Brief History of Sicily | From the Sicani to Italy


The brief history timeline of Sicily revolves around its previous settlers, its culture, traditions and the people that influenced the island for many years.

Sicily has rich flora and fauna. Hence, it attracted many tribes and groups in various periods. The island witnessed changing lifestyles from divided ethnic races for centuries.

Brief History of Sicily – the first inhabitants

Prehistoric Sicily began from its first inhabitants – the Elymians, the Sicani and the Siculi. Then, Sicily adapted the Hellenistic civilisation of the Greeks.

Sicily with the Greeks

While the Romans conquered north Italy and almost all of Europe, the Greeks’ influence was widespread in southern Italy. It was around 8th and 7th centuries BC. Their culture and religion coined as Magna Graecia played a vital role in the history of Sicily. Colonies stationed across the region, mostly in the coastal areas. They built temples honouring their gods and created large metropolis which ruins are still evident today. Although ruled by tyrants, many of these cities enjoyed vast wealth and prosperity. Notably were the ancient colony of Syracuse. It was the centre of Sicily, as rich as Athens. Another affluent Sicilian ancient city was Akragas which is now Agrigento. However, the take over forced the natives to take refuge to the mountain areas.

Sicily with the Romans

After the Punic Wars, the great Roman Republic(changed to Empire) took control of Sicily together with essential domains of the old world. Roman citizens were more favoured and owned lands through auctions. They used the island’s abundant fauna in industrialised agriculture to send tributes to the Rome capital. Sicily was its first province. City-states turned into slavery while a few nobles rules, who later built summer homes and grew their fortunes here. One great example is the Villa Romana del Casale in Enna which exhibits stunning and detailed Roman mosaic flooring. The arts described real-life events during that era.

How was Sicily in the Middle Ages?

The Brief history of Sicily also talked about various rulers that controlled major parts of the world from the Arabs to Eastern Romans, Normans, Germans, French, and Spanish houses.

The medieval period started with the decline of the Western Roman Empire. It paved the way to wars between nations. East German groups of Vandals and Goths also invaded Sicily. However, the Byzantine Empire later restored the island. Once again, Sicily became part of the empire for the next 400 years. It served as a strategic base in recapturing all of Italy.

The Byzantine Empire or also known as the Eastern Roman Empire

Internal struggles followed the empire. The Senate is only a formal name and they established a new system called theme. It divided the military and civic affairs to the scopes of the empire.

Sicily was no longer a province but a theme. During these times, the centre was the then new Roman capital of Constantinople. Christianity was the state’s official religion and Anti-pagan laws were executed too. Laws enforced to persecute pagans and destroy Greek god temples and pagan sacred places. It affected Sicily. In later years, conflicts among their governors threatened the empire. The emerging power of Islam taken advantage of these disputes.

Byzantine Roman Empire versus the Islam Dynasty

The Aghlabids dynasty sent military expeditions to Sicily. With support from other Islamic caliphates, they had slowly won the fight against the Byzantines. The Arab ruled Sicily for 75 years, Although fairly shortlived, Sicily saw advancements in agriculture. They transformed the region into a trade market. However, the dynasty also involved revolts from Sicilian locals. Even more, their own race and mixed beliefs affected their rule. The reign finished when the Norman forces conquered and unified the island. After decades of battles, the Kingdom of Sicily emerged.

The Kingdom of Sicily during the Norman period

This Brief History of Sicily tackles the accounts of how Sicily’s rulers changed time after time while the island’s beauty stands the test of time.

The Kingdom of Sicily was the united state of different races from Greek, Arab, Romans, Germanic, native Sicilians and Normans. Norman army won the war versus the Saracens and the Byzantine forces. It did not just include the island but also entire Southern Italy. It bordered from Pescara in Abruzzo, then the Apulia and Calabria. The kingdom also extended up to the small islands. From an emirate capital, Palermo grew as the centre of the flourishing Norman kingdom.

The Norman kings chose the Arab palace of al-Qasr as their main residence for years. It was later turned into the Norman Palace. It showcases the combined design and arts of Arab, Byzantine, and Norman cultures. They also built churches, monasteries, and more castles during their 800 year period in Sicily. Their rule stretched from the Norman family of Hauteville to Swabian Dynasty, Spanish and French royal houses.

The Swabian Dynasty

Around the late Middle Ages, the Church sought the help of their French Angevin neighbours to overthrow the then current rulers of Sicily. There were conflicts between them and the Swabian dynasty. The allegiance prospered by killing King Manfred. They replaced him with a French-born king Charles I. However, Sicilians were unhappy about this and caused the War of the Sicilian Vespers. According to stories, a number of French men and women in Sicily died because of this uprising. The locals fought against their foreign oppressors. Charles the First stepped down of his throne. He never returned to the island again.

Sicily became the Kingdom of Naples controlled by the Angevins and the Kingdom of Trinacria. The Sicilians reclaimed the Trinacria. They elected their own leaders. However, they transferred the power to Queen Constance of Aragon since she was the sole surviving heir of King Manfred of the Swabian dynasty.

How was Sicily during the Renaissance period?

The centre of the Renaissance was Florence in North Italy. It was the rebirth of ideas expressed in arts, politics, science and society. The movement spread out in many parts of Europe. It reached Rome but missed Sicily.

The Crown of Aragon occupied Sicily then. However, due to the marriage of Isabella I and Ferdinand II, the kings of Spain ruled instead. Civil wars and disputes surrounded Spain. Viceroys appointed by the kings gained powers and controlled it. Before the Great Plague of 1656 and 1693 earthquake, Sicily was a blooming state. The population and its economy grew. However, the mishaps left huge damage and loss to the island. But it had also given way to Sicily’s very own architectural style, the unique Sicilian Baroque.

Kingdom of the Two Sicilies

The Kingdom of the Two Sicilies was composed of Kingdom of Naples and Kingdom of Sicily. Half a century later, they united again. Even though shortlived and marked with conflicts, the Kingdom gave hope to the locals. After suffering corruptions and poverty from their previous leaders, they saw a small light of triumph. The new royal officials, however, nothing changed. They did not resolve problems but only confronted the Il Risorgimento movement proceeding to the Unification of Italy.

Sicily and its unification to Italy

Tired of the system where only a few gained control, Sicilians had slowly built ideas. Dreams that destroyed their occupiers and led to the Unification of Italy up to this day. It was not an easy decision to join the rest of Italy. The newly unified country was in turmoil specifically in South Italy. It faced many problems in its first decades. Factors that affected Italy such as guerrilla campaigns, bandits, resistance from high-class societies, world wars, and the crime group called Mafia.

Current issues with Mafia and immigration

Sicily boasts some of the most stunning landscapes on earth. The Brief History of Sicily tells us that its history is as diverse as its culture, people and traditions.

Sadly, Cosa Nostra or more infamous as the Mafia affects the future of Sicily. They exist but more secretively now. Mafia is a structured criminal group of clans that existed for decades on the island.

Sicily is the doorway of Europe from the Mediterranean sea. It is currently dealing with increased immigration from its African and Middle East neighbours. While many young Sicilians are finding their ways to northern Italian cities due to the unemployment crisis.

Do you find the brief history of Sicily interesting? We have also outlined the complete timeline and historical facts about Italy. Learn more about its glorious past, triumphs and failures, rise and fall. An interesting read to a curious mind.

What is your Sicily story?

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