Sicily has had a varied and colorful history. The first known inhabitants of the island were the Elymi, Sicani, and Siculi. Phoenicians later settled on the west coast, notably at Panormus (now Palermo); Carthaginians founded Lilybaeum and Drepanum (now Trapani); and on the east and southeast coasts Greeks founded (8th–6th cent.
In the 5th cent.
The Romans completed the enriching Hellenization of Sicilian culture. However, the resources of the island—known as the Breadbasket of Rome—were depleted by the Romans, who also founded the large estates (
After the fall of Rome, Sicily passed from the Vandals (mid-5th cent.
After Frederick's death and the failures of the last Hohenstaufen claimants (Conrad IV, Manfred, and Conradin), Pope Clement IV crowned (1266) Charles I (Charles of Anjou) king of Naples and Sicily as his vassal. The unpopular French government brought on the Sicilian Vespers revolt (1282) and the Sicilians chose Peter III of Aragón as king. The resulting war between the Angevin line and the Aragonese ended temporarily in 1302, with Frederick II (see also Aragón, house of) becoming king of Sicily and Charles II of Anjou keeping S Italy (see Naples, kingdom of). In 1373, Joanna I of Naples formally renounced Sicily. After the Sicilian branch of Aragón became extinct, Sicily reverted (1409) to the main branch.
Under Aragonese rule local liberties were maintained, and the Sicilian national assembly enjoyed wide powers. With the accession of the Hapsburgs to the Spanish throne (early 16th cent.), there was more centralization, and Spanish governors arrived to tighten the imperial bonds. Corruption increased, and the island came under the control of a few powerful nobles and church officials.
In 1713 the Peace of Utrecht assigned Sicily to Savoy, which in 1720 exchanged it with Emperor Charles VI for Sardinia. However, as a result of the War of the Polish Succession, Sicily and Naples came under (1735) the rule of Don Carlos of Bourbon (later Charles III of Spain). The Bourbon kings resided at Naples, except in 1799 and from 1806 to 1815, when Naples was held by the French. The centralizing policies of the Bourbons were resisted by the Sicilian nobles, who welcomed British intervention (1811–14). Feudal privileges were renounced in 1812 but in practice continued much longer.
Naples and Sicily were merged, despite Sicilian protests, in 1816, when Ferdinand I styled himself officially king of the Two Sicilies. Revolts occurred in 1820 and 1848–49 and were mercilessly suppressed; the bombardments of Messina (1848) and Palermo (1849) earned Ferdinand II the nickname “King Bomba.” In 1860, Garibaldi conquered the island, which then voted to join the kingdom of Sardinia.
Even after Italian unification, Sicily was neglected by the central government, and the island's economic and social problems long remained unattended. In World War II a large-scale amphibious landing was carried out by the Allies on July 9–10, 1943. After heavy fighting, the Allied conquest was completed on Aug. 8, 1943. Sicily was given limited autonomy under the Italian constitution of 1947. The assassination of two prominent anti-Mafia prosecutors in 1992 prompted the central government to send in the military. The operation ended in 1998 after many organized crime figures were jailed.
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