Considering that Sicily has been inhabited by multiple empires/peoples

  • native Sicilians/Italians tribes and communes
  • Greeks (partially)
  • Carthaginians (partially)
  • Romans
  • Ostrogoths (very briefly)
  • Byzantines
  • Arabs
  • Normans (briefly)
  • Holy Roman Empire
  • Spanish
  • reunified Italian rule

Are there major influences to the culture that persist? From what I have seen there seem to be mutiple influences that touch on Roman, Muslim and modern Italain art influeces. Typically when I have looked at the history of nations that tend to be difficult to reach, or islands, the influences from a historical perspective are assimilated into the original culture. Not all of the empires/peoples who ruled had an effect, if they did it may be diluted by this time. If this is true, what are the major influences that have occurred in Sicily and can still be seen in its architecture and culture today?

  • Parts of Sicily were Greek and Carthaginian before they were Roman... – Sardathrion - against SE abuse Nov 15 '11 at 13:30
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    Just to clarify, in chronological order, Sicily was ruled by the: native Sicilians/Italians tribes and communes, Greeks (partially), Carthaginians (partially), Romans, Ostrogoths (very briefly), Byzantines, Arabs (it went back and forth between them and the Byzantines for a few centuries), Normans (briefly), Holy Roman Empire, Spanish, reunified Italian rule. – Noldorin Nov 15 '11 at 19:49
  • Already finding out more about who ruled, thanks guys. Were they all influences or are there some who are major influences? Question updated to reflect this. – MichaelF Nov 15 '11 at 20:38
  • @MichaelF: Hmm I see you still haven't gotten an answer here; I'm surprised. Good job updating the question too. :) Incidentally, I think I was notified of this question again just because History reverted into Beta... – Noldorin Jun 13 '12 at 21:21
  • @Noldorin Yes kudos to Joe for the updates, I think he did well in it. – MichaelF Jun 14 '12 at 9:29

Let me do my best to attempt an answer here...

Sicily and its people have always be oddly unique. Italian, yet not Italian. They share much in common with their mainland Italian neighbours (particularly the southerners), in language, culture, history, and ethnicity -- but their particular history stands out more than most.

Widely speaking, the people and culture of Siciliy are something of a great hybrid or "melting pot". Ethnic/genetic studies have been conducted that show a large degree of affinity with southern and even central Italians. (Apologies, I lack the source for this presently.) There are also notable, albeit minor admixtures from principally North African and Near-Eastern peoples. This is undoubtedly thanks to Moorish raids and partial Arab conquests during the early Middle Ages. On average, I think it is fair to say that Sicilians show greater genetic diversity than most Italians -- it is not uncommon for them to have particularly dark complexions or Middle Eastern features (thanks to Arab and Moorish rule); likewise reddish or light hair is not overly rare (inherited from the Norman conquests undoubtedly). Saying that, a plurality if not majority of the population descend from the Roman and pre-Roman inhabitants above all. Undoubtedly there is also a significant proportion of Greek blood in Sicilians, from the time of the Magna Graecia colonies to the Byzantines, but this is somewhat harder to distinguish visually or scientifically thanks to the strong similarities and continual interaction between Greek and southern Italian/Sicilian populations.

Culturally, it's hard to untangle the origins and complex nature of Sicily. At least from my position. There are indeed whole books written on the subject. Of particular interest is the recent history (past two centuries), where Sicily came out of feudal/baronial rule, and eventually joined under Italian Reunification. The process was a tumultuous one, especially considering the poverty of the island that exists even to this day. There were numerous quite apparent causes for the explosion in crime during these 19th century transformations -- the origin of the Mafia/Cosa Nostra in Sicily/Italy and ultimately the USA owes to these upheavals.

Now, while the Spanish (Aragonese and then Hapsburgs) ruled the island for centuries beginning in the late Middle Ages and Early Modern era respectively, the Spanish cultural (or for that matter genetic) influence was probably not very great. It was mainly manifested in terms of aristocratic rule and pan-European wars, I believe. Sicily has an unfortunate (at least in some ways) history of being under foreign domination, both of the involuntary and requested sort (that ultimately leads to loss of too many of their freedoms). The Normans and the Spanish did not secure their rule over the island until they were effectively invited in by certain powerful persons at the time.

One of most intriguing points of Sicilian history is that when the Normans initiated their rule, they did their very best to stamp out all signs of Arab/Muslim culture that had come to dominate the island strongly for a couple of centuries at the end of the 1st millennium. The Muslims and Jews were expelled at various points leading up to the end of the Reconquista. Since the fall of the Roman Empire, Sicily had transitioned between Byzantine and Arab rule for the most part, and the population was fundamentally Orthodox Christian. Only when the Normans came did Roman Catholicism get truly embedded, while Islam was all but eradicated. Norman/Angevin rule did not prove too stable (it was often exploitative or even cruel), and gave way to their Aragonese "liberators", whose rule persisted in some form (through their descendents) until the early 19th century. The Sicilian dialect of the Italian language (some consider it a separate language) and for the most part their culture persisted with little alteration throughout these centuries. Commerce links with mainland Italy were usually present, as indeed Sicily had been a great source of agricultural wealth since pre-Roman times.

So, while this provides a far from conclusive answer, hopefully I've offered a few insights into my limited knowledge of Sicilian history and its influences. Culture is invariably a hard thing to quantify, but perhaps you get the gist anyway. Sorry I can't be any more precise!

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    Thanks, this is a good overview. Some of the art history I had touched on awhile ago and came up with this question when reviewing an old notebook. This actually is good, though the lead ins to other sources are nice and what I like in a History Q/A – MichaelF Jun 14 '12 at 9:30
  • Glad to help. Indeed, this answer was mainly meant to serve as a overview and preamble to any detailed investigation/research you want to do. For sure, I myself am not too cogent of the specifics. :) – Noldorin Jun 14 '12 at 22:12

Well, I will try to answer this question from a very narrow historical perspective, specifically referring to the lasting Hellenic cultural characteristics on Sicilian culture, namely through its architecture.

The island of Sicily has some of the most well preserved Ancient Greek temples and theaters in the world. Keep in mind that Sicily was a major part of Greater Greece or "Magna Graecia" from around the 700's BC/BCE until the 200's BC/BCE.

Here is a list of the Ancient Greek theaters and temples which have lasted for over 2000 years on the island of Sicily:

  1. The "Greek Theater" in Taormina, located on the Eastern side of the island. This particular theater sits in fairly close proximity to Mount Etna and also boasts a panoramic view of the Mediterranean Sea.

  2. Agrigento: Originally known as, "Akragas" in Ancient Greek times, there are two temples dating from the 400's BC/BCE which were strategically situated near the sea and the mountains.

  3. Siracusa: Archimedes' home and also home to a Roman Catholic Church which is literally built into an Ancient Greek Temple once dedicated to Athena. There is also a Greek theater dating to the time of the famed Dramatist Aeschylus-(circa 500 BC/BCE). It is perhaps the 2nd oldest Ancient Greek theater.

  4. Segesta: Located on the Western half of Sicily, the Temple in Segesta is one of the best preserved Greek temples in the world.

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