|King of Sicily, duke of Apulia and Calabria|
The consolidation of power: the Assizes of Ariano
Favouring a centralized, bureaucratic form of monarchical power, Roger’s internal policy was also of great importance. He was assisted in this huge task of political reorganization by his right-hand man, the Melchite ‘emir of emirs’ George of Antioch. A Greek from Syria, polyglot and well educated, he had formerly been in the service of prince Ziride of Mahdia (Tunisia) before being engaged by Roger around 1112. He was the ‘admiral’ (‘emir of emirs’) for forty years, the king’s principal counsellor.
At the vanguard of western monarchies, Roger wanted to create stable institutions for his new state, and fired by the idea of sovereignty and public property he called all his secular and ecclesiastical vassals to Ariano during the summer in 1140, after one of his customary pacification campaigns on his lands, undertaken every year with the help of one of his sons.
Roger promulgated the Assizes of Ariano, a constitution representing the juridical realization of his reforms; the forty-four paragraphs of the Assizes dealt with law and ecclesiastic jurisdiction, public law and royal law and also private law (marriage) and penal law.
It was a well thought out work, a synthesis of Frank and Norman and Muslim and Byzantine traditions. The king wanted to establish a system of power, which guarantied a balance between the crown and feudalism, relying on a centralised bureaucratic machinery, depending directly on the sovereign placed at the top of the hierarchy. Particular attention was paid to fiscal and military efficiency, together with careful control of the ecclesiastical hierarchy. An improvement in the standard of living of the population was not forgotten.
This innovatory and founding text constituted the rationale for monarchical power for seven centuries in southern Italy.