« PreviousContinue »
Athenians ultimately experienced one of the greatest disasters that ever befel their arms at a place now supposed to be marked by the pyramid of La Pizzuta, near Cape Passaro.
The Mamertines, subdued by the Syracusans under Hiero, sought, upon the death of their great chief, a friendly alliance with Rome, who gladly availed themselves of the opportunity of adding Sicily to their conquests in Lower Italy. During the Punic wars, the island and its waters became the theatre of repeated fights between the rival powers of Rome and Carthage. The latter occupied Agrigentum, which, after a lengthened resistance, was wrested from them by the Romans. The memorable siege and capture of Syracuse, by Marcellus, terminated the independence of that great city, and Sicily became a Roman province.
Absorbed in the great Roman Empire, the wealth and prosperity of this favoured island became unfortunately a source of evil. The cupidity of the rulers was excited, and the exactions of Verres, denounced by Cicero, show to what malpractices the provinces were subjected, whilst the servile wars attest the deplorable state in which a portion of the island was placed by the revolts excited by violence among the labouring classes.
As the Roman Empire declined, Sicily declined with it. Christianity, which natives fondly believe was introduced by St. Paul himself, was established, and the Sicilian cities gradually became so many episcopal sees. The disorders wrought over all Italy by the barbarian irruptions spread their baneful influence even to Sicily. The Vandals, and afterwards the Goths, ravaged the island, but after the death of Theodosius, Sicily fell in the division of empire to the Greeks. Belisarius was despatched by Justinian to the rescue ; but the Byzantine emperors held the sceptre with feeble and precarious sway, and Strabo speaks in their time of Naxos, Megara, Himera, Gela, Gallipolis, Selinunte, and others, as ruined and deserted places.
The Arabs, fired by religious enthusiasm, having extended their triumphs along the shores of Africa, were invited to the conquest of Sicily by the same internal dissension which had so often introduced a foreign foe. Euphemius, general of the Byzantine forces, had stolen a beautiful nun from her cloister, and being condemned to an ignominious punishment, fed into Africa, and treacherously instigated the Muhammadans to invade the island.* The Saracens landed in A.D. 650. Syracuse was defended with heroic valour, and did not fall until its inhabitants had devoured all the domestic animals, had been reduced even to the flesh of the dead bodies, and that plague had united with famine to break down their indomitable courage. The city was delivered up to flames and pillage; the greater part of the inhabitants that survived a ten months' siege were put to death, the rest were sold as slaves and transported into Africa. Syracuse became, with the other great cities of Sicily, the seat of an Arab emir, but nigh two centuries elapsed before the whole of the island became subject of the Mussulmans. With the Arabs, however, the same superficial civilisation, the same arts and sciences, the same architecture and husbandry which adorned the Moorish kingdom in Spain, were transplanted to a soil no less congenial to their development. Cotton,
* Pictures from Sicily. By the Author of " Forty Days in the Desert."
brought by them from the fields of Syria ; the sugar-cane, met with by the first Crusaders on the plains of Tripoli, and which the Arabs naturalised on the fertile soil of their new conquest; the manna-producing ash;' and, lastly, the pistachio-tree, all date from the epoch of Saracenic occupation. It is probably to this epoch that we must also date the introduction from the Nile, by some Arabo-Egyptian emir, of the papyrus. But internal dissension prevented the Saracens from forming a compact and solid state, and thus they lay easily exposed to the inroads of a fresh invader.
“ When the Normans," writes Henry Gally Knight,* “first made their appearance in the south of Italy, the greater part of what had constituted the Roman Empire was in that disjointed and unsettled state which enables the strong hand to grasp at and reach anything. The scenes of real life, at that time, resembled those of a melodramatic theatre, in which incidents the most improbable diversify the piece, and personages the least expected figure on the stage.
“ Italy, which had been on the point of becoming one united kingdom under the Lombard sceptre, was again, and for ever (?), shattered and divided by the policy of the Lateran. The popes, perceiving that, under undisturbed kings of Italy, the successors of St. Peter would become little more than bishops of Rome, offered the empire of the West to strangers powerful enough to break down the Lombard dominion; but these foreign lords, when absent, could not restrain disorder, and when they crossed the Alps, more than once gave the popes reason to repent of having delivered themselves into their hands."
Tradition relates that in the year 1061, the Emir of Palarmo, Ibu el Thammuna, ordered, in a fit of anger and drunkenness, that the veins of his wife Maimuna should be opened. Maimuna, fainting away, was saved by her son, and taking refuge with her brother, the latter raised an army and defeated Ibn el Thammuna. This chief, to revenge himself, called in the aid of the Normans ; whereupon Roger, at that time at Melito, came one evening to the tent of the Arab emir, who had provided him with a sceptre by opening the gates of Sicily to him.t
Gally Knight, however, traces the Normans after Malaterra and Leo Ostiensis, from their first landing in Italy on their return from the Crusades, till invited by Maniaces, the Byzantine general, to aid in expelling the Saracens from Sicily. They warred at one time under William Bras de Fer against the Arabs, at another against the Greeks, and finally, Count Roger was personally invited by Ben el Thennah, as the emir is called in Knight's pages, and also by the Messinese, to the conquest of Sicily. “ Even,” says Bartlett, “as a fugitive Greek had invited the Saracens to invade Sicily, so did a Saracen chief, deprived of his government, enconrage a Norman to wrest the island from his countrymen. Roger crossed the Straits of Messina, defeated the Muhammadans in several battles, and finally subdued the entire island. His fellow-adventarers saluted him king; and thus the young knight, who had left Normandy with no possession but his sword, was crowned at Palermo, the first monarch who had ever ruled over the whole of Sicily."
When the Normans, Palmeri observes, came into possession of the • The Normans in Sicily. By Henry Gally Knight
4 Itinéraire descriptif, historique et artistique de l'Italie et de la Sicile. Par A. J. Du Pays, P. 722.
island in the eleventh century, they found it inhabited by men of different origin, each having their respective laws, language, religion, manners, and customs. Besides the aborigines, there was a remnant of Greeks, moreover Lombards, Saracens in great numbers, also Jews, .to whom were now added the Romans themselves. The Saracens had left the rest of the inhabitants in possession of their respective rights-a sagacious and liberal policy confirmed by the Norman conqueror. His kingdom was administered with wisdom and energy. He carried his arms into Africa, and waged war with the Byzantine emperor. The feudal system was established, parliament called together, and Sicily, so long weakened by division, became for the first time a united and a powerful state. But at the same time that a spirit of toleration so creditable to the eleventh century was manifested—that coins were struck with the emblems of Christianity and of Islamism united, that edicts were published in Greek, Latin, Arabic, and Norman-French, that the Saracens were enrolled in battalions, and that the conquerors themselves, according to Noel des Vergers, were subjected to the influence of the conquered, a pre-eminently intelligent race, whose industrial resources, taste for science, arts, and poetry, placed them at the head of the nations of antiquity-a new order of things, founded on the feudal system, was inaugurated in Sicily. The country was covered with fortresses and convents. The nobility and the clergy constituted, as it were, a nation within a nation, and the people, oppressed by the barons, were reduced to a condition of harsh servitude.
The domination of the Normans had soon to give way to that of Germany. William the Good, and his able minister, Walter Ofamilio, an Englishman of humble birth, exalted the dignity of the crown and the honour of the Sicilian name ; but William II., having no children, united Constantia, his father's sister, to Henry, the son of the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, and exacted from the barons an oath of allegiance. Richard Caur de Lion had, in the anger of the moment, stormed Messina and planted his standard upon its walls ; Tancred, the elect of the people, had died of grief for the loss of his eldest son, when Henry reduced Sicily and was crowned at Palermo. Frederick II., who succeeded to Henry, revised the Norman code, and, to diminish the excessive power of the barons, abolished their privilege of private jurisdiction, and compelled their submission to the laws. He also introduced a system of popular representation at the same time that he pronounced the absolute independence and unity of the Sicilian kingdom. And thus the constitution founded by King Roger, amended by this illustrious man, became the sure and indefeasible charter of the liberties of Sicily.
The liberal policy of Frederick, maintained by his son and successor, Manfred, was so odious to the Pope, that he fomented a general crusade against the Sicilian monarch as the patron of Saracens and the enemy of the Church, and he arrogated to himself the power of giving away the crown to Charles, Duke of Anjou and Provence. Manfred was slain defending his rights, and thus came to an end the Norman line, as brief as it was brilliant, but leaving behind, both in the institutions and monuments of Sicily, magnificent memorials of what it once had been. Corradino, son and heir of Conrad IV., was made prisoner, and “the unfortunate boy of sixteen” was put to death on the Piazza del Carmine at Naples, in the presence of Charles of Anjou and of his tiger-hearted wife Beatrice.
The Sicilians sank, helpless and hapless, beneath the yoke of the French. Charles gave up the island to the maladministration of lieute. nants, who crushed the wretched inhabitants beneath a load of taxes, and oppressed them with the direst extremity of feudal licence. The result was that the Angevin domination was briefer in the island than even any of its predecessors. The people were driven to despair. A conspiracy was set on foot by John of Procida, a proscribed adherent to the House of Suabia, and it exploded in the terrible Sicilian Vespers. It is the fashion to write in the present day of this dreadful massacre as an accident. “ This massacre of the French," writes M. Du Pays, “ has been attributed to a vast conspiracy fomented by John of Procida. M. Amari, who has devoted a work written with a conscientious erudition, has proved, according to M. Noël des Vergers, that, if there was a conspiracy, the bloody episode of the Sicilian Vespers was totally independent of it.”
This is going too far. “The mine," said Gibbon long ago, “ was prepared with deep and dangerous artifice; but it may be questioned whether the instant explosion at Palermo were the effect of accident or design.” All that Amari proves is that there was a conspiracy and a massacre ; that the massacre had its origin unexpectedly and unpremeditately independent of the conspiracy, but the conspiracy gave to it its tone. It was, as Bartlett says, “one of those fearful ebullitions of Southern passion, provoked by a long course of cruel outrage, when men's minds are in that state of excitement that a single incident, falling like a spark upon a train already prepared, may occasion the most terrible convulsion. Not a Frenchman was left alive except William de Porcelet, whose exemplary virtues obtained his immunity even in the hour of dreadful retribution.”
“ Pour se soustraire à la vengeance de Charles d'Anjou, la Sicile se donna à Pierre d'Aragon," writes M. du Pays, and it is writing history with a “ vengeance." Charles determined to wreak a deep and a bloody revenge upon the Sicilians there is no doubt, but the inhabitants of Messina, upon which devoted city the fury of the storm first fell, stimulated by the heroism of Alaimo, their governor, defended the city with the energy of despair; and if their spirits flagged for a moment in the conflict, they were rekindled by the zeal and devotion of the women, who laboured at the ramparts, and struggled with the besiegers as they attained the parapets. The French were repulsed at every point, and Charles was obliged to abandon the siege and give orders to retreat. But even then the whole French fleet was attacked and destroyed by the forces of Roger de Loria, the Catalan admiral, and Charles, baffled and enraged, was compelled to flee abruptly into Calabria.
It was only then that the Sicilian parliament called Peter of Aragon, who had married Constantia, daughter of Manfred, to the throne. James, the successor of Peter, treacherously made over his rights in the kingdom to the detested Angevins, but the Sicilians revolting, called in the Infant Frederick, of whom they obtained further concessions. The statutes of this reign are regarded as the Magna Charta of Sicily. The occasions on which subsidies could be granted were rigorously defined, and popular representation, annual parliaments, and responsibility of ministers were secured.
The Aragonese ruled in Sicily till the year 1516, when Ferdinand the Catholic absorbed the dynasty, and with it the island, which became a fief of the crown of Spain. Too weak, amidst the great monarchies of modern Europe, to stand in unassisted strength, Sicily has since been too frequently the passive object of foreign arrangements to secure the “ balance of power," and in which England early took a conspicuous share.
It was thus that, after the war of the Spanish succession, which terminated in the permanent accession of the French Bourbons to the crown of Spain, it was by the express interference of England that Sicily, which till then had formed part of the Spanish royalty, was ceded to the House of Savoy. Owing, however to the hostility of the Pope, the sway of Victor Amadeus-Victor Emmanuel's predecessor was very brief. At the epoch of his coronation, in 1713, Victor found an open quarrel between Church and State in his new island kingdom.
There had been in that island, since 1098, a magistracy known as the “ Tribunal of the Monarchy," which took cognisance of ecclesiastical affairs, and enjoyed the supremacy over all other clerical jurisdiction. It was an old privilege granted by Pope Urban II. to Roger, the Norman founder of the state, in remuneration for his exertions in rescuing that island from the Saracens. In consequence of some worthless dispute, the Bishop of Lipari had, in 1711, challenged the authority of the tribunal, and had been abetted in his rebellion by several of his fellow-prelates, and by the pontiff himself. The Pope, Clement XI., one of the most arrogant that ever sat on the Roman chair, deemed the accession of Victor-the ruler of a comparatively small statea fit opportunity to reassert the rights of the Holy See, alienated by his predecessor, Urban II., and declared the grant of this latter to be null and void. The parties warmed in the contest in proportion to the interest and expectation it aroused throughout Europe. The Pope laid the island under the ban of the Church, and the bulls, of which the king had forbidden the publication under the heaviest penalties, were smuggled in, concealed in fifty wine-bottles, and clandestinely stuck to the doors of the churches. *
The Piedmontese king had, however, the courage to contemn the Pope's rage. He proscribed, imprisoned, and banished monks and nuns, priests and laymen, all alike, who sided with the pontiff, or obeyed his decrees of excommunication and interdict. Unfortunately, however, Victor Amadeus had quarrels of his own to fight out with Rome in his hereditary states. He was obliged to quit Sicily in September, 1714, scarcely a year after his first landing at Palermo, and he left the government in the hands of Maffei, the viceroy, who held his ground against Rome with great firmness, till, in 1718, the island was invaded by the Spaniards, and made over to the emperor in 1720. This latter obtained a complete victory over the Pope in his final arrangement of 1728.7
. Bolta, Storia d'Italia, vi. 216.