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Sicily was inhabited at the beginning of historical times by a people called the Siculi or Sicani. It is believed that they crossed over to the island from the southern tip of Italy. The recorded history of Sicily began with the establishment of Greek and Phoenician colonies. The earliest Greek colony, Naxos, was founded about 734 bc; the latest, Agrigentum (modern Agrigento), about 580 BC. Agrigentum and Gela early became prominent; under the rule of Phalaris, Agrigentum became for a short time probably the most powerful colony in Sicily. Gela, under a succession of able tyrants such as Gelon, forced most of the other Greek cities on the island into subjugation.
The Carthaginians first arrived on the island in 536 bc, but because of the growing wealth and power of the Greek cities, they were long confined to the northwest; the principal Carthaginian colonies were Panormus, Motya, and Solois. In a battle at Himera in 480 BC the Carthaginian army was completely routed by Gelon, and the Carthaginian leader, Hamilcar, was slain. The Gelonian dynasty at Syracuse fell in 466 bc, and for 50 years Sicily had peace. In 410 BC war was renewed between Carthaginians and Greeks for possession of the island. The Carthaginians were successful, but the vigorous reign (405-367 bc) of the tyrant Dionysius the Elder at Syracuse put a check to Carthaginian conquest. In 246 BC Carthaginian Sicily became a Roman province, as did the rest of the island in 210 bc. The chief events of the Roman history of Sicily were the two insurrections of slaves, in 135-132 BC and in 102-99 bc; the infamous propraetorship of the Roman politician Gaius Verres between 74 and 70 BC; occupation of the island in 42 bc by the Roman soldier Pompey the Younger; conquest by the Vandals under Gaiseric in AD 440; his cession of the island to the Ostrogoth leader Theodoric; and recovery by the Byzantine general Belisarius in ad 535 for the Byzantine Empire.
The year 827 marked the beginning of the Saracen occupation of Sicily. In 1061 the Normans, under Robert Guiscard and his brother Roger I of Sicily, began the conquest of Sicily, completed in 1091. In 1127 Roger II, count of Sicily, was recognized as duke of Apulia and Calabria, and in 1130 he assumed the title of king of Sicily. The domain of Roger II was sometimes called the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, or the Two Sicilies, because the southern part of the Italian mainland was known as “Sicily on this side of Cape Faro.”
The Two Sicilies
In 1194 the Norman rule was succeeded by that of the house of Hohenstaufen, whose most illustrious member was the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II. As Frederick I of Sicily, he presided over a brilliant court and, in 1231, issued the antifeudal Constitutions of Melfi, which centralized authority in Sicily. Hohenstaufen rule did not long survive his death in 1250; with papal support, Charles I, count of Anjou and the brother of Louis IX of France, seized control of the kingdom in 1266. In 1282 Sicilians revolted against his oppressive rule. The revolt, known as the Sicilian Vespers, began with a massacre of French soldiers. Soon thereafter, the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies was divided; Naples remained under the control of the house of Anjou, but the island of Sicily became independent and chose as king Pedro III, king of Aragón, who was connected by marriage with the house of Hohenstaufen. In 1296 the island was separated from Aragón; for more than a century it was ruled by a branch of the Aragonese dynasty and was then reunited with that kingdom. Ferdinand V of Castile, who had also been king of Sicily since 1468, made himself master of the kingdom of Naples in 1504, and the Spanish crown retained both countries until the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714). By the Treaty of Utrecht (1713) Sicily was separated from Naples and handed over to Victor Amadeus II, Duke of Savoy, who ceded it to Austria seven years later, receiving in exchange the island of Sardinia. In 1734 the Bourbon Don Carlos, later Charles III, king of Spain, invaded Naples and Sicily, and in 1735 he was crowned and was recognized by the Treaty of Vienna as Charles IV, King of the Two Sicilies. After the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle (1748), Italy enjoyed almost 50 years of peace; in Sicily progress was made along administrative, economic, and educational lines. The upheaval of the French Revolution (1789-1799) brought new troubles. The coalition against the French republic was joined by Ferdinand I, king of the Two Sicilies.Sicily is a principal source of the world supply of sulfur. Other minerals mined here include rock salt and asphalt. The petrochemical industry also figures in the economy of the island and is largely dependent on production in eastern Sicily, particularly in Catania and Syracuse and in Ragusa and Gela. Agriculture is still the predominant occupation of Sicilians; wheat is the most important crop. Cereal grains are grown on the larger estates in the interior and along the southern coast. Smaller holdings are devoted principally to growing grapes, almonds, olives, oranges, lemons, beans, and sumac, used in tanning and dyeing. The fisheries (tunny, sardine, coral, and sponge) are extensive; one-fourth of Italy’s fishing vessels sail from Sicily. Other occupations include manufacturing wine and olive oil, canning fruit and vegetables, and preparing citric acid. Some glassware, metalware, and matches are produced in the larger cities. Sicily exports sulfur, fruits and vegetables, sumac, salt, wine, oil, and fish, and imports mainly grain, coal, and iron. Almost the entire trade is seaborne through the three principal ports, Palermo (capital of Sicily region), Catania, and Messina. Tourism is also an important economic contributor; many visitors come to the region to explore landmarks such as cathedrals, and the Greek ruins at Agrigento, Syracuse, Taormina, and other locations.