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2. The Normans in Sicily and Southern Italy

 

 

2.1 Coinage in Southern Italy and Sicily before the Normans

 

2.2 The early Norman coinage of southern Italy and Sicily

 

2.3 The 'Christianisation' of the coinage under the Normans

 

 

 

 

 

2.4 Later Norman coinage 2.5 After the Normans 2.5 Provenances

 

 

 

 

 

 

Normans began to arrive in mainland southern Italy around 1025. They came in small groups, each led by a single knight who sought to carve out a piece of territory and set up a feudal lordship.

At the time, Sicily and southern Italy constituted a frontier region where widely diverse cultures lived almost side-by-side. In Sicily, Calabria, Basilicata, Apulia, and in and around Naples, there was a strong Byzantine legacy mainly as a result of Byzantine reconquest of Italy in the 6th century. The Lombards, a Germanic people who had invaded Italy from north of the Alps in the 6th century, established the duchy of Benevento in southern Italy, which split in the 9th century to give rise to the duchy of Salerno. The southward expansion of Carolingian rule in Italy under Charlemagne and his successors in the later 8th and 9th centuries also introduced a Frankish element into the region.

By the time that the Normans began to arrive, the Muslims had controlled Sicily for nearly two centuries. Sicily was, in fact, a thoroughly Muslim island, with a spoken language much like the Semitic tongue of Malta. There were also Muslim settlements scattered throughout mainland southern Italy. In the 9th century, the Arabs had set up the Emirate of Bari, and they later established outposts around the mouth of the river Garigliano on the Tyrrhenian coast south of Gaeta, in the old city of Capua just north of Naples, and among the ancient Greek temples at Paestum on the Tyrrhenian coast south of Salerno near the mouth of the river Sele.

By about 1030, the Norman knight Rainulf had established the first Norman settlement in southern Italy at Aversa north of Naples. The town came under Rainulf's control as a result of his marriage to the sister of the Duke of Naples, and Rainulf's nephew Richard later expanded the settlement to embrace nearby Capua. The two settlements, known as the principality of Capua, were of strictly local significance.

The descendents of another Norman knight, Tancred of Hauteville, were far more important. In the mid-11th century, Tancred's son Humphrey became count of Apulia. Robert Guiscard, another son of Tancred and half-brother of Humphrey, succeeded Humphrey in Apulia in 1057. Two years later, Robert obtained papal patronage from Pope Nicholas II (1058-61), and this legitimised the Norman conquests in the Italian south. By 1072, Robert had conquered Calabria and driven the Muslims from most of Sicily, appointing his younger brother Roger I as count of Calabria and Sicily.

By the end of the 1070s, Robert was one of the most powerful rulers in Italy. He named his second son Roger Borsa as his successor, and when Robert died in 1085, Roger became the most powerful Norman ruler in the Italian south. Internal divisions among the various Norman rulers nevertheless eroded Roger's control, and during the last decade of the 11th century, Roger I, the so-called 'great count' of Calabria and Sicily, became increasingly powerful.


After the death of Roger I in 1101, Roger's first son Simon inherited his title, but Roger II became count after Simon died in 1105. When Roger's cousin William of Apulia died in 1127, Roger II became master of the entire mainland, and three years later, he was crowned king in Palermo on Christmas day. Roger's principal legacy is that he succeeded in bringing the various states of Sicily and southern Italy together as a single political unit, governed after is death in 1154 by his descendants for a further forty years, until the German Emperor Henry VI deposed the last Norman king, William III, in 1194.

 

2.1 Coinage in Southern Italy and Sicily before the Normans

 


The type of coinage most often mentioned in southern Italian documents of the 8th and early 9th centuries is the gold coinage of Benevento. In some parts of the Italian south, and particularly in Sicily, Byzantine coinage predominated. Eight years after Charlemagne invaded northern Italy in 773, however, he introduced the new silver penny of the Carolingians into Italy, but this coin did not play an important role in southern Italy until the second half of the 9th century, and then only briefly. This is because the southern Italian economy was a distinctly Mediterranean economy, and the exigencies of this economy required a coinage that could be more readily exchanged in trade with the Byzantines and Arabs, who both used a gold coinage in international commerce.


After about 880, Carolingian influence in southern Italy waned, and the silver penny drifted out of circulation. In its place, a new coin was mentioned increasingly in southern Italian documents from the beginning of the 10th century onwards. This coin was the tarì, or quarter-dinar, struck by the Aghlabid caliphs in Sicily after their conquest of Syracuse in 878. The south Italians used the term tarì as a noun, but it was actually an Arabic adjectival meaning 'fresh', in the sense of 'freshly struck', or perhaps simply 'new'.

The Aghlabid quarter-dinar was indeed new, and unknown in other parts of Islam. It was modelled partly after the Byzantine tremissis of Syracuse and then calibrated to the dinar, the standard gold coin of the Muslim world. In 909, the Fatimid caliphs expelled the Aghlabids from Sicily and North Africa (roughly the area of modern Tunisia), but they continued to strike the quarter-dinar in Sicily (20). On the obverse, these coins carry the Muslim profession of the faith, 'There is no God but God, Muhammad is the Prophet of God', while the reverse identifies the ruler and, in the outer ring, the mint and hegira date, reckoned in lunar years from Muhammad's flight from Mecca to Medina in July 622 AD.


The Fatimid quarter-dinar was the principal currency in much of mainland southern Italy for most of the 10th century, at least for larger purchases and for inter-regional and international trade. For smaller transactions, copper coinage was used, either Byzantine folles or locally struck follari, based on Byzantine models. Sometime after 969, southern Italian mints at Amalfi and Salerno began to issue their own imitation tarì modelled after the quarter-dinar of the Fatimid caliph al-Mu'izz but with blundered pseudo-cufic legends, no doubt because the coins had been produced with dies cut by engravers who were unfamiliar with Arabic.

The imitation tarì of Salerno and Amalfi (21-22) were at first indistinguishable from each other but they were made of good quality gold and circulated alongside the Fatimid quarter-dinar as the principal gold currency in southern Italy. Only towards the middle of the 11th century did the quality of the gold in the southern Italian imitations begin to deteriorate, probably in response to economic needs, particularly increased demand for the coins.

 

20

Gold tarì or quarter-dinar of Siqilliyyah (Sicily under Arab rule), the fourth Fatimid caliph al-Mu'izz (953-73), with two rings of cufic epigraphy around a central pellet, by a design introduced in 969; earlier quarter-dinar typically had three or four lines of cufic epigraphy in the field, surrounded by an outer ring of cufic epigraphy in the margin, as, for example, in the 11th century quarter-dinar of Sicily in the name of al-Zahir (26).

 

21

Gold tarì of Salerno with pseudo-cufic epigraphy, Anonymous princes (c. 1000), modelled after the Fatimid quarter-dinar of Sicily struck in the name of the caliph al-Mu'izz (20). Examples of these coins vary in style and diameter, but they typically weigh just above 1 gram and are made of high-quality gold, better than 90% fine, similar in standard to the Fatimid coins.

 

22

Gold tarì of Amalfi with pseudo-cufic epigraphy, Anonymous dukes (after 1038), again modelled after the Fatimid quarter-dinar of al-Mu'izz (20). These coins have a slightly different style and fabric from the Salernitan tarì and are almost certainly later issues. They typically weigh just less than 1 gram, not much different from the Salernitan coins, but they contain less than 40% gold.

 

 

 

 

2.2 The early Norman coinage of southern Italy and Sicily

 


When the Normans began to produce their own coinage in southern Italy and Sicily, they simply continued to issue the same coin types that their predecessors had struck. In Salerno on the mainland, the mint continued to issue its own gold tarì under the Normans, but the coins grew increasingly distinct from the Fatimid quarter-dinar of Sicily and ever more debased (23), with examples from the late 11th century onwards containing less than fifty per cent gold and sometimes even much less.

Amalfi remained independent of the Normans until 1127, but its coinage followed a similar pattern. Robert Guiscard struck most of his coins in the Salerno mint on the mainland, where he continued to issue the same sort of copper follari that the Lombard princes of Salerno had produced. Roger Borsa went on striking follari in the Salerno mint, and after 1085, Roger I began to strike follari in Calabria at Mileto, where he also based his administration (24). Elsewhere on the mainland, various Norman rulers in Capua followed the existing traditions of the Lombard princes.


Though most of Robert's coins were Salernitan follari, his earliest coins were Sicilian gold tarì of Palermo with cufic epigraphy and the hegira date 464, or 1072 (25), the same year in which Robert and his brother Roger I conquered Palermo. This indicates that there was no significant break in the activity of the Palermo mint between Arab and Norman rule. Robert's tarì did not follow the concentric design of the Fatimid quarter-dinar struck under the 10th century caliph al-Mu'izz but rather the more traditional design with horizontal inscriptions across the field. They were modelled instead after the coins of later caliphs that were circulating in Sicily when the mint came under Robert's control (26).

Robert and Roger also continued to strike small silver dirhem fractions in Sicily, called kharruba, which further demonstrates the continuity of minting during the transition from Arab and Norman rule.

 

23

Gold tarì of Salerno, Roger Borsa (1085-1111), with the letter 'R', for Roger, in the centre of the obverse, and the letter 'B', for Borsa, in the centre of the reverse.

 

 

24

Copper trifollaro of Mileto, Roger I (1072-1101, struck c. 1098-1101), obverse with the legend ROQ E RIVS COMES, for 'Count Roger', around a knight on horseback.

 

 

25

Gold tarì of Palermo, Robert Guiscard (1059-85), with the reverse inscription 'illa Allah Muhammad rasul Allah la ilah', for 'There is no God but God [and] Muhammad is the Prophet of God', written across the field, and the reverse inscription bi-amr Ubart al duqah al-ajall malik Siqilliyyah, for 'By the order of Robert the duke [and] very glorious lord of Sicily'; the mint and hegira date, in this case 466 (1072/3), are given in the outer ring.

 

26

Gold quarter-dinar of Muslim Sicily, al-Zahir (1021-36), with horizontal inscriptions across the obverse and reverse fields.

 

 

 

 

2.3 The 'Christianisation' of the coinage under the Normans

 


Although Robert's tarì were only a little more than 16 carat gold, or 70% fine, in contrast to the 24 carat fineness of the coins of Muslim Sicily, they were otherwise entirely consistent in terms of style with the earlier coins of the Fatimids. After Robert's death in 1085, however, Roger I began to strike tarì with a sort of tau in the obverse field, displacing the Muslim profession of the faith and relegating it to the reverse. The tau has been interpreted variously, but it was probably intended as a cross, the idea presumably being that this type of cross would be less offensive to the largely Muslim population of Sicily than a fully Christian cross.


The most profound changes nevertheless occurred under Roger II, who ruled for nearly half a century, united the various states of the Italian south, and carried out an extensive reform of the currency in 1140. Roger's earliest Sicilian tarì, issued during his minority from 1105 to 1111, simply continued the type of his father, though with a more ornate tau in the obverse field. In 1112, Roger issued a new type of tarì that reduced the Muslim profession of the faith to the first part only, 'There is no God but God', and dropped the declaration that 'Muhammad is the Prophet of God'. Roger became king in 1130, and two years later, he began to strike a new type of 'Christian' tarì in Sicily that identified him on the obverse by his new title, 'al-malik' ('king'), and carried on the reverse a Greek cross with the inscription IC XC NI KA in the angles, meaning 'Jesus Christ conquers'. The Muslim profession of the faith was now completely eliminated.

The different types of tarì issued by Roger II before the monetary reform of 1140 all gave the obverse inscription horizontally across the field, but the reformed tarì give a circular legend, while continuing the Greek cross on the reverse (27). From the time that Roger II assumed the title of king in 1130, he replaced the concentric design on the mainland tarì struck in Salerno with a new design featuring horizontal inscriptions across the field. More significantly, his Salernitan tarì for the first time began to carry legible cufic inscriptions (28). Presumably, this was because Roger had reformed his administration and placed the mint under the supervision of an Arabic speaking mint-master. In Amalfi, however, the mint continued to strike tarì with pseudo-cufic inscriptions even after Roger II reformed his coinage in 1140 (29).


Roger also issued copper follari from his mint in Messina and from mainland mints in Salerno and Capua. He also struck follari in the Apulian city of Bari in 1140 to celebrate his successful siege of the city the previous year to put down a rebellion. Roger did not introduce the sort of silver or billon pennies that were circulating in northern Italy and throughout much of western Christendom, nor did he make any move at all in the direction of a more typically western mono-metallic silver coinage, but he did introduce the silver ducalis (
30) and the tercia ducalis (31), which reflect, respectively, the continuing Byzantine influence in Sicily and southern Italy and the realities of an increasingly bi-lingual society.

 

27

Gold tarì of Palermo or Messina, Roger II (1105-54, as king, post-reform, 1140-54), with the obverse inscription 'al-mu'tazz bi-'llah al-malik Rujjar al-mu'zzam', for 'the powerful through God, King Roger the magnificent'.

 

28

Gold tarì of Salerno, Roger II (1105-54, as king, pre-reform, 1130-40), with the obverse inscription 'al-malik Rujjar', for 'King Roger', and the reverse inscription 'nasir al-Nasraniyyah', for 'protector of Christianity'.

PG.348

29

Gold tarì of Amalfi, Roger II (1105-54, as king, post-reform, after 1140), with two rings of pseudo-cufic inscriptions around the letter R in the centre of the obverse and a small cross in the centre of the reverse.

PG.13032

30

Silver ducalis of Palermo, Roger II (1105-54, as king, post-reform, 1140-54), with the obverse inscriptions +IC XC RG and IN ÆTERN, for 'Iesus Christus regnat in aeternum', or 'Jesus Christ reigns in eternity', around a bust of Christ; the reverse has the inscriptions R DVX AP and R R SLS, for 'Rogerius Dux Apulie' and 'Rogerius Rex Sicilie', respectively, or 'Roger Duke of Apulia' and 'Roger King of Sicily', around an image of Roger receiving the symbols of office from his father; the reverse also gives the date of the issue as AN [ligatured] R X, for 'Anno regni decimo', or 'in the tenth year of his reign', which is to say 1140.

PG.1953

31

Silver tercia-ducalis of Palermo, Roger II (1105-54, as king, post-reform, 1140-54), with the obverse inscription 'duriba sanata' 535 in the margin, for 'Struck in the year 535', and 'bi-madinat Siqilliyyah' across the field, for 'in the city of Sicily [i.e., Palermo]', and the reverse inscription +TERCIA DVCALIS in the margin around a cross.

 

 

 

2.4 Later Norman coinage

 


Despite some relatively minor changes in the coinage under Roger's successors, the later Norman rulers for the most part followed the established pattern.

In Sicily, William I (1154-66) struck gold tarì and copper follari in Messina, and silver ducales and silver kharruba in Palermo. On the mainland, he struck gold tarì with pseudo-cufic epigraphy in Amalfi, and copper follari in Salerno.

William II (1166-89) continued to strike gold tarì (32) and copper follari in Messina, and silver kharruba in Palermo, but he replaced the silver ducalis of Palermo with the silver apuliensis and the fractional tercius apuliensis.

In 1167/8, the Amalfi mint for the first time began to strike tarì with legible cufic inscriptions in two concentric rings around either a W on the obverse or REX on the reverse (33), while Salerno struck tarì in the same style as the Salernitan tarì of Roger II with three lines of cufic epigraphy across the field (34). Salerno and Capua also issued their own copper follari. Probably around 1180, the Messina mint issued a second copper coinage that consisted of large follari of about 10 grams (35) and smaller follari of about 2 grams. At the same time, Palermo issued a second silver coinage consisting entirely of the new quarter-tercenarius, sometimes called a half-denaro.

Tancred (1190-94) was the last Norman king of Sicily and southern Italy. He struck gold tarì, silver quarter-tercenarii, and copper follari in Sicily; gold tarì in Amalfi and Salerno; and copper follari in Salerno.

 

32

Gold tarì of Messina, William II (1166-89).

 

 

PG.11269

33

Gold tarì of Amalfi, William II (1166-89), with the obverse inscription 'al-malik Glulyalim al-thani al musta'izz billah', or 'King William the Second the desirous of power through God', around W; the marginal ring, which ought to give the mint and date, is mostly missing. The reverse inscription is the same as the obverse, around REX.

PG.13534

34

Gold tarì of Salerno, William II (1166-89), with the obverse inscription 'al-malik Glulyaim al-thani', for 'King William the Second', and the reverse inscription 'nasir al-Nasraniyyah', for 'protector of Christianity'.

 

PG.9127

35

Large copper follaro of Palermo, second copper coinage, William II (1166-89, struck after c. 1180), anepigraphic, with a palm tree on one side and a lion's mask on the other, probably struck in an effort to cope with silver shortages.

PG.5644

 

 

2.5 After the Normans

 


In 1194, the Hohenstaufen emperors of Germany replaced the Normans as rulers of Sicily and southern Italy. In many ways, their rule was a continuation of Norman rule, with western elements continuing to displace Arab and Greek elements and the political and economic orientation of the Italian south turning increasingly towards the north.

When Emperor Henry VI (1194-7) assumed control in 1194, he continued to strike gold tarì with cufic inscriptions in Sicily, but he soon abandoned the production of base gold tarì and copper follari on the mainland in favour of characteristically western billon denari, or base silver pennies (36).

As king, Frederick II (1197-1250) continued to strike gold tarì in Sicily, but after Honorius III crowned him emperor in Rome in 1220, he substituted a Latin inscription for the cufic one in the obverse margin and added an imperial eagle in the obverse field (37). From 1231 onwards, he struck tarì with pseudo-cufic inscriptions in the obverse margin. Throughout his reign, he also struck base silver pennies in roughly the same style of those of Henry VI, and in 1231, in a major artistic innovation, he introduced an entirely new gold coin, the classically inspired augustale (38).

 

36

Billon denaro of Brindisi, Henry VI and Constance, 1194-6.
The Brindisi mint was opened to replace Salerno, which was closed by Henry VI probably in revenge for their handing over his wife to Tancred in 1091.


37

Gold tarì of Frederick II (as emperor, 1220-50), Messina, 1221-30?.
This coin has the Latin inscription F IMPERATOR around an imperial eagle on the obverse.

 


PG.6554

38

Gold augustale of Frederick II (as emperor, 1220-50), Messina, 1231-50.
This coin is quite exceptional in medieval coinage for its classical portrait moulded in high relief, and it anticipates the taste of Renaissance Italy in the 15th-16th centuries. Frederick is known to have had an interest in Roman antiquities, and the model for this coin seems to have been a Roman engraved gem stone


 

2.6 Provenances


Lent by Prof. Philip Grierson: 20-23, 25-30, 32-38


Given by C. Davies Sherborn, 1939: 24


Uncertain provenance: 31

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