"The drb sustains a level of commentary on Irish and international matters that no other journal in Ireland and few elsewhere can reach. It deserves all the support that can be given it." X
Space to Think, a new book celebrating ten years of the Dublin Review of Books More Information 

Norman Tradition and Transcultural Heritage

Stefan Burkhardt and Thomas Foerster
Norman Tradition and Transcultural Heritage: Exchange of Cultures in the ‘Norman’ Peripheries of Medieval Europe (Hardback) book cover

From Tradition and Heritage: The Normans in the Transcultural Middle Ages, by Thomas Foerster and Stefan Burkhardt

The 'Norman achievement' represents one of the most fascinating phenomena in European history. In the course of European unification the Normans are referred to as 'a European People'. Originating in Scandinavian settlements in Western Francia, which were soon integrated into the structure of a Christian-European order, this people expanded to various regions of medieval Europe. In 1066 England was conquered and, together with Normandy, formed a dominion stretching from the Scottish border almost as far as Paris and consisting of most varied territories. In the first half of the eleventh century, Norman pilgrims and mercenaries began to conquer and to settle in the Mezzogiorno where they subsequently seized large regions and established their own dominions which in 1130 were united to form a Norman kingdom of Sicily. During the First Crusade the Principality of Antioch was established as a 'Norman' crusader state. In England, Sicily and Antioch they formed border societies that integrated a vast number of different cultural traditions and heritages. By this cultural syncretism the peripheral nature of the Notman territories gained a new quality. However, in all of these territories, particular Norman traditions had also been continued, and local heritage had been adopted. In political terms this mingling of different heritages and traditions bound these societies together and brought forth political units that were unlike anything medieval Europe had known before. In the twelfth century their political development took different paths: whereas the Kingdom of Sicily and the Principality of Antioch can be seen as classic examples of peripheral societies within the borders of a single dominion, the Duchy of Normandy and the Kingdom of England were incorporated into a wide and rather loose assemblage of different dominions of the Plantagenets which in modern scholarship was called the Angevin Empire' or TEmpire Plantagenet'. Within this 'Empire', the kingdom and the duchy were but two units which were influenced fundamentally by the political and cultural traditions and notions prevalent in the neighboring territories.

In classical scholarship, these Norman conquests and expansions have been called the 'Norman achievement'. However, this 'Norman achievement' seemed to be rather short-lived. In 1194 Norman Sicily was conquered by the Hohenstaufen emperor Henry VI. Normandy, having already lost much of its actual political importance in the Angevin Empire since 1154, was conquered in 1204 by Philipp II Augustus of France. At first glance the 'Norman achievement' appears to have failed at the end of the twelfth century. On the other hand one could argue that the Normans in 1066 already had achieved a hegemonial position in Western Europe, that with the first crusade they had become one of the most important gentes in Europe, and in the person of Frederick II they even achieved the noblest title in Latin Europe.

This achievement was not only of a political or military nature. In the last decade of this Norman rule, probably before Henry VTs first attempted conquest in 1191, one Sicilian nobleman wrote a letter in which he expressed the gravest concerns about a conquest of Sicily. Most afraid this author was by 'the barbarity of laws imposed by outsiders'." If compared to much earlier texts which have always stressed the Vikings' and later Normans' very own barbarity, this is quite striking. After many conquests the accusation of barbarity had been reversed.