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The Mediterranean Sea has played a crucial role in the development of the most ancient civilities since the XIV century BC and so has Sicily, with its fascinating and bloody history of dominations that have shaped the character of its people, as well as its territory and architecture throughout the centuries.
Prehistoric Sicily (1270-735 BC)
Archeological remains have been found in the necropolises of Pantalica and Cassibile. Siculi, Sicani and Elymi were the original populations of the island, but were not native peoples. The Siculi lived in the south centeral part, northwest of Siracusa; the Sicani, probably not an Indo-European population, lived on the western side; and the Elymi founded Erice and Segesta. The Carthaginians, coming from the northern African coasts, colonized Solunto, Panormo (now Palermo), Mozia and Lilibeo.
The Greek Colonization (735-212 BC)
Naxos was the first Greek colony in Sicily, founded in 735 BC. Siracusa was funded a year later in 734 BC. The former populations (Sicani, Siculi and Elymi) completely ousted the Carthaginians in 480 BC. The battle of Himera marked the beginning of Greek supremacy on the island. It is during this period that culture and architecture flourished leaving to the island the richest archeological heritage in the Mediterranean of classical Greece. There is no village in Sicily that does not have some archeological evidence of the influence by Magna Grecee.
Roman Sicily (212 BC-468 AC)
Sicily became a Roman province in 227 BC. The Romans built large feudal estates and imposed taxes. It was during this period that the island made its name as Rome’s “bread basket”, since it provided about 1/5 of the wheat necessary to the city. Siracusa resisted against the Roman dominion, but it finally surrendered after a long and brutal assault in 211 BC. The conditions under the Romans fueled two slavery revolts that ended in bloody massacres in 131 BC and 99 BC. In spite of the continuous turmoil, Sicily managed to be one of the most important economic drivers of the Roman supremacy in the Mediterranean. In II AC, Christianity spread out in the island. With the fall of the Roman Empire, Sicily was conquered by Genserico, King of the Vandals, in 468 AC.
Arab Sicily (827-1061)
Starting in 827, Sicily became a target for frequent Arab raids. However, only in 902 did the Arabs take total control of the island. During this period, Palermo and its surroundings turned into a prosperous symbol of Arab Sicily. The local aristocracy assisted the Emir through an assembly called Giama’a. Economy and agriculture were organized in an efficient and productive way; while arts and science were also particularly vibrant, thanks to close contact with other Mediterranean regions such as Andalusia, Maghreb and Egypt.
Norman Sicily (1091-1190)
The Christian crusade against the Arabs began in 1061 and Roger I conquered Sicily in 1091. In 1130 Roger II obtained the title of King of Sicily and extended his jurisdiction to Naples and Capua. Palermo became the capital. Eventually, William I and William II succeeded Roger II. William II participates in the third crusade and gives to his aunt, Costance of Altavilla, the right to succession.
Svevians and Angevins (1186-1282)
In 1186, Constance of Altavilla married Frederick I’s son, Enrich VI, in Milan. Four years later, the Svevian family obtained the right to the Kingdom of Sicily and Enrich VI became Emperor and King of Sicily. After his death in 1197, his son Frederick II, only three years old, was crowned King. Constance remained his regent until he became of age. Frederick was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in 1209. Known as stupor mundi, he was an extremely modern ruler for the times: he spoke nine languages, wrote manuals, and, unlike most Roman emperors, he spent most of his life just outside Germany. He died in 1250 and his son Conrad IV succeeded him. He is defeated and killed by the Guelphs lead by Carlo of Anjou in 1268.
Sicilian Vespers and the Aragoneses (1282-1416)
In 1282, the Sicilian Vespers, a rebellion against Carlo of Anjou and the Angevin French in the island, broke out in Palermo. An assembly of barons asked Peter III of Aragon to intervene against the French. Thus began a ttwenty year war, which finally ended with the coronation of Frederick of Aragon, Peter III’s son, as King of Sicily. The Aragonese dynasty ruled Sicily until 1416.
The Bourbons (1735-1859)
Charles III of Bourbon acquired Sicily from Austria (1734) and became King of Naples and Sicily in 1735. He was a beneficent ruler. His half-brother, Frederick VI, succeeded him to the Spanish throne and passed Naples and Sicily on to his son, Ferdinand I, in 1759. The French conquered Naples in 1799 and 1806 and Ferdinand flees to Sicily where he reigned under English protection. In 1816, Naples was restored to him and he then declared himself King of the Two Sicilies. His government fueled a revolt in 1820, forcing him to grant a constitution. With the help of Austria, he was able to restore monarchy in 1821. His successors, Francis I, Ferdinand II and Francis II, continue the ruthless policy of his regime until 1860.
The Savoias (1860-1946)
Victor Emmanuel II of Savoy, King of Sardinia, favors Garibaldi‘s expedition to the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies in 1860. Thus, King Francis II was overthrown and, after a plebiscite for the annexation in 1861, Sicily became part of the new unified Kingdom of Italy and Victor Emmanuel of Savoy becomes King of Italy. The unification signified a further economic and social decline for Sicily. Between 1890 and 1930, more than a million Sicilians left the island , mostly to migrate to the United States. The new century also starts with the quake in Messina in 1908. Excluded to the process of modernization happening in Northern Italy, Sicily succumbed to an increasingly influential mafia. The Fascist regime, which came to power in 1920 managed to partly suppress it, but the mafia returned more powerful than ever after the invasion of the Allies during the II World War in 1943.
Heavily bombed during the II World War, Sicily voted for the republic in 1946. Ten percent of voters dreamed of a separation of the Island from the motherland. Salvatore Giuliano, who lead a small group of bandits with close ties to the mafia, longed for the annexation of Sicily to the United States. However, he was killed in 1950. The mafia intensified its relationships with politics and the politicians of the Christian Democratic Party, spreading its power and influence beyond the island. Nowadays, thanks to the dedication and lives of public servants, the state is gaining an ever-growing control over the mafia and the problem is tackled more effectively.