We all know many men who have distinguished themselves in their lives, from Charles the Great to Nelson Mandela, from Julius Caesar to Michael Jackson, and I could still sit here and quote many others, for what they did and what they had been. All this knowledge thanks to school, television and advertising that has told us about the lives of these men over the years.
What I will talk about in this article is instead the result of the oral and popular tradition, which has long kept stories forgotten and unknown to many people.
Serlo II of Hauteville (Serlone d’Altavilla, in Italian) was born around 1040 in Hauteville-la-Guichard. He was the Count of Geraci and a quarter of Sicily, and distinguished himself for his courage and victories against the Saracens who occupied Sicily in those years.
But what made this Norman count famous in Sicily, and present also as a legend in the tradition of Cerami and in general of the Province of Enna, was the great battle that took place near Cerami.
Legend has it that Serlo, together with one hundred and thirty-six knights (each knight had a man and an archer who accompanied him), faced fifty-thousand Saracens in the open field. Precisely because of the number of soldiers, the story can be compared to the battle of Thermopylae, as stated in the chronicles of the Benedictine monk Godfrey Malaterra, which are the only written records of this magnificent battle.
The differences between the two events are that the outcome of the clash between Saracens and Normans was in favour of the latter and that, while in the Spartan battle human courage and love for the country were exalted, in the Battle of Cerami the divine rescue was exalted instead. In fact, according to tradition, King Roger I called for the help of St. Michael and St. George who took to the field with white horses. To thank the saint who helped them, Roger I built a church dedicated to St. Michael, of which there are now only a few remains, and a Confraternity that still exists.
Between legend and mystery, little is said about the truth and charm of the Battle of Cerami. The legendary character was later betrayed by a friend and escaped to Nissoria, in the so-called “Serlo’s Rock” or “Rocca di Sarru” (in the local dialect), where he was killed by a group of Saracens. Then they took his head to Tripoli to prove that they had killed that legendary leader.