Moors Expelled from Sicily and Southern Italy

October 31, 2011

It's often claimed that Italians south of Rome are mostly descended from Moors who invaded in the Middle Ages. But according to historian Julie Anne Taylor, the large scale presence of Muslims in medieval Italy was restricted to just two southern locations (first Sicily and then the area around Lucera) and in both cases ended with mass expulsions. Her narrative is consistent with the available genetic data, which estimates only low levels (2-4%) of gene flow from Arabs and Berbers into those two locations, and even lower levels (0-1%) in the rest of the country.

When tensions between the Christians and Muslims in Sicily in the first decades of the thirteenth century disrupted life on Frederick II's island, the emperor did what the Christian rulers of Iberia had done in the eleventh century: he removed the Muslims from his kingdom. Instead of expelling them, however, he deported them to Lucera, a town previously inhabited by Christians in Apulia, forty miles or so from the Adriatic Sea in the southern Italian peninsula. The first deportations began in the 1220s and continued for twenty years. By mid-century, Sicily's Muslim population no longer existed. Some had fled to North Africa while the majority had been settled in Lucera and small villages in the same region.


Rebellions of Muslims in villages around the island prompted Frederick to find ways to rid Sicily of them, but not to the point of depriving himself completely of their talents and uses. He shipped them off to Apulia, forced them to settle in Lucera, and put them to work in the service of the kingdom.


When Charles I of Anjou took possession of the colony in 1265, life became increasingly difficult for the inhabitants until, in 1300, Charles II decided to liquidate the colony entirely. He had all the Muslims in southern Italy sold into slavery, took the gold from their sale, and confiscated all of their property. Officials took inventory of all the grain and agricultural products stored there before carting them off to feed the Christian populations of southern Italy.

Sally McKee. "Review: Muslims in Medieval Italy: The Colony at Lucera, by Julie Taylor". The American Historical Review, October 2004.

Our estimates of NW African chromosome frequencies were highest in Iberia and Sicily, in accordance with the long-term Arab rule in these two areas. The chromosome frequencies in the two samples were not significantly different from each other (Fisher's exact test P=0.83) but were both significantly different from the peninsular Italy sample (P<0.01). An inspection of Table 1 reveals a non-random distribution of MNA [medieval North 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 (P<0.01), but not from Iberia and Sicily (P=0.12 and P=0.33, respectively). Arab presence is historically recorded in these areas following Frederick II's relocation of Sicilian Arabs.

Val Badia 0.0
Veneto 0.9
Central Emilia 0.0
Central Tuscany 1.2
Tuscany-Latium border 0.0
Northeast Latium 0.9
Marche 0.7
South Latium 0.0
East Campania 2.4
Northwest Apulia 3.3
Lucera 1.7
West Calabria 0.0
South Apulia 0.7
Sicily 3.8
Colonized locations 2.8
Rest of country 0.4
Whole country 1.1

Capelli et al. "Moors and Saracens in Europe: estimating the medieval North African male legacy in southern Europe". Eur J Hum Genet, 2009.


Anonymous said...

"It's often claimed that Italians south of Rome are mostly descended from Moors who invaded in the Middle Ages. But according to historian Julie Anne Taylor, the large-scale presence of Muslims in medieval Italy was restricted to just two southern locations (first Sicily and then the area around Lucera) and in both cases ended with mass expulsions."

Only someone completely ignorant of the political history of Italy would claim the first and be unaware of the second. There seems to be a similar (ignorant) argument that the native Italic-Greek population was replaced by "Syrian slaves" during Roman times.

Sicily was massively affected by the Fatimid conquest in terms of language (some scholars think Arabic might have even become the predominant language of the island, relegating Greek and Latin to minority languages, spoken mostly in the Val Demona) and even religion (there seems to be an argument for relatively important conversion) and overall culture (Norman Sicily was an interesting Byzantine-Arabic-Norman mix so the Fatimids definitely left their mark there) but there's no need to invoke massive migrations - some migration alongside elite dominance does the trick. Many of the Muslims that were deported would have been pre-Fatimid converts.

The cultural effects of the Fatimid (addition of Arabic and Islam) and Norman (from trilingual and bireligious to Latin and Catholic) conquests would have far outweighed the genetic ones.

Anonymous said...

The English and the French are definitely more mixed than the Italians as they had colonies in Africa in a recent time, but no one has ever been interested in it. I do not understand why all this interest into Italians...
There's no pure race: people tend to forget that the Romans, the Greeks, the French, the English moved to the other continents...

Anonymous said...

"I do not understand why all this interest into Italians"

It's not Italians generally but South Italians. It's just difficult for some people, i.e. racists of certain backgrounds, to come to terms with the fact that brown-haired, brown-eyed South Italy -- not that North Italy is much different mind you but the medieval city-states aren't overlooked as much as the kingdom of two sicilies is -- was ahead of the continent once upon a time and that its present condition isn't due to the racist assumption of "racial degradation via north african influx" (racist on two counts: non-europeans being "inferior" and south italians being "impure"). Worse, these racist assumptions with no basis in fact become stereotypes that are sometimes utilized even by Italians themselves.

"There's no pure race"

Well, gee. Thanks for stating the obvious of genetic mixing in silly terms.

Italianthro said...

>>> There seems to be a similar (ignorant) argument that the native Italic-Greek population was replaced by "Syrian slaves" during Roman times.

Yeah, I dealt with that one here.

Anonymous said...

"Thanks for stating the obvious of genetic mixing in silly terms"
It is obvious for you not for a big bunch of idiots, otherwise there would not be racists :P
You are very rude.

Anonymous said...

The funny thing is that Arabs and African Americans do like to think Italians have partially their blood.

Anonymous said...

Ironically if you read Berchardt, you discover that it was Italy as a whole, during the renascimento, that treated anyone from North of the alps as uncivilized barbarians. Even North Italy considered themselves Italian, and proud of their Roman Heritage (read the end of The Prince) Biological racism was not known at that time, but Italians thought of themselves as superior, and due to the lagacy of Rome rightful masters of Europe. (They still do) The church even thought that God himself had chosen Rome & Enlightened Italians the heirs to a world Empire. So you imagine as Germans, & other classicaly barbaric people became civilized, they began to resent Italians (They stiil do, north & south)for calling them bararians. Berchardt make's reference to it, at the same time acknowledging that all of modern Europe was derived (Germans included) from medevil Italy. The biological racist thing didn't start until the 20th century, and was a by-product of Nazi anti-Jew propaganda, & with Italians looking similar, being compared by insane Germans. This forced Mussolini to issue the "manifesto di razza" endorsed by Hitler and based on the Nurumberg laws. Where Mussolini declared Italians as Arian, and I quote "thats not to say that Italians are swedish, but they are Arian" The Nazis were present during that proclamation, so it goes to say that before the war Italians were white & after they surrendered they were not white. Blacks & Arabs that I have met hate Italians as much as Jews, & Identify with Germans. ie- Iran= Land of the Arians.

Anonymous said...

@Anonymous #7

Some Iranians and other middle eastern people hate the fact that they will never be Europeans.

And what do you mean they "identify" with Germans? They have nothing in common with them at all.

I think its a bit weird that Italians get put in the spotlight more compared to other Southern Europeans. I guess a lot of it has to do with the media...

Anyway, why do you care about the opinions of blacks and iranians?

DagoRed said...

Julie Anne Taylor is right. This is a well-known story, but foreigners do not know the history of Italy, but always want to talk over.

Most of the Muslims emigrated to North Africa as early as the Norman conquest, because they did not want to live under the dominion of the infidels, the remainder went in Lucera, as Taylor says. Sicily was repopulated by people from the peninsula.
The Sicilian dialect is all derived from the Latin, has few Arabic words, mostly geographical terms.
In muslim Sicily, people spoke a language similar to the nowday Maltese, a very different language.

Anonymous said...

"In muslim Sicily, people spoke a language similar to the nowday Maltese, a very different language."

Arabic, in other words (with Latin and Greek influence). It's certain that both pre-Fatimid Latin and Greek survived the Fatimid takeover however and the former flourished under the Normans both due to migration and to state support compared to Greek and especially Arabic.

"Yeah, I dealt with that one here."

Thanks for the link, I didn't notice that post of yours.

After browsing all those anthropology-oriented forums, I have to admit that even the average person with some interest in the subject (let alone the average person period) has many stereotypes that don't correspond to reality at all so it's good that you write a post of that kind once in a while.

M said...

"Mafia" is probably the most significant loan from Arabic (whence morfiyeh, "group"; cf. Mafia Island of Tanzania, an early Arabian hangout). It's easy to see this taking shape in Sicilian prisons. No farther-fetched than Kievsky over at MindWeaponsInRagnarok using the word taqiyya to denote hiding one's full opinions to avoid censure by YKW.

But scholarship hasn't caught up with me yet. I understand it's a big creaking ship that often misses its mark for lack of manoeuvrability.

Giorgio said...

So what is the most recent study on Sicilians "Arab/North African admixture"?

Vittorio Amato said...

During the norman conquest most of the muslims (most just a native converted people) abandoned Sicily, we can read that in the poets of Ibn Hamdis and Al Ballanubi, two famous sicilian muslims who leaved Sicily after norman conquest.
Some muslims (again most of them converted native people) remained in Sicily but they were were confined to an area behind Palermo, in cities like Monreale, San Giuseppe Jato etc.
They rebelled against the Swabians between 1220 and 1240 and were finally expelled. The majority in North Africa and the rest in Lucera.
Most areas of Sicily were repopoukated by french, north italians and other italians from many regions.
Some cities today can also speak a dialect heavily influenced by north italian dialects and french.

Vittorio Amato said...

Giorgio according to the distribution of sicilian Ydna the berber marker E-M81 is 1,5% overall while the arab marker J1 is 3,5% according to Eupedia.