Muslim settlement of Lucera

Muslim settlement of Lucera
The Hohenstaufen Castle of Lucera.

The Muslim settlement of Lucera was the result of the decision of Frederick II of Hohenstaufen to move 20,000 Sicilian Muslims to the Apulian city of Lucera, in what is now the south of the Republic of Italy. A significant genetic Northwest African contribution among today's inhabitants near the region of Lucera was revealed by a genetic study in 2009.[1]



The Sicilian territories inherited by Frederick II from his mother Constance of Sicily carried with them not only authority over the Roman Catholic majority of the island, but also over significant numbers of Greeks, Jews and Muslims. The Muslims of the regno were a heterogeneous community, that included Arabs (concentrated particularly in the triangle made by Mazara del Vallo-Monreale-Corleone), Berbers (settled mostly in Agrigento and in its province), small groups of Persians (amongst them, in particular, the Khwarizmi community of Palermo), and a sizable number of local people who had converted to Islam in the nearly 350 years of Muslim domination (827-1072) and Norman (1072–1198) rule in Sicily.

Frederick II and eagle (from De arte venandi cum avibus).

Frederick’s accession to the throne did not bring social and religious peace to Sicily. The terrain of the island favoured in fact the resistance action of groups of Muslims, hoping to restore the dominion of Islam in what in Arabic had initially been called Al-ard al-Kabira, the "Great Land", and then, simply, Siqilliyya.

The more stubborn Muslim groups had found bases for resistance in central and western Sicily, around Iato and Entella. In Entella the resistance was led by a Muslim woman recorded in the contemporary Christian chronicles as the “Virago of Entella” [2].

As a consequence, after most of the affluent and powerful Muslims had returned to North Africa, in 1220 Frederick II determined to expel the remaining Muslims from Sicily, or at least the less docile groups amongst them, who constituted the essential remaining leadership of the Muslim community, the notables, the scholars and the warriors with their families, and resettle them in the southern Italian mainland.

The localities of Lucera (in Apulia, dating from 1224), Girofalco (now Girifalco, in Calabria) and Acerenza (in Lucania) were chosen for the resettlement. Smaller groups of Sicilian Muslims were also deported to the localities of Stornara, Casal Monte Saraceno and Castel Saraceno as well as to Campania.[3]

The total population of these Muslim communities has been estimated by most modern scholars at around 60,000 individuals, judging from the community's ability to supply the Kings of Sicily a theoretical military contingent of around 14-15,000 men strong, of which 7-10,000, as reported by contemporary sources, were effectively employable on the battlefield at Cortenuova.[4] These troops, most of them lightly armed archers and many also trained in the use of the sling[5], constituted the faithful personal bodyguard of the Hohenstaufens, since they had no connection to the political rivals of the "House of Swabia" and were ready to wage war – ferociously even for the contemporary standards - on the local populations, and depended entirely on their sovereign.

In 1239 the Emperor Frederick II ordered the concentration of the Saracen communities in Lucera and Apulia, a command that was substantially enforced. By 1240 the resettlements had taken place, with 20,000 Muslims settled in Lucera, 30,000 in other nearby parts of Apulia and the remaining 10,000 who would have been placed in communities outside Apulia.

In this controlled environment, they could not challenge royal authority and still benefited the crown with taxes and military service.

In Lucera (Lucaera Saracenorum or Lugêrah as it was known in Arabic), the de facto political and cultural capital of these Islamic communities and also an important royal residence of the Swabian rulers, 20,000 Sicilian Muslims lived for approximately 80 years, till 1300, when their community was dispersed by order of the new Angevin monarch Charles II of Naples.

Characteristics of the settlement

Expert agriculturists, the Muslims were authorized to work the fields also in Lucera as they had in Sicily. They were authorized to buy and own farmlands and houses, both within the city and in its immediate outskirts. On the whole the taxes due from the Muslims of Lucera were fixed around 10% of their incomes.[6]. Other activities they were accepted in were commerce, medicine, in which Arabs were preeminent, and various crafts. As farmers they grew durum wheat, barley, legumes, grapes and other fruits. Muslims also kept bees for honey[7].

Lucera was, from 1234, the centre for one of the main authorized trade fairs in the Kingdom of Sicily, one of the seven authorized in the regno which took place from June 24 to July 1 each year; the local Muslim merchants were authorized to take part in all of the other fairs in the Kingdom aside from Sicily.

Tensions with the Christian population are evident, as the Christians interceded frequently with Frederick II complaining of favour shown to the Muslims.[8].

An attempt by some of the Muslims of Lucera, in 1239, to return to Sicily was prevented with the use of force from the imperial authorities, who sent back to Lucera as many as those who managed to disembark in the island of their birth.[9]. From 1240 the resettlement in continental Italy was considered completed, for in 1239 a chronicle reports, possibly exaggerating, there were no more than 12 Christians in the whole city of Lucera.

The Muslim colony of Lucera was evangelized by the Dominican friars who, under Imperial licence, as requested by the Pope, were authorized to preach and to attempt to convert the infedeli (unbelievers), including the Jews, in the city. The results were, usually, decidedly disappointing, in spite of the attempt by the Church in 1215 to carry out highly discriminatory measures, in the Fourth Council of the Lateran, that Muslims and Jews (defined as servi camerae, that is personal property of the Crown [10]) wear clothes that allowed for their easy identification.[11] This measure was however accompanied in the Sicilian Kingdom by the Emperor’s permission to the Israelites of Trani, then particularly numerous, to build a new synagogue.

The Muslim community of Lucera had full freedom to practice its own religion and rites. It had a mosque-cathedral (jamiʿ) of its own, Koranic schools (Agarenorum gymnasia) and a qadi, able to judge litigation between Muslims, using Islamic shari'a law.

The main activity of the males of the Muslim community of Lucera was serving in the royal army; every other activity was secondary, as was also the intention of the Swabian rulers.[12] They were particularly appreciated for their archers, who fought for the Swabians in their Italian campaigns, and for the Angevins of Charles I in "Romania" and Albania.[13] As well as the usual pay, in the cases of particularly appreciated behaviour or valour, soldiers might be given individual or family exemption from taxation.


In 1266, Manfred had a troop of Luceran archers with him when he was defeated at the Battle of Benevento. The next year Lucera rebelled against the Angevin conquerors. After a hard and exacting siege, Charles of Anjou preserved the Muslim colony, confirming it in all of its existing privileges, in exchange for the payment of a heavy levy. The new French lords then established a Provençal colony of 240 families in control of the fortress of Monte Albano, which dominated the city.

This moderation was related to the imminent organization of the Eighth Crusade, led by Charles I’s brother Louis IX of France, that moved in 1270 against Tunis, and ended in failure with the death of the king from illness.

With the death of Charles I the situation changed drastically. His son and successor, Charles II, in 1289 had already made plans to expel the Jews from his dominions of Anjou and Maine. In 1300 an identical definitive solution was taken to solve the problem of the Muslims of Lucera.

Apparently the expropriations that derived from the measure enabled the Angevin King to settle several of his debts with the Florentine bankers [14].

The attack, aided by treachery inside, was led by Giovanni Pipino di Barletta, count of Altamura.[15] A few rich and well connected families of Lucera Muslims opted for a fast, and very opportune, conversion to Christianity.

The majority of the city's Muslim inhabitants were exiled or - as happened to almost 10,000 of them - sold into slavery,[16] with many finding asylum in Albania across the Adriatic Sea [17] or turned to brigandage in the mountains and hills of southern Italy. Their mosques were demolished, and churches were usually built in their place, including the cathedral S. Maria della Vittoria [18] Most of the survivors who were not enslaved were resettled by the authorities, in small groups, spread around Basilicata, Apulia and Abruzzo.

Two years later however Charles II agreed that a small group of Saracens originally from Lucera might settle as a community of their own in Civitate but such a community never became of any significance.

After the Muslims were removed from Lucera, Charles II tried to settle Christians in the city, amongst them as many Burgundian and Provençal soldiers and farmers as possible. A remnant of the descendants of these Provençal colonists, still speaking a Franco-Provençal dialect, has survived till the present day in the villages of Faeto and Celle di San Vito. Those Muslims that converted to Christianity got part of their property back, but none was restored his former position of political or economic influence. A dalmatian Dominican bishop, Agostino Casotti[19], was appointed in 1322 in charge of the new diocese of Lucera di Santa Maria, by the Avignon Pope, as requested by the Angevins to restore Christianity in the region. Bishop Kažotić was killed 10 months after his arrival by a local Saracen, but in that short time he was able to lay down the foundation of a complete Roman Catholic restoration.

Wars and a local rebellion later forced most of the French colonists to evacuate the city and leave the region. As time progressed, grain production fell in the city, and in 1339 Lucera was hit by a famine.

See also


  1. ^ "An inspection of Table 1 reveals a nonrandom distribution of Male Northwest African types in the Italian peninsula, with at least a twofold increase over the Italian average estimate in three geographically close samples across the southern Apennine mountains (East Campania, Northwest Apulia, Lucera). When pooled together, these three Italian samples displayed a local frequency of 4.7%, significantly different from the North and the rest of South Italy (...). Arab presence is historically recorded in these areas following Frederick II’s relocation of Sicilian Arabs", [1],Moors and Saracens in Europe estimating the medieval North African male legacy in southern Europe, Capelli et al., European Journal of Human Genetics, 21 January 2009
  2. ^ Lévi-Provençal, É.: "Une héroine de la resistance musulmane en Sicile au début du XIIIe siècle", in "Oriente Moderno", XXXIV, 1954, pp. 283-288.
  3. ^ Tonino Del Duca: "Origine, vita e distruzione della colonia saracena di Lucera" (pdf file)
  4. ^ "Giovanni Amatuccio: Saracen Archers in Southern Italy"
  5. ^ The so-called "shepherd's sling" was still largely employed by the saracens of Lucera but the "staff sling" [2] was now their more characteristic sling weapon for military purposes, a weapon largely employed by all muslim forces around the Mediterranean.
  6. ^ Julie Anne Taylor, op. cit., p. 192.
  7. ^ Taylor, p.99
  8. ^ Meanwhile on Sicily the Christian population complained of the Swabian King and his Teutonic Knights who they claimed were prejudiced in favour of the local Jewish community to the disadvantage of their own coreligionists.
  9. ^ Codice diplomatico dei saraceni di Lucera, Pietro Egidi ed., Naples: Pierro e Figlio, 1917, vol. 5, part 1, pp. 588-592 (esp. p. 590).
  10. ^ A social condition that was a sort of equivalent to that one of dhimmi in the Dār al-Islām.
  11. ^ Cesare Colafemmina, "Federico II e gli ebrei", in: Federico II e l'Italia. Percorsi, luoghi, segni e strumenti, Roma, Ed. De Luca-Editalia, 1995, p. 70.
  12. ^ The number of men drafted for military service was so high that not enough male adults were available for other activities, which were in truth peacetime jobs when the men were free from their duty. In addition, the allotments of land proved simply too small to sustain most of the Saracen families who owned them.
  13. ^ I registri della cancelleria angioina, (a cura di R. Filangieri di Candida et alii), Napoli, Accademia Pontaniana, 1950 --, vol 32, reg. 15, p. 257, n° 583.
  14. ^ Codice Diplomatico... cit., n° 39, 355, 357 e 388 (citato da J.A. Taylor, art. cit., p. 197).
  15. ^ Codice Diplomatico... cit., n° 339 (citato da J.A. Taylor, art. cit., p. 197).
  16. ^ Julie Taylor. Muslims in Medieval Italy: The Colony at Lucera. Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books. 2003.
  17. ^ Ataullah Bogdan Kopanski. Islamization of Shqeptaret: The clash of Religions in Medieval Albania.
  18. ^ Taylor, p.187
  19. ^ Also known as Augustin Kažotić.


  • Michele Amari, Storia dei musulmani di Sicilia, revisione a cura di C. A. Nallino, Catania, Romeo Prampolini, 1933–39
  • Umberto Rizzitano, "Gli Arabi in Italia", in: L'Occidente e l'islam nell'Alto Medioevo (Settimane di studio del Centro italiano di studi sull'Alto Medioevo, XII), Spoleto, 1965, pp. 93–114
  • Francesco Gabrieli, Umberto Scerrato, et al., Gli Arabi in Italia, Milano, Scheiwiller, 1979 (rist. Garzanti)
  • Julie Anne Taylor, "Muslim-Christian Relations in Medieval Sothern Italy", in: The Muslim World, 97 (2007), pp. 190–199

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