The island of Sicily has a rich and varied history. Many cultures and kingdoms have laid claim to it in the past. This diverse history has helped to shape Sicily as it is today.
In the Classical Period, Greek city states sent their citizens out across the Mediterranean. These Greeks founded colonies in North Africa, Italy and elsewhere. Sicily was one of the places colonised by the Age Greeks. When we talk about the Classical Period we mean the time in which Athens, Sparta and Corinth rose to power. Major city states appeared in Sicily as a result of the Greek colonisation. Greek culture and religion were also transported to Sicily.
Early Roman Sicily
As the Roman Empire grew in power, it came into contact with previous Greek colonies. The culture and society of some Sicilian cities remained Greek, although they were by then largely autonomous.
Parts of Sicily were also held by Carthage. The city of Carthage was a Phoenician colony. Phoenicians originated from the Levant area of Western Asia. The Roman Empire expanded South to incorporate these Greek and Carthaginian cities. In this way, the island of Sicily became a part of the Roman Empire
Late Roman Sicily
In the late Roman period, Sicily was a major agricultural area. The island also contained large numbers of slaves. These slaves were used for manual labour in the fields. These slaves revolted during the First Servile War and Second Servile War. For more information on these slave revolts, click the links embedded in the text.
Sicily was inherited by the Byzantine or Eastern Roman Empire in the Early Middle Ages. This occurred after the Roman Empire was divided between East and West. The Byzantine (Eastern Roman) court was located in Constantinople, modern-day Istanbul.
The Byzantine Empire fought against the Ostrogoths in Italy and Sicily. These enemies of Byzantium were kept from taking control of the island, only to be succeeded by a new threat.
The Emirate Of Sicily
In the 7th Century Islam was a fast-growing religion. Islamic powers had conquered much of the Byzantine’s territories in Western Asia and North Africa.
This military expansion eventually spread to Sicily. Parts of the island were held by Byzantine loyalists while more and more territory was conquered by Islamic armies. The Islamic architectural and cultural influences brought to Sicily by this invasion may still be seen today.
But the Emirate of Sicily was short-lived. An increasingly powerful military force in Europe was soon to take over.
The Normans were a Medieval group descended from Vikings. They had settled in Northern France (Normandy area). But around the beginning of the 11th Century, Normans began to expand their territories across Europe. These territories were not linked by a common ruler or allegiance.
England was invaded by William the Conqueror. His defeat of Harold the Saxon in 1066 AD marked the beginning of Norman England. Normans also arrived in Italy and took control of former Byzantine provinces in the South. E.g. Naples and its surroundings. Sicily was also captured and turned into a Catholic state.
The Kingdom Of Naples
As seen on TV series The Borgias, in the later Middle Ages Sicily became a province of the Kingdom of Naples. This made it essentially a sub-region of a city state. It would later become included in the country of Italy.
Hopefully you can now see how it was that Sicilian culture emerged. Greek colony, Roman province, Byzantine frontier, Islamic Emirate, Norman state and a part of modern Italy. These transitions involved changes between such religions as: Ancient Greek, Ancient Roman, early Roman Christian Orthodox Christianity, Islam and Catholicism.
Cultural, artistic and architectural changes accompanied transitions between rulers and religion.