Featured al-malik Ghulyam al-thani (King William II) of Sicily

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Parthicus, Dec 5, 2020.

  1. Parthicus

    Parthicus Well-Known Member

    This coin was #8 on my Top 10 list for 2020, but I haven't had the chance to give a write-up until now.
    Sicily William II.jpg
    Normans in Sicily. AE follaro (12 mm). William II (1166-1189). Obverse: Lion scalp facing. Reverse: Arabic inscription "al-malik/ Ghulyam/ al-thank" (King William the Second). This coin: Frank S. Robinson Sale 113, lot 405 (alternate).

    The Norman kingdom in Sicily, while fairly short-lived, is one of the more interesting states in medieval Europe. For a while, it served as a model of peaceful coexistence between different cultures (Latin [Roman Catholic] Christians, Greek Christians, and North African Muslims) and was a thriving center of agriculture and art. It played a part in the Crusades, and was deeply involved in the shifting political relations between the Catholic Church, the Holy Roman Empire and the Byzantine Empire. I can't do the situation justice in this post; I recommend the book "The Normans in Sicily" by John Julius Norwich, which I read during pandemic lockdown this spring and which was my inspiration for buying this coin.

    William II was born in 1153, the son of William I "The Bad" (1154-1166). As William II was still a minor when his father died, he began his rule with a regency by his mother until he was declared an adult in 1171. He soon faced pressure to marry, as the only potential legitimate heir to the throne was an aunt named Constance, and she had been packed off to a monastery due to a prediction that her marriage would destroy Sicily. Negotiations for a Byzantine princess failed, and in 1177 William married Joan, the daughter of Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine. The couple, however, had no surviving children, which led to trouble after William's death.

    William mostly stayed in and around his capitol of Palermo, and devoted himself to enjoying life, including art, literature, gardens, and hunting. His reign was generally peaceful and prosperous for Sicily. In 1174, he sent a large army which landed near Alexandria in Egypt, but Saladin arrived and chased them off before they could accomplish anything. In 1185 he sent troops against the Byzantines, and they captured Dyrrhachium, Corfu, Ithaca, and Thessanonica, but were defeated at the Strymon River on their march towards Constantinople, and a peace treaty in 1189 relinquished all the conquered territories. William was planning to use Sicily as a base for all the European forces in the upcoming Third Crusade, but he died in late 1189. He had released his aunt Constance from the convent in 1184 and had her marry Henry, heir to the Holy Roman Empire, in 1186 and had his men take an oath to her as presumptive heir. However, upon William's death, the nobles instead supported an illegitimate cousin of William's called Tancred, as they did not want to be ruled by Germans. The Norman state in Sicily quickly declined, and in 1194 Henry and Constance took power, ending the period of Norman rule.

    I bought this coin mainly for the history behind it. I was especially intrigued by the use of Arabic for the legend, which is frequent for the Normans of Sicily but otherwise very unusual for medieval Christian Europe. The Arabic is perfectly readable, and the design does not imitate the coins of nearby Muslim states, indicating that William was appealing directly to his Arabic-speaking Muslim subjects. Palermo at the time had many mosques and a thriving souk, and it is recorded that William himself was quite fluent in Arabic. While relations were not always idyllic, Norman Sicily, and William's reign in particular, stands as an interesting example of peaceful co-existence between Christian and Muslim communities in medieval Europe. This also interests me because my ancestors are from Sicily, and I can't help wondering what they were doing during the time this coin circulated. Please post your coins of Norman Sicily, or whatever else is related.
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  3. Spaniard

    Spaniard Well-Known Member

    What a fascinating coin!....Nice/interesting pick up...
    ...Will take a look thanks.
    ...I didn't know this, interesting thanks..
    Parthicus likes this.
  4. Quant.Geek

    Quant.Geek Well-Known Member

    The Normans in Sicily is such an interesting episode in history! Thanks for mentioning this book as I am sure to read it. I, myself, didn't know that William was fluent in Arabic. I have a few coins from this area, including the coin above. I have already posted several coins in https://www.cointalk.com/threads/medieval-william-ii-of-norman-sicily.269885/, but here is a few of my favorites that has a strong resemblance to Byzantine coinage:

    Normans in Sicily: William I (1154-1166) AR Ducale, Palermo (Spahr-94; MEC-290; MIR-435)
    Obv: IC XC; Bust of Christ Pantokrator facing
    Rev: R DVX FI LI VS EIVS; King William, on right, and his son, Duke Roger, on left, both standing facing and holding a long patriarchal cross between them; the King also holds globus cruciger, while his son holds his sword by the hilt


    Normans in Sicily: Roger II (1130-1154) AR Ducale, Palermo (Spahr 72; MEC 212; Biaggi 1770)
    Obv: + IC • XC • RG • IN AE TRN (Jesus Christus regnat in aeternum); Bust of Christ facing, wearing nimbus cruciger, pallium and colobium, and raising right hand in benediction; in left hand, book of Gospels
    Rev: King Roger and his son Roger, duke of Apulia, staff with cross at each end between them, beneath the king R RX SCLS (Rogerius Rex Siciliae), beneath the duke, R • D X • AP (Rogerius Dux Apuliae) and AN R X (Anno decimo del regno) between them

    Byzantine Empire: Alexius I Comnenus (1081-1118) AR Histamenon nomisma, Thessalonica (Sear-1904; DOC VI-4)

    Obv: +KЄ B Θ AΛЄZ. IC XC in field; Bust of Christ, bearded and nimbate, wearing tunic and kolobion; holds Gospels in left hand
    Rev: DIMITI, DECPOTHT, Full-length figure of emperor facing, on right, and of St. Demetrius, beardless and nimbate, facing to right and handing to emperor labarum on long shaft standing on globule

  5. Orielensis

    Orielensis Supporter! Supporter

    That's a fascinating coin! I agree that Norman Sicily is one of the most interesting chapters in medieval history.

    Here are my two coins of William II:
    MA – Italien, Sicily, William II, trifollaro.png
    Norman Kingdom of Sicily, under William II "the Good," AE trifollaro, 1166–1189 AD, Messina mint. Obv: lion's head facing. Rev: palm tree. 26mm, 10.27g. Ref: Spahr 117; Biaggi 1231. Ex Savoca, White Auction 1, lot 15.

    MA – Italien, Sicily, William II, follaro 2.png
    Norman Kingdom of Sicily, under William II "the Good" follaro, bronze 1166–1189 AD, Messina or Palermo mint. Obv: Lion's head left. Rev: Kufic script: "al-malik Ghulyalim al-thani" ('King William the second'). 14mm, 1.87g. Ref: Spahr 118.

    Sicily remained an important cultural contact zone between Cristian Europe and the Muslim world during the Hohenstaufen period. Emperor Frederick II, for example, grew up in Palermo and probably spoke Arabic as a child. He was able to negotiate directly with Al-Kamil, had a "Saracen" personal guard, and brought a number of Arab scholars to his court, which led to a fruitful engagement with Arabic science and thought in the West.

    Here is a denaro of Frederick's father Henry VI, the first Hohenstaufen ruler of Sicily:
    MA – Italien, Sicily, Heinrich VI, denaro.png
    Kingdom of Sicily, under Heinrich VI of Hohenstaufen, BI denaro, 1194–1196 AD, Brindisi mint. Obv: .HE. INPERATOR; cross withtwo stars in quadrants. Rev: .C. INPERATRIX; AP with omega-stroke above. 16mm, 0.52g. Ref: Spahr 30; MEC XIV 485–487.
  6. Curtisimo

    Curtisimo the Great(ish) Supporter

    That is a fascinating coin @Parthicus ! Not sure how I missed this thread last year.

    One of the good things about this forum is that it is so active. That can be a bad thing sometimes too because good threads drop down the list before I have a chance to read them.
    Theodosius likes this.

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    Very cool writeup and coin, @Parthicus. A fascinating period, for all the reasons you've given.
    Just to broaden the picture a little bit, the 12th-earlier 13th c. CE was a kind of golden age for Christian-Muslim relations around the Mediterranean. --However ironically, in other contexts. Despite ongoing, but intermittent conflict, similar cultural interchange was taking place to either side of Sicily, in Iberia and the Frankish Levant. In both the other contexts, Franks were imitating local Islamic coins, and actively appropriating elements of Islamic culture on other levels. (Edit: )...Not to mention pursuing alliances with local Muslim polities against other neighboring Christian ones. ...When crusaders, in the literal sense, showed up in Palestine, they were routinely shocked by the level to which the permanent, settled Franks had appropriated the surrounding ethos.
    One especially dramatic convergence of two of these threads happened under Friedrich II, son of Heinrich VI and Constanza, the Hauteville heress of Norman Sicily (1215-1250). Having grown up mainly in Sicily, he fully imbibed the milieu. On the Sixth Crusade, he proceeded to effect the return of Jerusalem itself to the Franks. For the second and last time. Purely by diplomacy --yes, backed by an army, but conducted conspicuously in Arabic.
    It's only later in the 13th century that the lines start to really harden, culturally as well as militarily.
    Last edited: Feb 22, 2021
  8. TheRed

    TheRed Supporter! Supporter

    Congrats on the great coin @Parthicus I love the lion on the obverse. I have one coin of the southern Normans.
    Roger I Count of Sicily AE Trifallaro
    Obverse: ROC ERIVS COME +S, Crusader Knight on horseback left, holding spear in right hand.
    Reverse: MATER DN - MARIA, The Virgin seated right, holding swaddled infant Christ on her lap.

    My example is decent for the issue, too much flatness for me not to upgrade at some point. The best example I've seem belongs to @FitzNigel hopefully he will post it.

    I would also highly recommend John Julius Norwich and any of his works. I read his work on the Normans in Sicily back in college and fell in love with the history.
  9. FitzNigel

    FitzNigel Medievalist Supporter

    Happy to oblige!

    Med-14-INCal-1098-Roger I-TFol-Mileto-3789.jpg Norman Italy - Calabria
    Roger I, r. 1072-1101 (1098-1101)
    Mileto Mint, AE Trifollaro, 28.04 mm x 8.3 grams
    Obv.: ROG [ERVS] COME +S. Roger, mounted left wearing Norman helm, holding kite shield and striped banner
    Rev.: + MARIA [MATE]R DNI (’N’ retrograde). Enthroned nimbate Virgin Mary holding on lap Christ child, nimbate and in swaddling clothes right
    Ref.: NCKS 131var., MEC 14.93, De Wit 3789
  10. +VGO.DVCKS

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    ...This is a repost, but the thread is good enough to warrant it, whether the example is or not. @FitzNigel, thanks for the references.
  11. +VGO.DVCKS

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    ...Speaking of the lion motif, is this the equivalent of a numismatic urban myth, or could the prototype have been the 5th c. BCE tetradrachms of Rhegium? Cf. our own Mike Markowitz's blog on Rhegium. Easy to speculate that one hoard would have been enough to inspire the Normans.
    Last edited: Feb 23, 2021
    Pellinore likes this.
  12. +VGO.DVCKS

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    ...Except, I'm thinking that the banner isn't really striped; it's an attempt to represent the pennons on a banner of the late 11th century, as you see from the Bayeux Tapestry. From here, it looks as if the square edge of the banner was a concession by the celator to the space required by the legends.
    Bayeux_Tapestry_Banners (1).jpg
    (From this website: http://www.vikingage.org/wiki/index..._Banners.jpg&mobileaction=toggle_view_desktop)
    This is no less typicalically Norman than the shields, or the practice of of riding with your banner (thank you, /lance) over your shoulder, rather than 'couched,' a practice that didn't become common until a ways into the 12th century.
    Point being, the depiction of Roger is only more quintessentially late-11th-century Norman the closer you look at it.
  13. FitzNigel

    FitzNigel Medievalist Supporter

    Excellent point - I always thought of it as pennoned, but I suspect I just copied the description in the catalogue. Thanks for pointing this out!
    +VGO.DVCKS likes this.
  14. Muzyck

    Muzyck I'll gladly pay you Tuesday for a biscuit today.

    Purchased this one of few years ago. William II Trifollaro 1166-1189AD, Messina mint. 25mm, 10.38g.

    S20210224_0003.jpg S20210224_0004.jpg
  15. philologus_1

    philologus_1 Supporter! Supporter

    Belated congrats @Parthicus! Wonderful coin and nicely done summarization of a lot of history! :)

    And William II became known as William the Good (Guglielmo II di Sicilia il Buono).

    Below is my William II example which is quite common. Unfortunately it includes no lion or other exciting beast. It utilizes Arabic, but only on the reverse.
    ITALY, Normans in Sicily.
    William II the Good, 1166-1189 AD.
    Siciliy, Messina; AE Half-Follaro
    Obv.: Cross at top, OPERATIO IN VRBE MESSANE outer legend; REX.W / SCVS within inner circle.
    Rev.: Arabic clockwise, Kufic script in circle الملك غليام الثانى (King William II).
    Diam.: 16 mm.
    Weight: 1.3 gr.
    Attrib.: Spahr 119. Biaggi 1233.
  16. +VGO.DVCKS

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    @Muzyck, that's a phenomenal example. I never knew trifollaros were issued as late as this.
    Muzyck likes this.
  17. +VGO.DVCKS

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    @philologus_1, that's one solid example. I still need one of those.
    philologus_1 likes this.
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