A Hood for the Horned

      After the long Muslim experience, Sicily, in 1061 became the goal of the Norman conquest. Robert the Guiscard had become strong in Southern Italy and for the ambition which was spurring him and for all the political ploys of which he had become master. Recognized by pope Nicholas II as Duke of Apulia and Calabria, he gave the Calabria region, as a County, to his brother Roger. Because they had fought in Sicily as mercenaries under the Byzantine flag, with the general George Maniace. Come to a disagreement with the same over the war spoils, they left Sicily and returned in Southern Italy.

This visit had though given them the idea of a future attempt at the conquest of the Island, if the Byzantine army would have been unable to conquer it. As a matter of fact the general Maniace was accused of treason by the general Steven Calafato after the battle near Troina, maybe because of a strategic error of the same Calafato. This last one and George Maniace had a fiery argument after which Maniace was immediately recalled to Costantinople and jailed. Without him the Byzantine army could not resist to the strong Muslim army and defeated, they had to live Sicily.

So after a few years, because of some problems come up amongst the Muslim Kaids of Sicily, the Kaid of Siracuse, now Kaid of Catania also, asked the Normans for help against the Kaid of Enna, his own brother-in-law.

Robert and Roger landed in Messina with a few knights and about a thousand of soldiers and occupied a good portion of North-Eastern Sicily. Soon after that Robert, for political reasons, had to go back to Southern Italy and Roger was left alone to fight the Muslims and subjugate Sicily. The advancement was slow and bloody and it took Roger thirty years to occupy Sicily, driving out, little by little all the Muslims barricaded in so many fortresses.

After that Roger took the title of Great Count of Sicily and Calabria, but under his brother Robert. With this last one’s death, Roger was the only one to rule the new domain, which he governed with prudence, wisdom and with an eye to the future, with the goal to make of Sicily the first absolute realm of Europe.

At the death of Roger, 1101, took the regency his wife Adelaide for the minor son Roger II, who, at the legal age, took the government of the Counties. Roger followed on the steps of his own father, being able to make of Sicily the most eye-catching country of Europe, so much so that Sicily earned the name of “Garden of Europe”

Under Roger II all the people of Sicily, Latin, Arabs, Greeks, French, English lived together harmoniously. Roger gave freedom of religion, of language, even if under him the re-Latinization of the language and a bigger aperture toward Christianity, initiated by his father, continued. With common sense and a strong hand Roger kept the barons in stride to the point that they nominated him King of Sicily, and after the death of his cousin Roger, Duke of Apulia, he took in all southern Italy.

To Roger succeeded his son William I, who, for his way of living and for the little interest shown toward his people earned the surname of Bad. His government was afflicted by conspiracies and by unfortunate military undertakings, but what gave him the mark of Bad was more his very heavy fiscal policy by which he abolished the circulation of gold coins and staring the mint of leather coins.

To William the Bad succeeded the minor son William II. He too had his measures of plots and conspiracies, and to him also was given a surname, but opposite to his own father’s, that is, he was called “The Good”, because he restored the gold money and built the most magnificent Duomo of Monreale, of which the Sicilians are very proud, so much so that there is a motto that says: “Who goes to Palermo and does not see Monreale, goes as an ass and comes back as an animal”.

William II also tried to enlarge his territorial power and in 1184 he sent a numerous and powerful army against Andronico I Conmeno, Emperor of Costantinople. This man used to be the tutor of the young Emperor Alex  II, who Andronico killed in a conspiracy to take possession of the Empire. Andronico was of low moral values, he was worse than a dictator than he was Emperor. He used to abuse his power and jailed or even killed the people of his own court, to abuse their own wives. He behaved the same with the aristocracy at large, giving orders to his faithful soldiers to kidnap the ladies that he liked, to scorn the husbands and their families.

Death of Andronic I - Wikipedia
Death of Andronic I – Wikipedia

That was not the end of it, to more revile the families involved, Andronicus had his soldiers nail the horns of animals that he had killed hunting, on the doors of the scorned noble families.

The Sicilian soldiers, when occupied the city were puzzled by the crude spectacle and not understanding the meaning of it asked for explanations.

Returned to Sicily, while they had had time to reflect on the strange thing they had seen, they came to a conclusion, the only one they could think of, that is a cheated husband, willing or unwilling, was a horned one,”un cornuto and that word and the meaning made the round of Europe in no time.

It seems that amongst the ancient Romans that name was used and actually it is said to have had a noble and honorific connotation. But after what the Sicilian soldiers had seen in Constantinople, the word took a very offensive meaning. Especially among the Sicilians, where it became an offense against honor. A woman who cheated on the husband willingly or unwillingly dishonored the honor of the family, and such a stain can only be washed by blood. Now, while the Japanese , to wash the stain on their honor commit “Karakiri”, that is commit suicide, the Sicilians kill the man who has brought dishonor to their family and even the woman if she is an accomplice.

It is said that in certain city of Sicily ordinances were passed, where if the man who had his honor stained by his wife, did not seek vengeance, he was sentenced to go around town with a hood on his had to hide his horns (allegorically). At Modica, up to about two and a half centuries ago, a man who was profiting from the beauty of his wife, was sentenced to go around town with a pair of horns tide to his head.

Today’s world is changed in many aspects and all this does not happen anymore. People have changed their way of thinking and do not want to ruin their lives for something of this sort. They rather resort to divorce or law suits.

Nino Russo

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