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Sicily, Constantinople, and Jerusalem: A Geographical Pattern in Crusading Expectations along the Centuries

Section des Sciences Religieuses, École Pratique des Hautes Études, 75014 Paris, France
Religions 2023, 14(8), 999;
Submission received: 19 June 2023 / Revised: 18 July 2023 / Accepted: 24 July 2023 / Published: 4 August 2023


Among the aims of Charles VIII’s Italian expedition, the reappropriation of the kingdoms of Naples and Jerusalem served as the main purpose for preparing the decisive crusade that would regain Jerusalem to Christianity. However, the connection established by several early modern sources between Charles VIII’s claims to the kingdom of Naples and the expedition to the Levant had already been expressed in previous centuries in very similar terms. Also, in the case of Charles I of Anjou in the thirteenth century, the acquisition of the kingdom of Sicily was perceived as a necessary precondition for setting military campaigns aiming at recovering Constantinople and Jerusalem. The same pattern appears also in Benzo of Alba’s Ad Heinricum imperatorem (eleventh century), where the pacification of Southern Italy is presented as the first step towards the reunification of the Constantinopolitan empire and the conquest of Jerusalem under the rule of Henry IV. The paper intends to shed light on a geographical pattern that periodically emerges in various iterations of crusading (and pre-crusading) propaganda (very often intertwined with prophetic expectations) which implied a tight interconnection between the recovery of the Holy Land and the unification of the orbis christianus under one universal ruler.

1. Introduction: Charles VIII’s Expedition, Its Crusading Meaning, and the Medieval Tradition Attached to It

As is well known, Charles VIII’s Italian expedition, started in 1494, was understood as the first military preparation towards a Crusade by several French and Italian authors of the time. The appropriation of the kingdom of Naples, whose claim had been inherited by his father Louis XI after the death of King René of Anjou in 1480 and Charles of Maine the subsequent year, and the consequent extinction of the Angevine dynasty (Labande-Mailfert 1975, pp. 169–76) was supposed to be a necessary step towards the eventual reconquest and liberation of the Holy Land.1 For centuries, such aspirations had been clothed in prophetic garments, in which tales and original renditions of eschatological hopes and expectations were conflated, often with the intent to support certain political or religious factions (See (Erdmann 1932); more recently, (Giardini 2022)) These prophetic currents were largely widespread in Italy and often presented a future French sovereign as an apocalyptic ruler who would lead the unified Christian armies in the final age of history (Reeves 1969, pp. 293–392; Möhring 2000). It is therefore not surprising to find a renewal of prophetic interest at the time of Charles VIII’s Italian expedition, both within Italian cities and the court of the French king. Here, the monarch was portrayed as the one who would fulfill the expectations, attached to the ancient tale of the “Last World Emperor,” on the liberation of the Holy Sepulchre and the unification of the globe under the Christian banner. Eschatological hopes and political propaganda were tightly intertwined in this kind of utterances. It is important to point out that the fundamental structure of the prophetic writings elicited by the 1494 expedition was far from being a novelty. In fact, many features that reappear both in French and Italian prophetic texts (including some famous words of Girolamo Savonarola) (See (Savonarola 1974, pp. 14–21, 188–22). See also (Weinstein 1970, pp. 115–16, 129, 139, 145, 166–67; Denis 1979, pp. 56–59; Dall’Aglio 2006, pp. 9–73)), were in reality drawn from other writings drafted centuries earlier in very different political and religious contexts. The effort of early modern writers was therefore to rearrange the content of these works so as to adapt the prophetic promises included therein to the coeval political and religious landscape. This attitude, which betrays a certain conservative mindset with regard to the prophetic traditions of the Middle Ages, is for instance very evident in one of the most famous celebrations of Charles’s expedition, made by Guilloche de Bordeaux, who takes up one of the most popular prophecies of the Late Middle Ages in France (the Prophecy of Charles son of Charles, drafted around Charles VI’s succession to the throne after the death of his father Charles V in 1380)2 and reapplies it to the Valois sovereign by translating the words of the earlier prophecy without major variations from the original version.3
While the representation of the eschatological Last World Emperor was rather commonplace in Late medieval conflations of prophetic expectations nourished by crusading ideas,4 it is noteworthy that another central element of the political pro-French propaganda (both issued from the court of Charles VIII and Italian pro-French environments), that is, the conflation between French dynastic claims of the kingdom of Naples and the crusading myth of the liberation of Jerusalem,5 seemed to be directly inspired by a very peculiar geographic pattern drawn from previous medieval prophetic-warfare literature. French propagandists, in fact, could not but highlight that Charles VIII’s claims on southern Italy inherited by the last descendant of the Angevine dynasty established a direct link between the Valois monarch and the kingdom of Sicily acquired by Charles I of Anjou in the second half of the thirteenth century. The restoration of the French rulership in Naples could therefore be interpreted not only as the re-appropriation of territory remained outside the direct or indirect control of the French crown for centuries, but also as the re-establishment of a connection with the ideological premises on which the Angevine kingdom had been founded.

2. Sicily, the Crusade, and the Angevin Claims to Jerusalem

As a matter of fact, the tie between southern Italy and the crusading endeavor had been central in the political and religious legitimation of Charles I of Anjou’s rule over the Regno (1266–1285). As in the case of Charles VIII’s enterprise, Charles of Anjou’s appropriation of Southern Italy was also understood as the necessary springboard that would lead to the re-establishment of Christian sovereignty in the Holy Land. The establishment of a deep-rooted network of realms under the elected race of the French ruling dynasty—precisely at the time in which the process of sacralization of the “elected race” was reaching its peak (Lewis 1981, pp. 104–54)—was considered crucial not only for granting to the Capetian dynasty the hegemony over the Christian world but also for setting the conditions that would eventually lead to the accomplishment of their prophetic role, as pro-French writings of the second half of the thirteenth century affirmed through the reappraisal of the myth of the “second Charlemagne”.6 In this context, it is not a chance that, precisely at the time of Charles of Anjou’s acquisition of the Kingdom of Sicily, new adaptations of the Sibylla Tiburtina (one of the main sources that transmitted the “Last World Emperor” tradition to the West) were prepared that celebrated the new Angevin ruler and brother of Saint Louis IX, by establishing his equation with Charlemagne.7
The equivalence between Charles of Anjou and Charlemagne was not only “onomastic,” but was essentially grounded on the commonplace assimilation of the Frankish emperor with the leader of the “first crusade” (Alberic of Trois-Fontaines 1874, p. 804; Brown and Cothren 1986; Gabriele 2008, p. 95)—the one who, according to several authors since the end of the eleventh century, had established a close connection between “France,” the “Franks” and the Holy Land (Boehm 1957; Balard 1997; Bull 1997). Moreover, especially since the last decades of the twelfth century, the association of the French monarchs with Charlemagne had been paramount for crediting the French monarchy the legitimate claim as defender of the Christian religion and claimant to the imperial dignity—that is, to universal rulership. Such connection had been tightly associated with prophetic expectations on a “French Last World Emperor” descendant of Charlemagne at least since the late eleventh century, as it is testified by Pseudo-Alcuin’s arrangement of the famous De vita et opere Antichristi by Adso of Montier-en-Der (essentially a conflation of Adso’s work and passages drawn from the Sibylla Tiburtina, one of the most important sources of the Last World Emperor prophecy in the Latin West).8
Interestingly, but not surprisingly given the solid entente between the Angevins and the Papacy, the role of Southern Italy within this prophetic pattern received a powerful source of legitimization by the sanction of the Roman Church. Since the thirteenth century, in fact, the Papacy had inaugurated a long-lasting tradition of “internal” crusading movements, by assimilating the struggles against their political opponents as actual “Crusades” aiming at eliminating heresy (in the form of political dissent) and pacifying Christendom. More than once, the popes justified this equation as necessary and preliminary steps towards the future liberation of the Holy Land, also in the attempt to placate the manifold objections that these “internal Crusades” directed against other Christians elicited among several Christian princes and cardinals.9 This principle was naturally applied with regard to the matter of Sicily, but reappeared very often in the context of the thirteenth- and fourteenth-century Guelph-Ghibellines clashes, with the Angevin—or other rulers in continuity with Angevin anti-Frederician or anti-Aragonese positions—as their main beneficiaries. As Boniface VIII once said to Charles of Valois in 1300, “When Sicily has been stabilized, and the other rebels in Italy subjugated and restored to obedience to ourselves and the [Holy] See, it will be possible more usefully and efficaciously to provide opportune aid for the Holy Land,”10 while in 1372, Gregory XI’s statement according to which depositio tyrannorum est dispositio passagii summarized the same concept, by assuming the elimination of anti-papal “tyrants” (in this case the Milanese Bernabò Visconti) in Italy (that is, in the area in which the temporal interests of the Papacy were more affected) as part and parcel of the crusading struggle aimed at liberating the Holy Land.11

3. Eleventh-Century Antecedents: Benzo of Alba

Given these premises, it could be somehow surprising to detect the same prophetic-geographical pattern associated with Southern Italy (perhaps its very first occurrence, predating even the very foundation of the kingdom of Sicily) as the necessary step towards the pacification of Christendom and the liberation of the Holy Land, in the pages of one of the staunchest supporters of the imperial idea against the Papacy, active two centuries earlier: in fact, in his Ad Heinricum IV Imperatorem (1085–1086) Benzo of Alba portrays the German emperor as a messiah-like universal ruler destined to fulfill the prophecy of the “Last World Emperor,” an assumption that he substantiated by quoting some passages of the so-called Cumaean Sibyl (Erdmann 1932, pp. 396–414; Möhring 2000, pp. 149–65; Holdenried 2006, pp. 4–5), a coeval variant of the Tiburtine Sibyl in the version which has been transmitted to the present day and was drafted some decades before Benzo’s Ad Heinricum.
Also in the writing of the Bishop of Alba, Southern Italy appeared as the borderland in which the ruler destined to universal monarchy has to accomplish the first major deed: removing the spurcissimae gentes (i.e., the Normans) who reject the imperial authority and, as allies of Gregory VII, represent the most formidable obstacle to the accomplishment of Henry’s ultimate destiny. The representation of the struggle for Southern Italy (reminiscent of earlier confrontations in the same area with previous Carolingian emperors with other competing powers)12 is highly eschatological as the epithets employed by Benzo suggest: on the one hand, in fact, spurcissimae gentes was a customary designation of the apocalyptic peoples of Gog and Magog,13 to which the Normans are in all evidence equated (very likely also on the basis of their Northern origin); on the other hand, Gregory VII (never called with his papal name, but rather with other denigrating nicknames based on his birth name, such as “Prandellus” or others) was frequently assimilated to the Antichrist in Benzo’s Ad Heinricum, so that the couple “Prandellus”-Normans often appear as the ultimate devilish enemy that the messiah-like emperor has to remove before ascending to actual universal power. The setting for this confrontation is Italy, as in thirteenth-century speculations on Charles of Anjou’s “Charlemagne-like” rulership. Moreover, as with its late medieval epigones, for Benzo the removal of this “Antichristic” obstacle14 would pave the way for subsequent Eastern undertakings.
Sure, the actors of the drama play a reversed role compared to the thirteenth-century scenario depicted by pro-Angevin and Papal authors. The fundamental pattern, however, remains the same (pacification of Christendom through removal of its ultimate “internal” adversary—be it the illegitimate reforming Papacy for Benzo or the rebellious Ghibelline and Frederician rulers for the Papal and Angevin supporters), as well as the projection within the eschatological sphere of the struggle between the competing claimants to universal power in Italy.
Once the “internal” enemy of Christendom has been removed, the supporters of the different factions seem to assume, the defeat of the “external” adversary (the “Saracens” or the “Turks”) would be an easy task. But here, if we compare the above-mentioned sources with a closer look, we could likely trace an extension of the prophetic-geographical pattern that we have just examined with reference to Southern Italy.
Benzo of Alba, in fact, extends the pacification of the Christian nations well beyond the borders of Latin christianitas, and announces the reunification of the (true) German empire with the Byzantine empire;15 Henry, in other terms, would be crowned in Constantinople, and only at this time he would march to repel the Infidels and liberate the Holy Sepulchre, thus fulfilling the Sibylline saying et erit sepulchrum eius gloriosum (Benzo of Alba 1996, pp. 1, 15, 144). The submission of the Greek claimants to the Roman empire was certainly not a novelty in Latin christianitas; what is relevant for our purpose is that Benzo presents the imperial reunification within the context of the accomplishment of the “Last World Emperor” prediction and in close association with the liberation of the Holy Sepulchre through a warfare “(proto-)crusading” act.

4. Sicily, Constantinople, and the Crusade: Elements of Continuity

Is it possible to spot the same extension of the above-mentioned geographical pattern in the late-medieval examples examined above? The answer seems to be positive: the recovery of the Eastern Kingdom of Constantinople was the most important concern of Charles of Anjou (See Schein 1991, pp. 59–62), who planned to recover it for the same purposes: extending Capetian hegemony over all European countries as a necessary premise towards the conquest of the Holy Land. This goal was very explicitly reiterated at the time of Philip IV ‘the Fair’ (king of France between 1285 and 1314), when plans for recovering the Latin empire of Constantinople as a springboard towards the liberation of the Holy Land were extensively discussed.16 This is particularly the case of Pierre Dubois’s De recuperatione Terrae Sanctae (1306), in which the famous légiste illustrated what he considered as the most promising way to achieve the crusading aspirations by associating them with the extension of Capetian rulership over all the most illustrious crowns in the Western and Eastern christianitas (including the Western Holy Roman Empire and the temporal dominion of the Papacy):17 in one passage of this text, in which Dubois discusses the most favorable outcome of the military expedition (unification of the armies of all European kingdoms under the leadership of the French ruler and peaceful acquirement of the Holy Land), the author express his opinion that “the princes would do best by leaving in the Holy Land a force sufficient for its defense and returning by way of Greece; [they would be] prepared on the advice of the Roman Church to fight vigorously on behalf of lord Charles [of Valois] against the unjust usurper Palaeologus [Andronicus II], unless he were willing to withdraw.” (Dubois 1956, p. 156). The “empire of the Greeks” appears therefore as a perpetual dominion of the Capetian dynasty, whose native nation, in other documents of the same periods, had been acknowledged as having a special relation with the Holy Land.18 In the following lines, Dubois highlights the strategic relations between the Latin (French) empire of Constantinople and the Holy Land: “It should be agreed in advance that lord Charles, after gaining the victory and the possession of the [Greek] Empire, would bring opportune aid to the defense of the Holy Land whenever the need arose, since he would be nearer it than other princes.”19 What is even more interesting for our purpose is the fact that, in Dubois’s scheme, both Constantinople and Sicily appear as the most relevant steps both towards the recovery of the Holy Land and the extension of French hegemony over all Christian nations—20 a goal that was actively pursued starting from the end of the thirteenth century, with some partial success.21 In fact, in one particularly noteworthy passage of his De recuperatione, the French légiste stresses that “the king of Sicily would gain great advantages from the proposed arrangement. The kingdom of Jerusalem will be of infinitely greater value to him than all that he now possesses […]. He will also recover the kingdom of Sicily, and the kingdom of Sardinia would be assigned to him upon its liberation from Frederick [of Aragon]” (Dubois 1956, pp. 171–72), a passage in which, as Walther I. Brandt highlighted, it is expressed the “suggestion that the kingdom of Jerusalem be conferred upon the king of Sicily (Charles II of Anjou, king of Naples, and therefore nominally king of Sicily).” (Dubois 1956, p. 172, n. 19)
Significantly, also an author with a completely different perspective than Dubois, but still deeply engaged with the crusading theme and tightly connected with the French monarchy at the time of Philip “the Fair” such as Ramon Lull expressed very similar views. In his Liber de acquisitione terrae sanctae (1309), in fact, the Catalan author understood the “expedition to the East, by way of Constantinople” as one of the necessary crusading endeavors against the Muslim power (the other being the crusade against Granada) (Hillgarth 1971, p. 69); he shared therefore the claims, revived at the time, of Charles of Valois to the Latin empire of Constantinople (later inherited by Philip of Taranto). The capture of Constantinople by a French prince, therefore, aside from recomposing the fracture between the Western and Eastern Churches, would be the preliminary attack that would pave the way for the successful generale passagium to the Holy Land.22
If we now return to Dubois’s speculations, it is noteworthy to trace almost identical thoughts in the Liber de Flore (likely 1303), one of the most notorious and by far influential prophetical writings coming from the circles of the Spiritual Franciscans at the very beginning of the fourteenth century. The scenario depicted by this text (in which the expression pastor angelicus appears for the first time) (McGinn 1989; Marini 2004) is highly eschatological; the author (or the authors) projects their aspirations of Church reform to the near future, supposed to coincide with the beginning of a new era with clear-cut chiliastic overtones, as it had been presented by Peter of John Olivi in his Lecture super Apocalypsim (completed in 1297) and his Franciscan Spiritual followers (Cazenave 1988; Burr 2003; Piron 2021). The strong spiritual core of the Liber de Flore, however, is deeply rooted within the political landscape of its age. In fact, the first pastor angelicus who would usher in the age of Church and world reform of the end of time acts side by side with a universal ruler, whose political and military deeds present remarkable similarities with those sketched by Pierre Dubois’s De recuperatione. First of all, the temporal ruler who would cooperate with the pastor angelicus is presented as a generosus rex de posteritate Pipini, an expression that clearly recalls the Capetian claims to be legitimate descendants of the Carolingian race.23 In the following lines, the Liber de Flore even specifies that the name of this king should have a “P” as the initial letter—an indication that, combined with other elements scattered within the text and soon to be rapidly examined, would most likely suggest an identification with Philip IV “the Fair.”24 Moreover, the king coming from the posteritas Pipini has several members of his family as rulers in several Christian kingdoms, including—not by chance—Sicily and Constantinople. Even more, in the Liber de Flore the king of Sicily, who shares the same attribute of generosus,25 acquires also the kingdom of Jerusalem—thus transposing within the eschatological language the political wishes expressed by Dubois in his De recuperatione. Finally, among the tasks of the generosus rex there will be the submission of Constantinople and the Greek empire, epitomized by the destruction of its walls (Grundmann 1977, p. 141)—an event that, while highlighting once again the universal extension of the French hegemony, also points to the reunifications of the Latin and Greek churches, a preoccupation that had frequently reappeared in earlier prophetic writings devoted to the conquest of Constantinople and the restoration of Jerusalem.26
Constantinople was therefore, precisely like Sicily (or, more in general, southern Italy), a necessary preliminary step towards the establishment of world domination and the fulfillment of the crusading aspirations.27 Of course, the matter of the Latin empire of Constantinople after its fall in 1261, although relevant for the sake of the crusading projects of conquering Jerusalem, had been at least partially forsaken by the Papal Curia, which, entirely absorbed by the “Italian crusades,” neglected the pleas coming from those who supported the pacification between Guelphs and Ghibellines so as to launch an expedition for the recovery of Eastern empire (Housley 1982, p. 77). Nevertheless, also in the Roman Curia the awareness was widespread that controlling Constantinople would be crucial for the sake of the crusading efforts aimed at Jerusalem and the Holy Land. This assumption seems to be testified by the Sibilla Erithea, which has been recently interpreted as one of the most significant expressions of Curial prophetic elaborations,28 at a time in which the preoccupations for the destiny of the Latin kingdom of Constantinople coalesced with the struggle, animated by accentuated apocalyptic overtones,29 against the archenemy Frederick II. In particular, the Sibilla Erithea seems to mirror Gregory IX’s mindset, who “made great efforts to save the Latin empire of Constantinople, which he, like Innocent III before him, regarded as a prerequisite for the Church union and the reconquest of the Holy Land.”30
As in the case of Sicily, the conquest of Constantinople as a necessary preliminary step toward the liberation of the Holy Land appears therefore as a common pattern in writings issued from antagonist environments, such as the Papal Curia and several anti-Papal imperial authors.31 It is not by chance that, at the end of the fifteenth century, recovering the capital city of the former Byzantine empire was still perceived as one of the main tasks of Charles VIII’s Italian expedition, that the path toward the Holy Land passing through Greece was taken in consideration by several authors,32 and that Charles VIII counted among the many pretenders to the “emperor of Constantinople” title that the last heir of the Paleologi dynasty, Andrew (1453–1502), had offered to sell.33 It is true that, contrary to earlier late medieval crusade projects, the role of Constantinople had changed considerably at the time of Charles VIII (from one of the Christian kingdoms to be reunited with the rest of the Western Christendom to the capital city and stronghold of the Infidel archenemy). Moreover, the hypothesis cannot be discarded that precisely this change of Constantinople’s status after 1453 might have led Charles VIII to focus only on his legitimately inherited claims on Sicily and Jerusalem; conversely, the rise to the throne of Constantinople (considered as legitimate property of the Angevin dynasty two centuries earlier) did not seem to be at the core of the French king’s ambitions, who might have understood the conquest of the city only as a military step towards the final liberation of the Holy Land. Nevertheless, while the conquest of Constantinople had been envisioned essentially for strategical purposes, it may be possible to spot also in the case of Charles VIII the influence of the political ambitions (and the inherently eschatological expectations) that had been attached to the plans of Charles of Anjou, Charles of Valois and Philippe of Taranto (Moranvillé 1890; Hillgarth 1971, pp. 79–83). The submission and appropriation of the “second Rome” and its nearby regions appeared in any case as unavoidable.

5. Conclusions

It seems therefore possible to recognize an extension of the same geographical-political pattern that we have already examined for Sicily and southern Italy: the final liberation of the Holy Land could not be fulfilled without the pacification of other important regions where major obstacles were placed that hindered the unification of Christians or the unification of the entire humankind under the banner of the Christian religion. That was the case of Sicily, in which one of the direst struggles between the representatives of the Curial standpoint and their adversaries took place34; that was also the case of Constantinople, first perceived as the epitome of the rebellious attitude of the schismatic Greeks, later as the capital city of the Infidels35.
In the propaganda utterances of medieval and early modern eras, the political (and sometimes even military) language was often intermingled with that of prophetic writings, which, in turn, often served the purpose of providing a powerful tool of legitimization to political and sacral claims of rulers and dynasties. The pattern that we have tried to trace in the previous lines seems to be an example of this intertwinement between the “profane” field of political practicalities and the “sacred” domain of prophetic expectations between the Late Middle Ages and the dawn of the modern era, a time in which the legitimization of kingdoms and ruling dynasties was often carried out through their respective sacralization (Kantorowicz 1955). More than once, sacralization was equated with claims to hegemony over Christianity and, more or less implicitly, to world domination. In our case, the analyzed geographical pattern does not always appear in prophetic literature during the timespan taken into consideration, but only in periods in which political circumstances appeared favorable enough for a ruler or a monarch to try to implement his claims. More generally, our pattern, clearly related to common crusading aspirations notwithstanding the conflicting positions to which they were often associated, seems to be originated from the transpositions in the prophetic language of meanings attributed to certain regions due to their political-religious importance; it has therefore to be understood not only as the expression of strategic or tactical plans (more or less tenable from a strictly military perspective),36 but also (and sometimes primarily) as a symbolic tool aiming at highlighting the tight connection between the liberation of the Holy Land on the one hand (the major goal in the writings examined here) and the unification of Christianity through pacification of its inner conflicts on the other.37


This research received no external funding.

Institutional Review Board Statement

Not applicable.

Informed Consent Statement

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Data Availability Statement

Not applicable.

Conflicts of Interest

The author declares no conflict of interest.


This idea was reiterated on several instances before and during the Italian expedition: see (Delaborde 1888, pp. 313–23, 480–81, 522, 582–83; Denis 1979, pp. 9, 21, 23, 65). The main documentary references are Charles VIII’s own Manifesto alla Cristianità: see (Labande-Mailfert 1975, p. 299; Setton 1978, p. 468; Denis 1979, p. 65). For other discussions on the political use of the Crusades (and the eschatological expectations connected with them), see (Gabriele 2011; Naus 2016; Rubenstein 2019).
Karolus filius Karoli ex natione illustrissimi Lilii habens frontem longam, supercilia alta, oculos longos, nasum aquilinum, circa sue etatis annum XIII coronabitur et in anno XIIII magnum exercitum congregabit omnesque tirampnos sui rege destruet. Nam ut sponsa cum sponso sic erit justicia sociata cum eo; usque ad XXIIII annum suum deducet bella, suiugans Anglicos, Hyspanos, Aragones, Burgales, Lungobardos, Ytalicos; Romam cum Florentia destruet et igne comburet, duplicem coronam obtinebit, postmodum mare transiens cum exercito magno intrabit Greciam. Et Rex Grecorum nominabitur. Caldeos, Thucenos Yspanos, Barbaros, Palestinos, Giorgianos subiugabit, faciens edictum ut quicunque Crucifixum non adoraverit morte moriatur et non erit qui possit ei resistere, quia divinum brachium semper cum ipso erit et fere dominium universe terre possidebit. His factis sanctus sanctorum vocabitur, veniens ad sanctam Jerusalem et accedens ad montem Oliveti, orans ad Patrem deponensque coronam de capite, Deo gratias agens cum magno terremotu, signis et mirabilibus, emittet spiritum suum anno regni XXXI. Hic coronatus erit ab Angelico pastore et primus Imperator post Federicum tercium, post presens scisma et tribulationes et persecutiones pseudo-prophetarum et dicti Federici (Vatican Library, MS Reginensis Latinus 580, fol. 52r, quoted in (Reeves 1969, p. 328)).
See (de La Grange 1869, pp. 3–8): Charles huitiesme de ce nom,/Filz de très noble nacion,/Et très illustres fleurs de lis […] Et puis s’en tirera grant erre/Vers le pays des Italies./L’an trente troys, celles parties,/Il fera de si grant batailles/Qu’il subiuguera les Ytailles,/Espaigneulz et Aragonnoys,/Lombards, aussi bien Yrlandoys,/Et d’autres gens subiuguera;/Et puis après conquestera/Vaillamment la cité de Romme,/Et obtiendra double couronne;/Nommé sera roy des Rommains,/Oultre le vouloir des Germains,/C’est assavoir des Alemans […] Tout homme et roy chrestien/A luy tousiours se soubsmectra. […] Ce fait, d’ilec il s’en yra/Et passera delà la mer […] Entrera puis dedans la Grèce,/Où par sa vaillante prouesse/Sera nommé le roy des Grectz./Et cecy fait, tantost après,/Divinement sera escript/Sur son front, qu’on lira, et dit:/« Roy de France suis, des Rommains/Et des Grectz. » Lors tous humains/Subiugueraet Barbarins,/Yspres, Turcs et aussi Surins,/A son règne les soubzmectra […]. See also (Reeves 1969, pp. 355–57), where the texts of the Prophecy of Charles son of Charles and of Maître Guilloche are extensively commented and other similar celebrations or prophetic accounts on Charles VIII’s mission to liberate the Holy Land are mentioned. See also (Dall’Aglio 2006, pp. 41–42). On the Prophecy of Charles son of Charles and its reception in France between the Late Middle Ages and the early modern time, see (Chaume 1947); see also (Beaune 1991).
A survey on the main forms taken by this conflation is provided in (Housley 1998).
See (Housley 1992, p. 115): “The King loudly asserted that his expedition had the dual goal of recovering the Kingdom of Naples, lawfully his though his descent in the Angevin line, and of using the Regno’s Adriatic ports to launch a crusade against the Turks in the Balkans.”
See (Rech 2000, p. 464): “En la personne du nouveau maître de la Sicile s’incarnait mieux le roi triomphant décrit sous l’apparence de Charlemagne dans la Chronique universelle, un roi conquérant, dont le programme ambitieux était de réunifier la Chrétienté et de vaincre les Sarrasins.” See also (Folz 1950, pp. 298–304). The impact of the Sibylline material in the pro-Angevin writings is partially downsized in (Jones 2007, pp. 152, 157).
See Vita Antichristi ad Carolum Magnum ab Alcuino edita, in (Dervensis 1976, pp. 105–28).
See (Housley 1982, pp. 35–37, 76–92, 106–10; Tyerman 1985, p. 107). See also (Leopold 2000, pp. 53–54; Schein 1991, pp. 62–67), in particular p. 64: “The popes […] were criticized for devoting to the needs of the conflicts in Europe resources intended for the recovery of the Holy Land. Their reply was that a crusade could not be organized against the Moslems in the East until the Church was secure in the West. They justified the crux cismarina by insisting that it was an essential prelude to the crux transmarina. The papacy claimed that it was not the Holy See but its enemies who were impending the crusade to the East by creating the need for crusades in Italy.”
(Housley 1992, p. 261). See also (Housley 1982, pp. 93–94): “of all popes between 1254 and 1343 it was Boniface [VIII] who most insistently and most skilfully asserted the traditional papal approach to the crusades, in particular the belief that ‘the relief of the Holy Land depends for the greatest part on the recovery of the island of Sicily.’ The war for the recovery of Sicily was Boniface’s ‘most important concern;’ but the consideration which both compensated Boniface for his own ‘immense mental efforts and sleepless nights’ and justified the ‘innumerable expenses’ involved was that Sicily was stepping-stone to Palestine.” More generally, on the late-thirteenth-century papal understanding of the strategic role of Sicily for the recovery of the Holy Land, see also (Schein 1991, pp. 69–71, 84, 133, 140–42, 156–58, 160–61; Leopold 2000, pp. 16, 22, 54; Mantelli 2014, pp. 45, 47). It is worth noting in the previous century, Innocent III had portrayed Sicily in a very similar manner: in letters sent to the Capuans, the pope highlighted the dangers of Markward of Anweiler’s rebellion in the island, precisely pointing on the harmful consequences of the German adventurer’s rebellion for the sake of the Holy Land; in one letter of 1199, in particular, Innocent III stressed that “through Sicily it will be possible to come to the aid of the Holy Land more easily; while if, which God forbid, [the island] should fall into the hands of the Saracens, no hope would remain for the further recovery of the province of Jerusalem” (Innocentius III 1979, n. 212, p. 414). On these texts, see (Housley 1985, p. 27).
In this sense, see also, still in the mid-fourteenth century, Pius II’s statement that “We fought for Christ when we defended Ferrante [of Naples]. We were attacking the Turks when we battered the lands of Sigismondo [of Malatesta, lord of Rimini].” While an allegorical assimilation of “heretics” (or political dissidents) to “infidels” and supporters of the Papacy to “true Christians” cannot be ruled out (and is in fact very likely), the primary meaning of these assertions seems to rely on the strategic role of the “internal Crusade” (largely to be fought in Italy, and most especially in the contended lands of Southern Italy) as preliminary step towards the proper passagium against the Infidels.
See (Tyerman 2006, pp. 54–57; Möhring 2000, p. 34). It is likely that memories of the ninth-century clashes for the control of Apulia and Calabria were preserved in following sibylline prophecies. The Sibylla Tiburtina, in fact, announces that Agareni et tyranni […] captivabunt Tarentum et Barro et multas civitates depredabunt (Sackur 1898, p. 183). For the version of this passage in the Cumean Sibyl, see (Erdmann 1932, p. 397).
Significantly enough, the very usage of the adjective spurcissimae to design the “unclean” peoples of Gog and Magog appears in Adso of Montier-en-Der’s work on the Antichrist—the same text that, at Benzo’s time, experienced a remarkable revitalization in France thanks to its conflation with the Tiburtine Sibyl’s narrative by the so-called Pseudo-Alcuin: Tunc exsurgent ab Aquilone spurcissimae gentes, quas Alexander inclusit in Goch et Magoch (Adso Dervensis 1976, p. 125). The employment of the nouns “Gog and Magog” to design mountains was not uncommon during the Middle Ages: see (Giardini 2016, pp. 52–54, 97). On the manifold medieval interpretations of these apocalyptic peoples throughout the centuries (including their identification with the “ten lost tribes of Israel”), see (Anderson 1932; Gow 1995, 1998). On medieval representations of Gog and Magog, see also (Manselli 1983).
It goes without saying that the same strategy of assigning “Antichristic” attributes to the political and religious adversary (and at the same time transposing the struggle into a prophetic and eschatological scenario) appears also in the Curial and pro-French characterization of Frederick II and his offspring: see (Schaller 1993, pp. 25–52; Potestà 2013).
See (Giardini 2022, pp. 15–16). For an overall interpretation of Benzo’s imperial idea (including his use of the Sibylline material, his understanding of the Zweikaiserproblem, and his representation of the emperor as a messianic figure), see (Struve 1988; Sansterre 1997; Möhring 2000, pp. 157–65; Latowsky 2013, pp. 99–137). See also (Sagulo 2003).
See (Samaran 1981; Paviot 2008). For a thorough discussion of these plans, see (Leopold 2000).
For the Western Holy Roman Empire, see (Dubois 1956, p. 172): “It will be a source of much honor and profit to the lord king of the French if he can procure the kingdom and empire of Germany for his brother and nephews in perpetuity.” As for the administration of the temporal dominions of the Papacy, see (Dubois 1956, p. 173): “Then if the pope, in return for a perpetual annual pension, would turn over to the lord king the whole patrimony of the Church and temporal jurisdiction over its vassals, […] it could be stipulated and agreed that the lord king would appoint as Roman senator one of his brothers or sons. This individual, in the absence of the king himself, would be the supreme judicial authority in the patrimony.” On these plans, see also (Oexle 1977, pp. 320–39; Möhring 2000, pp. 297–98; Sághy 2001; Forcadet 2014). More specifically on the imperial ambitions of Charles of Anjou, see (Zeller 1934, pp. 287–88; Boehm 1968, pp. 24–35; Jones 2003, 2007, pp. 151–52, 157, 169, 341–43, 350–51).
See (Menache 1990, pp. 182–88). Of particular relevance here is Philip IV’s famous assertion according to which “the Crusade issue touches all [Christians] but mainly those from the kingdom of France who, as is widely known, had been especially chosen by the Lord’s grace for the defense of the Catholic Faith” (Roucaute and Saché 1896, p. 141). Even more important is perhaps Clement V’s sentence according to which to the king of France “above all other men after the Roman pontiff appertains the matter of the Holy Land” (Hillgarth 1971, pp. 75–76). See also (Hillgarth 1971, p. 77). The equation—brought to its peak during this period, but already elaborated in previous centuries—between France and the Holy Land (and, accordingly, between the French nation and the “Chosen People”) was tightly associated to crusading ideals (see Beaune 1985; Graboïs 1992). According to this equation, it was possible to affirm that “he who carries war against the king of France […] works against the whole Church, against the Catholic doctrine, against holiness and justice and against the Holy Land” (Leclercq 1945, p. 170). See also (Menache 1990, p. 188).
(Dubois 1956, p. 156). The same idea reappears in other passages: see for instance (Dubois 1956, p. 172): “Lord Charles [of Valois], when the wars of Christians obedient to the lord pope have been brought to a close, can, by the grace of God, easily seize the empire of Constantinople.” (Dubois 1956, p. 172): “If the above suggestions be successfully carried out, he [the king of the French] will be able to ally all kings and princes obedient to the Roman Church with himself and his brother, who, in view of the opportunity to conquer the empire of the Greeks without disorder in the kingdom of the French, cannot fail to begin the war and prosecute it to the death.”
Laetitia Boehm highlights the interconnection between the matter of Sicily and the recovery of the Latin empire of Constantinople in Charles of Anjou’s milieus (Boehm 1968, pp. 19–24).
See (Hillgarth 1971, pp. 60–62, esp. 60): “[Dubois’s] views […] mirror, although at times very imperfectly, real projects taken up by the French Crown, claims laid to the Empires of East and West, different attempts to implant French princes in Spain (Aragon, Castille, and Navarre), in Italy, and in Hungary, some of which attempts were successful.”
See (Hillgarth 1971, pp. 77–86). Of particular importance here is the following passage of Lull’s Liber de acquisitione terrae sanctae: “The Roman Emperor used to obtain victory over his enemies with the city of Constantinople. Thus in order to acquire the Holy Land it is necessary to bring about a concord between both empires [of East and West], so that the city of Constantinople may be obedient to the Roman Church, as a daughter to her mother, and that the Greek schism may be destroyed: this destruction is possible when carefully planned and with the use of force and with [the aid of] the Venerable Lord Charles [of Valois], and of the Reverend Master of the Hospital and this easily with the goods of the Church […]. By the acquisition of Constantinople the Holy Land can be recovered in a good manner and easily but, without this, with difficulty and delay” (I, 2, quoted and translated in (Hillgarth 1971, p. 84)). On Dubois and Lull’s treatises discussed here, see also (Schein 1991, pp. 207–9, 217–18; Leopold 2000, pp. 32–33).
Through the tradition of the reditus regni ad stirpem Karoli, widely diffused at the time of Philip Auguste’s marriage with Isabelle of Hainaut, who had Carolingian ancestors. See (Werner 1952; Spiegel 1971).
See (Grundmann 1977, p. 141; Potestà 2014, pp. 171, 185 n. 67). The Philip ‘the Fair’ had received very positive evaluations also from another important representative of the Spiritual Franciscan current in Italy, Ubertino da Casale (see Potestà 2014, p. 186 n. 71), who called him rex inclitus and pugil Christi (see Ubertino of Casale 1961, p. 466). The same term pugil, referred to Philippe the Fair, was used by several other French légistes, including Guillaume de Nogaret, as well as Ramon Lull (see Hillgarth 1971, pp. 117–18).
More specifically, he is called de leonina prosapia generosus: see (Grundmann 1977, p. 142, n. 97). The assimilation of Angevine (or French) king to the lion was commonplace in the prophetic language of the time, and was often presented in opposition with the imperial eagle, the emblem of the Swabian (and later Aragonian) competitors to the throne of Sicily: see (Jäckel 2006, pp. 96–105, 256–59).
In the Liber de Flore, moreover, the generosus rex will be crowned emperor by the pastor angelicus himself, who would transmit to him all temporal power on earth—including the Patrimonium Petri, as it is easy to surmise, since the Angelic Pope will keep only the spiritual authority (see Grundmann 1977, p. 141). Is it possible to detect in this expectation another possible connection with Dubois’s De recuperatione, especially in that passage concerning the appointment of a Roman senator? (see above, n. 27)
The same plan was reiterated at the time of Philip IV, who “expressed his interest in the recovery of the Holy Land in more than one way. First of all there was his support for the plan of his brother, Charles of Valois, to recover the Holy Land through the conquest of Constantinople. This scheme, in essence a French plan which, if successful, would have made a Capetian prince into an emperor” (Schein 1985, p. 123). See also (Tyerman 1984, pp. 170–72). On the plans to recover the Latin Empire of Constantinople at the time of Philip IV ‘the Fair’ as a step towards the passagium generale in the Holy Land, see (Schein 1991, pp. 157–60, 176–80, 183–87, 242, 249). See also (Mantelli 2014, p. 55).
See (Jostmann 2006, p. 297), in which the hypothesis is advanced “that the Sibilla Erithea mirrors the view of people associated to the Curia who, even in face of acute dangers, did not lose sight of the cause of the Latin Empire. Several hints therefore suggest that the concern of curial circles about the survival of the Latin empire during the summer crisis of 1241 gave rise to the creation of the Sibilla Erithea.” See also (Jostmann 2008).
See above n. 22.
See (Jostmann 2006, p. 293). See also (Norden 1903, pp. 273–74). Gregory IX’s assessments on the Latin kingdom of Constantinople as a preliminary step toward the liberation of the Holy Land can be found in many passages of his writings (see Jostmann 2006, p. 293 n. 1033). More in general, for Gregory’s interest in the Latin kingdom of Constantinople, see (Spence 1979). For other examples of papal pronouncements about the necessity of acquiring both Sicily and Constantinople for the reconquest of the Holy Land (especially in the thirteenth century), see (Weiler 2003, p. 10); more specifically for the Latin empire of Constantinople, see (Leopold 2000, pp. 25–26, 138–43).
This seems to be well expressed in one passage of the Sibilla Eritea, in which is described the rise to world domination of the “anti-Christian” king who rules over Sicily at the time in which the narrative of this prophetic writing is set (in reality a clear representation of Frederick II and his offspring): Primum caput eius erit regnum Sicilie, secundum maius Romanum imperium, tertium minus Ierosolimitanum, quartum Constantinopolitanum, de quo Erithea: Exinde accrescet aquile quartum caput splendidum (quoted in Jostmann 2006, p. 96). These are exactly the same locations claimed by Charles of Anjou for himself or his relatives. It is also interesting to remark, in the ordering of these kingdoms as they are listed in the Sibilla Eritea’s excerpt, a seemingly conscious combination of two Western and two Eastern kingdoms, marked by the respective association of Sicily and the Roman empire on the one hand and Constantinople and Jerusalem on the other.
See for instance (Delaborde 1888, p. 522; Labande-Mailfert 1975, pp. 183, 281). According to Commynes, it was Ludovico Sforza who suggested to the king the acquisition of the kingdom of Naples to pave the way for the conquest of Constantinople. See (de Commynes 2007, pp. 543–44): “Et luy dist le seigneur Ludovic a son rrive: ‘Sire, ne craignés point ceste emprise. En Ytalie a trois puissances que nous tenons grandes, don’t vous avés l’une, qui est Milan. L’autre ne bouge, qui sont Veniciens; ainsi n’avés a faire que a celle de Napples, et plusieurs de voz predecesseurs nous ont batuz, quant nous estions tous ensemble. Quant vous me vouldréz croire, je vous aideray a faire plus grant que ne fut jamais Charlemaigne; et chasserons ce Turc hors de ceste empire de Constantinoble aiseement, quant vous auréz ce royaulme de Naples.’” Also Guilloche’s rendition of the Prophecy of Charles son of Charles applied to Charles VIII emphasized the importance of the conquest of Sicily (see above, n. 7).
Charles VIII never bought the claims of Andrew, although rumors about the conclusion of the deal were eagerly diffused in Italy (see Delaborde 1888, pp. 522–23; Labande-Mailfert 1975, p. 367). According to Marin Sanudo, pope Alexander VI would have summoned “un concilio zeneral de tutta la christianità, maxime de li potentati de Italia, et voleva ajuto da tutti a passar el mar a destrution de Turchi et infideli, et combatter per la fede di Christo. Et el Pontefice lo voleva incoronar imperador di Constantinopoli si’l restava de l’impresa. Et el Re disse voleva prima ottener l’imperio, et poi haver el titolo d’imperator” (Sanuto 1883, p. 188).
See (Latowsky 2013, p. 210): “For imperial propagandists, Sicily was at once a real political problem and a poetic missing piece in the theory of universal dominion. As a territory contested by the same political entities that jockeyed for position at the helm of Christendom (the papacy, the German empire, and the Byzantines [one could also add the Anjou, Aragonese, and French pretenders from the thirteenth century onward]), southern Italy embodied real contested territory and, at the same time, symbolic uncertainty over the inheritance of the Roman Empire [or, more generally, dominion over Christendom.”
It is remarkable to see the same Sicily-Constantinople-Jerusalem direction (albeit in this case reversed) in an author not directly involved in crusading preoccupations such as Godfrey of Viterbo, who, in describing the life of Charlemagne in his Pantheon, deliberately altered the biographical references provided by earlier sources well-known to the German chancellery, and inserts Sicily as one of the lands through which the largely mythized Frankish ruler had supposedly marched (see Latowsky 2013, pp. 209–11). After this event, “the territory in southern Italy […] joins the nations of the East as part of Charlemagne’s empire (Latowsky 2013, p. 210). Some of the details about Charlemagne’s journey according to Godfrey’s Pantheon significantly resonates with the passages about the future conquests of Henry IV in Benzo’s Ad Heinricum, including the geographical references to Sicilia, Calabria et Apulia (see Godfrey of Viterbo 1872, pp. 222–23), the same regions that had been mentioned by the bishop of Alba and, still at the time of Frederick Barbarossa, appeared “in the debates between the Germans, the Greeks, and the papacy over the theoretical leadership of the Christian imperium” and were represented “as an obstacle to be overcome in the Staufen achievement of imperial unity and dominium mundi (Latowsky 2013, p. 211)
Of course, the control of Sicily and Constantinople carried important strategic significance for any plan to recover the Holy Land and in fact the conquest of these two regions appear in several crusade projects that were alien from prophetic or eschatological speculations. See (Schein 1991; Mantelli 2013; Vagnon 2014). Specifically for the central role of Sicily under the rule of Charles of Anjou, see (Baldwin 2012).
It would be very interesting to assess to what extent the geographical-military pattern examined in this article was applied or reproduced to other major crusading frontlines, such as Iberia, the Baltic, or, later on, central European regions, such as Hungary for the latter example, see (Fodor 1999; Varga 2000).


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Giardini, M. Sicily, Constantinople, and Jerusalem: A Geographical Pattern in Crusading Expectations along the Centuries. Religions 2023, 14, 999.

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Giardini M. Sicily, Constantinople, and Jerusalem: A Geographical Pattern in Crusading Expectations along the Centuries. Religions. 2023; 14(8):999.

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Giardini, Marco. 2023. "Sicily, Constantinople, and Jerusalem: A Geographical Pattern in Crusading Expectations along the Centuries" Religions 14, no. 8: 999.

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