Bourbon Sicily

Borboni in Sicilia

The history of the Bourbon domination of Sicily begins in 1734, when Charles of Bourbon conquered it to the detriment of the Habsburgs of Austria.

The following year, Charles was crowned King of Sicily.

Charles was the son of Philip V and was not destined to be sovereign because he was not the firstborn. Only for the stubbornness of his mother he did claim the kingdom of the Farnese and the Medici.

In 1734 he conquered, with the Spanish army, the Kingdom of Naples and subsequently Sicily.

He was the first of the Bourbon dynasty in Sicily, which represents a rich period for the island from a cultural and economic point of view

Carlo reigned over Sicily until 1759 when his stepbrother died without leaving heirs and leaving him to became the king of Spain. At that point his son Ferdinand III of Sicily ascended the throne.

Ferdinand ruled the island for 65 years, until 1816. It was one of the longest regency periods in history.

His title of ruler was unexpected, due to a series of fortunate circumstances. Ferdinand was the third son of Charles so he was not destined for the throne. But the death of his uncle, King Ferdinand VI of Spain, without having left heirs forced his father to leave for Spain to occupy the throne. Carlo brought with him his eldest son, Carlo Antonio, who at that point became the dolphin of Spain.

Ferdinand’s other older brother, Filippo, had severe mental disorders and was therefore excluded from the line of succession.

He remained thus as ruler of the Two Sicilies Ferdinand, giving life to one of the longest reigns in history.

Ferdinand became king of the Kingdom of the two Sicilies at the tender age of 8, for this reason he was assisted up to the age of 16 by a Council of Regency established by his father.

When he came of age the Council of Regency turned into a Council of State as the sovereign began to reign autonomously.

During his reign, the period that followed the French revolution is noteworthy as Ferdinand, deployed against Napoleon, had to flee to Sicily twice, leaving Naples.

The first time, in 1802, he was very well received by the Sicilians. This is because Ferdinand had declared to the Sicilian people that he wanted to stay and move his court to Sicily.

In reality, the stay in Sicily was nothing more than an escape. As soon as he was able, on the strength of an agreement with Napoleon, he returned to Naples.

When in 1806 he was again forced to flee from Naples to Sicily, this time he was not welcomed by the Sicilian population.

In 1810 he asked the Sicilian Parliament for help to curb the French threat.

This caused a revolution to break out which forced Ferdinand to promulgate the “Constitution of Sicily” and establish a government of Sicilian notables.

In 1815, immediately after the Congress of Vienna, Ferdinand saw his right to the Kingdom of Naples reconstitute.

The year after he established the annexation of the Kingdom of Sicily, effectively giving life to the Kingdom of the two Sicilies. He then took the name of Ferdinand I of the two Sicilies.

The Kingdom of Sicily and its Constitution were abolished, resulting in a revolt movement that resulted in a real revolution in 1820.

This huge protest put Francesco, Ferdinand’s eldest son who was left as lieutenant of Sicily,

on the run

An autonomous government was thus established on the island which adopted the constitution of 1812.

Ferdinand opposed the reconstitution of a Kingdom of Sicily and after many bloody battles, he managed to subdue the island.

In 1825 Ferdinando died, leaving the kingdom in the hands of his son Francesco I.

Francesco I reigned for only 5 years until his death in 1830. His son, in that year, became King with the name of Ferdinand II of the Two Sicilies.

During the reign of Ferdinand, another revolt broke out in Sicily, called: “cholera riots” precisely because they derive from the situation of tension and poverty caused by this disease.

This took place in 1837, the same year the revolts were quelled and order was restored.

During 1848, yet another revolt broke out that drove the Bourbons off the island and the kingdom of Sicily was re-established.

Ferdinand, to regain possession, bombed the island (hence the nickname “King Bomba”). The island returned to Bourbon rule in 1849.

The riots and discontent continued. Meanwhile the kingdom passed into the hands of Ferdinand’s son, Francesco II.

He could only reign for a year, given and considered the expedition of the thousand that meant that Sicily was annexed to the kingdom of Italy in 1860.

Habsburg in Sicily

Carlo V

Often, when we talk about the Habsburg domination in Sicily, it is defined as the Spanish domination.

This is because the Habsburg caste was the Castilian one, unlike the Aragonese family which has Catalan origins.

This formal distinction does not change the fact that in any case we are talking about Spanish domination in Sicily.

When Ferdinand II died, the island’s government passed to Charles V of Habsburg and officially began a new domination for Sicily, this awas in 1516.

This was only in a formal way as it changed very little in the island.

This period lasted for almost two centuries, until, in 1713, the island passed into the hands of the Savoy with the peace of Utrecht.

Sicily during all this period was administered by the Viceroys.

Let’s go in order.

Charles V

Carlo came to Sicily for the first time after almost twenty years that it was part of his reign. His empire was huge and this justifies it 😉.

Besides the management of the immense realm he also had to think about managing various disputes, first of all the one with the Ottomans.

The economic commitment to the management of his immense kingdom was supported thanks to the American colonization and the consequent (forced) withdrawal of precious items from the “new” land.

He made Sicily the fulcrum in the struggle with the Ottomans. In fact, he had several fortifications built throughout the island.

Philip II

After Charles V his successor was Philip II, his son, born from the marriage with Isabella of Portugal.

His dominion on the island was not very different from that of his father. His main feature was the clash with the Muslim empire and the consequent use of the island as a bulwark of defenses.

The very large military engagement was also very expensive. This means that the reign of Philip II is remembered above all for the large taxation that Sicily suffered in those years.

Sicily, in addition to the fiscal pressure and the economic crisis resulting from the high indebtedness of their King, was also hit by a great famine and various epidemics.

Philip III

In 1598 the kingdom went into the hands of Philip III, son of the late Philip II.

Philip III, remembered by the nickname “Il Pio”, had a completely different character from that of his father.

His character and nature were much calmer than Philip II.

His rule over Sicily is best remembered for the expulsion of the Moriscos throughout his reign.

The Moriscos were all those people who descended from Muslim families implanted in the kingdom, who had preserved their culture.

This expulsion was justified by the fact that the sovereign feared revolts from this copious part of the population of his empire.

The real reason was probably to replenish the coffers with the goods and properties of this slice of the population.

Also during his reign there was a great hunger and economic crisis.

The end of his rule over Sicily was in 1621 when that of his son Philip IV began.

Philip IV

During the reign of Philip IV, the island underwent a period of great poverty which was accentuated by the fact that the sovereign, to regain his finances, imposed a very severe taxation, especially in a period like the one Sicily was experiencing.

This situation created very strong social tensions which resulted many times in riots and rebellions, all in an anti-Spanish climate.

On his death in 1665, Charles II ascended the throne who will be the last king of the Habsburgs in command of the island.

Charles II

Last ruler of the Spanish domination in Sicily, his reign will be remembered for the catastrophe that struck the island: the 1693 earthquake.

The Val di Noto earthquake occurred on 9 and 11 January 1693, with a magnitude of 7.7 it was the strongest earthquake ever recorded in Italy.

In reality, today it is thought that these were two distinct catastrophic events.

This cataclysm destroyed a large part of eastern Sicily causing a large number of victims.

This destruction and subsequent reconstruction, in 1700, meant that the main architectural style of this part of the island is the Baroque.

Charles II reigned until 1700, when he died without having left heirs.

At his disposal, his successor was Philip V, nephew of Louis XIV, the first Spanish ruler of the Bourbon dynasty.

His rule on the island however lasted about a decade due to the various pretenders to the Spanish throne and also because of the fear of the rest of Europe of such a strong France-Spain axis.

The Aragons in Sicily

La storia degli Aragona in Sicilia

The history of the Aragons in Sicily begins immediately after the Sicilian Vespers. During Vespers, the Sicilians drove the French off the island while asking for the help to Peter III of Aragon by offering him the Crown.

Pietro III was the husband of Constance II, the last heir of the Swabian dynasty so loved by the Sicilians.

The sovereign was crowned Peter I of Sicily in Palermo.

Pietro reigned in Sicily together with his consort Constance, or to tell the truth, Peter almost immediately returned to Spain so it was Constance who ruled the island.

After Peter the successor was his son James II of Aragon, who was crowned James I of Sicily.

This ruler returned, in 1294, Sicily to the Anjou in exchange for Sardinia and Corsica.

This pact was not appreciated by the Sicilians. At the end of 1295 the Sicilian parliament met and they declared the Sovereign decayed and elected his younger brother Federico III.

The Sicilians had driven out the French During the Vespers ten years earlier and they did not agree to be ceded again to the Anjou.

With Frederick III the War of the Vespers officially ended and with the Peace of Caltabellotta Federico proclaimed himself King of Trinacria. Subsequently, Frederick III himself married the daughter of Charles II of Anjou, Eleonora, so the disputes ceased completely.

Frederick’s successor was his eldest son Peter II of Sicily.

During his reign, more precisely just after his death, it is worth remembering the Peace Treaty of Catania with which the Anjou officially renounced any claim on the island.

The pact was signed by Pietro’s brother, Giovanni, who was regent of Sicily for a short time after his brother’s death.

The official successor of Peter II was his son Ludovico who became ruler of the island at the young age of seven.

His reign lasted 13 years and it was not a very nice period for Sicily.

In fact, in these years, the island was hit by the black plague epidemic and some revolts due to the conflicts between the influential families at that time.

Ludovico died young without heirs so it was his brother Federico IV’s turn.

Federico had only one daughter, Maria, who at the death of her father was the last ruler of the Aragonese family in Sicily.

Maria married Martin I in 1292 who was from the Aragonese family of Barcelona.

On the death of Maria her husband became Sovereign of Sicily, becoming Martin II of Sicily.

His reign lasted from 1401 to 1410 when, on his departure, the kingdom went into the hands of the Tristamara D’Aragona family to Ferdinand I, since Martin II had left no heirs.

On the death of Ferdinand the throne of Sicily passed to his son Alfonso V of Aragon who reigned until 1458.

Upon Alfonso’s death the title passed to John II who was sovereign until 1479.

The last king of the Aragon dynasty was Ferdinand II who ruled Sicily until 1516.

Anjou in Sicily and Sicilian Vespers

I Vespri Siciliani

The domination of the Anjou in Sicily was very short, perhaps the shortest in the history of the island.

The presence of the Anjou in Sicily goes from 1282 to 1286.

The beginning of this story took place when the pope, Urban IV, who considered Sicily heritage of the church, decided to give the crown to Charles I of Anjou. This defeated and killed Manfredi, son of Frederick II, in Benevento, inaugurating, in fact, the dominion of the Anjou on the island.

After a few years Corradino, grandson of Frederick II and legitimate heir of Sicily, tried to reconquer the island, but was defeated and beheaded in the Battle of Tagliacozzo.

The dominion of the French in Sicily, however, lasted very little due to the Sicilian Vespers.

I Vespri Siciliani

Sicilian Vespers

The situation in Sicily, under French domination, became alarming almost immediately, especially due to the large tax burden applied by the new Dominator and the various abuses and violence.

It is said that the Angevin ruler hated the Sicilians because they were faithful to the Swabians.

Perhaps the opposite could be true, that is, the Sicilians remember the old kings precisely because the French behaved very badly towards them.

The situation worsened until, in 1282, the revolutionary movements called Sicilian Vespers began.

The revolt began in Palermo on Angel Monday during the hour of vespers.

It is said that the triggering event that marked the beginning took place in the churchyard of the Santo Spirito church, when a French soldier put his hands on a noblewoman accompanied by her husband, groping her with the excuse of searching her, it was at that point that the consort stole the soldier’s sword and killed him, starting the revolution.

In the course of the evening and night, a real French hunt took place. Those of them who did not die managed to escape on the ships.

I Vespri Siciliani

Legend says that the Sicilians used chickpeas to find the French who tried to mix with the inhabitants of the island, asking them how to pronounce the name of the chickpeas in dialect.

Carlo tried in vain to react but all attempts were in vain.

The Sicilians tried to convince the pope to be able to govern themselves, but given the pope reluctance, they turned to the Aragonese king Peter III, husband of Constance, nephew of Frederick II of Swabia, offering him the crown of the island .

Peter III gladly accepted the request and landed on the island definitively driving out the French.

Carlo retried an assault on the island that failed even before arriving in Sicily, his fleet was defeated off the coast of Malta by Admiral Ruggiero di Lauria.

The Swabians in Sicily

Gli Svevi in Sicilia, Castello Ursino

In the history of Sicily this is the part concerning the Swabian domination of the island.

This domination is among those that we can consider among the most important for Sicily, let’s try to understand the reasons together.

First of all let’s talk about the story.

The Swabians were a German family, at that time, very influential all over the world.

The story between the Swabians and Sicily begins in 1194 when, with the death of William III, the Norman domination of the island ended.

After William’s death, Costanza d’Altavilla became ruler of the island, daughter of Roger II and aunt of William, who was married to Henry VI, son of Frederick Barbarossa, King of Germany.

Frederick II of Swabia, the future emperor of Sicily, was born from this marriage.

When Henry VI died, Constance reigned on the island for some time until he crowned his son Frederick at the tender age of 4, it was 1198.

In fact, being still too young, Sicily was directed first by Constance and, after her death, by Pope Innocent III who actually entrusted the regency of the island first to Marcovaldo and then to Guglielmo di Capparone.

When Frederick II was 14 he officially became Emperor in Sicily.

After Frederick’s death there was much commotion about who should inherit the throne.

Gli Svevi in Sicilia

Frederick had indicated his second son Corrado IV as his heir both for what concerned Sicily and Jerusalem. He left to the firstborn, Manfredi, Taranto and other minor fiefs.

In reality, Corrado suddenly died of malaria before actually taking possession of the island, which he bequeathed to his son Corradino.

The biggest tensions at that time were with the papal kingdom.

At that moment, Manfredi’s work was fundamental, first he managed to find an agreement with the pope and then organized an army that defeated the papal one.

False rumors spread about the alleged death of Corradino and in 1258 Manfredi was crowned in the Cathedral of Palermo.

In 1263 Manfredi was excommunicated and the pope (Urban IV) gave the kingdom to the king of France Louis IX.

The French King made war on Manfredi defeating him in 1266.

Corradino tried the reconquest in vain in 1268.

In 1281 the daughter of Manfredi, Constance II of Sicily, claimed the kingdom and after the Sicilian Vespers she became queen of the island together with her husband Peter III of Aragon.

Constance remained even after her husband’s death alongside the children who took their father’s place in command of the island.

In 1291 Constance left Sicily and with her also the Swabians.

Gli Svevi in Sicilia

Frederick II

Frederick II was certainly the leading figure during this era of history of the Sicilian island.

During his reign Palermo became the center of a vast empire.

The Sicilian Poetic School, that is a literary movement that produced a poem considered to be the first lyric in common Italian, dates back to that period.

This type of poetry drew inspiration from the lyric of the Provençal troubadours introducing a different and original connotation. It certainly influenced the Dolce Stil Novo.

Among its outstanding elements we remember Giacomo da Lentini known as the Notary (precisely because he was a Notary).

Federico was nicknamed “Stupor Mundi” and remained famous as regent for the enactment of the Melfitane Constitutions: a set of laws that regulated the social and economic life of his subjects.
He had bad relations with the papacy and remained famous for leading the Fourth Crusade.

The first time he left for the crusade he had to return before arriving in the Holy Land because of an illness.

Pope Gregory IX, thinking that Frederick had invented the disease, excommunicated him.

As soon as Frederick II recovered he left for the Crusade.

It must be said that it was a unique historical event of its kind, as the emperor organized the Crusade and still participated in it under excommunication.

Another noteworthy factor was the construction of many castles and fortifications.

Another important feature of the Swabian ruler was his interest in astrology and esotericism.

The curiosity towards these arts was strong in Frederick and it is to underline a strange matter in this perspective: in this period under his reign there is a massive deportation of Muslims present in Sicily on the one hand, on the other it is a certain fact that for questions of metaphysics Federico turned to the circle of Muslim esotericists present in his court.

I don’t know what the reason for these opposing choices was but it seems really strange to me.

Federico died in 1250 and was buried, as he had chosen, in the cathedral of Palermo.

Arab domination in Sicily, a period that has left a big mark

Dominazione Araba in Sicilia

The Arab domination in Sicily lasted about 250 years. Its history began around the year 700 and lasted until around 1090.

This was, for the island, one of the dominations that most influenced had in the dialect and in the habits of the Sicilian people.

Islamic history in Sicily began during the 600s, years in which Sicily suffered several attacks.

At the beginning of the eighth century, these incursions became constant and forced the Byzantine Empire to react.

In the middle of this century the real invasion attempts began.

The beginnings of the ninth century were marked by a series of raids by the Arab world and a series of peace treaties.

These years marked the beginning of the Arab invasion. On the one hand, the Byzantine Empire was losing strength; on the other hand, the Islamic advance was becoming more and more powerful.

Dominazione Araba in Sicilia

The conquest of the island began around 830 but was very long. The last Byzantine resistance lasted for more than a century.
The Islamic domination of the island can be divided into four periods:

1st: The island was dominated by a governor chosen by the Aghlabid Emir of Kairouan;
2nd: In this period the island was dominated by the Shiite dynasty of the Fatimids;
3rd: A period in which Sicily was ruled by the Shiite dynasty of the Kalbites;
4th: The last period in which the island was divided into several Emirates;

Arab domination was not a “heavy” domination. In reality the rulers were very tolerant and imported various “traditions” that have remained in the Sicilian culture; some of these are part of the dominant features of the island still today.

Among the plants brought by the Arabs to Sicily we find:

sugar cane
the cotton
The anise
citrus fruits

In the same way they also imported agriculture processes that, for example, allowed the new crops to flourish. Among all, we must remember the rationalization of water resources.

It should not be forgotten that they greatly favor the cultural growth of the island and the large commercial growth. In fact, Sicily became the nerve center of trade in the Mediterranean in that period.

During this period, Christians and Jews continued to be present on the island. These were left free to profess their beliefs, only a different tax was imposed on them from those who professed the Islamic religion.

The center of Arab Sicily was Palermo. The city in this period had a very strong expansion and it became one of the largest metropolises in the then known world.

Dominazione Araba in Sicilia

The Arabic influence is also strong in the Sicilian dialect, here are some words found in our dialect that almost certainly derive from Arabic:

bagghiu – limbìccu – capurrais – jarrùsu – Taliàri – zaffarana – zibbibbu – favara – gebbia – mischinu – tabbutu – cassata – brunìa

These are just a few, if we pay attention to our dialect we will find many.

Another great Sicilian tradition that most likely derives from the Arab invasion is that of sweets.

“Cassata” and “Granita” are just two examples of typical sweets that derive from that period.

The end of Islamic rule came mainly due to the fragmentation of Sicily into several emirates. This allowed the Byzantines to try to regain possession of the island in 1038.

The attempt was a failure, but not entirely. It was during this incursion that the Norman William Popeye was present, who returned to Norway convinced his family members of the island’s wealth and ease in defeating Arab rule.

Although this was one of the most incisive dominations for Sicily, we have very little of it from an architectural point of view.

The city of Palermo, the capital of the Arab world in Sicily, retains very little of Arabic architectural interest. A trace of that period that is still clearly present and visible today are the traditional markets Ballarò, Vucciria, Capo and Lattarini.

These markets were famous at the time of Islamic domination, for the presence of different product types, and they still are, representing a distinctive feature for the city of Palermo.

After all, those two hundred and fifty years have had a lot of weight for what concerns Sicily, in fact they continue to reflect on the mentality and behavior of us Sicilians on our cuisine and in our dialect much more than other dominations that remained for much longer.

Norman domination in Sicily

Normanni in Sicilia

The history of Sicily continues by talking about the Norman domination on the island.

Looking at the aesthetic aspect of us Sicilians, one can often notice the presence of some physiognomic traits that are far from what is the typical aspect that is expected from the population of the island, like medium-low height and dark complexion of the skin, eyes and hair.

In fact, very frequently we can meet tall blond Sicilians with light color eyes … this most likely depends on the fact that in our genetic mix there is also the Norman gene due to the two hundred years ranging from the year 1061 to about 1200 that the Norman stayed on the island.

There are still many buildings built during this domination, especially in Palermo which for a very long time was the capital of the Norman Empire in Sicily.

Norman history in Sicily

We are at the beginning of the 11th century, at that time the Norman population was known for banditry and above all for its vocation as mercenaries.

Their link with the Sicilian island began when, around 1040, the Normans were hired by the Byzantines to try to re-take Sicily from the Islamic domination.

During this incursion, the Normans were amazed by the wealth of Sicily and also driven by the weakness of the Islamic empire, settled in the field area at that time, they decided to try to invade the entire island.

The first Norman raid on the island took place by Ruggero Primo d’Altavilla.

After this first approach, Roberto il Guiscardo (Ruggero’s elder brother) together with his younger brother, in 1061, conquered Messina and began to fortify it.
In 1063 there was the battle of Cerami where the Arabs were defeated. Thanks to this victory Ruggero I had secured the dominion of a large part of the island.

Within a few years he also conquered Catania (1071) and Palermo (1072). Roberto il Guiscardo thus became the King of Sicily.
The Norman kingdom then continued with the son of Roberto I, Ruggero II, who, after conquering all of Southern Italy, became King of Sicily in 1130, making Sicily a state that we can define as “modern” as institutions were created such as: the first parliament and the Land Registry.

By making Palermo his capital, Ruggero formed a state in which there were different populations. He also managed to bring to his court, then to his service, many experts in various fields of various nationalities.

Sicily in those years became the largest empire in the Mediterranean.
After Ruggero in Sicily reigned: Simone, Guglielmo I, Guglielmo II and finally Tancredi. This is where the Norman era actually ended.

The marriage between Henry IV, son of the Swabian Frederick Barbarossa, and Costanza D’Altavilla (daughter of Ruggero II) marked the end of the Norman domination and the beginning of the Swabian age of Sicily.

Architettura normanna in Sicilia

Religion during the Norman period

During this domination the main religion was the Catholic religion. In fact, since the beginning of the Norman age there was a big push towards Catholicism.
Ever since Roger I gave a different weight to people based on religious beliefs, Catholics were favored by laws in their favor over Muslims and people with other religious beliefs.

Ethnicities Present within Norman Sicily

Roger I pushed towards the repopulation of the island, favoring, in addition of course to the Normans, people from Provence, Britain and the populations of Northern Italy.
During the reign of Roger II there was a period in which Sicily was culturally enriched by the cosmopolitan presence of many ethnic groups.

Dialectal Influences

Given the presence, in addition to the Norman population, of various ethnic groups, the Sicilian dialect was greatly enriched.
We remember first of all the Gallo-Italic which greatly influenced the Sicilian dialect, especially in some areas, and is still perceptible in our language today:

Some examples of this influence are:

accattari – to buy (from the Norman acater, modern French acheter)
accia – celery (from ache)
ammintuari or muntuari – to mention, to name (from the Norman mentevoir ‘)
ammuarru or armaru – wardrobe (to be armoire)
appujari – to support (from appuyer)
bucceri (vucceri) – butcher (from bouchier)
buatta Рtin, jar (from bǫte)
custureri – tailor (from coustrier, modern French coutourier)
firranti – gray (from ferrant)
fuoddi – crazy (from fol)
giugnettu – july (from juignet)
ladiu o lariu – ugly (from laid)
largasìa – generosity (from largesse)
magas̬ Рwarehouse (from magasin)
mustàzzi – mustache (from mustache)
perciàri / pirciàri – to pierce
puseri – thumb (from poucier)
racìna – grape (from raisin)
raggia – anger (from rage)
head – head (from heads)
travagghiari – to work (from travaller, modern French travailler, but in Spanish trabajar from Latin. tripaliāre, de tripalÄ­um)
trippari or truppiccari Рto stumble (from the Norman triper; but also Proven̤al trepar)
tummari or attummuliari – fall (from tomber)

(These dialectal terms were taken from the website’s article:

Dominazione normanna in Sicilia

Norman Culinary Influence

In addition to the genetic and linguistic heritage, the Norman population also left a culinary influence.
Various eating habits that were typical of the Nordic peoples were introduced into our kitchen.
The main influences that are still strongly present in Sicilian cuisine are: the way of cooking meats on the spit and typically Nordic fish such as cod (pisci stocku and baccala ‘).
The introduction of cutlery should also be a legacy of the Nordic peoples.

Sicily Byzantine

The history of Byzantine Sicily begins in 535, when the island was occupied by Belisarius, helped by the Sicilians who hoped that the new invaders were better than the previous ones.

Belisario was thus able to conquer the whole island but, due to some rebellions, he was forced to leave for Africa. Shortly afterwards some rebellions also broke out in Sicily forcing Belisario himself to return. Finished these rebellions too, he set sail for the conquest of Italy.

A few years later, in 549, the Goths headed by Totila returned to Italy, reconquering the peninsula and then also Sicily.

The history tells that Totila, who accused the inhabitants of the island of having helped the Byzantine invasion, threw his anger towards the Sicilians and retaliated by plundering and devastating the whole island.

Justinian, worried about the situation, sent the army led by Liberius. The latter did not have time to arrive in Sicily when Justinian changed his mind, sending Artabane to replace Liberio in command.

Liberio, unaware of the change of command, landed on the island and tried in vain to free Syracuse which had been besieged by Totila. In the meantime, the Totila decided to leave Sicily while maintaining command of some provinces.

Upon his landing on the Island, Artabane freed all of Sicily from the Ostrogoth presence in 551.

The situation, for the Byzantine Empire, changed a lot after the death of Justinian in 565. With the emperor dead, the kingdom remained in ruins from a financial point of view.

Justinian’s successors did not want to abandon the West and so they suffered the Lombard invasion in 568. These, in a couple of years, conquered almost the entire Italian peninsula, excluding the southern part.

From other fronts the Byzantine Empire suffered several attacks: the Moors in North Africa and the Visigoths conquered southern Spain.

This was one of the few times, throughout history, that Sicily remained unharmed.

Sicily remained under Byzantine influence until 827, that is, until the arrival of the Arabs.

In this period the island followed the fate and changes that affected the Byzantine empire.These years were marked, for the Byzantine empire, by various tensions and changes in front especially as regards the problems between the empire and the church .

As for Sicily, it is certainly worth mentioning: the first attempted invasion of the island by the Arabs (652) and the choice by Costanzo to move the capital of the empire to Syracuse (663). The following years were marked by the advance of the Arab empire and the tensions between the church and the empire.

The scarcity of documents makes the position of Sicily in this period unclear, if not for a few details.

This means that this part of the story of Sicily remains a little too short and lacking in important references.

The barbarians in Sicily


Barbarians in Sicily

The term “Barbarian” was born from the Greeks who indicated with it all those who did not speak Greek (literally indicated “stammerers”).

The term was later used also by the Romans, however acquiring a different meaning, it referred to all peoples who had a religion other than the Christian one.

The populations that are recognized, at the end of the Roman Empire, as barbarians are those who came from the northern part of Europe, which began to enter into “the empire” and which certainly accelerated its fall. Among the main ones we can mention: Vandals, Huns, Visigoths, Goths, Eruli, Ostrogoths.

Of these peoples those that were interested Sicily are mainly: the Vandals, Eruli and the Ostrogoths.

Vandals in Sicily

Genseric was king of the vandals in 428. At first he conquered northern Africa, making Carthage his operational base. In 440 he prepared a fleet with which he landed in Sicily. The Vandals sacked all of Sicily because of the limited commitment to defend it from the Byzantines distracted by the battle with Attila in the Eastern Roman Empire. They were then driven back to Africa, later returning to the island to regain it, around 468.

In 476 the Vandals essentially granted all of Sicily to Odoacre, who was in charge of the Eruli, in exchange for a tribute. Thus Odoacre became king of Italy.

Of the Vandal domination in Sicily we must surely remember the fierce religious persecution against Catholics.

Ostrogoths in Sicily

At the end of the fifth century, Odoacre was killed by Theodoric, ruler of the Ostrogoths, whi became the king of Italy.

In the year 500, Theodoric married his sister to Genseric’s great-grandson, Trasamondo, giving Lilibeo as a dowry.

Until 535 the Ostrogoths were the masters of Sicily, in this year the Byzantines began a long campaign to reconquest the island.

The Ostrogoths returned to Sicily in 549 and managed to occupy it again for another two years. Then in 551 the island was totally freed from the presence of barbarians.

Thus ends the history of the Barbarians in Sicily.

The Romans in Sicily, the granary of Italy

colonna villa del casale


The arrival of the Romans in Sicily is due to the loss of influence of the Greeks. It occurred in the middle of the 3rd century B.C. The main motivation was probably the fear that the Carthaginian empire could have taken the control of Sicily.

The Mamertines, an Italic people linked to a tradition based on war, were protagonist in this story. 

Around 280 BC the Mamertines went to Sicily attracted by the island’s wealth. After various assaults in the inhabited centers of the island, they were confined to the city of Messina. But their nature pushed them to continue their raids both on the island and beyond, becoming a constant threat for the Romans and for the Carthaginians.

The Mamertines allied at first with Carthage and precisely their sudden turnaround was the excuse that allowed Rome to land in Sicily. This event can be considered the prelude to the first Punic war.


The First Punic War began in 264 BC. and ended in 241 B.C., it was probably the biggest war, as far as economic resources and human lives are concerned, never seen until then.

A turning point in the war was Rome’s creation of its first naval fleet, without which it would not have been possible to fight Carthage. The war ended in 241 with the surrender of Carthage.

From the point of view of the Sicilian population the war brought only a huge number of victims. The only part of Sicily that remained almost immune from the war was Syracuse, ruled by Hieron. The sovereign allied initially with Carthage but this alliance lasted very little, soon Hieron understood that he had chosen the wrong side and signed an alliance with Rome, to which he remained faithful until his death, helping in the war with the supply of wheat and other provisions.

At the end of the first Punic war, Sicily, apart from Syracuse, was totally Roman.


The second Punic war began in 218 BC and ended in 202 BC (in Sicily up to 210). Even during this conflict, Sicily played a fundamental role.

After the death of Hieron, his heirs turned their faces to Rome, allying themselves with Carthage. In Sicily this conflict brought several clashes. It is important to underline the important role of Archimedes who, thanks to his talent, succeeded in delaying the siege in Syracuse for several years. In the end Syracuse ceded in 211 B.C. and this put an end to the Carthaginian presence in Sicily.

In reality from this year onwards the history of Sicily as a Roman province begins.


History that for many years continued without events of particular interest.

Until the arrival of the slave rebellion: the first led by Euno took place between 136 and 132 BC. and the second headed by Salvio Trifone between 101 and 98 B.C ..

To mention also the harassment of the island during the work of Gaio Verre from 73 to 71 B.C., remembered in the work of Cicero “Verrine”. The wars against the pirates that raged on the island are also of that period.

After Verrei t is important to mention the civil war between 49 and 45 BC. between Cesare and Pompeo who obviously was interested in Sicily since it had always been the grain importer to Rome. The situation didn’t improve on the island after the death of Caesar and the subsequent struggles for power.

At the end of these clashes Sicily had been devastated.

In 27 BC Octavian is proclaimed Augustus thus becoming Emperor of Sicily also.

There are not many sources from this period in Sicily. Therefore the only episode that deserves mention is another servile war that took place between 253 and 268

Sicily remained a Roman province until the fall of the Western Roman Empire, when the Vandals seized it in 440, thus ending the Roman period in Sicily.