Dawn Marie Hayes, professor in the Department of History, announces her most recent book: Roger II of Sicily: Family, Faith and Empire in the Medieval Mediterranean World (Brepols, 2020). This volume enhances our understanding of the various strategies used by early Norman rulers of Sicily and Southern Italy – but above all Roger II of Sicily, the region’s first king – to establish authority and cultivate identity as they constructed one of the Mediterranean’s most vibrant states.
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Roger II (c. 1095-1154) was an anomaly for his time. An ambitious new ruler who lacked the distinguished lineage so prized by the nobility, and a leader of an extraordinarily diverse population on the fringes of Europe, he occupied a unique space in the continent’s charged political landscape. This interdisciplinary study examines the strategies that Roger used to legitimize his authority, including his relationships with contemporary rulers, the familial connections that he established through no less than three marriages, and his devotion to the Church and Saint Nicholas of Myra/Bari. Yet while Roger and his family made the most of their geographic and cultural contexts, this study argues that they nonetheless retained a strong western focus, and that behind the diverse melange of Norman Sicily were very occidental interests. Drawing together sources of political, social, and religious history from locations as disparate as Spain and the Byzantine Empire, as well as evidence from the magnificent churches and elaborate mosaics constructed during his reign, this volume offers a fascinating portrait of a figure whose rule was characterized both by great potential and devastating tragedy. Indeed, had Roger been able to accomplish his ambitious agenda, the history of the medieval Mediterranean world would have unfolded very differently.