History of Sicily

Sicily History (Sicilia Italia) Old Ancient Island Facts

Lots of ethnic groups have influenced the history of Sicily. External authorities such as Greek, Ostrogoth, Islamic, Byzantine Greek, Norman, Spanish, Carthaginian, Phoenician, and Aragones have ruled Sicily from history. Several times of independence were documented, e.g., under the Elymians, Sicels, and Sicanians, later as the Kingdom of Sicily and County of Sicily.

Who Founded the Sicilian Kingdom?

Roger II, a member of the Hauteville family (Siculo-Norman), founded this Kingdom in 1130. At this time, there was evident prosperity and political authority for the Kingdom, becoming one of Europe’s richest states. The Kingdom later passed on to Hohenstaufen due to dynastic succession. 

The Island also passed to Aragon in the thirteenth century, during the Sicilian Vespers’ war (Aragon and Anjou). The Kingdom kept its independence in 1816, after making a treaty with the Bourbon and Spaniard crowns. It has its own unique culture today, even as it stands as an Autonomous region of Italy’s republic.

Sicily is the biggest region of present-day Italy and the biggest Island in the Mediterranean Sea. It stands worthy of note that Its position and endowment make it crucial as a trade hub. For instance, Palermo and Syracuse were described by al-Idrisi and Cicero as the greatest cities of the Hellenistic World in the Middle ages.

Geography and trade practices have greatly influenced the economy of Sicily. For instance, its estates were used to cultivate cereal, the practice of animal husbandry, etc. All these were built in the fourteenth century and continued until the second world war.

The Island has always been fluctuating between being the centre of notable civilizations and subjected to colonial forces. There were crest and trough periods for this Kingdom due to circumstances beyond her control throughout history.

At the onset of the Kingdom, it was highly attractive to immigrants, but it was nothing but a land of emigrants towards its end.

Prehistory of Sicily

The Greek writers of old described Sicily’s people as the Sicani, the Sicels (the origin of the Island’s name), the Elymians, or the Siculi. There is a high possibility that the Sicani tribe was initially Iberian. The Elymi might also have distant beginnings from the outskirts of Italy, in the Aegean Sea region.

The recent discovery of dolmens brought about a greater view and perspective of Sicily’s people. These dolmens were discovered in the second half of the millennium (BC), giving a rich peek into the primitive tribe’s rich culture.

Good prehistory has been a part of this tribe, and it is hard to flow within the cluster of peoples that have been in succession. Two influences have made the greatest impact on this tribe – The Mediterranean and the Europeans from the North-West.

One of the major European players was the Beaker culture; they were Pro-Celtic people. They are the bearers of the dolmens’ culture and were recently discovered to date as far back as the Neolithic Bronze Age. From the 1300BC, highly-organized urban settlements became evident.

Having begun colonies in the North African parts close by, the Phoenicians started to dwell in western Sicily in the 11th century BC. Certain settlements of Phoenicia were discovered at Soloeis (Solunto) after the dawn of a century. These settlements automatically came under the influence of the Phoenician Carthage as it rose in power.

The Classical Age


In the 8th century BC, the Greeks colonized Sicily. It was limited initially to the southern and easter sides of the Island. In 734 BC, at Syracuse, the most important colony was established. Himera, Selinunte, Akragas, Kamarina, Gela, Zancle, and Messina were the other important Greek colonies.

These Greek colonies were a crucial part of Greek civilization (classical), having Sicily as a part of Magna Grecia. It is good to note that Archimedes and Empedocles were citizens of Sicily.

Democratic rule flourished in Sicily, but the narrative changed due to their constant war against Carthage and social stress. In these periods, many tyrants took over leadership, including Dionysius the elder, Hiero, Dionysius the Younger, and Gelo.

Sicanian and Sicels were forced to move to the Island centre due to the growing Phoenician and Greek communities’ encroachment. Syracuse became the most populated city in the world by the 3rd century BC. Sicilian politics was blended into Greece, leading Athens, e.g., to embark on the Sicilian expedition during the Peloponnesian War in 415 BC. 

The Greeks had a clash with the Punic trading communities, which were now a protectorate of Carthage. These people’s capital was on the African mainland, not too distant from the southwest region of the Island. In the 8th century BC, Palermo was a Carthaginian city, with its name being Sis or Zis (“Panormos” to the people of Greece).

The far west city of Lilybaeum, now called Marsala, was not properly Hellenized. In the first and second wars of Sicily, Carthage has had authority over Sicily’s eastern regions governed by Syracuse. Until the centuries that ensued, the dichotomy between the Greek east and the Carthaginian west remained unstable.

Punic Wars

Regular clashes and warfare between the city-states of the Greeks and the Carthage led ultimately to the intrusion of a third power. The first Punic war that ensued between Carthage and Rome came about due to Roman intervention of Sicilian affairs after the Messinian crisis. In this war of the 3rd century, dispatched forces to Hiero II, which was the military leader of the city-states of Greek.

In other to control Sicily, the Romans and the Carthage declared war against each other; Rome also fought for the people of Messina.  This war was mainly water-based, in which the people of Carthage were at a greater advantage. The Carthage people leader was a general named Hamilcar, fondly called Barca (lightning) as a result of his swift attacks on the Romans’ supply lines. 

The Romans used moveable planks to hide their naval weakness, invade enemy ships, and force the hand to hand combat. Even with this strategy, they still struggled because they lacked a talented general. Being greedy, the Carthaginian government believed that Hamilcar could win on his own and hoarded wealth, war supplies, and reinforcements.

The limited supplies from the Carthaginian government made things tough for Hamilcar and his mercenaries. It forced Hamilcar to withdraw after his victory at Drepana in 249 BC. After the Romans had mastered how to fight on the water in 241 BC, the Carthaginians surrendered. 

The End of The War

When the war ended in 242 BC, following the death of Hiero II, the whole of Sicily, excluding Syracuse, was under Roman control. It became the first province of Rome away from the Italian peninsula.

In 228 BC, during combat, Hamilcar died; Hannibal, his third son, led the military after Hamilcar’s son Hasdrubal’s death. Hannibal was more aggressive in his battle style, as seen when he laid siege to Saguntum, a city in alliance with Rome. It began the second war, where Hannibal had many victories in the early days. 

His father’s same limitation regarding battle supplies and reinforcements was a similar limitation for him and his mercenaries.

Also, Scipio, the Roman general discovered that launching an attack on Carthage itself would make Hannibal drawback is troops. Hannibal convinced the Senate to surrender after the loss at the Zama battle in 202. Most of the Sicilian cities revolted against Rome after the success of the Carthaginians in the Second Punic war. 

The Rebellion 

During the rebellion, Rome deployed troops to settle the situation, during which Archimedes was killed. After that, Carthage regained control over regions of Sicily but was driven off at the end. M. Valerius, the Roman consul, instructed the Roman Senate not to spare the lives of any Sicilian in the city.

The third war, which was the final one, was the shortest of all three, it was also the most sided as well. Carthage had to pay additional debts after losing the battle against Numidia, located in modern-day Algeria. The Roman Senate concluded that Carthage posed a great threat as their permission was not sought.

The third Punic war started in 149BC when the Carthaginians did not destroy the city. This conflict only remained for three years with the city being besieged by Romans and fell. These conflicts help to spread Roman rule and potentiate their authority over Sicily.

Roman Period

Sicily for 6oo years became a province of the Republic of Rome and afterwards became an Empire. The city served as the chief supplier of grains and other foods for the city of Rome until after the battle of Actinum. Little efforts were made to Romanize this region, but it remained largely Greek. 

A memorable event of this time was the misgovernment of Verres which was recorded by Cicero in 70BC during his oration in Verrem. One other notable event was the Sicilian revolt which relieved the Island from the rule of Rome transiently under Sextus Pompeius.

A major impact of the occupation of Rome on the Island was in the economic and agricultural sectors, where landed estates were established. These landed estates were a usual property of the Roman nobles.

Through the poet Calpurnius Siculus and the historian Didorus Siculus, Sicily made a great contribution to the culture of Rome. In Piazza Armerina today lies the mosaics of the villa of a nobleman, which was is the most popular archaeological remains. There is an inscription from the reign of Hadrian which praises the emperor as the Restorer of Sicily.

One of the first Christian communities in Sicily was found during this period. Saint Lucy of Syracuse and Saint Agatha of Catania were among the first Christian martyrs recorded.

Early Middle Ages

Germanic and Byzantine Period

The Franks tribe conquered Syracuse in 280AD while the Empire of Roman was falling. After that, a Germanic tribe known as the Vandals captured Sicily in 440-AD under the reign of Genseric, their king. These vandals entered the Empire, crossing the Rhine the final night of 406 accompanied by the other three tribes.

They stayed put in Gaul up until October 409 when they went into Spain and stayed there till 429, crossing to North Africa. Since the Romans were not able to defeat them, they ceded two provinces of Mauretania and the western part of Numidia in 435. They, however, seized the rest of the provinces of Rome in October 439, integrating themselves as a relevant western European power.

 These vandals laid hold on Corsica and Sardina in 455 after sacking Rome and kept this authority till 533. Odoacer, so as to pay tribute to the Vandals, gained most regions of Sicily. After repelling a Vandal invasion in 491, Theodoric took control of the whole Island. 

Theodoric also seized the remaining Lilybaeum outpost, found on the western side of the Island. 

The war between the Ostrogoths and the Byzantine Empire (Eastern Roman Empire), was called the Gothic war. The first region of Italy to be conquered was Sicily by general Belisarius who was installed by Justinian the Eastern Emperor. The Byzantines used Sicily as the base to conquer Rome, Milan, Naples, remainder parts of Italy, and Ravenna the Ostrogoth capital.

Totila, the newly installed Ostrogoth King, driving down the peninsula of Italy, conquered and plundered Sicily in 550. In 552, Narses the Byzantine general defeated and put Totila to death in the Taginae Battle.

Syracuse emerged as the Byzantium’s major western outpost after the fall of Ravenna to the Lombards during the sixth century. The Greek rites of the church of the east were adopted, and Latin was slowly exchanged for Greek to be the national language.

The year after he launched an attack on against the Lomabard Dutchy of Benevento from Sicily, Constans II the Byzantine Emperor moved the capital to Syracuse in 663. This capital (formerly Constantinople), occupied the greater part of Southern Italy. Constans was murdered in 668 probably due to the rumours of moving the capital and the small raids that ensued. Constantine IV, his son, was his successor, who suppressed the short usurpation of power in Sicily by Mizizios. 

History of Sicily joined with Calabria to create the Byzantine Theme of Sicily.

You May Also Like


Italian Unification

Chancellor of The Exchequer

Telluride Bluegrass Festival

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *