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Baldwin, M. W. (ed.) / Volume I: The first hundred years

II: Conflict in the Mediterranean before the First Crusade,   pp. [30]-[79] PDF (10.8 MB)

Page 55

first year of the war, and throughout the war displayed toward Moslem, Greek,
and Latin adversaries alike that peculiar admixture of cruelty and moderation,
cunning and straightforwardness, avarice and generosity which was the secret
of the stunning Norman successes. His conduct and that of his followers definitely
disproves the rationalizations of ecclesiastical chroniclers who extolled
the Normans as ardent champions of the faith. Obviously it was good politics
to make capital of the difference of religion and to favor Latin Catholicism
whenever it brought dividends. Inasmuch as the Normans were Catholic, closer
identification of their interests with those of the Roman church in the long
run became unavoidable, but we must not confuse a by-product with an original
cause. The process was opposite to that of the crusades: the religious motivation
was not a prime incentive gradually pushed into the background by material
incentives, but a thin cloak for material appetites which very slowly grew
into a sincere sentiment. 
 Regardless of religious considerations, Sicily was a better prize than any
of the other lands which the Normans had previously attacked. The island
had not suffered as terribly as the Italian mainland from the wars among
Goths, Byzantines, and Lombards, and it had never been severed from the cultural
and economic community of the eastern world, which throughout the early Middle
Ages was vastly superior to the barbarian west. Therefore it was easy for
the Moslems to build a better structure upon solid Byzantine foundations.
They lightened somewhat the heavy burden of Byzantine taxation, and they
split many lati/undia into small estates intensively cultivated by tenants
and peasant proprietors. Agriculture remained by far the largest source of
wealth, and grain continued to be the main crop, but commerce received a
new impulse from the inclusion of Sicily in the immense economic commonwealth
of Islam, and agricultural production was enhanced by the introduction of
new methods and new plants. Industry does not seem to have progressed to
the same extent. There were thriving craftsmen who supplied fine wares for
the leisure class in the towns and catered to the humbler needs of the peasants,
but one type of cloth is the only manufactured product mentioned as a Sicilian
export in the sources before the Norman period. Moslem writers, on the other
hand, stress the wealth of metals and other minerals, one of which, salammoniac,
was a valuable export. More important was the bilateral staple trade with
nearby North Africa, which sent oil in exchange for Sicilian grain. Of the
new plants 

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