Monday, March 18, 2013
|King Roger II|
To hear many modern commentators, even some claiming to be historians, speak about the expansion of the Kingdom of Italy into North Africa in the early years of the last century, one would think that Italian troops had never set foot on the continent before. Any Italian alive during the colonization of Libya, for example, would have laughed at such an idea. The Italian presence in northern Africa goes back, of course, to the time of ancient Rome but, more than that, even after the fall of the Roman Empire, Italian forces were never long absent from the “fourth shore”. The Italian acquisition of the provinces that became Libya as well as the frustration at the colonization of Tunisia by France are often painted today as simple aggression, yet, when one understands the very long history of close Italian association with this region one can see why, when the Kingdom of Italy began to colonize at least part of northern Africa, the Italians were not “arriving” but rather “returning” to lands that had long been ruled from the Italian peninsula. One of the most overlooked periods that serves as one example was that of the Kingdom of Africa under the Norman King of Sicily Roger II.
The story, starts much earlier, with Norman-Sicilian forces making forays into northern Africa in 1123; the first of many. Even then, Count Roger I of Sicily was already keeping troops in Mahdia in Tunisia to collect export duties. By 1135 King Roger II already had what amounted to a defacto Sicilian protectorate over most of the north African cities closest to southern Italy based simply on their economic interdependence. Having conquered Pantelleria in 1123, Roger II captured the pirate island of Djerba in 1135. By 1142 he established a protectorate over Mahdia after they were unable to make their grain payments on time. The local emir remained on the throne but was forced to accept the King of Sicily as his overlord as he had already become deeply beholden to Roger II because of the vast sums of money he had borrowed from him. In 1146 Norman-Sicilian forces captured Tripoli which, after suffering a terrible famine, had fallen into civil war. After that, numerous other local chieftains came forward to recognize Roger II as their overlord, valuing the security and economic prosperity that came with association with the Kingdom of Sicily. In 1148 Norman troops led by George of Antioch conquered Tunisia after the emir of Mahdia rose against Roger II. The Sicilian forces soon took control of the entire north African coast between Bona and Tripoli.
The rulers of Tunis feared a Sicilian attack and sent Roger II tribute in an effort to persuade him to desist (so that their own rule could continue) but, although he had planned further expansions in Africa, the King was diverted by a war with the Byzantines and died in 1154 without returning to his ambition to restore the former Roman lands of Africa to Christian rule. Roger II was succeeded by his son King William I and the reign of King William I was one marked by rebellions on the part of local nobles, both in the Kingdom of Sicily and the Kingdom of Africa. In Africa it came in the face of the rising power of the Almohad Caliphate out of Morocco. The local Muslim rulers were discontented because the Sicilians gave them little autonomy when it came to taxation and, as has long been the case the world over, whoever collects the taxes tends to become quite rich (somehow). With the Almohad forces gaining strength on the horizon, many decided to change allegiance, turn against the Sicilians and appeal to the Almohad Caliphate for protection.
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
Thursday, March 7, 2013
Wednesday, March 6, 2013
|Pope Alexander III|
One such example was Pope Alexander III, a native of Siena, who was faced by an invasion on the part of the famed German Emperor Frederick Barbarossa. More than that, he also faced an attempt to usurp his spiritual authority as the Emperor appointed his own anti-pope and tried to have Alexander III deposed. Pope Alexander III rallied the city-states of northern Italy, behind the leadership of Papal Rome, to create a coalition of about fifteen cities known as the Lombard League to oppose the German invasion of Frederick Barbarossa. In 1176 at the Battle of Legnano the combined Italian forces of the Lombard League administered a crushing defeat on Emperor Frederick in one of the most famous victories in Italian history. It was also Alexander III who clearly defined the rules for the election of the Bishop of Rome. The Lombard League that he organized was not permanent but it did reform on more than one occasion, sometimes with somewhat different membership, as the states of northern Italy banded together to fight off foreign attacks, usually coming from Germany.
|Pope Julius II approving plans for St Peter's Basilica|
|Pope Clement VII|
Gioberti being perhaps the most prominent example. When Pius IX was elected to the See of Peter many thought he would be the ideal man for the job and, early on, the Pope gave every indication that this was the case. He had shown sympathy for the Italian nationalists and had spoken in public of the "Italian nation". The Austrian Empire was so nervous that he would be a leader in this area that they planned to use the imperial veto to prevent his election but their cardinal arrived too late. It was not to be however and Pius IX eventually turned against the unification movement. Still, with such a long history of papal support, it would be wrong to view the Church or the Papacy itself as being solidly opposed to the concept and, with the signing of the Lateran Treaty, the two finally came together. It should also be remembered that when the choice between the monarchy and a republic came up after World War II the Church under Pius XII (himself from a "Black Nobility" family) was firmly in support of the monarchy and the House of Savoy. Catholics and monarchists should march together toward the goal of restoration for a united, independent and Catholic Kingdom of Italy.