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History of the Town of Butera | Butera's Place
History of the Town of Butera

History of the Town of Butera

Contributed by Robert Butera

The town of Butera, as far as I can trace, was originally a Lombard colony, introduced and founded by Roger I, Great Count of Sicily of the House of Hautville (died 1101).  Roger I was a forbearer of Barbarossa, Empower of Germany, 1152-1190.  The success of these colonies is attested to by the fact that, as little as a century ago, the residents of Butera spoke a dialect more related to northern Italy than Sicily.  The Lombards were a Germanic people who settled in northern Italy.

In January, 1156, a group of Barons, under the leadership of Bartholomew Garsiliato, withdrew to the fortress city of Butera and came out in open rebellion against William, King of Sicily.  It was the first time in the island’s history that a group of Christian Vassals had declared themselves openly against their ruler.  The local population around Butera was largely Arab and Moslem and their revolt threatened to spread among the Mohammadens.

The King, recovering from an illness, was embroiled in hard campaigning on the Italian mainland and sought diplomatic solutions to the insurrection.  He sent Everard, Count of Squillance, to Butera to ask why they had taken such a drastic step.  The insurgents claimed that they had no quarrel with the King, but with his chief magistrate, The Emir of Emirs, whose name was Maio, and Hugh, the Archbishop.  These two men, they insisted, had been plotting to assassinate the King and assume control themselves.  The rebels proposed that if these two men were released from their duties, they would lay down their arms at Palermo and beg his pardon.

King William, however, trusted both these men and sent no reply to the rebels at Butera.  In March, riots inspired by the insurgent Barons broke out in Palermo.  Demonstrations were made against the Emir and Archbishop and loud calls were made for the release of Simon of Policastro, a young Count imprisoned by the Archbishop for "treason."

The presence of the riots in his capital city galvanized William into action.  To appease the mob, he ordered the release of Simon, who, with Archbishop Hugh, accompanied him and his army to Butera.  Simon, William hoped, would act as mediator with the Barons.  He still wished to avoid bloodshed.

The city of Butera was an ideal stronghold, perched high on a pinnacle of rock between two steep valleys.  Such a position could be staunchly defended.  However, the generosity of William’s terms and the persuasiveness of Simon, convinced the Barons to surrender.  The King maintained that he had the utmost confidence in the Archbishop and Emir.  He ordered them to surrender at once, their lives and property to be spared, and they would be subject to exile at the King’s pleasure.  Butera was surrendered.

In the year 1161 another revolt against William occurred.  The two nobles primarily responsible were Tancreed of Lecce and Roger Sclavo who took Piazza and Butera, and from there began stirring up the Lombards against the Moslem peasantry .  The terror spread and in many areas the Saracens escaped death only by disguising themselves as Christians and taking flight, many of them never to return to their homes.  William was again busy with events on the mainland but resolved to attend to Sicily first.  By the end of April he was in the field.  The city of Piazza was taken after a siege of several weeks and burnt to the ground.  Butera, his next objective, presented a more formidable challenge.  The rebels, hoping that off-island troubles might force the King to abandon a siege, fought with determination, even consulting astrologers to determine the most auspicious times for sorties and counter-attacks.  Since William, with his own astrologers, was able to predict these times as well, the tactic most likely did more harm than good.  By the end of winter, the nobles were persuaded to exchange the town for safe passage out of Sicily.  They were allowed to leave, but for Butera, the town that had betrayed him twice in five years, he had no pity.  By Christmas the proud pinnacle where once stood Butera was nothing but a smoldering ruin.