views updated Jun 08 2018


economy and society
continuity and change
making italians?

For Sicily, the experience of modernization was a complex and contentious experience. The Risorgimento in Sicily was characterized first by the old noble elite's struggle for autonomy from the Bourbon government in Naples, a struggle inspired in part by that government's attempt after 1815 to centralize, modernize, and generally improve the island's administration. Inevitably, this attempt threatened the traditional autonomy of the old elite and increased their resentment at, and opposition to, rule from Naples. Thus, the nobility's participation in the Sicilian Risorgimento was in many ways a defensive and conservative strategy. At the same time, however, a newly independent and sometimes conflicting movement emerged among less traditional groups demanding progressive and liberal reforms linked to similar liberal groups in Naples and elsewhere on the Italian peninsula. Finally, the island's politics also included revolutionary and conspiratorial groups. Some of these were inspired by Giuseppe Mazzini (1805–1872) and sought to establish a national unitary republic for the whole Italian peninsula, including Sicily. Others opposed Mazzini's leadership, and some were clearly socialist and anarchist. These political divisions were made more complicated by substantial regional differences, above all by a split between western Sicily (dominated by Palermo and by the autonomist movement) and eastern Sicily (centered on Messina and, increasingly, Catania, and more liberal), by the differences between these large coastal cities and the isolated villages of the interior and in the south of the island. While these disagreements provoked some of the most vibrant political and cultural debates in all of Risorgimento Italy, this lack of unity weakened the political effectiveness of opposition movements in Sicily.

This difficult political situation persisted after national unification in 1860–1861. Giuseppe Garibaldi's (1807–1882) famous invasion of Sicily with a thousand volunteers ("i mille") in the spring of 1860 was successful in overthrowing Bourbon rule in the island, and by the autumn in the whole of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies as well. By claiming Sicily for "Italy and Victor Emmanuel," he also endorsed a unitary solution, while helping to exclude the Mazzinians. None of this, however, did anything to resolve the political divisions within Sicily and these divisions, as before, undermined the ability of Sicily's political leaders to speak for or defend the island's interests within the new Italian kingdom.

economy and society

Sicily's economic problems were in part those of uneven economic development. These were, in turn, a product of the great physical variations within this small island and the difficulty of establishing effective internal communications. During the nineteenth century the market-gardening regions of the plain of Catania and the north and west coasts, producing citrus fruits, vines, and olives, saw a rapid commercialization that was linked to foreign demand and foreign investment. By contrast, the vast cereal-growing estates (latifondi) of the Sicilian uplands and interior saw little or no commercialization, and the growing problem of soil exhaustion and erosion probably led to a decline in yields. In this way, economic growth in the nineteenth century reinforced the existing distinction between the relative wealth and sophistication of the plains, foothills, and cities of the coastal regions and the barren arid uplands of the interior. Moreover, the potential wealth offered by the development of sulfur mining in the interior (and Sicily had a virtual world monopoly in this period) was never realized. The mines were exploited by foreigners (largely the English), who used the political weight of their governments to frustrate attempts to refine the sulfur in Sicily and instead exported it in a crude state, with more profit to themselves. The land around the sulfur mines was also devastated by pollution, thus increasing the scarcity of productive land in the interior.

To these economic problems was added the extreme poverty of the population. Although the Bourbon government had tried to improve the lot of the Sicilian peasantry, through education and especially through land reform, these reforms failed and may well have been counterproductive. Land reform (essentially an attempt to redistribute some of the nobility's vast landholdings and to parcel out former common land among the peasantry) probably increased land hunger. In the event, much of the land that was made available was taken over by a new gentry or middle class and they proved, if anything, less entrepreneurial and more exploitative than their noble predecessors. The desperate state of the Sicilian peasantry was then exacerbated by rapid population growth, which increased pressure on the land.

John Goodwin, the British consul at Palermo in the early nineteenth century, translated the following description of the peasants "up country" by his friend, Francesco Ferrara:

three fourths of the peasants, sallow, sickly and deformed, vegetate rather than live. Born to no other ends but to moisten the clods with the sweat of their brows, they feed upon herbs, clothe themselves in rags, and sleep huddled up together in smoky huts, amidst the stench of a dunghill. In winter they are shivering with cold; in summer they are burning with fever.

From a mood of relative acquiescence in the eighteenth century, the largely landless Sicilian peasants became, in the nineteenth, increasingly angry and rebellious. A great deal of their resentment was focused on land, on bad land which was rented out to them at high prices by unscrupulous landlords, and on land which had once been "common" and was now "usurped" (illegally seized and enclosed) by the same people. There was also growing discontent at the system of contracts and loans that were so designed to keep them permanently in debt to the landlord. The result was an explosion of violence in the Sicilian countryside, with the growth of banditry, land seizures, and destruction of property and, during the political revolutions of 1820, 1848–1849, and 1860, murderous assaults on the landlords and their representatives. Thus, to the political conflicts and economic difficulties of Risorgimento Sicily must be added the grave and growing problem of social unrest and crime.

continuity and change

Through its revolution in 1860 and Garibaldi's successful invasion, Sicily had played a crucial role in the unification of Italy. Thereafter, Sicily's new political rulers—mostly moderate liberals from northern and central Italy—were confident that they would be able to resolve the political, economic, and social problems that beset this part of their kingdom. However, few of them knew anything about the Italy south of Rome, and fewer still had ever been there. While those who ventured south after 1860 were pleased by a seemingly eternal summer and by the beauty of the landscape, they were also shocked by an encounter with an alien culture and language. This sense of difference was reinforced by outbreaks of peasant violence and crime and by a series of popular revolts in Sicily, notably the Palermo revolt of 1866. In the

years after unification the Italian south as a whole failed to develop economically at the same speed as parts of the north. Government reports from Sicily to the capital spoke of the "exceptional criminal tendencies" and "barbarism" of the local inhabitants. The situation in Sicily, according to one general, "was really something out of the Middle Ages"; both Sicily and the southern mainland were compared disparagingly to Africa and the rural poor to Bedouins. In this way, a distinctly racial edge crept into official discourse on the South, where it has remained—more or less hidden—ever since.

Italian unification accentuated southern Italy's internal divisions and made any kind of generalization more problematic than before. To Sicily, Italian unification brought greater administrative centralization, bigger police forces, better education, infrastructural improvements, free trade, and increased political representation. These changes affected the different regions and social classes of Sicily in different ways. Sicilian deputies were elected to a new national parliament, but the electorate was only 2 percent of the total population. Palermo suffered economically from a further loss of its administrative responsibility but Catania benefited greatly from the introduction of free trade and the construction of railways. In general, the areas of the economy based on export (market gardening and sulfur mining) expanded, while free trade damaged Sicily's grain producers. The nobility, for the most part, gradually ceded their position of political (if not cultural) predominance; a commercial trading elite became more powerful in cities like Catania, Messina, and Trapani; while the new rural middle-classes acquired still more land, this time from the church, and took hold of local government, using its responsibilities for public works, policing, and taxation to create an intricate web of patronage and clientelism in their communities. The peasants were left no better off than before, and indeed had new demands made on them through military conscription and increased taxation.

making italians?

From 1860 onward the Sicilian countryside was the scene of repeated cycles of revolt and repression. Between 1862 and 1868 the government organized six large-scale military operations to restore law and order, to enforce conscription and the payment of taxes, and to capture bandits and military deserters. Yet these operations were a failure and were marked by a refusal of the population to cooperate with the military. By the early 1870s crime and disorder reemerged once again. During the 1890s, amid widespread political and social chaos, Sicilian peasants formed agricultural unions (fasci) and began to win concessions from their landlords. However, the prime minister of Italy, Francesco Crispi (1819–1901), himself a Sicilian and an ex-revolutionary, saw the peasant unions as a threat to the government's alliance with the landlords. The unions were broken up and repressed with military force. Partly as a result of this failure, the Sicilian peasantry began to leave the land and to seek new ways of sustaining their families through emigration overseas.

In the early 1860s, moreover, the government found a new way of explaining and resolving the crisis in Sicily. In a letter of 1865, the prefect of Palermo claimed to have uncovered a conspiracy between political extremists and professional criminals. It was, he argued, this "so-called mafia"—an organization with its own laws, customs, and codes of behavior—that was responsible for the failure of government policy. Initially, this discovery helped justify government repression. Fairly soon, however, the government was to find an even better use for the criminals. From the late 1860s onward, the Palermo police began to use them as "middlemen," as a locally effective means of containing crime and maintaining order. After a change of government in 1876 (the "parliamentary revolution," whereby the Left came to power in Italy), the mafia emerged as a permanent shadow over public life in Sicily. The mafia assumed responsibility for negotiating compliance with government orders and for ensuring the success of government candidates in local elections, and they became involved in commercial activities as well, such as organizing labor markets and so on. Organized crime also provided a crucial link in the web of corruption and clientelism that increasingly characterized politics in Sicily, which tied this area of the Italian periphery to the central government in Rome. The mafia also came to dominate the public's perception of Sicily and its problems. Yet the origins of the mafia were largely political; they are to be found in the complex struggles of nineteenth-century Sicily and in the failure of liberal policy in the 1860s.

See alsoCrispi, Francesco; Emigration; Garibaldi, Giuseppe; Italy; Kingdom of the Two Sicilies; Mafia; Naples; Sicilian Fasci.


Aymard, Maurice, and Giuseppe Giarrizzo, eds. La Sicilia. Turin, 1987.

Blok, Anton. The Mafia of a Sicilian Village, 1860–1960: A Study of Violent Peasant Entrepreneurs. Oxford, U.K., 1974.

Fiume, Giovanna. "Bandits, Violence and the Organization of Power in Sicily in the Early Nineteenth Century." In Society and Politics in the Age of the Risorgimento. Essays in Honour of Denis Mack Smith, edited by John A. Davis and Paul Ginsborg. Cambridge, U.K., 1991.

Smith, Denis Mack. A History of Sicily: Modern Sicily after 1713. London, 1968.

Riall, Lucy. Sicily and the Unification of Italy: Liberal Policy and Local Power, 1859–1866. Oxford, U.K., and New York, 1998.

——. "Elites in Search of Authority: Political Power and Social Order in Nineteenth-Century Sicily." History Workshop Journal 55 (2003): 25–46.

Lucy Riall


views updated Jun 08 2018


SICILY , largest island in the Mediterranean, S.W. of the Italian peninsula.


There were probably Jews living in Sicily in the period of the Second Temple; the great Jewish rhetorician *Caecilius of Calacte moved from Sicily to Rome about 50 c.e., and the epigraphic records start in the third century. Even later than this, records are scarce. In 590 Pope *Gregory the Great ordered the ecclesiastical authorities to reimburse the Jews of *Palermo for the damage suffered by the expropriation of their synagogue. Following the conquest of *Syracuse, the Arabs, in 878, took many Jewish captives to Palermo. In a privilege granted after the Norman conquest by Roger I in 1094, Jews are mentioned as residents of Naso. In subsequent records Jews are mentioned in Syracuse, *Messina, and *Catania. *Benjamin of Tudela (c. 1171) mentions the existence of Jewish communities in Palermo and Messina. *Frederick ii protected the Jews from persecution during the Crusades and entrusted them with some state monopolies, such as silk weaving and dyeing; he also freed them from ecclesiastical jurisdiction. An edict of 1310 issued by Frederick ii of Aragon (1296–1337) prohibited Jews from practicing as physicians and holding public office; they were also forbidden to have Christian servants. A decree of Frederick iii (November 1375) limited the jurisdiction of the *Inquisition over the Jews of Syracuse and stipulated that Jews could not be tried by that tribunal unless a secular judge was present. If a Jew was sentenced, he could not be detained in the prisons of the Inquisition but only in a state prison.

Although King Martin V of Aragon, who ruled Sicily from 1392 to 1410, was well disposed toward the Jews and restrained any outrage against them, he could not prevent the forced conversion of the Jews of Monte San Giuliano in 1392, when some of them were massacred; however, he punished those responsible. Jews in Sicily were frequently blamed for fictitious crimes and had to make amends by paying large sums of money, as happened in Catania in 1406. During the reign of Alfonso V (1416–58) the Sicilian Jews prospered. The restrictive regulations confining Jewish residence to ghettos and forced conversions were repealed by the sovereign, who also allowed Jewish physicians to practice their profession among Christians, confirmed the right of Jews to own real estate, and forbade the preaching of compulsory conversionist sermons to the Jews. In 1474 360 Jews, including men, women, and children, perished in a bloody massacre at Modica. Another massacre took place in Noto, where 500 Jews are said to have lost their lives. Subsequently acts of violence against the Jews alternated with measures to protect the communities.

Juridical Status

Under the Saracens the Jews lived in conditions of semi-liberty and were subject to the payment of special taxes, the kharāj and jizya. Under Norman rule (from the second half of the 11th century) they enjoyed judicial autonomy and could settle their disputes in accordance with Jewish law; they were permitted to own property (with the exception of Christian slaves); at times the sovereign ceded his rights to the bishops.

Although the Jews of Sicily enjoyed civil rights, they were formally considered *servi camerae regis ("servants of the royal chamber") under Frederick ii Hohenstaufen, and they enjoyed royal protection. In 1395, under King Martin, Jewish jurisdiction, with limited competence, was extended to the whole of Sicily by the appointment of a Jewish chief judge (*dienchelele). The first two chief judges were members of the Syracuse community: Joseph *Abenafia and Rais of Syracuse. Following repeated protests by the Jewish communities on the island, who vigilantly guarded their juridical independence, this office was abolished in 1447, and judicial functions were finally conferred on the heads of the Jewish communities. The Jews of Sicily were obliged to pay taxes as citizens, apart from those which they paid as Jews. The communities were held responsible for the payment of the collective taxes. Limitation of civil rights or the imposition of taxes was varied at times by privileges granted to individuals or to communities.

Community Organization

In general, 12 notables or proti acted as leaders of the community, assisted by councillors who were in charge of administration. The latter could take action against those who were slow in paying taxes and could impound their possessions; they authorized weddings and divorces, ritual slaughterers, and the holding of offices in synagogue. In conjunction with the rabbi and the almoners of the community, the proti supervised all communal religious and administrative services and guarded against transgression of the directives contained in the regulations of the individual communities. Relations between the community and the government were a matter for the civic authorities, the representatives, and the special envoys.

Cultural Life

Occasional references in documents and manuscripts make it certain that Jewish learning flourished in Sicily, particularly in the Middle Ages. The first known European Jewish writer was the Sicilian Caecilius of Calacte (see above) who wrote rhetorical, historical, and critical works in Greek, of which only a few fragments have been preserved. The dayyanMaẓli'aḥ b. Elijah ibn *Al-Bazak was probably the teacher of the celebrated talmudist *Nathan b. Jehiel of Rome. Learned Sicilian Jews knew Hebrew, Italian, Greek, and Arabic, and some of them also Latin. Hence they could take part in the important task of translating scientific works, particularly from Arabic, into Hebrew or Latin. *Faraj (Ferragut) b. Solomon of Agrigento wrote a commentary to Maimonides' Guide of the Perplexed and translated for King Charles of Anjou the great medical treatise of Rhazes, known under the title Liber Continens. *Moses of Palermo translated important veterinary works from Arabic. There was a notable circle of poets in Sicily in the 12th century, including Samuel b. Nafusi of Palermo, Samuel of Messina, Moses el-Ḥazzan, and *Ahitub b. Isaac, who translated Maimonides' treatises on Logic from Arabic. Another Sicilian scholar who distinguished himself was the dayyan*Anatoli b. Joseph, who submitted a legal problem to Maimonides on behalf of the Jews of Syracuse. In the field of science, Jeremiah Kohen of Palermo wrote a commentary in Hebrew on De sphaera by Menelaus of Alexandria; Isaac b. Solomon *Alḥadib wrote works on astronomy and Elijah Kohen was author of a treatise giving astronomical tables for the latitude of Syracuse. In the sphere of biblical exegesis, Samuel *Masnut, who later immigrated to Spain, was a poet and writer of aggadic commentaries on books of the Bible, and Jacob *Sikili wrote a homiletical commentary on the Pentateuch. A representative figure of Jewish intellectual life in Sicily was Aaron *Abulrabi of Catania (c. 1400), who wrote a work (subsequently lost) in defense of Judaism and a super-commentary to Rashi's commentary on the Pentateuch. At the end of the 13th century the Spanish kabbalist Abraham b. Samuel *Abulafia also lived in Sicily. In 1466 King John ii of Aragon authorized the Jews of the realm to open a studium generale, or university, with the right to appoint lecturers, to arrange courses, and award diplomas. The text of Naḥmanides' commentary to the Pentateuch (Naples, 1490) was revised and corrected by scholars of Messina.

The last Jewish scholar to come from Sicily was Joseph Saragossi, kabbalist and talmudist, who founded the neo-mystic school of Safed; he probably was not a native of Saragossa in Spain, but of Syracuse in Sicily. The records of Jewish culture in Sicily – now dispersed in libraries the world over – are contained mainly in manuscripts written in the 14th and 15th centuries in Sciacca, Palermo, Noto, Polizzi Generosa, and Syracuse.

The Expulsion

On May 31, 1492, a decree was issued ordering the expulsion of the Jews from Sicily, similar to that promulgated in Spain shortly before; this decree was given final effect within the month of January 1493. It is estimated that 37,000 Jews had to leave Sicily.

In 1695, again in 1702, and again determinedly in 1740–46, attempts were made by the government of the kingdom to attract Jewish settlement to Sicily again, but without success. In the period between the two world wars a small number of Jews settled in Palermo. There were about 50 Jews living in Sicily in 1965.


G. di Giovanni, L'Ebraismo della Sicilia (1748); Zunz, Gesch (1845), 484–534; G. and B. Lagumina, Codice Diplomatico dei Giudei di Sicilia (1884–95); Ch. Senigaglia, in: Rivista Italiana di Scienze giuridiche, 41 (1906), 75–102; S.M. Stern, in: jjs, 5 (1954), 60–78, 110–3; A. Milano, in: rmi, 20 (1954), 16–24; C. Roth, in: jqr, 47 (1956/57), 317–53.

[Sergio Joseph Sierra]


views updated Jun 08 2018


Ancient Tinacria, the largest island in the Mediterranean, to the south and west of Italy, having an area of 9,926 square miles.

History. The physical partition into western and eastern Sicily is reproduced in its history. Greek writers of the 5th century b.c. speak of two nuclei of inhabitants: the Siculi in the east and Sicani in the west. Its position in the Mediterranean basin subjected Sicily to invasion by all the seafaring nations, and it was frequently the object of wars between different peoples. Phoenicians founded their first commercial base in Sicily in the 8th century b.c.; and with the consolidation of the Greek colonies in the 7th century, two zones of interest and cultures formed: Semitic to the west and Greek to the east. The Greek colonies reached an advanced culture; and though not generally given to colonial imperialism, they concentrated on founding autonomous city-states having close ties with the mother country. The rise of vast personal holdings (the Tirraneans) modified this situation. Gelonus, ruler of Syracuse (485 b.c.), held hegemony over Magna Graecia until a democratic revolution by municipal opponents was sustained by demands for liberty on the part of the mercantile classes. With the first Punic War (264241) Sicily became a Roman colony. It was the theater for the Slave War (135100), and after the Battle of Actium (31 b.c.) Augustus made it a senatorial province governed by a Proconsul.

Christianity. No precise evidence exists for the penetration of Christianity into Sicily. St. Paul stopped at Syracuse on his journey to Rome (Acts 28.12); but it was only when the Church possessed a solid organization that it thought of tracing its origins to the Apostles. A late legend suggests evangelization from Antioch, which may explain the Oriental derivation of Sicily's Christianity; this is supported by epigraphic and monumental artifacts. Its links with Rome are indicated in the letter of Pope in nocent i to the bishop of Gubbio (Patrologia Latina, ed. J. P. Migne 20:552). Several episcopal sees existed in 251, as is signified in a letter of the Roman clergy to St. cyprian (Corpus scriptorum ecclesiasticorum latinorum 3.2:553), and the Church of Sicily took an active part in the 4th-century Donatist and Arian disputes and in the 5th-and 6th-century Christological troubles.

It was disturbed by the barbarian movements when the Vandals took control in 455, and the Church was subject to the vexations of their intolerance. In 491 Theodoric the Goth (493526) conquered the island; it fell into the hands of Belisarius and the Byzantines (535) and remained under their control for three centuries. During this period the Church in Sicily attempted to rebuild and it entered into close relations with Rome, which held vast possessions there: under Gregory I (590604) there were two papal patrimonies with more than 400 properties. As a result, the cults of St. agatha and St. lucy were extended to Rome, and in the 7th century several popes were Sicilians.

Political Vicissitudes. The ecclesiastical institutions changed under Leo the Isaurian, who desired to break

papal resistance by sequestrating the Church's patrimony in 732; he subjected the bishops of Sicily to the Patriarchate of Constantinople. But Greek penetration into Sicily was of long standing. The fall of Syria to the Arabs in 636 and of Egypt in 640 forced many Greeks, particularly monks, to emigrate to the island of Sicily. The Arabs took control after a war that endured from 827 to 902; sad conditions of the Church under Islam were made worse by Byzantine attempts at reconquest.

Despite a wide culture the Arabs did not have deep roots there, and the Normans seized a propitious moment in 1061 to initiate the conquest at Messina, which they completed in 1091 at Noto. In the plan for the reorganization of the island they favored Greco-Italian monasticism, which under the Normans reached its golden age. Roger I obtained the right of apostolic legate for himself and successors from Pope Urban II (July 5, 1098), This privilege caused great conflict between the papal and political powers and was finally abrogated with the bull Suprema (Jan. 28, 1864; published Nov. 10, 1867).

With William II (d. 1189) the Norman dynasty was extinguished and the Hohenstaufens took control under Emperor Henry VI. The Hohenstaufens were ousted by Charles I of Anjou (1266). The Sicilian Vespers (1282) began a general anti-Frankish revolt on the island and resulted in a federation of cities under popular control (Communitas Sicilae ), which eventually offered the crown to Peter III of Aragon.

In 1415 Viceroy governments were introduced by Aragon, then by Spain. Here the story of the island virtually ends; and its destiny forms part of the history of Spain and Italy. There was no lack of uprisings due to the loss of autonomy. To forestall centrifugal tendencies, the absentee sovereigns reserved ecclesiastical offices for their relatives and fellow nationals. Only with Charles V did the Sicilians obtain equality with the Spaniards: for every vacancy in a benefice, a Spaniard and a Sicilian were named alternately. But this system did not last long. In the end Charles III of Bourbon reserved the bishoprics, abbacies, and canonicates for Sicilians (1738).

Sicily passed to Savoy in 1713; to Austria in 1720; and at the end of the War of the Polish Succession (17331738) to the Bourbons of Naples, who held it until it was annexed to the Kingdom of Sardinia following the legendary campaign of Garibaldi's One Thousand.

Archeology. Of notable importance are the archeological remains, and particularly the complex of cemeteries, found in Syracuse (pre-Constantinian), Agrigento, Palermo, Selinute, Noto, and Termini Imerese, which stem from at least the 4th and 5th centuries. Inscriptional discoveries abound particularly in Syracuse and Catania and form the most consistent nuclei for Christian epigraphy outside Rome; they are of considerable importance for hagiography and ecclesiastical history, going back to the 3d century. Ruins of 4th-and 5th-century churches are found in Palermo, Priolo, Palagonia, Catania, Malvagna, and Syracuse.

Bibliography: j. berard, La Colonisation grecque de la Sicile (Paris 1941). i. scaturro, Storia di Sicilia, 2 v. (Rome 1950). g. agnello, Gli studi di archeologia cristiana in Sicília (Catania 1950). s. l. agnello, Silloge di iscrizioni paleocristiane della Sicilia (Rome 1953). a. ferrua, "Epigrafia sicula pagana e cristiana," (Revista di archeologica Cristiana ) 18 (1941) 151243. f. milone, Sicilia: La natura e l'uomo (Turin 1960). o. garana, Le catacombe sicilane e i loro martiri (Turin 1963). Encyclopedia of World Art (New York 1959) 8:736738.

[g. orlandi]


views updated May 14 2018

Sicily Largest and most populous island in the Mediterranean Sea, off the sw tip of the Italian peninsula, comprising (with nearby islands) an autonomous region of Italy. The capital is Palermo; other major cities include Messina. The narrow Strait of Messina separates Sicily from the rest of Italy. Mostly mountainous, Mount Etna, at 3323m (10,902ft), is the highest volcano in Europe. There are fertile valleys in the central plateau, and agriculture is the economic mainstay. Strategically situated between Europe and Africa, from the 5th to 3rd century bc, it was a battleground for the rival Roman and Carthaginian empires and, following the first Punic War in 241 bc, became a Roman province. At the end of the 11th century ad, the Normans conquered the island and s Italy. In 1266, the throne passed to Charles of Anjou, whose unpopular government caused the Sicilian Vespers revolt of 1282 and the election of an Aragónese king. In 1302, peace terms led to Aragón keeping Sicily, while s Italy became the Angevin kingdom of Naples. In 1735, the two regions reunified under the rule of the Bourbon Don Carlos ( Charles III of Spain). Centuries of centralization under Spanish imperial rule led to the crowning of Ferdinand I as King of Two Sicilies in 1816. Sicilian revolts of 1820 and 1848–49 were ruthlessly suppressed. In 1860, Garibaldi liberated the island, and it became part of the new, unified kingdom of Italy. Grain, olives, wine, and citrus fruits are the principal products; tourism is also important. Sicily remains one of the poorest local economies in Europe. Area: 25,706sq km (9925sq mi). Pop. (2001) 5,076,700.


views updated May 21 2018


For most of the Renaissance, the Mediterranean island of Sicily (now part of Italy) was part of the political world of Spain. The island's main distinction during this time came from its role in ancient Greek and Roman history. The few Sicilian scholars and artists of note sought fame elsewhere.

Sicily was linked to the mainland kingdom of Naples until 1282, when it revolted against Charles of Anjou, the French ruler of the two kingdoms. Sicily then came under the control of the Spanish kingdom of Aragon. It remained in Spanish hands for more than 400 years, except for a few years in the mid-1400s, when it was temporarily reunited with Naples. Sicily's monarchs usually ruled from afar, and powerful local barons and their followers had considerable influence. The feudal* nobility generally supported the monarchs, to whom their privileges were tied. But the nobles' resistance to urban growth and Aragonese fiscal policy revealed their power. Sicily passed to the Spanish Habsburgs in 1516.

Before the 1300s the island's economy was dominated by the western part of Sicily and the city of Palermo, which produced grain and wine. Later, economic power shifted to the east and the city of Messina, which had silk, sugar, wine, and oil. The founding of universities in Catania (1445) and Messina (1590s) reveal the increasing importance of Sicily's eastern region. The overall trend during the Renaissance, however, was toward greater poverty and outlawry in Sicily.

The island appears in a few literary works of the Renaissance. Machiavelli's The Prince (1513) mentions Sicily only in connection with an ancient story of the king of Syracuse (in Sicily). Shakespeare set his comedy Much Ado about Nothing (1600) in the court of an Aragonese prince in Messina, and scenes of his play A Winter's Tale also take place in Sicily. In addition, the island produced several notable figures, including the scholar Marineo Siculo (ca. 1444–1536), who established a humanist* school in Spain, and the painter Antonello da Messina (ca. 1430–1479), who worked in Naples and northern Italy.

(See alsoNaples; Spain. )

* feudal

referring to an economic and political system in which individuals gave service to a lord in return for protection and use of the land

* humanist

referring to a Renaissance cultural movement promoting the study of the humanities (the languages, literature, and history of ancient Greece and Rome) as a guide to living