After Frederick II completed his conquest of Sicily by pacifying the interior of the island, he re-settled tens of thousands of Muslims who had been holding out there to Lucera, Apulia, where he also established an imperial court. Frederick employed women, guarded by eunuchs, to make textiles and weapons–his enemies spread rumors that they were his harem. He also established a musical corps of young black men and selected an elite force of Saracen warriors to serve as his bodyguards. Through education and training, Frederick provided varied opportunities for talented individuals to advance in his service, regardless of religion or social origins.
One of these individuals, named Johannes and called “the moor,” rose from the lowest ranks of society. He was born a slave but was trained in Frederick’s service and rose to become his personal chamberlain. Frederick eventually appointed him his chief administrator in Lucera, and in this position Johannes became very influential throughout southern Italy, taking on the role of chancellor after Frederick’s death. Johannes met an unhappy end, though. As the representative of the Hohenstaufens, he had long been embroiled in conflicts with the Pope, but in 1254 he fatefully decided to switch sides and was murdered by disaffected Muslims loyal to the dynasty.
The stone head here is unidentified, but it comes from Lucera in the time of Johannes, and the facial scar could correspond to Johannes’s appearance, which one contemporary described as “deformatus.”
Source: Head of a Black African (ca. 1240s), Museo Civico di Lucera Giuseppe Fiorelli.