Brief history of Sicily summarized
A look at the interesting and brief history of Sicily, as a summary.
From the origin to the Byzantines
Sicily’s early history began gloriously with centuries of Greek rule and flourished again under Arab and Norman rule.
At the beginning of 1250 BC three tribes shared the dominion of the region: the Sikans of Iberian origin, the Elímios of eastern Mediterranean origin, and the Sikels of continental Italy and from whom Sicily took its name.
The arrival of the Romans
So, for nearly 1,000 years, the people of Sicily suffered grievously at the hands of the less educated and more rapacious foreign rulers. The history of Sicily is full of bloody wars, due to the strategic position of the island in the Mediterranean Sea.
The location has always been perfect for the trade route where East meets West. In 200 BC, after much bloodshed, a new power emerged from the empire. The Romans besieged and captured Sicily.
The conquest of Sicily was the first capture for the Romans and the most significant due to the fertility of their lands and the taxes and tributes earned. Such was the greed with which Rome exploited Sicily that when the power of the Byzantines outlasted the Romans, they found little value.
From the Byzantines to the Saracens
The Byzantine settlement lasted about 300 years and during the 7th century. After the Byzantines, the Saracens invaded the island. This population made Sicily flourish again.
They created lush gardens, mosques, and palaces. Above all, the most important heritage of the Saracens was the island-wide irrigation methods for their flourishing agriculture, which is still used today.
Unfortunately, the rule of the Saracens, like many others, was short-lived.
From the Normans to King Frederick
Not all Sicilians were dark-skinned and dark-haired. They are also tall, blonde, and blue-eyed. These features come from the Normans, who conquered Sicily in the 11th century.
During their reign, the Normans built some masterpieces of Sicilian history. Among them are the Cathedral of Cefalu and the Capilla Mayor de Palermo.
The Norman leader, Count Roger Hauteville, was responsible for the first gathering of dignitaries that would eventually become the first known parliament in Europe. The Normans ruled for less than a century, but left a strong social and cultural legacy.
Henry VI was declared King of Sicily in 1194, but died in 1197. After his death, King Frederick took over, at the young age of 3.
Despite his young age, King Frederick was a determined and wise king. During his reign, he promoted science, medicine, and law, which led to him receiving the status of Holy Emperor. This respectable recognition helped Palermo to become the most influential city in Europe. All populations considered the capital of Sicily a cultural destination without equal in the Western world.
From King Frederick to the Spaniards
After King Frederick’s death, Sicily entered a period of decline. The Pope handed over power to Charles of Anjou, the ruthless brother of the French King Louis IX. During his rule, the French king organized cruel attacks against all Sicilians who were still loyal to his former king.
It took almost 40 years of bloodshed for the Sicilians, with the help of Vespers, to finally depose King Charles of Anjou.
During the last years of King Charlemagne’s rule, the reign of Spain was tightening its grip on the island. It took a few years of bloody wars, but finally, the Spanish empire conquered Sicily.
The years of war brought Sicily into a society riddled with corruption, gangs of outlaws protesting against power, setting fire to crops, and killing local sheriffs and bailiffs. They also protested against the vast farms and the inhumane working conditions of the peasants. This paved the way for the creation of the world’s most notorious criminal organization, the Mafia.
The seventeenth century marked an important role in the history of Sicily. During these 100 years, in fact, the history of Sicily was characterized by natural disasters and invasions by various conquerors, including Napoleon Bonaparte.
The Eruption of Mount Etna
During the 17th century, Sicily was hit by natural catastrophes. The Etna volcano erupted, causing massive damage and totally destroying Catania. The massive eruption killed 5% of the population of Sicily.
Analyzing the political situation, the island had become an insignificant pawn among the European powers. Sicily passed from the domain of the Savoys to the Austrians, in exchange for the island of Sardinia.
At the beginning of his empire, Napoleon Bonaparte did not invade Sicily. But, after invading Naples, the Bourbons were forced out and sought refuge in Sicily, where they found protection from British troops. After defeating Napoleon, the British troops left the Bourbons to rule and suppress Sicily and its people.
After years of war and foreign conquests, during the 19th century, a savior changed the situation on the island. His name was Giuseppe Garibaldi.
During the second half of the 19th century, the name Giuseppe Garibaldi became the buzzword throughout the island. In 1860, Garibaldi and his 1,000 red-shirted soldiers arrived in Marsala. It took him 3 months to rid Sicily of the Bourbons, who had had a 600 year control over Sicily.
Garibaldi then pushed for the unification of Italy. He held a referendum and the population voted for the unification of Sicily with Italy. But this important vote put the island back where it started, as Italy was controlled by the Savoys.
The aristocracy remained firmly in charge of the economy while the peasants got nothing, not even the right to vote. The mob became the agent of the aristocrats, extracting large rents and taxes from the poor.
This situation pushed 500,000 Sicilians to emigrate to Australia and America. Most of the emigrants came mainly from the Messina area, which was devastated by an earthquake in 1908, which killed 80,000 people.
The 20th century bought even more misery for the island. This century is marked by the Italian conquest of Libya and the First World War, which devastated the economy of Sicily.
After World War I came Benito Mussolini, who had seized power in Rome and in turn declared war on the Sicilian mafia. In 1943, Sicily was caught up in World War II.
At the end of the Wae, the American and British Army landed and pushed through the island, causing the Nazis to withdraw. The allies were assisted by the mafia bosses, who were keen to rid Sicily of the fascists, who had tried to annihilate them in the past.
After the end of World War II, the Sicilians reviewed their ties with Italy. In 1946, the Italian government gave Sicily limited independence.
This autonomy allowed Sicily to have its own assembly and president. The role of the Sicilian Government is similar to the situation of Scotland with England.
Today, Sicily remains a great enigma. It is an island of incomparable beauty and cultural richness. Yet it is a world cut off from European life by a tumultuous history that has left a troubled present.
Despite the fact that Sicily today is in a more favorable situation than at any other time in history, it still has to overcome enormous economic, social and political obstacles.
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