|Robert, duke of Apulia, Calabria and Sicily|
The systematic conquest : Muslim Sicily
One of the most legendary exploits of the Normans in Italy was its conquest of Sicily. From 1050 the Pope had appointed an archbishop of Sicily, and Roger, Robert Guiscard’s brother held the title of ‘future duke of Sicily’. Yet the island still had to be conquered. The pretence for an invasion was supplied from the ‘kaid’ of Catana, Ibn al-Timnah seeking help from Roger de Hauteville, in Calabria in 1060, in order to get rid of three of his rivals.
There are several reasons that could justify this conquest in the eyes of Robert: ensure the security of Calabria, end the Arab piracy and clear away the humiliation inflicted by George Maniakes on the Norman mercenaries, including the elder brothers of the Hauteville family, twenty years earlier, and more prosaically enjoy the spoils of war… On the contrary to other Norman conquests, the idea of the revenge of Christianity over Islam added a religious dimension to the adventure, but the Normans proved afterwards that they never wanted the total eradication of Islam from the island. Robert instigated the conquest but as he was busy on the mainland, it was mainly the work of Roger, with from fifty to sometimes a few hundred warriors, depending on the circumstances. It started in 1061 when Roger embarked on the island in the name of his brother and started to occupy the eastern part of the island, around Messina.
An important step was crossed in 1072 with the seizure of Palermo, thanks to the help of the fleet captured in Bari in 1071. Roger received the title of the ‘Grand Count’ of Sicily.
The conquest, between a handful of men, albeit in a divided country, but with difficult access, and defended by determined men sometimes helped by North Africans, was difficult and long. The fortified towns were particularly difficult to take. In fact Robert did not live to see the result, as he died five years before the final Muslim fort was taken in Noto.