Outline of the History of Sicily

3000-1000 B.C. Bronze Age remains of a prehistoric civilization that existed on the island.

1000 B.C. Siculi (in the east), Sicani and Elimi (in the west) lived in Sicily before the Greeks arrived.

750 B.C.  Greeks begin settling Sicily.

734 B.C.  Syracuse is founded by Corinthians.  Messina (Zancle) and Catania are founded by Calcidians.  Megara Iblea (near Augusta) is founded by Megarese.

688 B.C. Gela is founded by Rhodesians and Cretans.

650-580  Inhabitants from these Greek colonies lay the foundations of other Greek cities in Sicily (most of which are founded along the coast): Gela founded Agrigento (Akragas), Megara Iblea founded Selinute, Messina founded Imera, and Syracuse founded Camarina.  Greek cities in Sicily had democratic "poleis" (city-states) similar to the ones in Greece itself during this period.

580-480  Greek colonies (except Syracuse) absorb the local population peacefully, but encounter resistance in western Sicily where, beside the Sicani and Elimi, small Phoenician settlements begin to appear.  Palermo and Trapani, in fact, become the first Phoenician and, subsequently, Carthaginian strongholds on the island.  Civil strife among the Greek colonies occurs as they try to expand their influence along the coast.  As a result of this colonial expansion and the threat posed by unassimilated people (Siculi, Sicani and Elimi), tyrants ruled the Greek cities during this period.

480  Carthage intervenes in local Greek politics, but is defeated by the Greeks.

405  The Peloponnesian War (431-404 B.C.) between Athens and Sparta was felt also in Sicily.  The city of Segesta, supported by Athens and Carthage, fought against the city of Selinute which was supported by Sparta and by Diogenes I of Syracuse.

367-344  Diogenes I dies and Diogenes II succeeds him as tyrant of Syracuse; during his reign the Greek philosopher Plato lives in Syracuse.

344-316  The Corinthian general Timoleontes rules Syracuse.

316-310  The Greeks, under Agatocles bring their war against Carthage on African soil.

278 After defeating the Romans in Puglia (on the Italian peninsula), Pyrrhus, king of Epirus (in western Greece), conquers all of Sicily (except Marsala), and defeats the Carthaginian forces on the island.

264  Rome and Carthage fight for control of Messina.

241  Rome defeats the Carthagineans in Sicily and makes Sicily the First Province of their Republic.  Only the Greek city of Syracuse is allowed to remain independent because it had been a faithful Roman alley in the war against Carthage.  Sicily recovers from the war and becomes a prosperous bread-basket of the Roman Republic.

212  The Romans conquer Syracuse; the Greek engineer Archimedes dies in the fighting.  Romans begin exploiting both the people and the land.  Despite the importance of small land-owners in the sixty-eight Sicilian cities under Roman rule, it is the latifondium (large agricultural estates) that acquire importance since they produce the grain that will feed the Roman Republic.  Prisoners-of-war from the Punic War (against Carthage) become slaves that cultivate the land.  It is not surprising, therefore, that in:
132 & 100 we see the first major uprisings against Roman rule in Sicily.

36 B.C.Under Julius Caesar Rome ceases to be a Republic and becomes an Empire.  During the Civil War, Octavian (the future Augustus) defeats Sextus Pompey, and Sicily passes under direct control of Rome, losing its political autonomy.  Sicily also loses its importance as Rome's bread-basket now that Egypt and most of North Africa are under Roman control.

200-300 A.D. Christianity spreads to Sicily (to this day there are Christian catacombs in Catania and Syracuse).

300-490 A.D. Sicily does not suffer much during the Barbaric Invasions that afflicted the rest of the Italian peninsula.  The Vandals conquered Marsala, but did not try to conquer the rest of Sicily.  During this period, the island provides wheat for Rome.

491  Theodoric the Ostrogoth (the "enlightened Barbarian") takes control of the island without encountering any resistance.

535  The Byzantines (Christian Greeks living in the Eastern Roman Empire, with Constantinople, modern-day Istanbul, as their capital) take control of Sicily under Bellisarius (the Emperor Justinian's commander-in-chief).  During the Gothic Wars (between Byzantines and Totila's Goths), Sicily provides Rome with wheat and is punished by Totila for it.

663-668   The last attempt by a Byzantine emperor to give Byzantium a more central role in the Mediterranean: Constance places his capital in Syracuse; but the Moors (the North African Moslems) begin attacking the Sicilian coast.

810-1050  After conquering Marsala, the Moors conquer Palermo in 859, Enna in 859, and Taormina in 902.  Sicily undergoes great cultural, social, and economic development.  Palermo becomes one of the biggest Moslem cities in the north African Islamic empire (with almost 100,000 inhabitants).  The Arabs bring to Sicily the most advanced civilization in the Western world.  They introduce to Europe: Aristotle, arithematic, algebra, astronomy, and new forms of agriculture (many wheat fields are converted to valuable almond and citrus groves with the introduction of the windmill, an Arab invention for irrigation).  However, the internal strife among various parts of the Moslem world bring about a decline of Arab rule in Sicily around 1050.

1061-1091 A small group of Normans living in southern Italy takes over Sicily.  The Normans impose a feudal type of government in Sicily, similar to the ones of north-western Europe.  There was, however, a peaceful co-existence among Byzantine Greeks, Latin Christians, and North African Moslems and Jews.  Latin, Arabic, and Greek were used on most official documents; and many top administrative positions were held by Greeks, whereas lower administrative positions were held by Moslems.

1139 Under Roger II, the Normans unite Sicily with the southern Italian peninsula; they conquer Gerba, Tripoli, and Sfax in northern Africa; and establish economic ties with the maritime republics of Genoa and Pisa.

1154-1166 A period of civil strife: many feudal barons oppose the Moslem presence on the island and the state bureaucracy of William I.  The settling of "Lombard" (Italian) colonists brings about a dispersion of Moslem communities in Sicily.

1166-1189 William II, founder of the Abbey at Monreale, brings an end to the social strife on the island.

1189 Costance of Hautville, daughter of William II, marries Henry VI of Hohenstaufen (important family of Swebia, in southern Germany).

1197-1250 Their son, Frederick II of Swebia, the "only genius to ascend a German throne," rules Sicily making Palermo the capital of his empire.  Frederick reorganizes the kingdom of Sicily with the Constitution of Melfi; he maintains a feudal and bureaucratic government, but incorporates ancient Roman law in his legislation.  The first school of Italian poetry is born at his court in Palermo (the Scuola siciliana), and the first state-run university is founded in Naples.  He becomes Holy Roman Emperor, leads a Crusade in the Holy Land, and is very repressive with rebellious Moslem communities in the Sicilian hinterland.

1250 After Frederick's death, his two sons, Manfred and Conrad, are killed, and Charles of Anjou (brother of the King of France) receives the crown of Sicily from the Pope.

1282 Heavy taxes bring about the popular uprising known as the "Sicilian Vespers;" the French are kicked out of Sicily.  The Sicilian aristocracy gives the crown to Peter III of Aragon (Spain).

1282-1380 A century of conflict with the Angevin (French) court in Naples for control of Sicily, the internal strife between pro-Aragonese forces and the Sicilian independence movement, and the Black Death (bubonic plague) of 1348 all contributed to the social and economic decline of Sicily during this period.  Weak kings and rulers allowed powerful feudal families to rule various parts of Sicily.  Most barons were either members of the "parzialità catalana" (pro-Spanish) or the "parzialità latina" (pro-Italian); both sides, however, were intent on protecting their aristocratic privileges.

1392 The Aragonese regained control of Sicily, and in 1412 they made it a Viceroyship.

1416-1458 Alfonso V of Spain conquers southern Italy making Naples his residence, and Sicily the financial and military base for his political campaigns.  He favored the cultivation of Sicilian grain which became a leading export and source of revenue.  Alfonso also founded the University of Catania and helped bring the Renaissance to Sicily (Antonello da Messina became one of the island's best known Renaissance painters).

1487 Later Spanish rulers bring the Spanish inquisition to Sicily and in 1492 the Jews are expelled from the island.

1500-1700 For two centuries the Spaniards ruled Sicily with a Viceroy living either in Palermo or Messina until the popular uprising of 1674.  Spaniards held the top government posts, but there was a parliament with three "houses" representing the barons (aristocracy), clergy, and "public-domain institutions" (state-run institutions).  Most of the people and institutions represented in parliament were spared taxes; so were the cities of Palermo and Messina.  Spain favored the Sicilian aristocracy by granting it the power of consent, and by administering the estates of indebted Sicilian aristocrats, thereby guaranteeing even the poorest nobleman an income and the right to retain his land and title.  In the early 1600's, Spain sold land, belonging to the royal domain, as well as titles of nobility, thereby increasing the ranks and the power of the Sicilian aristocracy.  With this came an expansion of the latifondi (large agricultural estates) owned by the feudal class and managed by their Mafia-like agents, the "gabellotti" (foremen who ran the farms and exploited both the peasants and their feudal overlords).  In the sixteenth century wheat was an important source of revenue for the large landowners.  During this period, bankers from Genoa had significant control of Sicilian finances.
     The seventeen century, instead, witnessed a long period of economic stagnation and decline.  Nonetheless, the Sicilian aristocracy maintains very close ties with the Spanish nobility and the royal court in Madrid.  As a result, Spanish culture and civilization had a strong influence on Sicilian society and culture.

1699 Mount Etna erupts.  The lava buries Catania killing 15,000 people.  The earthquakes generated by the eruption destroy towns as far north as Messina and as far south as Noto.

1700 Philip V of Bourbon ascends the Spanish throne.

1714-1718 For a brief period Sicily becomes part of the kingdom of Victor Amedeo II of Savoia (an Italian monarch).  Victor Amedeo tries to contain the privileges of the Church and the aristocracy on the island.

1718-1720 Philip V of Spain and Charles VI of Austria fight over Sicily.

1720-1734 Sicily becomes part of Austria.  Austria tries to revive the Sicilian wheat market, which was devastated after the war with Spain, and establish a market economy similar to those in northern Europe.  The war of succession in Poland, however, forced Austria to abandon its interests in Sicily.

1734 Philip's son Charles VII of Bourbon, King of Naples (the future Charles III of Spain), makes Sicily part of Spain's southern Italian Kingdom again.  Under Charles, Sicily undergoes significant demographic and economic growth.

1759-1828 The long reign of  Ferdinand IV of Naples (the future Ferdinand I of Spain).  In the years 1767-1777 his Tuscan prime minister Tanucci expels the Jesuits from Sicily, and gives their land to the peasants.  The liberal Tanucci, however, is replaced by a member of the conservative Sicilian aristocracy.

1781-1786 The Marquis Caracciolo, Viceroy of Sicily, attempts to reform and contain Sicily's feudal aristocracy.

1795 A conspiracy led by F.P. Di Blasi takes place in Palermo; his revolutionary ideals are inspired by the French Revolution of 1789 and other northern European revolutionaries.

1806-1810 Napoleon occupies the Italian peninsula, including Naples; and British troops occupy Sicily.  Bourbons from Naples go into exile in Sicily.

1812 Lord W. Bentinck tries to replace the feudal system in Sicily with an English-style parliamentary government; but in 1816 after Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo, reactionary Bourbon decrees at the Council of Vienna rejected it.  Nevertheless, this English constitution would establish the political base for Sicily's movement of independence from Naples.

1820 The first major uprisings in Naples and Palermo against the Bourbon government, the aristocracy and their Mafia-like “gabellotti.”  In the years following the unsuccessful revolt, Sicily develops its sulfur industry and its vineyards (including its famous Marsala wine).  English families, such as the Ingham, on the island since the turn of the century, become very successful.  The Florio family of bankers, entrepreneurs, and Marsala wine merchants, is also very successful.  Ferdinand I, who had been ruling since 1759, and his successors, Francis I and Ferdinand II, allowed greater economic and social development by restructuring the government.  For example, in 1824 laws were passed abolishing the rights of the feudal aristocracy to keep their land even when they were in debt.

1841 Other feudal laws are abolished.

1848 The Revolution of 1848 on the mainland sets the stage for Victor Emanuel II's annexation of Sicily in 1860 Garibaldi and his Mille (one thousand soldiers) defeat the Bourbon armies in Sicily and Naples.  Later that year, after a referendum, Sicily becomes part of a unified Italy.  Both rich and poor, however, are disappointed by the results of unification.  The aristocracy thought unification would separate them, once and for all, from Neapolitan rule, and found themselves instead under a new sphere of influence, that of Piemonte (the region where the new capital of Italy, Turin, was located).  The peasants (farmers, fishermen, and miners) thought that unification would bring about social and economic changes, but it did not: the peasant uprising in Bronte is ruthlessly suppressed by Bixio in 1860.  The Sicilian middle class is backward and politically weak, compared to the middle classes in northern and central Italy; therefore, it is unable to assume any leadership role in Sicilian society.

1866 The masses' dissatisfaction with the centralized, bureaucratic government in Piemonte and its economic policies brings about popular uprisings in Palermo, brigandage in the countryside, and a high crime rate in other Sicilian cities.

1876 Franchetti and Sonnino publish their study on the "Sicilian question."  In it they analyze the "Mafia spirit" reigning in Sicilian society.  The Mafia, in fact, helped landowners defend traditionally repressive systems of social order against the social changes the government was trying to make.  The Mafia also expected and enforced a code of conduct which was based on feudal values and customs.  As an expression of this particular socioeconomic order, the Mafia was strongest in western Sicily, especially in Palermo.

1880-1895 As economic conditions deteriorate in Sicily, we see the birth of the socialist-inspired "Fasci" movement among peasants and miners.  The movement was repressed in 1894 by Crispi, Italy’s first Sicilian prime minister.

1901-1914 Sicily's sulfur mines cannot compete with the better mechanized sulfur mines in the United States.  The whole sulfur industry collapses and, as the economy on the island declines, one and a half million Sicilians emigrate, most of them to the United States.  In 1908 an earthquake destroys the city of Messina.

1918-1920 The Socialist party and Don Struzzo’s Catholic party (the future Christian Democratic party) support mass peasant protests which sought to occupy several of the latifondi.  During Fascism, several of these parties’ political leaders will go into exile (Don Stuzzo will live in Gainesville, Florida).

1922-1943 Benito Mussolini expels from Sicily some of the Mafia's biggest bosses (including Lucky Luciano); however, the Mafia is able to survive by corrupting local Fascist officials.

1943-1945 The U.S. Third Army under General Omar Bradley conquers Sicily with the help of Lucky Luciano, whom the U.S. government allows to return to Sicily after the War.  Luciano becomes the biggest Mafia boss in Sicily; both he and his successors will corrupt local, regional, and even national political figures (especially in the ruling Christian Democratic party).  As a result, the Mafia has considerable influence in the socioeconomic and political affairs of Sicily during the post-war era.
During the post-war era an independence movement developed, but it soon became a right-wing movement aimed at repressing the peasant movements organized by leftists.  In 1947, Salvatore Giuliano, the bandit hired by the “latifondisti” to suppress a demonstration by peasants and union leaders, massacred the protesters at Portella della Ginestra.

1980-1992 Leoluca Orlando becomes the first Socialist mayor of Palermo, and later creates a new party, La Rete: Movimento Democratico, whose political platform includes a campaign against the Mafia.  The Italian government will launch its first major campaign against the Mafia since Fascism.  The first High Commissioner of the Anti-Mafia task force, General Carlo Alberto Dalla Chiesa is assassinated in 1982; his successors judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino are also assassinated by the Mafia in 1992.
1992-2000 After years of investigation and valuable help from Mafiosi like Tommaso Buscetta, who collaborated with law enforcement, the Italian government is finally able to capture Totò Rijna, the top man in Cosa Nostra, and other Mafia bosses.  Although the Italian government finally has a grip on the Sicilian Mafia, a new Mafia boss, Dino Provenzano, is still at large.