Are Sicilians of Spanish descent
Every occupying power left its mark on the island in some way. The strangers took over old traditions, transformed them or brought completely new influences with them. In this way, over the millennia, a tremendously diverse cultural landscape has emerged that is unparalleled in Europe.
Three peoples share the island
The prehistoric development of Sicily is largely in the dark. Finds of rock carvings and leftover food confirm an early settlement over 10,000 years ago, but who the first inhabitants of the island were and where they came from is still unknown today.
Towards the end of the 2nd millennium BC, the first colonizers known by name appear in Sicily. First of all, the Sicans from Libya settled on the island. They are followed by the Elymers who fled the area around Troy. The Sicilians crossed from central Italy to Sicily and occupied the eastern part of the island.
All three peoples have a high culture and knowledge of bronze and iron processing. They divide Sicily among themselves: the Elymers remain in the west, the Siculians in the east and the Sicans pushed in between.
Cultural and economic prosperity among the Greeks
The strategic position of Sicily is not hidden from other powerful peoples of ancient times. Initially, Phoenicians set up trading establishments in the western part of the island and displace the Elymers who lived there. The eastern part of the island was colonized by Greek tribes for the first time from the 8th century BC.
In the following decades, more and more Greeks came to Sicily. They push the local population into the impassable mountains and push their own settlements further and further south and west.
Most of the local population adopt the Greek beliefs and culture. An alliance between the Phoenicians and the Elymers is only still in place in the northwest.
The increasing wealth of the Greek city-states in Sicily arouses envious people. Mighty Carthage, of Phoenician origin, entered into a strategic alliance with the Persians in the 5th century BC to end Greek culture throughout the Mediterranean.
While the Persians attack the Greek motherland, Carthage rushes into Sicily. But the Greeks crush their opponents in both battles.
The Greek culture in Sicily experienced its greatest heyday in the period that followed. Great temples are being built everywhere, the city of Syracuse in eastern Sicily is becoming one of the most powerful metropolises in the Mediterranean. An attack by Athens, concerned about its Greek supremacy, can also be repulsed successfully, albeit with great losses.
Decline under Roman rule
The numerous wars have severely weakened the Greek cities. Carthage's pressure is increasing. The North Africans absorb one city after another in the west and prepare to take over all of Sicily. In the 3rd century BC, this calls for the increasingly powerful Romans to act.
In the First Punic War with Carthage (264 to 241 BC) they seized a large part of the island, in the Second Punic War (218 to 201 BC) the rest of Sicily fell to Rome.
However, the Romans have no interest in maintaining Greek culture. They develop the island into the granary of Rome, cut down almost the entire forest and suppress the population. Sicily becomes an insignificant province.
With the collapse of the Roman Empire in the 5th century AD, Sicily suffers the same fate as many other Mediterranean regions. First, vandals plunder the island, followed a little later by the Ostrogoths. In 535 Byzantium occupied Syracuse and ruled the island for almost three centuries.
Reconstruction under the Arabs
At the beginning of the ninth century, the Byzantines were hopelessly at odds. Admiral Euphemios, governor of Syracuse, wants to rebel against the emperor in distant Byzantium and calls the Emir of Kairuan (in today's Tunisia) to help, who then goes ashore with his Arab army in 827 in western Sicily. In almost 100 years, the Arabs subjugate the entire island.
In the following decades they rebuild the battered island. During this time, Sicily received essential features of its current landscape. The Arabs introduce new plants such as date palms, sugar cane, rice and lemon trees.
Sophisticated irrigation systems improve the harvest many times over. The establishment of salt pans for salt production bring the island a profitable trade and prosperity.
Because of a moderate tax system and their religious tolerance, the Arabs are also popular with the common people. Palermo replaces Syracuse as the capital and is developing into one of the largest and most modern metropolises in the Mediterranean.
Further development under Normans and Hohenstaufen
In 1061 the Arabs in Sicily were as divided as the Byzantines over 200 years earlier. A part of the ruling emirs calls for help from the Normans, who have ruled southern Italy for some time. History repeats itself: the Normans invade Sicily in the same year under Roger I.
In just 30 years, the Vikings, who originally came from France, brought the island under their control and helped it to flourish further. Administration and the tax system are taken over by the Arabs, as is freedom of belief and linguistic diversity. Under the Normans, Sicily remained the most important link between Orient and Occident.
But after only a good 100 years and four generations, the Norman rule is over. The last King Wilhelm II remains childless and the throne falls to the Hohenstaufen family for a short time.
Frederick II, one of the most colorful and powerful personalities of the Middle Ages, ruled with a hard hand for over 50 years, but developed an almost modern-looking official state, curtailed the rights of the nobility and the church and promoted cultural exchange between the Arab and Christian world. But when Friedrich II died in 1250, the end of the Hohenstaufen in Sicily was sealed.
Foreign rule with fatal consequences
In 1266, Pope Clement IV offered Sicily as a fief to King Charles of Anjou, an arch enemy of the Hohenstaufen dynasty. A brief period of brutal French repression follows.
But the Sicilian population quickly revolted. In the "Sicilian Vespers" in 1282, the French occupiers were mercilessly slaughtered on the entire island, and Karl von Anjou was barely able to flee.
Then the landed gentry looked for a strong ally and found him in 1302 in the Spanish King Pedro of Aragón. Four centuries of Spanish rule begin, during which the island decays. The Spanish royal family hardly cares about its branch office.
Small country nobles accumulate vast estates, rule like kings and lead a life of lavish luxury. Excessive taxes lead to impoverishment of the population and famine.
In addition, there was a devastating eruption of Mount Etna in 1669 and a destructive earthquake in 1693. When Spanish rule ended in 1701 because of a war of succession in the motherland, Sicily was apparently at an end.
Connection to the Italian Kingdom
The Spaniards were first followed by the Dukes of Savoy-Piedmont (1713 to 1720), then the Habsburgs (1720 to 1734), and later the Spanish Bourbons (1734 to 1860). All of them are not very popular with the Sicilian population.
In 1860 the freedom fighter Guiseppe Garibaldi crossed over to Sicily with 1000 men. He wants to promote the connection of the island to the Italian kingdom. More and more Sicilians join the charismatic Garibaldi and unceremoniously drive the Bourbons off the island.
A year later, Sicily is incorporated into the newly formed kingdom. However, the euphoric mood of the people is quickly subdued. In the decades that followed, there was little change in social conditions. A huge wave of emigration to America seized the island and lasted until the beginning of the 20th century.
In 1922, Benito Mussolini took power in Italy. Sicily is again appointed as the breadbasket of Rome. The expansion of the grain fields only brings advantages to the large landowners, the simple population is poor as ever.
In 1943 the Allies land in Sicily, numerous cities are destroyed by bombs. In 1946, after the Second World War, Sicily was granted the status of an autonomous region with its own parliament and extensive regional powers.
WDR | Status: 07/14/2020, 12:25 p.m.
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