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Part 1


Roger II - Henry VI





The Royal Emblem



Other Emblems





Back to Italy



From about 210 BC the island of Sicily was a roman province. It was ruled from Syracuse by a praetor assisted by two questors residing in Siracuse and Lilibeo. In the time of Augustus the island became a senatorial province ruled by a proconsul with the rank of praetor. After the reform of Diocletian it was made a part of Italia suburbicaria and was ruled by a corrector and later by a consul. Also part of Italia suburbarica were the provinces of Apulia & Calabria and Lucania.

In 440 AD Sicily was taken by Geiseric, king of the Vandals, operating from Africa. After 488 however, the Vandals were forced to give way to the Ostrogothic king Theodoric the Great. In 535–536 it was reconquered by the Byzantine general Belisarius, who made Sicily a distinct province of the Byzantine empire under a praetor, while the army was placed under a dux. A strategos (military governor) is attested on the island in Arab sources between 687 and 695, and it is at that time that the island was probably made into a theme.

The theme was based in Syracuse, traditionally the chief city of Sicily. It comprised not only the island, which was divided into districts called tourmai, but also the mainland duchy of Calabria which extended roughly up to the river Crati. In addition, the strategos of Sicily exercised some authority -varying according to the prevailing local political faction - over the autonomous duchies of Naples, Gaeta and Amalfi.

The Aghlabid conquest of the island began in 826. Following the fall of Syracuse in 878 and the conquest of Taormina in 902, the strategos moved to Rhegion, the capital of Calabria and Byzantine interest for the region faded completely. After the fall of the Aghlabids in 910 the island came to the Fatimids who ruled the island directly by governors called emir, wali or just sahib. In 960 the office tacitly became hereditary for the descendants of Abū l-Qāsim al-Hasan ibn Alī ibn Abī al-Husayn  who founded the Kalbiti-dynasty which lasted until 1053. 

By the 11th century mainland southern Italian powers were hiring Norman mercenaries, who were Christian descendants of the Vikings. The Normans under Roger I captured Sicily from the Muslims. After taking Apulia and Calabria, he occupied Messina. In 1068, Roger Guiscard and his men defeated the Muslims at Misilmeri but the most crucial battle was the siege of Palermo, which led to Sicily being completely in Norman control by 1091.

Roger's son, Roger II, was ultimately able to raise the status of the island, along with his holds of Malta and Southern Italy to a kingdom under Papal suzereinty in 1130. His kingdom consisted of  the principalities of Capua, Benevento and Salerno, the counties of Apulia and Aversa,  Calabrië, Apulië en Sicilië.


Roger II's grandson, William II (also known as William the Good) reigned from 1166 to 1189. When he died in 1189 without an heir, this effectively signalled the end of the Hauteville succession. Some years earlier, Roger II's daughter, Constance of Sicily (William II's aunt) had been married off to Henry VI of Hohenstaufen, meaning that the crown now legitimately transferred to him. Such an eventuality was unacceptable to the local barons, and they voted in Tancred of Sicily, an illegitimate grandson of Roger II.

Tancred died in 1194 just as Henry VI and Constance were travelling down the Italian peninsula to claim their crown. Henry rode into Palermo at the head of a large army unopposed and ended the Norman Hauteville dynasty, by castrating and blinding his rival William III, son of Tancred. Just as Henry VI was being crowned as King of Sicily in Palermo, Constance gave birth to Frederick II (sometimes referred to as Frederick I of Sicily).

Frederick II, first ruling over Sicily only, was elected a Roman King in 1212 and for geopolitical reasons much to the annoyance of the pope, a Roman Emperor in 1220. Fierce papal opposition resulted in several  excommunications of Frederick II of which the one of 1245 proved fatal. After this year Frederick II retired to Sicily where he died (probably of poisoning) in 1250.

Frederick was succeeded firstly by his son, Conrad, and then by his illegitimate son, Manfred, who essentially usurped the crown (with the support of the local barons) while Conrad's son, Conradin was still quite young.

Hohenstaufen rule was highly despised by Pope Innocentius IV who for that reason offered the Sicilian crown in 1253 to Charles of Anjou and, when Charles had refused, to Henry III of England. Henry accepted on behalf of his son Edmund, then Earl of Chester, who however could not effectuate his claim. In the end Clemens IV granted the kingdom to Charles of Anjou on 28 June 1265. On 26 February 1266 Charles defeated Manfred at Benevento. The 14 years old surviving pretender Conradin, neither proved to be succesful. In 1268 he was defeated at the battle of Tagliacozzo and beheaded in Naples on 23 August. Thus Hohenstaufen rule ended and Anjou rule began in the Sicilies.




From the time of Greek colonisation the triquetra was closely associated with the island, the triquetra charged with a gorgoneion probably being the emblem of the supreme commander of the colony. Also, greek temples showed many lion heads as a kind of guardians.


In Roman times roman badges of rank were introduced which may have been, amongst others, an eagle for a proconsul or for any other governor of consular rank. In the time of the early Christian Empire the greek cross, the latin cross and the christogram were introduced for the administrative, religious and armed authority.


Photo Flickr

4th cent. tomb said to be of Pietro Tagliavia d’Aragona. Crypt of Palermo cathedral.

Showing the twelve vicars of the empire and  a latin cross crested with a christogram.


There are some four of such tombs known, the one in Constantinopel of  Constantine the Great himself. The emblem is decribed by Eusebius, 31.1 [1]


Kingdom of Sicily



The Heraldic System


When under Norman rule the Byzantine heraldic system was continued on the mainland and introduced on the island. Being a christian empire, the symbol  of the administrative authority of the Sicilies was a square cross. It was an emblem of the dukes and kings who were invested with it. The square cross was depicted on coins issued by the christian administration and it was in churches but in particular on the thrones of the rulers and on their tombs.


Square cross

on the tomb of the Grand Count Roger I  († 1101)

In the Museo Statale  in Mileto.

Square crosses

behind the “Prima Sedes Corona Regis et Regni Caput

(1131-’72)  in Cefalú Cathedral.


In the same way, the latin cross was the symbol of religious authority.


The first symbol of armed autority may have been a christogram but this can hardly be found on the mainland and on the island. In the time of Norman rule it became a version of a fleur de lys in the same way as it had become the emblem of armed authority elsewhere in Europe (and the muslim world).


Fleurs de lys on the lower edge of the crown of Manfred (1190-’94) and on the gloves of Frederick II (1212-’20)


An emblem not very well known in the western world was also introduced. It is a tree, be it a palm-tree or some other tree. This is a symbol of a territory and in this case it should symbolize the Sicilian Kingdom.

The tree is a very ancient symbol originating in Luristan in about the 13th century BC.. Later it was the symbol of the Assyrian Empire and was also adopted by the Fenicians and their colony of Carthago.

The palmtree of Sicily seems to have been borrowed directly from the Aghlabids but it is also possible that it was introduced on Sicily when it was a colony of Carthago. 

In the Palace of the Normans the tree was on the ducal throne with a lions’head on its back and supported by two attendants. It is depicted on the ceiling of the hall. 


Ducal Throne on the ceiling of the Cappella Palatina

Lions’ head and palmtree (by an arab artist)


In other instances it is supported by some of the heraldic beasts, thus making a heraldic achievement symbolizing the offices of the state. 


The heraldic system of the armed hierarchy consisted of an eagle, a griffin, a lion and a man. A similar system is known from 8th century Northern France when it occurs on the frontispiece of Augustinus’ Quæstionum in Heptateuchon. [2] The same system can be found on many basilicas, the eagle sometimes on the roof or on the pulpit, the griffins and lions guarding the entrance.

An example of such a system from the time of the kingdom of Sicily can be found on the entrance of the cathedral of Ruvo di Puglia but also on the ceiling of the Palace of the Normans in Palermo.



Ruvo di Puglia Cathedral, entrance.

3rd quarter 12th century: Eagle, Griffin, Lion, Man.

Palazzo dei Normanni, Palermo, ceiling, 12th century.

Eagle (renewed by Fredrick II), griffin, lion.



on the pulpit of the Cappella Palatina, Palermo



On the entrance doors of Monreale Cathedral


On the throne-wall of the Cappella Palatina

The Palace of the Normans shows some other animals which could have a heraldic meaning. It is a peacock which usually is the emblem of a prefect, and a deer, which usually is the emblem of a psychopompos (guide of souls), be it a bishop, an archishop or a patriarch.

Other animals like a panther and a centaur cannot as readily be associated with any office, the centaur probably being the emblem of the master of the archers?


The Royal Emblem


The Hautevilles


Roger II, before he was made a king by Pope Anacletus on 27 september 1130, bore a shield decorated with a lion. This, in any case is documented by Petrus de Eboli in his annals in honour of the emperor which he compiled for Emperor Henry VI. He shows Duke Roger (II) on horseback, flying a pennon  and with a shield at his arm decorated with a lion. 

Duke Roger riding to meet de Pope, 27 September 1130  [3]


When Sicily had been made a kingdom a golden eagle appears also on the island. It can be supposed to be the emblem of the king of Sicily, that is of Roger II, William I & II, Tancred and William III. It is the successor of the eagle of the Byzantine Catepan of Italy.


The lion for the island of Sicily was maintained by William II who struck coins in Messina showing a lions’head. On the mainland the lion was the emblem of several dukes. For the king of the united territories the eagle was adopted.

 Trifollaro from Messina

Obv: Lion’ head. Rev: Palm tree (symbol of Sicily).

 Follaro from Messina

Obv: lion's head. Rev: IL RE GUGLIELMO IL SECONDO[4]


Eagle fibula of gold and lapis lazuli

Treasury of Palermo Cathedral.

The fact that the eagle is ‘guardant’ dates it in the first half of the 12th century


Eagle on the ceiling of the Cappella Palatina (1140-’63)

Supporting the king and his attendants and with two deer in its talons (by an arab artist).


Another eagle on the ceiling of the Cappella Palatina

Dating from the time of  William I (1154-’66)


Eagle on the tomb of Empress Constance (†1222)

There is a great confusion about this tomb but it may have been made for Roger, co king of Tancred  († 1193)

Tancredi di Lecce

*        -†20.02.1194

Count of Lecce 1169

Supreme Commander and Chief Justice of Apulia and Terra di Lavoro 1174/’76

Supreme Commander of the Fleet 1185

King of Sicily 08.12.1189

Crowned 08.01.1190

Roger (son)

William III (son)

Co-king 1191-†24.12.1193

Co-king 1193-1194


Tancred, son of Roger of Apulia (†1149) had to flee in 1154 for his uncle William I who feared him to be n important rival. He took refuge to Constantinople where he reamined until 1166.moest in 1154 vluchten voor zijn oom Willem I die in hem een belangrijke rivaal zag. In 1190 he was elected king in Palermo by the Norman nobility wich favoured him greatly at the expense of Henry VI Hohenstaufen who was appointed by William II to be his successor. Before he was crowned king, Tancred of Lecce may have been honoured with the mantle of George of Antioch who had held a similar position in the Kingdom. For him, however, the sword of state and the crown may have been made. The sword later became the famous sword of state of the Holy Roman Empire and the crown was found in the tomb of Empress Constance of Navarra (†1222). [5]

On a capital in the cloister of Monreale he is wearing the crown and maybe also the mantle.


Sicilian Sword of State

Reconstruction, omitting the eagle and the coat of arms.


Sicilian helmet-crown

From the Tomb of Constance of Aragon (†1222)


Count Tancred of Lecce  Æ

 in the Cloister of Monreale


As a king he bore a golden eagle. It was on his standard of and served as a crest of his helmet-crown.

The standard is announced by Petrus de Ebulo  (lib. II, v. 1162): “Iam prope cesar adest, iam cesaris arma coruscant, iam vexilla micant” and before (lib. I, v.347): “Assigna populos aquilis victricibus” and illustrated on fol. 102. [6]


King Tancred on horseback riding to his coronation.

L.: Quando Tancredus usurpavit sibi regni coronam. [7]

In front of Tancred the standard, the sword of state are carried. The globe is carried by  the vice-chancellor  Matteo d’Ajello


Last but not least the arms in the Palace of the Normans  showing an eagle, could well be his.



The Hohenstaufen


Henry I (VI), Hohenstaufen

*1165 - † 28.09.1197

Roman King 1167 - 1191

King of Germany, 06.1169 - 1197

Crowned Aachen, 15.08.1169

¥ Constance Hauteville 27.01.1186

King of Italy 01.1186

 Roman Emperor 1191 - 1197

Crowned Rome, 15.04.1191

King of Sicily 20.11.1194 - 1197

Crowned Palermo 30.11.1194


In 1190 Henry VI, in spite of the fact that he had been appointed the successor of (his brother in law) William II, was not accepted as a king by the Sicilian nobility. A campaign in 1191, a month after he was crowned a Roman Emperor, to take the Sicilian crown by force was a failure.

After the death of Tancred Henry VI marched to Sicily to capture the crown from the young William III, son of Tacred. Thanks to the treason of the Grand Admiral Margaritone, who held the castle of Palermo, he could enter the city in triumph. He was crowned King of Sicily  there on 30 November 1194.

On Christmas eve he took revenge on the nobilty which had opposed his candidature in 1190 and on William III, under the pretext of a conspiration against him. William III was blinded and castrated (30.12.’94) and “Les nobles, les évêques, qui avaient assisté au couronnement de Tancrède furent brûlés vifs dans un champ voisin du palais, noyés, scalpés, enterrés vivants. On déterra les restes de Tancrède et de son fils Roger, on leur arracha leurs couronnes d’or, on coupa la tête de ces cadavres. Henri VI fit chercher les trésors du palais de Palerme et de tout le royaume. Cent soixante chevaux furent chargés de l’or et de l’argent de la Sicile, outre les perles et les pierreries (...)) [8]


Henry aimed at including Sicily permanently in the empire, which he unsuccesfully tried to make hereditary in his family, and the distribution of high offices and lands among his followers was to strengthen his control of the kingdom. His death in 1197 temporarily put an end to imperial domination. Constance, as ruler with her young son, the future emperor Frederick II, returned to strictly Norman policy.


According to Petrus de Eboli Henry, at his campaign in 1191, bore a a white shield decorated with a black  eagle. Such an eagle was also on his helmet and on the horse-clothes. [9] It may be qualified to be the (first) arms of the Hohenstaufen kings of Sicily considered, as the arms are in the papal colours black and white, to be vassals of the Holy See.

At the same time he flew the banner of the Ecclesia which was granted to Roger of Sicily  in 1061 by Pope Alexander II (1061-’73) to encourage him and his Normans in their struggle against the Saracens This is said to have been white with a red cross.[10]


Henry VI on campaign to Sicily.

Petrus de Ebulo, fol 109.

Black eagles, gilded by a later hand. The banner white with a red cross (which is the banner of the Ecclesia). [11]




After 1194 an other emblem seems to have been used in Sicily by Henry VI. This was a golden eagle, on his robes on a red field. This matches his title of Emperor of the Holy Empire. The arms in the manuscript of Petrus de Ebulo were adapted accordingly by gilding the eagles. The fact that the eagles ware changed in colour demonstrates the ambition to incorporate Sicily in the empire and should cease to be a separate entity (for which different emblems had to be used).


The change is demonstated by several pieces of cloth which can be attributed to Henry VI, some of which have been found in his tomb.


The most important piece is the famous socalled Pluviale of Charlemagne, made at the end of the 12th century and today in Metz Cathedral, which may have been the coronation mantle of King Henry VI, be it as an emperor or be it as a king of Sicily. [12]


Pluviale of Charlemagne, Metz Cathedral


Its program shows:

A red sun with golden rays, in the form of a halo behind the head of the eagles. This is the symbol of the Holy Empire, also visible behind the throne.

A crescent, which is the symbol of the state, it is depicted on the field, and on the breasts of the eagles on both sides. These eagles-and-crescents symbolize the head of state.

An golden eagle which is the symbol of the ruler, Roma Emperor and king of Sicily.

A thunderbolt or fleur de lis on the breast of the lower central eagle symbolizing armed power. This eagle symbolizes the commander of the army.

The colour red symbolizes the armed forces as it was the colour of the Roman legions and vexilla.



The mantle is of Sicilian manufacture and can have been made for king Tancred. Probably it was robbed from the Sicilian treasure and transported as a booty by Henry VI himself to Germany but it may also be brought to Germany by his brother Philip at the occasion of his coronation in 1199, together with two crowns preserved for a long time in Bamberg. [13]


Other pieces, not contradicting and even confirming the opinion  that the mantle has belonged to Hendry VI were found in his tomb, today in Palermo Cathedral and opened in 1781. [14]

Henry VI at first was buried in the empty tomb of co-king Roger, which had been descreated in 1194 (and which was later used for the burial of queen Constance of Aragon †1222). Later, probably in 1215, he was buried in a tomb which had been transported by his son from Cephalù.


The tomb (a) contained in 1781:


b. a piece of cloth from his robe, red and decorated with golden eagles and hinds respecting. [15]


Robe of Henry VI, British Museum, (detail)

Robe of Henry VI, after Daniele, 1784


c. a belt and stockings. These are lost.


d. a pair of red shoes with golden decoration.


A shoe from the tomb of Henry VI, as by Daniele, 1784.


Æ This shoe shows exactly the same figures as on the top of the wings of the eagle on the mantle. It is the main argument for ascribing the mantle to Henry VI.


e. a pair of gloves. These are lost

Glove from the tomb as by Daniele, 1984

f. a crown.

That is to say a cap with infulæ. Parts of these infulæ are in the British Museum.

This cap has probably been the lining of the real crown once preserved in Bamberg: 


Imperial Crown of Sicilian manufacture, end of 12th century.[16]


The crown may have been a part of the treasury of Empress Constance († 1198).


The use of an eagle in Sicily by Henry VI is demonstrated by a denero minted in Palermo, Messina or Brindisi. [17] This shows the square cross and an eagle and has the legend (Obv): E.NPERATOR, and (Rev): C.INPERATRIX:


Of course these coins give no information about the color of the eagle.


Part 2


1198 - 1282

Frederick II - Conradin



Back to Main Page


© Hubert de Vries 2012-11-21



[1] Eusebius: Life of Constantine. Intr., trans. & comm. by Averil Cameron & Stuart G. Hall. Oxford, 1999:  31 (1) It was constructed of the following design. A tall pole plated with gold had a transverse bar forming the shape of a cross. Up at the extreme top a wreath woven of precious stones and gold had been fastened. On it two letters, intimating by its first characters the name "Christ', formed the monogram of the Saviour's title, rho being intersected in the mid- dle by chi. These letters the Emperor also used to wear upon his helmet in later times. Probably the sarcophagus was meant for Gratian who was murdered in Lyon (383) and whose corpse could not be transported through hostile territories.

[2] Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, ms. lat. 12168.

[3] Ebulo, Petrus de: Liber ad Honorem Augusti. sive de rebus Siculis. Codex 120 II der Burgerbibliothek Bern. Eine Bilderchronik der Stauferzeit. Herausgegeben von Theo Kölzer und Marlis Stähli. Sigmaringen, 1994., fol. 96.

[4] Most pictures of coins from http://home.eckerd.edu/~oberhot/italysouth.htm

[5] In the Weltliche Schatkammer in Vienna and in the treasury of Palermo Cathedral respectively. They are the subjects of many publications.

[6] Gritzner, Erich: Symbole und Wappen des alten deutschen Reiches. In: Leipziger Studien aus dem Gebiet der Geschichte. VIII, 3. Leipzig, 1902, p. 46.

[7] Ebulo, Petrus de: op.cit. Fol.102

[8] Huillard de Bréholles, A.: Recherches sur les monuments des Normands et sur la maison de Souabe en Italie méridionale. Paris, 1844, pp. 49-51. The desecrated tombs may have been the tombs with the crowns on the smaller sides, the one with the lions as supporters later used for Frederick II, and the other later used for Empress Constance of Aragon., today in Palermo cathedral.

[9] Ebulo, Petrus de: op.cit. Fol.109.

[10] Mann, The Lives of the Popes of the Middle Ages. 1st and 2nd eds. London, 1925 T. VI. p. 307. That is to say that the banner at the same occasion presented to Erembald, captain of Milan and leader of the reforming party of that city, in publico consistorio vexillum S. Petri Herembaldo dedit eumque Romanæ et Universæ Ecclesiæ vexilliferum fecit was white with a red cross. Cited by Galbreath, Donald Lindsay: Papal Heraldry. London, 1972. P. 2).

[11] There is much confusion about the colours of the shield  as its backgound is of a yellowish lost coloured white, probably of lead-paint. Also the eagle may have originally been black and was gilded by a later hand  (at the same time the red of the text and cross has been repainted?). This all makes it possible that the arms originally have been white with a black eagle and have been readopted by Frederick II in about 1230.

[12] Die Zeit der Staufer, Stuttgart 1977. Bd. I. Kat. 775 (pp. 616-617), with bibliography. Bd. II Abb. 566 .

[13] Schramm, Percy Ernst & Florentine Mütherich: Denkmale der deutsche Könige und Kaiser. München, 1962, N°188

[14] Schramm & Mütherich, op.cit. , 1962. N° 186. a-f.

[15] F. Daniele in I regali sepolchri del Duomo di Palermo. Napoli, 1784. Pp. 29 e.v.  Plates D-H. Fragment of the Robe of Henry VI from his tomb in Palermo:


[16] From: Ludewig, J.P. Scrptores rerum Germanicarum I. Scriptores episcopatus Bambargensis. Frankfurt-Leipzig 1718. P. 8, Sp. 388. Cited by Schramm & Müterich 1962, n° 188.

[17] http://home.eckerd.edu/~oberhot/italysouth.htm

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