The colonization of Sicily by the Greeks to the Romans

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Selinunte - Greek temple Selinunte - Greek temple

History of Sicily by the Greeks to the Romans,

The original inhabitants of Sicily were three defined groups of the ancient peoples of Italy. The most prominent and by far the earliest of these was the Sicani, who were said by Thucydides to have arrived from the Iberian Peninsula (perhaps Catalonia). Important historical evidence has been discovered in the form of cave drawings by the Sicani, dated from the end of the Pleistocene epoch around 8000 BC. The arrival of the first humans on the island is correlated with the extinction of the Sicilian Hippopotamus and the dwarf elephant.

The Elymians, thought to be from the Aegean Sea, were the next tribe to join the Sicanians on Sicily.Recent discoveries of dolmens on the island (dating to the second half of the third millennium BC) seems to offer new insights into the culture of primitive Sicily. It is well known that the Mediterranean region went through a quite intricate prehistory, so much so that it is difficult to piece together the muddle of different peoples who have followed each other.

necropolis of pantalica
By Clemensfranz [GFDL CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia

The impact of two influences is clear, however: the European one coming from the Northwest, and the Mediterranean influence of a clear eastern heritage. There is no evidence of any warring between the tribes, but the Sicanians moved eastwards when the Elymians settled in the northwest corner of the island. The Sicels are thought to have originated in Liguria; they arrived from mainland Italy in 1200 BC and forced the Sicanians to move back across Sicily and settle in the middle of the island. Other minor Italic groups who settled in Sicily were the Ausones (Aeolian Islands, Milazzo) and the Morgetes of Morgantina. Studies of genetic records reveal that peoples from various parts of the Mediterranean Basin mixed with the ancient inhabitants of Sicily, including Egyptians and Iberians 

Phoenician, Carthaginian, Greek and Roman period 



Punic stele
By Ferpint[CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia

The Phoenician settlements in the western part of the island predates the Greeks. From about 750 BC, the Greeks began to live in Sicily (Σικελία – Sikelia), establishing many important settlements. The most important colony was in Syracuse; others were located at Akragas, Selinunte, Gela, Himera and Zancle. The native Sicani and Sicel peoples were absorbed into the Hellenic culture with relative ease, and the area became part of Magna Graecia along with the rest of southern Italy, which the Greeks had also colonised. Sicily was very fertile, and the successful introduction of olives and grape vines created a great deal of profitable trading; a significant part of Greek culture on the island was that of the Greek religion, and many temples were built throughout Sicily,

greek temple in selinunte
By Franck Manogil [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

including several in the Valley of the Temples at Agrigento. Politics on the island was intertwined with that of Greece; Syracuse became desired by the Athenians who set out on the Sicilian Expedition during the Peloponnesian War. Syracuse gained Sparta and Corinth as allies and, as a result, the Athenian expedition was defeated. The Athenian army and ships were destroyed, with most of the survivors being sold into slavery. Greek Syracuse controlled much of Sicily, though there were a few Carthaginian colonies in the far west of the island. The two cultures began to clash, leading to the Greek-Punic wars. Greece had begun to make peace with the Roman Republic in 262 BC, and the Romans sought to annex Sicily as their republic's first province. Rome intervened in the First Punic War, crushing Carthage, so that Sicily had become the first Roman province outside of the Italian Peninsula by 242 BC. Archimedes was murdered in the Second Punic War, which saw Carthage again trying to take Sicily from the Roman Republic. They failed, and Rome was even more unrelenting in its annihilation of the invaders this time; Roman consul M. Valerian told the Roman Senate in 210 BC that "no Carthaginian remains in Sicily".

mosaic Roman villa del Casale
Mosaics of the Roman Villa del Casale

 Sicily served a level of high importance for the Romans, as it acted as the empire's granary. It was divided into two quaestorships, in the form of Syracuse to the east and Lilybaeum to the west. Some attempt was made under Augustus to introduce the Latin language to the island, but Sicily was allowed to remain largely Greek in a cultural sense. The once prosperous and contented island went into sharp decline when Verres became governor of Sicily. In 70 BC, noted figure Cicero condemned the misgovernment of Verres in his oration In Verrem. The island was used as a base of power numerous times, being occupied by slave insurgents during the First and Second Servile Wars, and by Sextus Pompey during the Sicilian revolt. Christianity first appeared in Sicily during the years following AD 200; between this time and AD 313, Constantine the Great finally lifted the prohibition on Christianity, and a significant number of Sicilians became martyrs, including Agatha, Christina, Lucy, and Euplius. Christianity grew rapidly in Sicily over the next two centuries. The period of history during which Sicily was a Roman province lasted for around 700 years.

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