Roger I of Sicily

Roger I of Sicily at the battle of Cerami (1063), in which he was victorious against 35,000 Saracens.

Roger I (c. 1031-1040[1] – June 22, 1101), called Bosso and the Great Count, was the Norman Count of Sicily from 1071 to 1101. He was the last great leader of the Norman conquest of southern Italy.


Conquest of Calabria and Sicily

Roger was the youngest son of Tancred of Hauteville by his second wife Fredisenda, and the great great grandson of Hiallt believed to be the name of a Norseman (Viking) who settled in Normandy, in the 10th century.[2][3][4] Roger arrived in Southern Italy soon after 1055. Geoffrey Malaterra, who compares Robert Guiscard and his brother to "Joseph and Benjamin of old," says of Roger: "He was a youth of the greatest beauty, of lofty stature, of graceful shape, most eloquent in speech and cool in counsel. He was far-seeing in arranging all his actions, pleasant and merry all with men; strong and brave, and furious in battle." For a time Roger lived like a bandit in his castle of Scalea, on the Gulf of Policastro. He shared the conquest of Calabria with Robert, and in a treaty of 1062 the brothers in dividing the conquest apparently made a kind of "condominium" by which either was to have half of every castle and town in Calabria.

Robert now resolved to employ Roger's genius in reducing Sicily, which contained, besides the Muslims, numerous Greek Christians subject to Arab princes who had become all but independent of the sultan of Tunis. In May 1061 the brothers crossed from Reggio and captured Messina. After Palermo had been taken in January 1072, Robert Guiscard, as suzerain, invested Roger as Count of Sicily, but he retained Palermo, half of Messina, and the north-east portion (the Val Demone). Not till 1085, however, was Roger able to undertake a systematic conquest.

In March 1086 Syracuse surrendered, and when in February 1091 Noto yielded, the conquest was complete. Much of Robert's success had been due to Roger's support. Similarly, when the leadership of the Hautevilles passed to Roger, he supported his nephew Duke Roger against Bohemund I of Antioch, Lando IV of Capua, and other rebels. In return for his aid against Bohemund and the rebels, the duke surrendered his share in the castles of Calabria to his uncle in 1085, and in 1091 his inheritance in Palermo. Roger's rule in Sicily was more absolute than Robert Guiscard's in Italy. At the enfeoffments of 1072 and 1092 no great undivided fiefs were created, so the mixed Norman, French and Italian vassals all owed their benefices to the count. No feudal revolt of importance therefore troubled Roger.

Conquest of Malta

In 1091 Roger, in order to avoid an attack from North Africa, set sail with a fleet to conquer Malta. His ship reached the island before the rest. On landing, the few defenders the Normans encountered retreated and the following day Roger marched to the capital Mdina. Terms were discussed with the local qadi. It was agreed that the islands would become tributaries of the count himself and that the qadi should continue to administer the islands. With the treaty many Greek and other Christian prisoners were released, who chanted to Roger the Kyrie eleison (Mulej Ħniena). He left the islands with many who wished to join him and so many were on his ship that it nearly sunk, according to Geoffrey Malaterra.

Rule of Sicily

Politically supreme, the count also became master of the insular church. The Papacy, favouring a prince who had recovered Sicily from Greeks and Muslims, in 1098 granted Roger and his heirs the Apostolic Legateship of the island. Roger created new Latin bishoprics at Syracuse, Girgenti and elsewhere, nominating the bishops personally, while he turned the archbishopric of Palermo into a Catholic see. He practiced general toleration towards Arabs and Greeks. In the cities, the Muslims, who had generally secured such rights in their terms of surrender, retained their mosques, their kadis, and freedom of trade; in the country, however, they became serfs. Roger drew the mass of his infantry from the Muslims; Saint Anselm, visiting him at the siege of Capua, 1098, found "the brown tents of the Arabs innumerable". Nevertheless, the Latin element began to prevail, as Lombards and other Italians flocked to the island in the wake of the conquest, and the conquest of Sicily proved decisive in the steady decline of Muslim power in the western Mediterranean from this time.


Roger's eldest son was a bastard named Jordan, who predeceased him. His second son, Geoffrey, may have been a bastard, but may also have been a son of his first or second wife. Whatever the case, he was a leper with no chance of inheriting.

Roger's first marriage took place in 1061, to Judith, daughter of William, Count of Évreux and Hawisa of Échauffour. She died in 1076, leaving all daughters:

In 1077, Roger married a second time, to Eremburga of Mortain, daughter of "William, Count of Mortain" (probably William Warlenc). Their children were:

Roger's third and last wife was Adelaide del Vasto, niece of Boniface, Lord of Savona. They married in 1087. Their children were:


  1. ^ The exact date of his birth is unknown. According to Hubert Houben, he was probably born later, around 1040 (see: Roger II of Sicily: a ruler between East and West, 2002)
  2. ^ Hill, James S. The place-names of Somerset. St. Stephen's printing works, 1914, Princeton University. Page 256
  3. ^ Revue de l'Avranchin et du pays de Granville, Volume 31, Issue 174, Parts 3-4. Société d'archéologie, de littérature, sciences et arts d'Avranches, Mortain, Granville. the University of Michigan.
  4. ^ Google books, The British Chronicles, Volume 2 By David Hughes, Page 527


  • Norwich, John Julius. The Normans in the South 1016-1130. London: Longmans, 1967.
  • Aubé, Pierre. Roger II de Sicile. Un Normand en Méditerranée. Payot, 2001.
  • Houben, Hubert (translated by Graham A. Loud and Diane Milburn). Roger II of Sicily: Ruler between East and West. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
  • Alex Metcalfe. The Muslims of Medieval Italy. Edinburgh, 2009.
Preceded by
New creation
Count of Sicily
Succeeded by

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