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An Abbreviated History of Sicily

Sicily is a small triangular island off the coast of Italy, with Palermo as its capitol. But Sicily cannot be considered merely an island. It is a miniature continent, a melting pot of races, cultures, languages and religions. In ancient times, Sicily was literally the center of the civilized world. It was both equidistant from Spain & Egypt (East – West) and from Rome & Carthage (North – South). The Sicilian culture and language comprise of Arabic, Byzantine, French, Goth, Greek, Italian, Norman, Phoenician and Spanish influences. Sicily has more Greek temples that Greece itself! The 5 million people living on Sicily are the result of this rich social mixture from the past. Below are highlights of Sicily’s history (BCE = before Christian Era /// AD or CE = Christian Era). Most dates are approximate.

45,000 BCE - "Modern" humans begin to populate Europe, migrating westward. Anthropological variations develop among isolated communities, probably introduced into Sicily around 30,000 BC.

8000 BCE - The discovery of the Grotta dell' Uzzo in north western Sicily in 1975 appears to be about 10,000 years old, based on radiocarbon dating. Probable introduction of agriculture (initially wheat and other grains) in Sicily by eastern Mediterranean neolithic farmers (possibly predecessors of earliest Indo-Europeans).

6000 BCE – The Sicani arrived on the island. They are village-dwellers and farmers. Their chief settlement was in Agrigento.

4000 BCE - Proto-Sicanians present in neolithic Sicily. Earliest Sicilian religion practiced. More advanced Minoan (Cretan and Aegean) civilization flourishes in eastern Mediterranean.

1200 BCE – The Sicels from central mainland Italy arrived in Eastern Sicily.

1100 BCE – The Elymians (probably from either Troy or Turkey) settled in the western Sicily. All traces disappeared after Hellenization of the island.

1000 BCE - The Phoenicians (from the modern-day Lebanon / Israel / Syria region) settled along the coasts of Sicily.

800 BCE - Carthaginians (from modern-day Tunisia in North-Central Africa) established outposts in western Sicily.

750 BCE - Greeks began to colonize Sicily starting with a group from the central city of Chalcis on the Island of Euboea in Greece. They founded the colony of Siracusa in 733 BCE.

500 BCE - The leading Greek city Siracusa established control over the other Greek colonies of Agrigento, Gela, Catania, Himera, and Messina.

264 BCE - Romans intervened against the Carthaginians in Sicily, precipitating the First Punic War (264-241 BC). After the Roman victory, Rome gained control of most of the island. They exploited the island economically. Sicily became known as the Breadbasket of Rome.

63 BCE - Pompey sacked Jerusalem and brought Jews to Italy as slaves.


300 AD – Christianity arrived in Sicily.

440 AD – Germanic Vandals conquer Sicily.

493 AD - The Goth King Theodoric the Great ruled Sicily.

535 - The Byzantines (Eastern Greco-Roman Empire) won back Sicily..

965 - The Muslim Arabs gained control of Sicily.

1061 – The Normans, led by Roger I, landed in Sicily. By 1091, they had conquered all of Sicily from the Arabs.

1112 - Normans King Roger II began his rule, and became the first King of Sicily, recognized by Pope Innocent II in 1139.

1190 – The Norman King Tancred, a grandson of Roger II, ruled Sicily.

1194 - Rule by the Swabians from the Germany / Bavaria region. Through the marriage of Constance, heiress of the last Norman king, to Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI, Sicily passed in 1194 to the Hohenstaufen dynasty. Their son, Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II, spent his childhood in Sicily. He was a child of four when his mother died and Pope Innocent III governed Sicily until 1208 when Frederick II reached the age of 14. After his death (1250), his weak successors were outmaneuvered by the papacy.

1266 – The Angevins (from Anjou in Western France) began their rule when the pope placed CHARLES I (a son of Louis VIII of France) on the throne of Sicily.

1282 - Sicily became the ruling power as the result of the uprising known as The War of the Sicilian Vespers (“Evening worship”) - the revolt of the Sicilians against the rule of the Angevins - on Easter Monday, March 31, in Palermo, resulting in the massacre of almost the entire French population of Sicily. This brief Sicilian Independence ended with the involvement of Peter III of Aragon (Northeast Spain) whose help had been sought by the revolutionaries. Seeking the help of Peter was a mistake. The Aragons secured control of Sicily and Frederick II (the third son of Peter III of Aragon) became King of Sicily and began to rule it, ending any lingering aspirations for Sicilian independence born with the Vespers.

1479 – Spanish Queen Isabella of Castile starts the Inquisition to secure control. After her husband Ferdinand became King of Aragon, he exported the inquisition to the entire kingdom.

1492 - Spanish King Ferdinand expelled the Jews from Sicily.

1713 - Savoy briefly took over Sicily. The Treaty of Utrecht (1713-14) made Victor Amadeus II the king of Sicily.

1720 - The Austrian Habsburgs traded Sicily for Sardinia.

1734 - The Spanish Bourbon Prince Charles conquered Sicily d

uring the War of the Polish Succession.

1759 - When Charles succeeded to the Spanish throne, Sicily passed to his son Ferdinand I. The Spanish Bourbons ruled until the French forced Ferdinand to flee to Sicily in 1806.

1782 - The Holy Inquisition is abolished in the Kingdom of Sicily by Spanish King Ferdinand III.

1812 - Adoption of a constitution sanctioned by the Spanish king reiterated the independence of Sicily from Naples.

1816 - After the Napoleonic Wars, Spanish King Ferdinand I adjourned parliament, abolished the constitution of 1812 and formally combined his realms as the Kingdom of the Two Sicilys.

1860 - Italy’s Giuseppe Garibaldi landed at Marsala, Sicily with a 1,000 man force of volunteers (Red Shirts) and eventually routed the Spanish forces, taking Sicily and southern Italy, which then joined the Kingdom of Savoy (October 21) and ultimately became part of a united Italy in 1870.

1922 – Italy’s Mussolini came to power. He eventually banned the use of all languages other than Italian. All Sicilian language publishing is forbidden. (Even today there is no Sicilian language newspaper in Sicily.)

1943 - During World War II, Sicily was the scene of heavy fighting. Allies launched an invasion from North African bases

1945 – Rome was liberated and a new Italy was formed, a monarchy under Victor Emmanuel III.

1946 - Umberto II became King of Italy. In 1946, Sicily became one of five autonomous regions.

1948 - Italy transitioned from a Monarchy to a Republic.

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