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The Sicilian Vespers: A History of the Mediterranean World in the Later… (1958)

av Steven Runciman

MedlemmarRecensionerPopularitetGenomsnittligt betygOmnämnanden
397850,224 (4.16)13
On 30 March 1282, as the bells of Palermo were ringing for Vespers, the Sicilian townsfolk, crying 'Death to the French', slaughtered the garrison and administration of their Angevin King. Seen in historical perspective it was not an especially big massacre: the revolt of the long-subjugated Sicilians might seem just another resistance movement. But the events of 1282 came at a crucial moment. Steven Runciman takes the Vespers as the climax of a great narrative sweep covering the whole of the Mediterranean in the thirteenth century. His sustained narrative power is displayed here with concentrated brilliance in the rise and fall of this fascinating episode. This is also an excellent guide to the historical background to Dante's Divine Comedy, forming almost a Who's Who of the political figures in it, and providing insight into their placement in Hell, Paradise or Purgatory.… (mer)
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There were few medieval historians writing in English about the affairs of the thirteenth century Mediterranean in the mid twentieth century. Sir Stephen Runciman was one of the few. Into the bargain, his major works dealt with the more complex events that convulsed the basin. Runciman had a mind and research skills equal to the task. This is one of his major works and is still read with profit by students of the period and the place. Sicily, as it had been in the early eleventh century became for a brief period, the cockpit of Europe. The Norman kingdom in the island was tossed between the declining Holy Roman empire and the emerging French monarchy. Into the bargain, the Crusading attempt to destroy the Byzantine state had just recently failed, leaving the resurgent Byzantines with enough desperation to fish in these troubled waters with devastating results for their most likely enemies. The story requires careful reading to sort out the players and keep track of their conflicting strategies. I recommend this book as an example of the high levels of plotting our ancestors could rise to. ( )
2 rösta DinadansFriend | Apr 2, 2021 |
This book takes it name from the "Sicilian Vespers", a popular uprising in that flared up at vespers in Palermo, Easter 1282 and quickly ended Angevin rule on Sicily, but it's rather about the rise and sort-of fall of Charles of Anjou, the first, and as far as the island itself was concerned, last Angevin king of Sicily.

The younger brother of Saint Louis of France, Charles had been called in in 1266 to deliver the Papacy from the heirs of Frederick II, who in the person of Manfred of Sicily seemed on the verge of extinguishing the pope's temporal power outright. Victorious in the great battles of Benevento (1266, against Manfred) and Tagliacozzo (1268, against Conradin, the last generally recognized Hohenstaufen heir), he was rewarded with the Kingdom of Sicily, which apart from the island itself covered about the southern third of mainland Italy.

For the next fourteen years Charles was, in alliance with the Papacy, the effective overlord also of much of the rest Italy, and found time to acquire the crowns of Jerusalem and Albania. In the early 1280s he was planning an invasion of Byzantium to restore the defunct Latin Empire of Constantinople.

The Sicilian Vespers then marks the beginning of the fall, or at least the downward course of Charles' fortunes. The Sicilians called in the king of Aragon, whose wife was a Hohenstaufen princess, to rule them, and Charles, despite the backing of the Papacy and the French monarchy was unable to retake the island, let alone pursue his eastern ambitions. Instead, a twenty year war lasted long beyond his death in 1285, to end with the kingdom partitioned, with Sicily proper remaining with the Aragonese while Charles' heirs kept the mainland part of the kingdom (officially still called the "Kingdom of Sicily", but usually known as as the "Kingdom of Naples" to reduce the confusion of latter-day students).

Runciman's is a style of narrative history that could hardly be written today, on the one hand scholarly, on the other always eager to pass aesthetic or moral judgement. The latter can annoy me - I'm not all that interested in whether Manfred of Sicily or Charles of Anjou was a great man, particularly as the criteria are never stated. On the plus side, he's an excellent stylist, at his best when describing battles and other dramatic events. He can get confusing when summarizing longer developments; a chronology and a list of the major personalities with dates and allegiances stated would have been helpful.

To be recommended if you like old-fashioned narrative history.
  AndreasJ | Dec 10, 2019 |
No conception in medieval history was finer than that of the Universal Church, uniting Christendom into one great theocracy governed by the impartial wisdom of the Vicar of God. But in this sinful world even the Vicar of God needs material strength to enforce his holy will.

Feel free to read the above with cynicism. Runciman offers a series of top-down facts. The doctor doesn't appear troubled by living conditions or world views. The principal characters trot onto stage and various episodes unfold. Causality is short-changed. The only detail supplied pertains to battles. One is quickly struck by the precarious health of the Bishops of Rome: it appears that a pope dies every few pages. Ultimately the Sicilians, once a proud multicultural society rebel in 1282 against their Angevin occupiers. Their French hegemon, Charles of Anjou had hoped to create a Latin Empire and retake Constantinople from those Greek-speaking Orthodox buggers. As a result of this unexpected intifada, all such Norman expansionist matters ground to a halt. The papacy shifted gears and nationalism edged ahead of the Universal Church. This is not a satisfying text, but it did whet appetites for further researches. ( )
  jonfaith | Feb 22, 2019 |
The book's title suggests it is about the revolt in Sicily in 1282 which began with a massacre during Vespers in Palermo, but it really has a much broader focus -- the revolt itself, at least the early and dramatic part, occupies six pages, 75 pages from the end of a 312 page book. The book as a whole is about the rise and fall of Charles of Anjou (1226-85), brother of King Louis IX of France (Saint Louis), and also provides the necessary context to understand his rise, by recounting the fortunes and decline the the Hohenstaufen emperors in Italy: Frederick II, who was the Antichrist to Pope Gregory IX; Conrad IV, and King Manfred of Sicily, who Charles took the Kingdom from. It also provides context from the East, which mainly consists of Michael Palaeologus of Nicea's conquest of the Latin Empire set up by the crusaders who took Constantinople some decades earlier.

It's good, but generally bewildering, jumping from person to place at a speedy clip. There is an enormous fold-out genealogical chart of the back of my copy, which would be handy if it weren't sixty years old and printed on the poor quality paper you find in old Pelican paperbacks. I suggest following along with a pencil for drawing these family trees and a few maps handy. Runciman makes the probably-fair assumption early on that you know most of the Kingdom of Sicily consists of southern peninsular Italy -- everything from approximately Naples, south. Sicily proper plays a role mainly for Frederick II and during and after the Vespers. I didn't realise, and that confused the hell out of me initially.

Runciman does have a particular gift for detailed descriptions of events rather than chronologies, and this comes out during the battles of Benevento (Charles v Manfred) and Tagliacozzo (Conradin v Charles), and to a lesser extent smaller battles and events throughout. But most of the book would be better described as a chronology, and although he does attempt to draw some larger points about the Empire, the papacy, and nationalism near the beginning and the end, I don't feel it is as strong a motivation for him as the story itself. Which is fine, in a way. ( )
1 rösta seabear | Apr 14, 2013 |
It was hard for me to drag through Runciman's set-up to the Vespers, but his analysis and style made it worthwhile, in the end. ( )
  jorgearanda | Dec 31, 2009 |
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Preface -- The Sicilian Vespers are seldom remembered nowadays.
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On 30 March 1282, as the bells of Palermo were ringing for Vespers, the Sicilian townsfolk, crying 'Death to the French', slaughtered the garrison and administration of their Angevin King. Seen in historical perspective it was not an especially big massacre: the revolt of the long-subjugated Sicilians might seem just another resistance movement. But the events of 1282 came at a crucial moment. Steven Runciman takes the Vespers as the climax of a great narrative sweep covering the whole of the Mediterranean in the thirteenth century. His sustained narrative power is displayed here with concentrated brilliance in the rise and fall of this fascinating episode. This is also an excellent guide to the historical background to Dante's Divine Comedy, forming almost a Who's Who of the political figures in it, and providing insight into their placement in Hell, Paradise or Purgatory.

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