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Sicily History timeline

Learn about the most significant Sicily History facts

Sicily, the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, is an Italian island off the south coast of Italy’s mainland. It’s known for its history, culture, beaches, and charming landscapes. Sicily is rich in archaeological sites, churches, experience itineraries and traditions. All of this is due to its surprising history, as Sicily has always been a key region in the Mediterranean culture and civilization. More than 13 civilizations have forged a deep identity. Sicily is Phoenician, Greek, Roman, Arab, Norman, Spanish as well as fundamentally and proudly Italian. Sicily history is also evident in its cuisine, and we have a lot tell you about that.

Sicily Prehistory (10,000 BC - 8th Century BC)

In the Italy history timeline, Sicily starts appearing in the records already from prehistory dating back over 10,000 years ago when early human settlements inhabited the island. Who were the original inhabitants of Sicily? During the Neolithic period, the island was home to farming communities that developed a unique way of life. The Bronze Age saw the rise of complex societies and new technologies, while the Iron Age was marked by the arrival of the Greeks, who established the first city-states and brought with them their language, culture, and religion. Sicily’s prehistory continues to influence the island’s art, literature, and traditions to this day.

Phoenician Settlement in Sicily (8th-5th Century BC)

The Phoenicians, a maritime people from the eastern Mediterranean, established settlements in Sicily in the 8th century BCE, establishing trade routes with other cultures in the Mediterranean. They brought with them their language, religion, and culture, and had a lasting impact on the island’s development. They developed a rich and diverse culture, mixing Phoenician, Greek, and local influences. The Phoenician settlement in Sicily lasted until the island was conquered by the Greeks in the 5th century BCE.

The Greek Colonization of Sicily (8th-5th Century BC)

In the 8th century BCE, the Greek city-states established settlements in Sicily such as Naxos, Syracuse, Acragas, Gela, and brought with them their language, culture, and religion. The Greeks left a lasting impact on Sicily, shaping its art, literature, and politics. The island became a center of Greek civilization in the western Mediterranean, and its prosperity and culture attracted the attention of other powers. Syracuse, has been rivalling with Athens many times for power, culture and prestige.

Siracusa during the Greek period (8th-5th Century BC)

Syracuse was one of the most important Greek city-states on the island. Founded by Greek colonists in the 8th century BCE, it quickly grew into a prosperous and culturally rich city, with a mix of Greek, Phoenician, and local influences. Siracusa was known for its vibrant intellectual and artistic life, and it became a center of philosophy science, and literature. For instance, Plato visited Siracusa three times. The city was also a major political and economic power, with a strong navy and a thriving trade network that extended throughout the Mediterranean. The city was conquered by the Romans in the 3rd century BCE, but it continued to flourish and retain its cultural richness. To know everything about Siracusa, purchase our digital Travel Guide Book “Nine Days in Eastern Sicily”.

Agrigento, the wonderful Greek city (5th-3rd Century BC)

Agrigento was one of the most important Greek city-states on the island. Founded by Greek colonists in the 5th century BCE, it quickly grew into a prosperous and culturally rich city. Agrigento was known for its beautiful temples and public buildings, and it was one of the most important religious centers in the Greek world. Nowadays this town is visited for its mind-blowing Archaeological Park of the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento.

Selinunte's destruction by the Carthaginians (409 BC)

Selinunte was an important Greek city-state in Western Sicily. In 409 BCE, Carthaginians attacked Selinunte as they sought to expand their territories in Sicily. The city couldn’t endure the siege and was eventually destroyed, signaling the end of Selinunte’s independence, despite the help provided by the other Sicilian Greek cities. The ruins of Selinunte are an essential archeological site in Sicily, revealing the ancient Greek cultural heritage.

Roman conquest of Sicily and its rule (3rd Century BC)

In the 3rd century BCE, Roman Republic conquered Sicily, putting an end to Greek domination. The island was crucial for Rome’s naval power and acted as a strategic bridge between Africa and Italy. Sicily became a melting pot of cultures, including Roman, Greek, and local traditions. Roman rule lasted for over five centuries, and the island prospered, thanks to fertile land and rich resources.

Sicily Punic Wars (264-146 BC)

The Punic Wars involved a series of conflicts fought by Rome and Carthage, with significant consequences for Sicily. During the Second Punic War, Carthaginian general Hannibal invaded Italy but was eventually defeated. Rome fought to establish its dominance over Carthage and its territories, including Sicily. The Third Punic War marked the end of Carthaginian rule in Sicily, shaping the island’s economic, cultural, and political growth. Sicily became a center of commerce, culture, and politics and served as a bridge between Africa and Italy.

Roman Influence on Sicily (3rd Century BC - 5th Century AD)

Sicily played a vital role in the history of the Roman Empire. The Roman period of Sicily lasted from the 3rd century BCE to the 5th century AD, with significant transformations on the island. After the First Punic War, Rome established its presence on the island and developed it into an agricultural and commercial center, with the construction of roads, aqueducts, and public buildings. Sicily also drew the attention of several ancient Roman writers, such as Cicero, Virgil and Livy, who wrote about the island’s history, military tactics, political maneuverings, and cultural practices during this time.

Byzantine Greek Sicily (5th-9th Century AD)

In the 5th century CE, the Byzantine Empire conquered Sicily, beginning a period of Byzantine Greek rule on the island. The Byzantine Greeks brought their language, religion, and culture, and Sicily became a center of Byzantine civilization in the western Mediterranean. Though the Byzantines aimed to spread Christianity and suppress pagan beliefs, the island remained a culturally rich region with a mix of influences. The Byzantine rule lasted over 400 years until the Arab Muslims conquered the island in the 9th century CE.

Arab Conquest of Sicily (9th Century AD)

Was Sicily controlled by Muslims? The 9th century CE saw the Arab Muslims invade Sicily and establish a Muslim state on the island. The Arab conquest brought new ideas, culture, and religion, making Sicily a center of Arab civilization in the western Mediterranean. The Arab rule resulted in a mix of cooperation and conflict with the locals, and the island became a melting pot of cultures with a blend of traditions. After two centuries of Arab rule, Norman invaders conquered the island, ending the Arab domination of Sicily.

The Splendor of Arab Sicily

The Arab period in Sicily was a time of great cultural flowering, as the island became a crossroads of trade and exchange between the Islamic world and Europe. The Fatimid and Aghlabid dynasties brought with them a rich cultural heritage that left a lasting impact on the island. Arab-Sicilian culture blended classical Greek and Roman influences with Islamic and North African elements, resulting in a vibrant mix of styles and traditions. This period saw the construction of magnificent palaces, mosques, and public buildings, and intricate mosaics and other works of art. The Arab period was also a time of great scientific and intellectual advancement, as the island became a center of learning and scholarship.

Palermo in the Arab World

Palermo, the capital of Sicily, was a thriving city during the Arab period and played a major role in the cultural, economic, and political life of the island. The city was a center of commerce and trade. The Arab rulers of Palermo built magnificent palaces, gardens, and public buildings that rivaled those of the great cities of the Islamic world. The Arab influence in Sicily made its capital Palermo also a center of learning, with many scholars and intellectuals residing in its vibrant neighborhoods and institutions. During this time, Palermo was known for its tolerance and cosmopolitanism. Read about Palermo and other exciting Sicilian Cities with us.

The 100 Mosques of Palermo

Palermo became known for its 100 mosques during the Arab period, many built during the city’s greatest prosperity. These mosques were symbols of the city’s wealth, cultural influence, and religious devotion and were renowned for their beauty, grandeur, and architectural innovations. Some incorporated elements of earlier Roman and Byzantine styles into their design. The largest mosque in Palermo was the Grand Mosque, known for its vast central courtyard, multiple domes, and intricate tilework. The glorious Palermo Arab past resulted in the city’s rich and diverse heritage and served as a testament to the lasting legacy of the Arab period in Sicily.

Norman Conquest of Sicily and the Sicilian Kingdom (11th-12th Century AD)

In the 11th century CE, the French Norman adventurers conquered Sicily, establishing the Norman Kingdom of Sicily and ending Arab rule. Sicily became a center of Norman civilization in the Mediterranean, and the Norman kings made efforts to unify the island’s diverse populations. The Norman kingdom of Sicily lasted for over 200 years and became one of Europe’s most prosperous and culturally rich regions, until the island was conquered by the Spanish in the late 16th century. The Normans in Sicily meant though one of the most glorious moments of Sicilian history as recognized by famous historians.

Roger II in Sicily (12th Century AD)

Following the Norman invasion of Sicily Roger II, the founder of the Norman Kingdom of Sicily, became King of Sicily in 1130 CE after a long struggle for power on the island. He established a powerful and centralized kingdom that included southern Italy. The Norman Palermo became the capital of his kingdom, which thrived culturally and economically under his patronage of the arts. Roger’s reign marked a turning point in Sicilian history. From this moment on, art historians start referring to the Arab Norman Palermo included in the UNESCO Word Heritage List.

Frederick II in Sicily (13th Century AD)

Federico II was the Holy Roman Emperor and King of Sicily, who became King of Sicily in 1198 CE and Holy Roman Emperor in 1220 CE. Called Stupor Mundi, he was a patron of the arts and sponsored many cultural and artistic projects throughout his reign, including building the magnificent Palace of the Norman Kings in Palermo. Sicily flourished culturally and economically under his rule, and he remains one of the most important figures in Sicilian history as he preserved the Arab Palermo heritage.

The Angevins Rule in Sicily (13th-15th Century AD)

The powerful Angioini French dynasty, coming from the city of Anjou, ruled Sicily from the 13th to the 15th century CE, appointed by the Pope after the Norman Kingdom of Sicily ended. The Angevins transferred the capital of the Kingdom from Palermo to Naples, and their rule was marked by political instability and economic hardship. Their legacy remains an important part of the island’s history. With the famous Sicilian Vespers rebellion, the Angevins power in Sicily finally ended.

The Sicilian Vespers (1282 AD)

The Sicilian Vespers was a revolt in 1282 CE against the rule of Charles I of Anjou, who was seen as a foreign oppressor. The uprising quickly spread throughout the island, resulting in the formation of an independent Kingdom of Sicily and marking the end of French rule on the island. The Sicilian Vespers remains one of the most important events in Sicilian history and a successful example of a popular uprising against foreign rule in medieval Europe. This event was celebrated in literature and music, by the famous Opera composed by Giuseppe Verdi, Les Vêpres Siciliennes.

The Kingdom of Aragon in Sicily (15th-18th Century AD)

The Kingdom of Aragon, which ruled over much of Spain and the western Mediterranean, including Sicily, took control of the island in the 15th century CE. Despite some resistance, the Aragonese ruled the island successfully for over three centuries, though the period was marked a period of decadence and isolation as opposed to the Renaissance period which was taking place in the rest of Italy.

Spanish Dominion of Sicily (16th-18th Century)

Spain established control over Sicily in the 16th century, bringing with them their language, religion, and culture. The island remained a prosperous and culturally rich region, despite the Spanish rule characterized by strict administration and suppression of local culture and traditions. The Spanish domination lasted for over two hundred years, until the island was briefly conquered by the Austrians in the late 18th century.

Spanish Influence over Sicily

Spain had significant influence over Sicily, which was a part of the Kingdom of Aragon, during the 16th-18th centuries CE. The Spanish introduced new political, economic, and cultural institutions. They established a strong military presence on the island and maintained their influence for over two centuries, marked by the baroque developments that led Sicily to excel in this period which marked Sicily identity going forward. Yet, also wars, uprisings, and political instability characterized the Spanish period. The long Spanish Sicily period, makes the island be a key player in both Spain vs Italy history.

The 1669 eruption of Mount Etna

The 1669 eruption of Mount Etna was one of the most significant volcanic eruptions in the history of Sicily, causing widespread damage and destruction across the eastern part of the island. Despite the destruction, the people of Sicily were quick to rebuild and recover, and the legacy of the eruption remains an important part of the island’s history and culture.

The 1693 Earthquake in Sicily

The 1693 earthquake struck Sicily in January of that year, causing widespread damage and destruction across the island. This one the strongest among recorded earthquakes in Italy history. Over 60,000 people lost their lives, and many cities and towns were severely damaged, including Catania, Noto and Siracusa. The disaster prompted the rebuilding of many cities and towns in a more earthquake-resistant style, leading to the development of new building techniques and materials under the Spanish vice-Kings ruling.

Reconstruction after the 1693 earthquake in Sicily

The aftermath of the 1693 earthquake was marked by a major reconstruction effort that involved architects, engineers, and builders from across the island. The main goal of the reconstruction was to rebuild the affected cities and towns in a way that was more resistant to future earthquakes and to improve the living conditions of the population. The rebuilding effort resulted in the creation of many beautiful and functional cities and towns, many of which still stand today as testimony to the success of the reconstruction effort. If you are curious about this special event in Sicily, read our blogpost on the Baroque of South East Sicily.

Sicily in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies (1816-1861)

Sicily was a significant part of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, a state in Italy that existed from 1816 to 1861. The Kingdom comprised the islands of Sicily and Naples and was a large and populous state. Sicily was a crucial center of political, economic, and cultural activity within the Kingdom, and it was the site of numerous significant events and developments. The Bourbon ruling class of Naples, who dominated the Kingdom, established their control over the island with limited resistance from the local population. The Kingdom of the Two Sicilies was a significant player in Italian and European politics, as well as a hub of art, culture, and intellectual life, and its legacy continues to be an essential aspect of Sicily’s history and culture.

The Garibaldi Sicily Expedition (1860)

In 1860, Giuseppe Garibaldi, an Italian patriot and revolutionary, led the Garibaldi Expedition to Sicily, which was a pivotal event in Italy’s unification and the formation of the Kingdom of Italy. The Expedition sought to conquer Sicily and the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, bringing them under the Kingdom of Italy’s control. Sicilians welcomed the Expedition, and after a series of successful battles, Garibaldi and his forces captured Palermo, the capital of Sicily, and gained control of much of the island. The Garibaldi Expedition was a significant turning point in Italian history, contributing to the eventual unification of Italy and the establishment of the modern Italian state. It continues to be celebrated and remembered in Italy, forming a vital part of the country’s cultural heritage.

The Unification of Italy and Sicily (1860-1861)

The unification of Italy and Sicily was a significant political and cultural event in the 19th century, as the Kingdom of Sardinia-Piedmont emerged as the movement’s leader. Garibaldi led an Expedition in 1860 to conquer the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, landing first in Marsala with around 1’000 soldiers and securing control over much of Sicily. This event marked forever Southern Italy history. Italy declared its unification on March 17, 1861, and Sicily became an integral part of the newly formed Kingdom of Italy. The legacy of the unification of Italy and Sicily remains an important part of the country’s cultural and historical heritage, contributing substantially to Italy being a protagonist of Europe history timeline.

Sicily in Modern Italy (20th Century onwards)

Sicily’s economic and cultural importance continues into modern Italy, with its position at the Mediterranean crossroads contributing to its status as a crucial hub of transportation and commerce. The island experienced rapid industrialization in the 20th century, and although it is not one of Italy’s richest regions, it is still an important producer of chemicals, textiles, and other goods. Sicily’s cultural heritage and diverse history remain a significant draw for tourists worldwide. Sicily remains a critical component of the Italian state, with a role to play in its political, economic, and cultural life.

The Mafia in Sicily Today

The Mafia, also known as the Cosa Nostra, has held a tight grip on Sicily for over a century. The criminal organization is involved in a variety of illegal activities, including drug trafficking, extortion, money laundering, and murder. Despite attempts by law enforcement and the Italian government to dismantle the Mafia, it still holds a significant amount of power and control on parts of the island, but it no longer represents a security concern for bombings, attacks and shootings. Recent years have seen increased pressure from anti-Mafia groups, and high-profile arrests and convictions have weakened the organization. The new generations in Sicily have a clear opinion on the need to defeat Mafia once for all.

A Bright Future ahead for Sicily

Sicily is a place of great promise, with a range of opportunities for growth and development. Its rich cultural heritage and diverse natural environment make it a popular tourist destination, attracting visitors from around the world. There are ongoing efforts to promote sustainable development, including investments in renewable energy and modern infrastructure, and diversify the local economy. Situated at the crossroads of the Mediterranean, Sicily has the potential to become a hub for commerce and trade, with a thriving community of entrepreneurs and innovators working to drive growth and development in various industries. More and more remote workers are also considering Sicily for a permanent or temporary relocation, also thanks to attractive tax breaks. Our ebook Travel Guides will make you dive into a true Sicilian discovery.

In a nutshell, what is Sicily known for in History?

Some of the most notable aspects of Sicily’s history include: the ancient Greek civilization, the Roman period, the Arab rule, the Norman Kingdom, the Baroque period and modern Italy. What is stunning about Sicily is that the island managed to be the protagonist of Europe and the Mediterranean across different historical ages. All of this makes Sicily a unique destination for art, history, and more generally for culture lovers.

Does Sicily have a royal family?

Sicily does not have a recognized royal family. The island was ruled by various monarchies in the past, including the Norman Kingdom and the House of Bourbon-Sicily, and the King of Italy, abolished in 1946 when Italy became a Republic. Today, Sicily is an autonomous region of Italy and is governed by a regional government and the Italian state.

What our users say

Adrien Butty
Adrien Butty
The support we received in preparing our trip and the tailor-made travel documentation were really great! We appreciated at most how Francesco understood our wishes and was able to propose a great plan for us! It saved a lot of time in our preparation and we saw places we would probably not have thought about.
Els seus serveis són simplement excepcionals. Des del moment que entres en contacte amb ells, es nota la seva passió per crear experiències úniques. Les seves guies són meticulosament planificades per adaptar-se als teus interessos i desitjos, garantint que cada moment del teu viatge sigui inoblidable. El seu coneixement profund dels destins i la seva habilitat per descobrir llocs poc coneguts et portaran a llocs que mai hauries imaginat. 100% recomendable!
Anna Doro
Anna Doro
Non una semplice guida, ma un vero e proprio catalogo di esperienze (culturali e non solo) compilato da chi conosce e ama la bellissima Sicilia. Pratica da consultare anche sul vostro telefono! Assolutamente raccomandata!
Luca Emanuele Ricci
Luca Emanuele Ricci
Fantastica guida, tanti ottimi suggerimenti per il nostro weekend a Palermo. La guida è strutturata secondo un ipotetico tour, quindi vi consente di seguire un percorso razionale e risparmiare tempo. Non solo luoghi da visitare, ma anche posti per bere e mangiare. Il tutto interattivo! Consigliata
Antonio Toma
Antonio Toma
Le guide di viaggio digitali ci sono state utilissime per l'organizzazione della vacanza in famiglia. La selezione di hotel e ristoranti consigliati ci ha permesso di organizzare il tour perfetto in pochissimo tempo e con il concierge service, Time for Sicily ci ha risparmiato le interazioni con l'hotel e ci ha trovato la soluzione giusta per una vacanza con le bambine. GRAZIE Time For Sicily, definitely worth it!!!!!!
Carolina Gracia
Carolina Gracia
Excelente servicio! Contacté al equipo de Time for Sicily para pedir sugerencias sobre excursiones al Etna, así como para visitar plantaciones de pistachios. Las recomendaciones fueron muy exhaustivas y detalladas además de gran ayuda especialmente para contactar con las plantaciones de pistachio. El ebook fue también de mucha utilidad para conocer otras partes menos turísticas de Sicilia. Servicio totalmente recomendable!
Magdalena Salak
Magdalena Salak
Zdecydowaliśmy się na przewodnik „Nine Days in Eastern Sicily” i się nie zawiedliśmy. To super produkt dla wszystkich, którzy odwiedzając Sycylię szukają czegoś specjalnego i autentycznego, miejsc znanych tylko lokalsom. Przewodnik zawiera masę miejsc, których nie znajdziecie w tradycyjnych przewodnikach, na turystycznych blogach czy na insta - od hoteli, przez restauracje aż po super propozycje aktywności i doświadczeń, które na długo zostają w pamięci. Szczególnie polecam dla par
Charly De Bruyne
Charly De Bruyne
Time for Sicily is een creatief en betrouwbaar reisagentschap die ik kan aanbevelen! Met hun digital travel books geraak je snel en gemakkelijk overal terecht in Sicilië, met de beste locale tips. Bovendien bespaar je geld aangezien je alle ervaringen/activiteiten in een plaats hebt. Zeker warm aanbevolen!!
Hummer “HammerAtor” Ator
Hummer “HammerAtor” Ator
Excellent guide! It really has the local touch that most commercial guides lack
Andreas Kubli
Andreas Kubli
Exceptionally well curated e-guides! And amazing tailor-made advisory and execution service! Highly recommended!!!
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