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Sicilia or Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, historically closely affliliated with the Italian peninsula from which it is separated by the Strait of Messina.

Throughout much of its history, Sicily has been considered a crucial strategic location due in large part to its importance for Mediterranean trade routes. The area was highly regarded as part of Magna Graecia, with Cicero describing Siracusa as the greatest and most beautiful city of all Ancient Greece.

The Sicilian economy is largely based on agriculture (mainly orange and lemon orchards); this same rural countryside has attracted significant tourism in the modern age as its natural beauty is highly regarded.[3] Sicily also holds importance for archeological and ancient sites such as the Necropolis of Pantalica and the Valley of the Temples.


Sicily was colonized by Greeks from the 8th century BC. Initially this was restricted to the eastern and southern parts of the island. The most important colony was established at Syracuse in 734 BC. Other important Greek colonies were Gela, Acragas, Selinunte, Himera, and Zancle or Messenia. These city states were an important part of classical Greek civilization, which included Sicily as part of Magna Graecia - both Empedocles and Archimedes were from Sicily.

These Greek city-states enjoyed long periods of democratic government, but in times of social stress, in particular, with constant warring against Carthage, tyrants occasionally usurped the leadership. The more famous included Gelon, Hiero I, Dionysius the Elder and Dionysius the Younger.

As the Greek and Phoenician communities grew more populous and more powerful, the Sicels and Sicanians were pushed further into the centre of the island. By the 3rd century BC, Syracuse was the most populous Greek city in the world. Sicilian politics was intertwined with politics in Greece itself, leading Athens, for example, to mount the disastrous Sicilian Expedition in 415 BC during the Peloponnesian War.

The Greeks came into conflict with the Punic trading communities, by now effectively protectorates of Carthage, with its capital on the African mainland not far from the southwest corner of the island. Palermo was a Carthaginian city, founded in the 8th century BC, and named in the Carthaginian Zis or Sis (Panormos to the Greeks). In the far west, Lilybaeum was never thoroughly Hellenized. In the First and Second Sicilian Wars, Carthage was in control of all but the eastern part of Sicily, which was dominated by Syracuse. However, the dividing line between the Carthaginian west and the Greek east moved backwards and forwards frequently in the ensuing centuries.

The Punic Wars and the Roman Period[]

The constant warfare between Carthage and the Greek city-states eventually opened the door to an emerging third power. In the 3rd century BC the Messanan Crisis motivated the intervention of the Roman Republic into Sicilian affairs, and led to the First Punic War between Rome and Carthage. By the end of the war in (242 BC), and with the death of Hiero II, all Sicily was in Roman hands (except for Syracuse), becoming Rome's first province outside of the Italian peninsula.

The success of the Carthaginians during most of the Second Punic War encouraged many of the Sicilian cities to revolt against Roman rule. Rome sent troops to put down the rebellions (it was during the siege of Syracuse that Archimedes was killed). Carthage briefly took control of parts of Sicily, but in the end was driven off. Many Carthaginian sympathizers were killed - in 210 BC the Roman consul M. Valerian told the Roman Senate that "no Carthaginian remains in Sicily".

For the next six centuries Sicily was a province of the Roman Republic and later Empire. It was something of a rural backwater, important chiefly for its grain fields which were a mainstay of the food supply of the city of Rome until the annexation of Egypt after the Battle of Actium largely did away with that role. The empire made little effort to Romanize the region, which remained largely Greek. One notable event of this period was the notorious misgovernment of Verres as recorded by Cicero in 70 BC in his oration, In Verrem. Another was the Sicilian revolt under Sextus Pompeius, which liberated the island from Roman rule for a brief period. A lasting legacy of the Roman occupation, in economic and agricultural terms, was the establishment of the large landed estates, often owned by distant Roman nobles (the latifundia).

Despite its largely neglected status, Sicily was able to make a contribution to Roman culture through the historian Diodorus Siculus and the poet Calpurnius Siculus. It was also during this period that the first Christian communities emerged in Sicily. Amongst the very earliest Christian martyrs were the Sicilians Saint Agatha of Catania and Saint Lucy of Syracuse.

The Byzantine Period[]

As the Roman Empire was falling apart, a Germanic tribe known as the Vandals took Sicily in 440 AD under the rule of their king Geiseric. The Vandals had already invaded parts of Roman France and Spain, inserting themselves as an important power in western Europe. However, they soon lost these newly acquired possessions to another East Germanic tribe in the form of the Goths.[3] The Ostrogothic conquest of Sicily (and Italy as a whole) under Theodoric the Great began in 488; although the Goths were Germanic, Theodoric sought to revive Roman culture and government and allowed freedom of religion.

The Gothic War took place between the Ostrogoths and the Eastern Roman Empire, also known as the Byzantine Empire. Sicily was the first part of Italy to be taken under general Belisarius who was commissioned by Eastern Emperor Justinian I. Sicily was used as a base for the Byzantines to conquer the rest of Italy, with Naples, Rome, Milan and the Ostrogoth capital Ravenna falling within five years. However, a new Ostrogoth king Totila drove down the Italian peninsula, plundering and conquering Sicily in 550. Totila, in turn, was defeated and killed in the Battle of Taginae by the Byzantine general Narses in 552.

When Ravenna fell to the Lombards in the middle of the 6th century, Syracuse became Byzantium's main western outpost. Latin was gradually supplanted by Greek as the national language and the Greek rites of the Eastern Church were adopted.

In 652 Sicily was invaded by the Arab forces of Caliph Uthman. However, this invasion was short-lived, and the Arabs left soon after. [2]

Byzantine Emperor Constans II decided to move from the capital Constantinople to Syracuse in Sicily in 663. The following year he launched an assault from Sicily against the Lombard Duchy of Benevento, which then occupied most of Southern Italy. The rumours that the capital of the empire was to be moved to Syracuse, along with small raids probably cost Constans his life as he was assassinated in 668. His son Constantine IV succeeded him, a brief usurpation in Sicily under Mezezius being quickly suppressed by the new emperor. The Greek language was widely spoken on the island during this period.

By the end of the 7th century, Muslim forces had captured the nearby port city of Carthage, allowing the Arabs to build shipyards and a permanent base from which to make more sustained attacks upon Sicily and throughout the Mediterranean.

The Emirate of Sicily[]

Around 700, the island of Pantelleria was captured by Saracens, and it was only discord amongst them that prevented an attempted invasion of Sicily. Instead, trading agreements were arranged with the Byzantines, and Arab merchants were allowed to trade goods at the Sicilian ports.

In 826 Euphemius, the commander of the Byzantine fleet of Sicily forced a nun to marry him. Emperor Michael II heard of the matter and ordered that general Constantine end the marriage and cut off Euphemius' nose. Euphemius rose up, killed Constantine and then occupied Syracuse; he in turn was defeated and driven to North Africa. He offered rule of Sicily over to Ziyadat Allah the Aghlabid Emir of Tunisia in return for a place as a general and safety; a Muslim army of Arabs, Berbers, Andalusis, Cretans and Persians was sent. The conquest was a see-saw affair: with considerable resistance and many internal struggles, it took over a century for Byzantine Sicily to be conquered. Syracuse held for a long time, Taormina fell in 902, and all of the island was eventually conquered by 965.

In succession Sicily was ruled by the Sunni Aghlabid dynasty in Tunisia and the Shi'ite Fatimids in Egypt. The Byzantines took advantage of temporary discord to occupy the eastern end of the island for several years.

After suppressing a revolt the Fatimid caliph Ismail al-Mansur appointed Hassan al-Kalbi (948-964) as Emir of Sicily. He successfully managed to control the continuously revolting Byzantines and founded the Kalbid dynasty. Raids into Southern Italy continued under the Kalbids into the 11th century, and in 982 a German army under Otto II, Holy Roman Emperor was defeated near Crotone in Calabria. With Emir Yusuf al-Kalbi (990-998) a period of steady decline began. Under al-Akhal (1017-1037) the dynastic conflict intensified, with factions within the ruling family allying themselves variously with the Byzantine Empire and the Zirids. By the time of Emir Hasan as-Samsam (1040-1053) the island had fragmented into several small fiefdoms.

The Arabs initiated land reforms which in turn, increased productivity and encouraged the growth of small holdings, a dent to the dominance of the landed estates. The Arabs further improved irrigation systems, and items such as oranges, lemons, pistachios and sugarcane were introduced to Sicily. A description of Palermo was given by Ibn Hawqal, a Baghdad merchant who visited Sicily in 950. A walled suburb called the Kasr (the palace) is the center of Palermo until today, with the great Friday mosque on the site of the later Roman cathedral. The suburb of Al-Khalisa (Kalsa) contained the Sultan's palace, baths, a mosque, government offices, and a private prison. Ibn Hawqual reckoned 7,000 individual butchers trading in 150 shops.

Arab traveler, geographer, and poet Ibn Jubair visited the area in the end of the 12th century and described Al-Kasr and Al-Khalisa (Kalsa). "The capital is endowed with two gifts, splendor and wealth. It contains all the real and imagined beauty that anyone could wish. Splendor and grace adorn the piazzas and the countryside; the streets and highways are wide, and the eye is dazzled by the beauty of its situation. It is a city full of marvels, with buildings similar to those of Cordoba, built of limestone. A permanent stream of water from four springs runs through the city. There are so many mosques that they are impossible to count. Most of them also serve as schools. The eye is dazzled by all this splendor."

Throughout this reign, continued revolts by Byzantine Sicilians occurred, especially in the east, and part of the lands were even re-occupied before being quashed. The local populations conquered by the Muslins were predominately Greek Christians, but there were also a significant number of Jews. These conquered people were afforded freedom of religion but were treated by the Muslims as dhimmi, and forbidden to carry arms or ride on horses, or to build their homes taller than the homes of Muslims. Furthermore they were forbidden to drink wine in public, or gather in funereal processions, and were required to keep a sign on the doors of their homes, one on their outer garments, to use turbans of a different style and color, and above all to wear a belt made of leather or wool. The dhimmi were also required to pay the jizya, or poll tax, and the kharaj or land tax. Under Arab rule there were different categories of jizya payers, but their common denominator was the payment of tribute as a mark of subjection to alien rule. The conquered population could avoid this subservient status simply by converting to Islam. Whether by honest religious conviction or socieital compulsion large numbers of native Sicilians converted to Islam. However, even after 100 years of subjugation, numerous Greek Christian communities survived, especially in north-eastern Sicily, as dhimmi. These local Sicilians generally welcomed the Normans when they invaded.

Norman Sicily[]

The Emirate of Sicily began to fragment as intra-dynastic quarrels took place within the Muslim regime. By the 11th century mainland southern Italian powers were hiring ferocious Norman mercenaries, who were Christian descendants of the Vikings; it was the Normans under Roger I who captured Sicily from the Muslims. The Norman Robert Guiscard, son of Tancred, invaded Sicily in 1060. The island was split between three Arab emirs, and the sizable Christian population rose up against the ruling Muslims. After taking Apulia and Calabria, Roger I occupied Messina with an army of 700 knights. In 1068, Roger de Hauteville and his men defeated the Muslims at Misilmeri but the most crucial battle was the siege of Palermo, which led to Sicily being completely in Norman control by 1091. After the conquest of Sicily, the Normans removed the local emir, Yusuf Ibn Abdallah from power, but did so by respecting Arab customs.

The loss of the cities, each with a splendid harbor, dealt a severe blow to Muslim power on the island. The city of Qas'r Ianni was still ruled by its emir, Ibn Al-Hawas, who held out for years. His successor, Ibn Hamud, surrendered, and converted to Christianity, only in 1087. Afer his conversion, Ibn Hamud subsequently became part of the Christian nobility and retired with his family to an estate in Calabria provided by Roger I. In 1091, Butera and Noto in the southern tip of Sicily and the island of Malta, the last Arab stongholds, fell to the Christians with ease. By the 11th century Muslim power in the Mediterranean had begun to wane.

The Norman Kingdom of Sicily under Roger II was characterised by its multi-ethnic nature and religious tolerance. Normans, Jews, Muslim Arabs, Byzantine Greeks, Longobards and "native" Sicilians lived in harmony. Arabic remained a language of government and administration for at least a century into Norman rule, and traces remain in the language of the island today. Rather than exterminate the Muslims of Sicily, Roger II's grandson Emperor Frederick II of Hohenstaufen (12151250) allowed them to settle on the mainland and build mosques. Not least, he enlisted them in his Christian army and even into his personal bodyguards.

A large scale Muslim rebellion broke out in 1190, triggering organized resistance and systematic reprisals and marked the final chapter of Islam in Sicily. The Muslim problem characterized Hohenstaufen rule in Sicily under Henry VI and his son Frederick II. In the 1220s, in order to stamp out the Muslim rebellion, Frederick adopted a programmatic system to remove Islam from Sicily entirely. This was achieved with the expulsion and forced deportation to the Apulian town of Lucera where they were isolated. The Hohenstaufen and their successors (Anjou and Aragonese) gradually "Latinized" Sicily over the course of two centuries, and this social process laid the groundwork for the introduction of Catholicism (as opposed to Eastern Orthodoxy). The process of Latinization was fostered largely by the Roman Church and its liturgy. The annihilation of Islam in Sicily was completed by the late 1240s, when the final deportations to Lucera took place.