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This is the first book published in English to consider Sicily's complex feudal environment from its inception under the Normans around 1060 until the contested island's rule from Spain four centuries later.
In a fluid text that will appeal to armchair historians as well as serious scholars, the author sets forth the background of Sicily's manorial (feudal) system, comparing it to others, particularly what existed during the same period in Norman England. The economy, the influence of religion, everyday life and the nature of monarchy are just a few topics featured. Law is considered in view of Sicily's Arab, Byzantine and Jewish heritage, and legal codes like the Assizes of Ariano and the Constitutions of Melfi. Changes in the wake of the War of the Vespers are described.
Elements like architecture, agriculture, literature, language and cuisine are discussed. A chapter is dedicated to heraldry, a field useful in the study of the feudal nobility that is often overlooked by those writing about this social class. Appendices present such details as lists of knights, barons and armigers (with blazons of their coats of arms) in the Kingdom of Sicily during specific periods, along with the original texts of both surviving codices of the Assizes of Ariano which established the first unifying legal code in the Kingdom around 1140. There is a chronology, along with numerous maps, genealogical tables and photographs. Sprinkled through the text are nuggets of information drawn from the author's original research. We learn, for example, that Sicily was probably one of the few places in Europe where Jews were part of the feudal nobility.
This is a very pragmatic history that puts to rest a number of myths while explaining what it was that made Sicily unique. Feudalism survived in Sicily as a system of land administration until 1812. It is impossible to understand modern Sicilian history without knowing something about this institution founded in the Middle Ages.
Here one of Sicily's leading medievalists walks us through the complexities of life in the sunny kingdom during a bygone era. The publication of this book, like others he has written, was long overdue. It fills a vast void in the study of medieval Sicilian history. This is a precious resource.