On 30 March 1282, as the bells of Palermo were ringing for Vespers, the Sicilian townsfolk, crying 'Death to the French', slaughtered the garrison and administration of their Angevin King. Seen in historical perspective it was not an especially big massacre: the revolt of the long-subjugated Sicilians might seem just another resistance movement. But the events of 1282 came at a crucial moment. Steven Runciman takes the Vespers as the climax of a great narrative sweep covering the whole of the Mediterranean in the thirteenth century. His sustained narrative power is displayed here with concentrated brilliance in the rise and fall of this fascinating episode. This is also an excellent guide to the historical background to Dante's Divine Comedy, forming almost a Who's Who of the political figures in it and providing insight into their placement in Hell, Paradise or Purgatory.
Sir Steven Runciman (1903- 2000) was a leading expert on the history of the Byzantine Empire and the Crusades. His three-volume work, A History of the Crusades, was published in 1951–54 to wide acclaim and was followed by The Fall of Constantinople, 1453 (1965), another highly praised work. Runciman served as a lecturer at the University of Cambridge from 1932 to 1938 and as a professor of Byzantine art and history at the University of Istanbul from 1942 to 1945, but for most of his life he was an independent scholar.
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