous medical school. The luxury craft industries (especially ivorywork) and the mint were all active during the Norman period, and all contributed to the city’s prosperity.

The transfer of the capital to Palermo had little effect on the prosperity and influence of Salerno. The population streamed in from the hinterland. The city consolidated its calling as a trading post. Moreover, the Lombard aristocracy became actively involved with the new regime. In 1166, Romuald Guarna, the archbishop of Salerno and historian of his time, crowned king William II (1166-1189) and remained one of his close advisers.

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