Chapter 19: The Great Count Returns
The End of the War of the Four Counts in Sicily
The End of the War of the Four Counts in Sicily
With the death of Robert Magno, the War of the Four Counts was reduced to three claimants to the Kingdom of Sicily. News of Magno’s death understandably strained the relationship between Rodrigo de Mahdia and Marino Cassandro, both of whom maintained that they were the rightful King of Sicily. Meanwhile, in Salerno, which Giorgios Xenos had made his forward base, the Greek claimant to the Kingdom of Sicily prepared to make a second advance into Sicily. His vast personal fortune had been significantly reduced by the costs of supplying his armies, not to mention the hiring costs of the various mercenaries he had employed. Thus, he had been forced to start taxing the already hurting peasantry of Apulia and Calabria in order to hire a fresh army to replace the one that had begun to melt away following Robert Magno’s death.
Xenos travelled to Napoli, where he planned on meeting an incoming Occitan force that he had hired from the currently idle Marselha, but Marino Cassandro moved more rapidly. He had retained naval superiority over Xenos and Magno throughout the War of the Four Counts, and used it to his full advantage by attacking Napoli in force. The majority of his navy and marine forces to Napoli, Cassandro had his marines hoisted atop the rigging of his ships and onto the low sea walls. The siege was mercifully brief, and by the end of the day, Xenos had fled the city with a number of his loyal supporters, and would eventually end up in Ravenna. The Occitan army that Xenos had hired would arrive days later, and while a bolster to his own forces would have been preferred by Cassandro, his own financial situation was too shaky to risk the ire of unpaid mercenaries. Thus, the Occitans were informed of the situation, and promptly sailed home.
The removal of Giorgios Xenos from the War of the Four Counts resulted in the effective end of the truce between Marino Cassandro and Rodrigo de Mahdia. William Opamhill and Henri Palomer, realizing that their allegiance to Robert Magno and later Giorgios Xenos would likely bring about some form of revenge from Cassandro, the two managed to escape from Amalfi with the remainder of the Xenos-Magno navy and sail to Palermo, where Rodrigo de Mahdia had taken up residence. The two, along with the now aging Bishop of Palermo, Francisco Vittoriti, received a warm welcome from Rodrigo de Mahdia . Thus, in June of 1394, five years since the last King of Sicily was pushed aside, Rodrigo de Mahdia was crowned King Rodrigo I of Sicily in the Palermo Cathedral.
With the support of William Opamhill and Henri Palomer bolstering his navy, Francisco Vittoriti giving him legitimacy, and both North Africa and Sicily providing troops and tax money, Rodrigo I was in a much stronger position than Marino Cassandro. Although Cassandro was able to provide more stable rule in southern Italy than Magno and Xenos had, he was still limited to southern Italy, Corsica, and Sardinia, all of which were far more damaged from the war than North Africa, which had remained untouched, and Sicily, which had seen only an abortive, if critical, invasion that had only seem one major battle and relatively little plundering.
Thus, Cassandro’s main advantage remained his navy, and thus naval raids on Sicily’s coasts began in earnest. According to Cassandro’s personal writings, which were preserved in Napoli,
Marino Cassandro said:“The decision to raid the coasts of Sicily has been one of the most difficult decisions of my life. Such brutality will not win me the hearts of Sicily, upon whom I relied for three years of battle. That Sicily must suffer so injustly at my own hand is nearly enough to convince me to end my war. But the Berber must be defeated, and much as I may hate it, to return now, after all I have done, would be far worse for all than going forward with my plans. Such are the sins that plague my soul.” 
Rodrigo, meanwhile, needed a quick victory in order to maintain his momentum in the War of the Four Counts . Although Rodrigo was momentarily in the stronger position, Marino’s naval superiority gave him a major advantage in the Mediterranean, particularly with Rodrigo’s inability to keep the Tunis - Trapani line closed . Should Rodrigo be unable to continue appearing to be victorious, he faced the very real possibility that his own supporters in Sicily could revolt or otherwise turn to Cassandro.
Thus, in early 1395, Rodrigo began to prepare an invasion of southern Italy. With Cassandro’s navy constantly patrolling the Straits of Messina, invasion through that means was out of the question. Instead, in March 1395, the remaining navy under Rodrigo’s command ferried a force 16,000 men strong from Syracuse around Calabria, where they landed at Kroton. From there, Rodrigo led his forces on a whirlwind campaign through Apulia, seizing multiple ports and cutting off Cassandro from most of the Adriatic coast. By the end of the campaigning season of 1395, Rodrigo had made it as far north as Benevento, isolating Cassandro in the western portion of southern Italy.
When the end finally came for Marino Cassandro, it came quickly. In April of 1396, Napoli fell to Rodrigo’s forces. Marino was captured, tonsured, and sent into exile in a monastery in Portugal. Finally, for the first time in seven years, the Kingdom of Sicily had been reunited under a single, strong ruler. With Robert Magno dead and Marino Cassandro and Giorgios Xenos fled, and the people of Sicily generally tired of civil war, Rodrigo I de Mahdia was finally secure on his throne.
In an attempt to raise public support for his regime, one of Rodrigo’s first actions was to invite the governors and nobles of his realm, as well as the Pope and the College of Cardinals, to Palermo for a feast. Although he was chronically short on funds, he managed to spend the remaining treasury on the feast and a public fair for the peasantry of Sicily. The stated reason behind the festivities was to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the crowning of King Roger I, although the actual anniversary had occurred four years previously. During the festivities, Rodrigo concluded a treaty with the Lombard League and the Papal States, with Milan, Siena, Ferrara, and Rome all signing a mutual defensive pact with Palermo. Genoa, Venice, and Ravenna, however, refused to ally themselves with Rodrigo, Venice and Genoa due to their mercantile rivalry with Sicily, and Ravenna due to the increasing power in the city-state of Giorgios Xenos and his son, Andreas Xenos .
In order to counterbalance the power of Sicily, the cities of Venice and Ravenna instead allied themselves with the growing power of the Bulgarian Empire. Under the powerful Asen dynasty, the Kingdom of Bulgaria had grown significantly in power, establishing a hegemony over the southern and central Balkans. Although Venice retained control of the Peloponnesus and Constantinople, and Croatia remained in the Hungarian sphere of influence, the area between the Aegean and the Danube river remained under Bulgarian control. With the conversion of the Kipchak Khanate to Nestorianism, the virtual flood of Vlach immigrants to Bulgaria had been stemmed, but not before the population of the Danube frontier had been significantly increased. Thus, the combined Slavic-Greek population was able to hold the frontiers of the Bulgarian Empire steady against their Catholic neighbors to the north, south, and east.
In 1358, the city of Ragusa had fallen to the Bulgarian armies, giving the Orthodox nation significant power in Adriatic trade. Early Venetian attempts to curb Bulgarian power in the Adriatic had resulted in humiliating Venetian defeats after attempts to storm the cities of Dyrrachium and Ragusa, the two most powerful and influential Bulgarian cities on the Adriatic . Thus, with the Treaty of Split, the Republics of Venice and Ravenna formally allied themselves with the Bulgarian Empire. The result was that, of the great cities on the Adriatic, only one - Bari - was not part of the mercantile sphere of the Bulgarians and Venetians.
Meanwhile, Rodrigo I had come to be known as the “Great Count” due to his supposed rank as “Count of Africa.”  Out of the Arx Fredericus Rogerus, Rodrigo encouraged the spread of this nickname. Aside from the obvious reasons for encouraging others to call you “Great,” the nickname “the Great Count” drew clear parallels between Rodrigo and Roger de Hauteville, the “Great Count.” In 1400, Rodrigo was just entering his forties, and was just as charismatic, energetic, and physically capable as he had been over a decade ago, when the War of the Four Counts had first broken out.
With the reign of Rodrigo de Mahdia moving into the year 1400, the 14th century in Sicily can be seen in review. From Robert I Hohenstaufen to Rodrigo I de Mahdia, the Kingdom of Sicily had seen fewer great Kings than proceeding centuries had. Neither Giovanni Giustiniani nor William Opamhill, nor any of the other Kings Sicily had seen, were Roger I or Frederick I. However, Sicily had seen a gradual trend through their weaker Kings, particularly Robert I and Roger V, of centralization. The Constitution of Salerno, the establishment of the Sicilian Chancellory, and the creation of the Thema administrative districts, all led to the further erosion of feudalism and serfdom in the Kingdom of Sicily.
These developments led to Sicily remaining ahead of the curve in the development of European nations. The feudal underpinnings of Holy Roman, Spanish, Hungarian, and, to lesser extents, Angevin, Occitan, and French societies, continued to hamstring the Kings and Emperors of those nations. Meanwhile, nations like Venice and Genoa, while not harmed by the agrarian, conservative, and decentralized societies of the rest of Europe, were too short on territory to be as major powers as their neighbors. Sicily, while not as large as the Angevin or Holy Roman Empires, was populous and centralized enough to be considered one of the major powers of Europe at the time.
Thus, as 1400 dawned and the Middle Ages entered their final century, the Kingdom of Sicily remained one of the greatest powers in Europe. The court of Palermo remained to be one of unmatched artistic and intellectual splendor, with the Universities scattered throughout the major cities of Sicily providing intelligent and well-educated bureaucrats, doctors, artists, and officers for the army and navy. Sicily may have been wracked by Civil war and political instability, but the resilience of Sicilian society and culture allowed Sicily to remain one of Europe’s most splendid nations. Thus, the de Mahdia dynasty, while still young and relatively untested, could look forward to a bright future.
 - The Bishopric of Palermo had remained vacant during Marino Cassandro’s time in control of the island, with services held by an interim clergyman until, Cassandro hoped, he could force Vittoriti to return to his see and crown Cassandro King of Sicily. Vittoriti had been staunchly against Cassandro since the coup of 1379, and thus continued to support his opposition, from Magno to Xenos and finally to Rodrigo.
 - Rodrigo I’s opponents often took to referring to his as “the Berber” as a derogatory reference to his North African descent. This nickname would remain with his for the rest of his life.
 - Depending on one’s definition of the War of the Four Counts, of course. Some later historians have simply considered the battles occurring between 1394 and 1396 to be an ongoing rebellion against the future king.
 - The Tunis-Trapani line is part of the Tunis-Trapani-Messina-Reggio line, which represents the sea lanes that the Kingdom of Sicily could use to control shipping between the Eastern and Western Mediterranean, along with maintaining commerce and communication between the various parts of the Kingdom. Without a navy significant enough to challenge Marino’s, Rodrigo would be unable to effectively coordinate his various dominions.
 - Ravenna had a significant Greek population, and was a close ally of the Republic of Venice, making the Xenos family a powerful ally for the city-states.
 - Thesseloniki, Ragusa, Dyrrachium, Adrianople, Sofia, and Athens made up the largest cities in the Bulgarian Empire. It is notable that out of those six, only two - Ragusa and Sofia - were primarily Slavic, while the other four were largely Greek cities.
 - Rodrigo was never actually the Count of Africa, as no such title actually existed. However, his control over all of Sicilian North Africa had given rise to that “title” among the streets of Tunis and Mahdia, from where it spread to Sicily and southern Italy.
For reference, here is a current list of the Kings of Sicily:
Roger de Hauteville, the “Great Count” (1071-1101)
Simon de Hauteville (1101-1105)
King Roger I de Hauteville (1105-1154) (Crowned King in 1130)
King William I de Hauteville “the Unlucky” (1154-1166)
King William II de Hauteville “the Lucky” (1166-1189)
King Tancred I de Lecce (1189-1194)
King Roger II de Lecce (1193)
King William III de Lecce (1194)
Emperor Henry VI Hohenstaufen (1189-1197) (Claimed Sicily, but did not control it until after the death of William III)
King Frederick I Hohenstaufen “Stupor Mundi” (1197-1250)
King Roger III Hohenstaufen (1250-1265)
King Alfons I Hohenstaufen (1265-1291)
King Robert I Hohenstaufen (1291-1326)
Kings Frederick II and Roger IV Hohenstaufen (1326-1328)
King Frederick II Hohenstaufen (1328-1337)
- Interim, John Hohenstaufen is the functioning but not crowned King -
King Giovanni I Giustiniani (1338-1357)
King Roger V Giustiniani (1357-1379)
- Interim, the War of the Four Counts, with 4 uncrowned claimants to the throne -
King Rodrigo I de Mahdia (1384-)