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The Sicilian Vespers: A History of the Mediterranean World in the Later Thirteenth Century

4.13 of 5 stars 4.13  ·  rating details  ·  195 ratings  ·  21 reviews
On 30 March 1282, as the bells of Palermo were ringing for Vespers, the Sicilian townsfolk, crying 'Death to the French', slaughtered the garrison and administration of their Angevin King. Seen in historical perspective it was not an especially big massacre: the revolt of the long-subjugated Sicilians might seem just another resistance movement. But the events of 1282 came ...more
Paperback, 368 pages
Published July 31st 1992 by Cambridge University Press (first published January 2nd 1958)
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Jonfaith
No conception in medieval history was finer than that of the Universal Church, uniting Christendom into one great theocracy governed by the impartial wisdom of the Vicar of God. But in this sinful world even the Vicar of God needs material strength to enforce his holy will.

Feel free to read the above with cynicism. Runciman offers a series of top-down facts. The doctor doesn't appear troubled by living conditions or world views. The principal characters trot onto stage and various episodes unfol
...more
Katie
The story surrounding the Sicilian Vespers is one of my favorites of medieval history - it's dramatic, engaging, and pulls in most of the big players in Europe at the end of the 13th century - and Runciman tells the story really well. It's a huge cast of characters, enough to require several pull-out charts of family dynasties in the appendix, and he mostly manages to balance them well and keep things from getting too muddled. If you want to know what was going on the Mediterranean in the late m ...more
Jan-Maat
In common with Runciman's writing generally this is an approachable, easy reading but shallow political history. He tells a good story, but the history is marred by his taste for making judgements.

The book takes a straightforward narrative approach, begining with the end of Hohenstaufen power in Southern Italy, continuing with the take over of southern Italy and Sicily by the Angevins (and along with it the ambitions of Frederick II and the earlier Norman rulers to extend their lordship into no
...more
JoséMaría BlancoWhite
(Spanish review) El 29 de marzo de 1282 los sicilianos se rebelan contra sus invasores y explotadores franceses. Al rescate acuden, a última hora, los aragoneses de Pedro III y el gran almirante catalán Roger de Lauria. El Papa es aliado de la casa de Francia y de Carlos de Anjou.

El libro comienza mucho antes de los hechos en cuestión, durante la llegada de los normandos a Sicilia, e incluso hace un breve repaso a epocas anteriores, los primeros pobladores, la llegada de los musulmanes. Cierto q
...more
Jonathan
A superb account of the political/diplomatic/military situation in the late-Medieval Mediterranean, focusing on the island of Sicily and it's various foreign rulers. And while Runciman had his bones to pick, almost nobody writes with his verve and quiet humor anymore - see his classic 3-volume history of the Crusades as a further example. This particular work is how the Papacy and the Angevins were thwarted by the Byzantines and the Aragonese but most of all, by the courage and stubbornness of t ...more
Adam
Excellent explanation of the complex situation prevailing in 13th century Europe and beyond.

Runciman begins by warning the reader that if he or she cannot cope with a vast cast of characters, then it would be better to put down his book and read a novel.

Runciman skillfully marshals and makes sense of an unbelievable number of interconnected historical strands and weaves a pleasing tapestry that explains the importance of the events leading up to the revolt in Sicily known as the 'Sicilian Vesp
...more
Al
This is a very good narrative history of events in the Mediterranean basin, primarily in the west, wrapped around the revolt of Sicily against the French garrison and administartors. Runciman's style made this a pleasure to read, and the diagrams explaining who was who in the French royal family, Aragon, Sicily, Majorca and Byzantium helped to keep the personalities straight. Runciman uses the first part of his narrative to set the stage of what happened and why during the Sicilian Vespers. The ...more
Larry
The inhabitants of the Sicilian city of Palermo slaughtered its Angevin garrison in 1282. How an Angevil king came to rule Sicily is at the heart of Runciman;s book. He uses the incident to explain a great deal about the13th-century Mediterranean world. The leading historian of the Crusades, Runciman blends scholarship and effective writing to tell a complicated story.
Ned
Runciman does it again. He takes a period full of constant strife and turmoil with a bewildering array of characters and shifting alliances and aggressions and lays it all out plain as day.
Mostly centering on the life and times of Charles II of Anjou and King of Naples and Sicily,it is the island itself that both becomes pawn and pivot in Europe at a time when all of western christendom would turn after centuries of outward reaching and seeking instead would become both inward and self-absorbed.
...more
Geni
Detailed account of life in Italy from 1250 until 1300, that I would not have read except for an upcoming trip to the area. It provided plenty of background and a wonder regarding mankind's survival. If the plague didn't get you, fevers, or war, or ambition, or cruelty, or poverty certainly did.
Wendy
Wow, thirteenth century politics was complicated. I wouldn't call this light reading, but Runciman makes it all very vivid and comprehensible, giving a fascinating look at a society full of plots and intrigue. Definitely a must-read if you're at all interested in medieval European history.
Marcus Pailing
Interesting, but a narrative history very much of its time, and therefore fairly impenetrable, with little in the way of interpretative comments. I'd love to have read a version produced by one of the more 'modern' historians, with perhaps a less stodgy writing style ...
Walt
This is the story of the fabled origins of the Mafia. Runciman performed an excellent study of the Sicilian revolt and does not show any evidence to support the legend. However, it is a good book discussing the history of Sicily and the revolt.
Marfy
I'm reading this very slowly because Runciman is not as good a writer as John Julius Norwich, and I finished Norwich's "The Normans in Sicily" before starting this; it suffers by comparison.
Heidi
Mar 17, 2011 Heidi marked it as to-read
This was interesting, but too dense, I couldn't get through it for now. Felt like there were a lot of assumptions made of history I should know before reading... :)
David Alonso vargas
Increíble lectura sobre las vísperas sicilianas, escrito con una pasión que bien parece un thriller político. Lo recomiendo mucho.
Gavin
Runciman is a superb historian and here he tells a superb tale of a very interesting period and place in history.
Linda
Nov 18, 2013 Linda rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: graduate studies
Recommended to Linda by: Anne Perry -'Sheen on Silk'
Ponderously detailed; meant for research and the period expert. Will resume in the future.
Lars Brownworth
Ends with one of the best one-liners in history. Runciman is at his wry best...
Keith
Cool story of politics and intrigue in the medieval Mediterranean.
Anders
This is narrative history at its best.
Ricky
Ricky marked it as to-read
Jul 29, 2015
Valerie Shearer
Valerie Shearer marked it as to-read
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Daniel
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A King's Scholar at Eton College, he was an exact contemporary and close friend of George Orwell. While there, they both studied French under Aldous Huxley. In 1921 he entered Trinity College, Cambridge as a history scholar and studied under J.B. Bury, becoming, as Runciman later commented, "his first, and only, student." At first the reclusive Bury tried to brush him off; then, when Runciman ment ...more
More about Steven Runciman...
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