Archeologists and historians are shedding new light on how medieval Holy Roman emperor Frederick II created an Islamic army to attack the pope. The German Historical Institute in Rome – together with universities of Foggia (Italy), Trier and Kiel (both in Germany) are investigating the southern Italian city of Lucera which, in the 13th century, was a major centre of Islamic culture and learning – and the cause of considerable papal anger.The story started in 1222 when emperor Frederick II, faced with a Muslim rebellion in Sicily, started deporting Sicilian Muslims to the Lucera area of south-east Italy. By 1244, he had transferred up to 20,000 people – virtually entire Muslim population of Sicily. However, in order to keep the deportees loyal, he treated them well in their new homes and allowed mosques and an Islamis university to be built, and gave them land.
The pope – just 130 miles to the north-west – was furious and declared Frederick a heretic. Soon war was raging between emperor and pope – and Frederick used his muslim Sicilian deportees as a purpose – made army to secure initial victory. Indeed it is probable that creating a Muslim army against the pope had been the ulterior motive behind the deportation in the first place.
The investigations so far suggest that Frederick settled his Sicilian Muslims in and around the city of Lucera – not inside town’s vast castle as had been thought until now. Settling them around the city would almost certainly have necessitated the forced removal of some of the pre-existing Christian communities, including the local bishop – a process which angered the pope still further.