This thesis examines the description of Sicily found in the large-scale twelfth-century Arabic geographical work, the Book of Roger, and enquires into the role this description played in the construction of the new Norman state under King Roger II (r. 1130-1154 CE). While Roger’s decision to commission the Book of Roger has traditionally been attributed to his intellectual curiosity and wish to appear as a philosopher king, this thesis will argue that the decision to commission the Book of Roger was part of a deliberate strategic and political program undertaken by Roger and his advisors to create a Norman state in the Mediterranean, drawing heavily on the multicultural traditions of twelfth-century Sicily. Although the Book of Roger is a geography of the entire oikumene (known world), Sicily is given a central position and is represented as an abundant paradise, both secure and prosperous. The description provides an unprecedented level of strategic and economic detail on the island regarding toponomy, settlement and agricultural and commercial output. The description is not without its limitations and is largely ‘people-less’; there is a dearth of information on population, religion and culture despite the multicultural nature of twelfth-century Sicily. I will argue that rather than oversights, these omissions were entirely deliberate, designed to present the centre of Roger’s kingdom as a homogeneous territory, a fact which was belied by circumstances on the ground.
Despite the limitations of the text, this thesis will argue that the Book of Roger provides the most comprehensive geographical text on Sicily produced up to the twelfth century and well beyond. With this in mind, based on the modern critical edition of the book, I have completed an English translation of the description in the hopes this detailed text will be more greatly utilised by scholars working on Sicily in the Middle Ages. My English translation appears in Appendix I and there are excerpts taken from the translation throughout the body of the thesis.
Finally, although Idrīsi’s original maps are beautifully drawn, they present a greatly simplified version of what is found in the text of the Book of Roger and therefore do not do justice to the work undertaken by the author. Using Geographic Information System (GIS) software, this thesis will for the first time provide a series of maps which reflect the rich data in Idrīsi’s description of Sicily in the twelfth century. It is my hope that these maps will prove useful to scholars working on the history and archeology of Sicily in both the Muslim and Norman periods.