I’ll be straight with you here people: I’m going to go off on a little tangent. I’ve got to try to write more frequently anyway – so maybe one of the tricks is not to feel the need to write so damn much each time I do. I mean my god, this is a blog (I guess). Ain’t that the whole point of these things?
I’ve been reading a lot about Naples, Italy the past few weeks and so my minds still kind of dwelling there. There’s a lot to unpack about the place; it’s been around awhile (ok, not quite as long as the Jews, but still). Probably the most mind-blowing of its storied history, to me, would have to be the Norman period. We’re talking the 11th and 12th century here, when shit was really wacky. Basically, when I imagine it – what with the dominance of Catholicism, the lack of nation states, the endless warring between duchies, kingdoms, fiefdoms, the poor health and nutrition, a world lit by fire – I think that everyone must have been living in some kind of fever dream.
Which also probably came with the feeling that your city might be attacked by some marauding horde at any given moment. In the case of Naples – and southern Italy in general – that’s actually what the Normans had been called in to protect against. They were mercenaries, fighting alternately for or against the two powers in the region: the Lombards and the Byzantines. These Normans by the way came from Normandy, in France, and yeah, they were the same Normans who conquered England under William the Conqueror in 1066. They were basically the descendents of the Norse Vikings, Normans being a corruption of Norse Men. So they were big scary dudes, very good at fighting.
The Lombards were probably kind of scary too; they were a Germanic tribe that had swept in and conquered most of Italy after the Gothic War between the Ostrogoths and the Byzantines (535-554) had severely weakened the peninsula. It’s just that they stuck around awhile and eventually became Italians (you ever heard of Lombardy?). The Ostrogoths by the way had taken Italy from Odoacer, the guy who overthrew Romulus Augustulus in 476 to end the Western Roman Empire. The Byzantines, who were the Eastern Roman Empire, with their capital in Constantinople, fought the Ostrogoths to try to get back Italy, and they succeeded, at least until the Lombards showed up on the scene. Oh and then by 965 the Muslim Arabs, or the Saracens as they were called, conquered all of Sicily, from which they’d launch pirate raids along the Italian coast. So by the 11th century we’re talking Vikings fighting German tribes fighting the Eastern Roman Empire fighting Arab pirates. Oh yeah, and don’t forget the fucking Pope! I mean my god! Throw in a couple wizards and you’ve got yourself a fantasy novel.