Sicilians - History and Cultural Relations

Sicily's geographic position and formerly rich agricultural resources have made it a crossroads of cultures. For most of its long history, Sicily has been subject to foreign rule. The Island was first populated perhaps before 20,000 B.C. Notable among the various groups of early colonizers and settlers were the Greeks, who arrived in the eighth century B.C. Sicily subsequently became the first province of Rome, which it served as a producer of wheat. The Romans introduced latifundia, large estates owned by absentee landlords and farmed by a subject population. This method of organizing agriculture, in which those who actually work the land are separated from the owners through chains of middlemen or brokers, has been a feature of Sicily for much of its history and indeed persisted until fairly recently. Colonizers and settlers subsequent to the Romans include Byzantine Greeks in the sixth century A.D. and Muslims from North Africa, who ruled Sicily for approximately 200 years beginning in the ninth century. The Conquest of the island by the Norman French in the eleventh century inaugurated a new pattern of rulers from northern and western Europe. Under the Normans and in the ensuing period, Sicily had a culture unique in Europe, based on a mixture of northwestern European, Arabic, and Byzantine elements. The island experienced a period of strong local rule under Emperor Frederick II in the thirteenth century. At the end of the thirteenth century, while Sicily was controlled by the Angevins of France, Sicilians rebelled in the Sicilian Vespers. However, this uprising resulted in a centuries-long period of rule by dynasties of Spain. Throughout the following centuries, while a representative of the foreign ruler nominally held authority, power was in fact exercised for the most part by the local nobility, the large landowners of the island. In the nineteenth century, Sicily was ruled from the Italian mainland by the Bourbon dynasty based in Naples, in a state called the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. During the movement for national Italian unification, the Italian military hero Garibaldi joined Sicily to the mainland; in 1861, Sicily became part of the newly constituted kingdom of Italy whose ruling dynasty was the House of Savoy, based in Turin. In 1946 special autonomous status was granted by the government of Italy to the region of Sicily to appease a separatist movement that had been active at the end of World War II. Italy became a republic after World War II and is a member of the European Community.

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