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Fascinating little known history, well told,
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This review is from: The Normans in the South, 1016-1130 (Kindle Edition)
Norman rule in Sicily is one of the most fascinating episodes of medieval history (and a contrast to the simultaneous Norman Conquest of England). Starting first as pilgrims in south Italy, then mercenaries for Byzantines and Lombards, the Normans became first feudal lords, then Dukes, then Kings of Sicily, in a remarkably short time. This rapid expansion was led by the Hautevilles - minor lords in Normandy who founded one of Europe's leading dynasties, including, in Bohemond and Tancred, some of the greatest/most notorious of the crusader princes. This book (the first) covers this remarkable rise to power. The second book covers the Norman Kingdom of Sicily - famous for its wealth, arts, scholarship and above all tolerance of Muslim, Orthodox and Catholic subjects - in stark contrast to the intolerance of the Crusades and most of medieval Europe.
John Julius Norwich visited Sicily himself, became fascinated with the history, couldn't find any accessible books in English, and so wrote one himself (and went on to write better known classics, on the Byzantines, Venice and the Popes). So he is deliberately telling a fascinating story in a readable way, rather than an academic history - which makes it a reasonably easy read. It sometimes shows its age (using Gibbon's Decline and Fall as a source) but his style means it has dated well.
It is perhaps not an absolute classic - it doesn't have the depth of knowledge and skill of writing of for example Runciman's 'Sicilian Vespers' (more recently, Tom Holland's Millennium covers this and and much more) . And it is quite long. But I would highly recommend it either for anyone interested in early medieval history, or planning a holiday to Sicily and interested in a fascinating period of its history.