George of Antioch
George of Antioch was the first true ammiratus ammiratorum
Admiral is the rank, or part of the name of the ranks, of the highest naval officers. It is usually considered a full admiral and above vice admiral and below admiral of the fleet . It is usually abbreviated to "Adm" or "ADM"...

, successor of the great Christodulus
Christodulus , probably either a Moslem convert or a Greek Orthodox, was the first emir of Palermo . His rise occurred after the death of Count Simon of Sicily in 1105 and he held the position of emir by 1107, during the regency of Adelaide del Vasto for her son, King Roger II of...

. George was a Greek Melchite, born in Antioch
Antioch on the Orontes was an ancient city on the eastern side of the Orontes River. It is near the modern city of Antakya, Turkey.Founded near the end of the 4th century BC by Seleucus I Nicator, one of Alexander the Great's generals, Antioch eventually rivaled Alexandria as the chief city of the...

, whence he moved with his father, Michael, and mother to Tunisia
Tunisia , officially the Tunisian RepublicThe long name of Tunisia in other languages used in the country is: , is the northernmost country in Africa. It is a Maghreb country and is bordered by Algeria to the west, Libya to the southeast, and the Mediterranean Sea to the north and east. Its area...

. His parents found employment under the Zirid Sultan, Tamim ibn Muizz
Tamim ibn Muizz
Tamim ibn al-Muizz was the fifth ruler of the Zirids in Ifriqiya .Tamim took over from his father Al-Muizz ibn Badis at a time when the Zirid realm found itself in a state of disintegration following the invasion of the Banu Hilal. Only the coastal towns were under control, and a reconquest of...

. George fell out with Tamim's son and successor, Yahya, and secretly left for Christian Sicily
Sicily is a region of Italy, and is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. Along with the surrounding minor islands, it constitutes an autonomous region of Italy, the Regione Autonoma Siciliana Sicily has a rich and unique culture, especially with regard to the arts, music, literature,...

, stealing away in disguise aboard a Palermitan
Palermo is a city in Southern Italy, the capital of both the autonomous region of Sicily and the Province of Palermo. The city is noted for its history, culture, architecture and gastronomy, playing an important role throughout much of its existence; it is over 2,700 years old...

 ship, then harboured in Mahdia
Mahdia is a provincial centre north of Sfax. It is important for the associated fish-processing industry, as well as weaving. It is the capital of Mahdia Governorate.- History :...

, while his Muslim masters prayed. Upon arrival in the Sicilian capital, George went immediately to the palace and found service with the Norman
The Normans were the people who gave their name to Normandy, a region in northern France. They were descended from Norse Viking conquerors of the territory and the native population of Frankish and Gallo-Roman stock...

 count, Roger II
Roger II of Sicily
Roger II was King of Sicily, son of Roger I of Sicily and successor to his brother Simon. He began his rule as Count of Sicily in 1105, later became Duke of Apulia and Calabria , then King of Sicily...


Rise and early career: subjugation of Apulia

Due to his bilingualism (in Greek and Arabic) and his familiarity with the Mediterranean, he was soon working as an ambassador on missions to Fatimid
The Fatimid Islamic Caliphate or al-Fāṭimiyyūn was a Berber Shia Muslim caliphate first centered in Tunisia and later in Egypt that ruled over varying areas of the Maghreb, Sudan, Sicily, the Levant, and Hijaz from 5 January 909 to 1171.The caliphate was ruled by the Fatimids, who established the...

Egypt , officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, Arabic: , is a country mainly in North Africa, with the Sinai Peninsula forming a land bridge in Southwest Asia. Egypt is thus a transcontinental country, and a major power in Africa, the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and the Muslim world...

. He rose to the title of familiaris of the court and by 1123 had risen to second in command in Christodulus' navy. In the attack on Mahdia that year, George captured the fortress of ad-Dimas, but the campaign had to be abandoned. In the following five years, George overshadowed Chrisotodulus and by 1127 had replaced him in the position of emir of Palermo. In that year, both emirs were present at Montescaglioso with Count Roger, but Christodulus seems to have died soon thereafter and George succeeded him.

George was instrumental in fully subduing independent-minded Apulia
Apulia is a region in Southern Italy bordering the Adriatic Sea in the east, the Ionian Sea to the southeast, and the Strait of Òtranto and Gulf of Taranto in the south. Its most southern portion, known as Salento peninsula, forms a high heel on the "boot" of Italy. The region comprises , and...

 and Calabria
Calabria , in antiquity known as Bruttium, is a region in southern Italy, south of Naples, located at the "toe" of the Italian Peninsula. The capital city of Calabria is Catanzaro....

 in the years following Roger's succession there. In 1129, George brought sixty ships to bear on besieged Bari
Bari is the capital city of the province of Bari and of the Apulia region, on the Adriatic Sea, in Italy. It is the second most important economic centre of mainland Southern Italy after Naples, and is well known as a port and university city, as well as the city of Saint Nicholas...

, then rebellious under Prince Grimoald Alferanites. Surrender was forced, but Roger pardoned the prince. In 1131, Roger demanded that the citizens of Amalfi
Amalfi is a town and comune in the province of Salerno, in the region of Campania, Italy, on the Gulf of Salerno, c. 35 km southeast of Naples. It lies at the mouth of a deep ravine, at the foot of Monte Cerreto , surrounded by dramatic cliffs and coastal scenery...

 turn over the keys to the castle as well as full control over their city's defences. The Amalfitans refused and George blockaded the city and captured all Amalfitan ships, forcing the city to surrender. In 1132, George was given the title ammiratus ammiratorum, which translates as Admiral of Admirals in modern English, but was understood as Emir of Emirs to his contemporaries. He was also given the Greek title "Archon of Archons".

In 1143, George founded the Greek Orthodox church of S. Maria dell'Ammiraglio, also known as the Martorana, in Palermo. In the church there is a contemporary mosaic depicting George, as well as a famous mosaic representing Roger II being crowned by Christ.

Height of career: conquests in Greece and Africa

In 1146, George captured Tripoli and established Sicilian authority in North Africa on a permanent basis. He had already captured several minor coastal cities in the fifteen years prior, but Mahdia, which had been in the hands of Abul-Hasan al-Hasan ibn Ali
Abul-Hasan al-Hasan ibn Ali
Abul-Hasan al-Hasan ibn Ali was the last ruler of the Zirid dynasty in Ifriqiya 1121–1152...

 since the failed attack of 1123, did not capitulate yet.

In 1147, Roger attacked the Byzantine Empire
Byzantine Empire
The Byzantine Empire was the Eastern Roman Empire during the periods of Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, centred on the capital of Constantinople. Known simply as the Roman Empire or Romania to its inhabitants and neighbours, the Empire was the direct continuation of the Ancient Roman State...

, which continued to contest his gains in southern Italy. George he sent from Otranto
Otranto is a town and comune in the province of Lecce , in a fertile region once famous for its breed of horses.It is located on the east coast of the Salento peninsula. The Strait of Otranto, to which the city gives its name, connects the Adriatic Sea with the Ionian Sea and Italy with Albania...

 with seventy galleys to assault Corfu
Corfu is a Greek island in the Ionian Sea. It is the second largest of the Ionian Islands, and, including its small satellite islands, forms the edge of the northwestern frontier of Greece. The island is part of the Corfu regional unit, and is administered as a single municipality. The...

. According to Nicetas Choniates
Nicetas Choniates
Nicetas or Niketas Choniates , sometimes called Acominatos, was a Greek historian – like his brother Michael Acominatus, whom he accompanied from their birthplace Chonae to Constantinople...

, the island capitulated due to the imperial tax burden and George's promises. Leaving a garrison, George sailed on to the Peloponnesus. He sacked Athens
Athens , is the capital and largest city of Greece. Athens dominates the Attica region and is one of the world's oldest cities, as its recorded history spans around 3,400 years. Classical Athens was a powerful city-state...

 and quickly moved on to the Ionian Islands
Ionian Islands
The Ionian Islands are a group of islands in Greece. They are traditionally called the Heptanese, i.e...

. He ravaged the coast all along Euboea
Euboea is the second largest Greek island in area and population, after Crete. The narrow Euripus Strait separates it from Boeotia in mainland Greece. In general outline it is a long and narrow, seahorse-shaped island; it is about long, and varies in breadth from to...

 and the Gulf of Corinth
Gulf of Corinth
The Gulf of Corinth or the Corinthian Gulf is a deep inlet of the Ionian Sea separating the Peloponnese from western mainland Greece...

 and penetrated as far as Thebes
Thebes, Greece
Thebes is a city in Greece, situated to the north of the Cithaeron range, which divides Boeotia from Attica, and on the southern edge of the Boeotian plain. It played an important role in Greek myth, as the site of the stories of Cadmus, Oedipus, Dionysus and others...

, where he pillaged the silk factories and carried off the Jewish silk weavers. George capped the expedition with a sack of Corinth
Corinth is a city and former municipality in Corinthia, Peloponnese, Greece. Since the 2011 local government reform it is part of the municipality Corinth, of which it is the seat and a municipal unit...

, in which the relics of Saint Theodore
Saint Theodore
-People:*See Theodore, Philippa, and Companions for Theodore of Perge, 3rd century martyr and saint*Theodore of Amasea, or of Tyre, "the Tyro", "the Recruit", 4th century military saint and martyr...

 were stolen, and then returned to Sicily.

In 1148, George finally conquered Mahdia. Antecedently, the governor of Gabès
Gabès , also spelt Cabès, Cabes, Kabes, Gabbs and Gaps, the ancient Tacape, is the capital city of the Gabès Governorate, a province of Tunisia. It lies on the coast of the Gulf of Gabès. With a population of 116,323 it is the 6th largest Tunisian city.-History:Strabo refers to Tacape as an...

 had revolted against his overlord, al-Hasan, and promised to deliver his city to Roger II if he was confirmed as governor. War inevitably broke out in the summer of 1148. George led a fleet against Mahdia. The sultan voluntarily went into exile, taking with him very little treasure, and Mahdia capitulated. The cities of Sfax
Sfax is a city in Tunisia, located southeast of Tunis. The city, founded in AD 849 on the ruins of Taparura and Thaenae, is the capital of the Sfax Governorate , and a Mediterranean port. Sfax has population of 340,000...

 and Soussa surrendered soon after. Tunisia (Ifriqiya)
Kingdom of Africa
The Kingdom of Africa was an ephemeral frontier zone of the Siculo-Norman state in the former Roman province of Africa , corresponding to parts of Algeria, Tunisia and Libya today. The main primary sources for the kingdom are Arabic ; the Latin sources are scanter...

 was incorporated into the Kingdom of Sicily, which reached its apogee through George's conquests, containing not only Sicily and the Mezzogiorno
The Midday is a wide definition, without any administrative usage, used to indicate the southern half of the Italian state, encompassing the southern section of the continental Italian Peninsula and the two major islands of Sicily and Sardinia, in addition to a large number of minor islands...

, but also Corfu and Tunisia.

In 1149, Corfu was retaken and George took a fleet of forty ships up the Bosphorus to the walls of Constantinople
Constantinople was the capital of the Roman, Eastern Roman, Byzantine, Latin, and Ottoman Empires. Throughout most of the Middle Ages, Constantinople was Europe's largest and wealthiest city.-Names:...

, where he tried to land. Failing this, he ravaged a few villae on the Asian coast and fired arrows at the imperial palace. He died soon after, in year 546 AH
Hijri year
The Hijri year is year numbering system used in the Islamic calendar. It commemorates the Hijra , or emigration of Muhammad and his followers to the city of Medina in 622 CE. In Arabic, AH is symbolized by the letter هـ...

 according to Ibn al-Athir, corresponding to 1151 or 1152. He was succeeded in his offices by Philip of Mahdia
Philip of Mahdia
Philip of Mahdia, of Greek origin, was the emir of Palermo, the second ammiratus ammiratorum, and successor of the great George of Antioch. He was a eunuch who rose through the ranks of the royal curia in Palermo until he was eventually one of King Roger II's most trusted men...


George was a polyglot and very cultured man. He founded the church of San Michele in Mazara del Vallo
Mazara del Vallo
Mazara del Vallo is a town and comune in southwestern Sicily, Italy, which lies mainly on the left bank at the mouth of the Mazaro river, administratively part of the province of Trapani....

. Besides that and his eponymous church, George of Antioch left as an architectural monument the seven-arched Admiral's Bridge over the River Oreto by Palermo where, on May 27, 1860, Giuseppe Garibaldi
Giuseppe Garibaldi
Giuseppe Garibaldi was an Italian military and political figure. In his twenties, he joined the Carbonari Italian patriot revolutionaries, and fled Italy after a failed insurrection. Garibaldi took part in the War of the Farrapos and the Uruguayan Civil War leading the Italian Legion, and...

's Redshirts first fought the troops of Francis II of the Two Sicilies
Francis II of the Two Sicilies
Francis II , was King of the Two Sicilies from 1859 to 1861. He was the last King of the Two Sicilies, as successive invasions by Giuseppe Garibaldi and Victor Emmanuel II of Sardinia ultimately brought an end to his rule, and marked the first major event of Italian unification...

 in the Risorgimento.


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    John Julius Norwich
    John Julius Cooper, 2nd Viscount Norwich CVO — known as John Julius Norwich — is an English historian, travel writer and television personality.-Early life:...

    . The Normans in the South 1016–1130. London: Longman, 1967.
  • Norwich, John Julius
    John Julius Norwich
    John Julius Cooper, 2nd Viscount Norwich CVO — known as John Julius Norwich — is an English historian, travel writer and television personality.-Early life:...

    . The Kingdom in the Sun 1130–1194. London: Longman, 1970.
  • Aubé, Pierre
    Pierre Aubé
    Pierre Aubé is a French medieval specialist and the author of many important books. He was a professor at Rouen. He was born in Normandy.-Works:*1981: Baudouin IV de Jérusalem...

    . Roger II de Sicile. 2001.
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