Ancient Sicily

Song: Guapparia (The gang song) 

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    At what point we can put the start of Sicilian history? This is a question to which not even the historians have found an answer. After all it is not possible to find it; history is made of happenings, facts, both proven by documents, documents that tell what happened in time past. We do not have any documents of the history of Sicily, up to the V century B.C., because, the art of writing, contrary to the Egyptian civilization and other civilization of the near orient, that wrote with hieroglyphics and other signs, in the West was not yet born. However, we have approximate news of the first dawn of Sicily through some oral data transmission done through generations, through ambulatory poets (Omerus?), who told or sang the heroes’ feats, when the art of writing was still unknown, and through historians of the V century B.C., like Tucidides and Erodotus, who tell us that which they knew of the past orally transmitted and consequently with a weak historical base.

    Other news items more or less recent were given to us by paleontology, which is an affirmed science and that by means of excavations, was able to make light over the inhabitants of Sicily from about three thousand years ago and even before that. So we can conclude that the Sicilian pre-history comes to us by means of stories, traditions, poems and archeological excavations. Through oral traditional sources, we have news of Sicily beginning from the late Neolithic, that is toward the end of the stone age, between the ages of copper and bronze. Legends say that the first (?) to inhabit Sicily were the Cyclops and the Lestrigons. The Cyclops, according to legend, were men of gigantic proportions, with only one eye on the forehead, tame people, most of whom were shepherds, the Lestrigons were violent gangs of thieves and murderers.

    Some time later, around the XIII century B.C., before the fall of Troja, some Iberian people landed on the North-West coast of Sicily and started to cultivate the land , organizing themselves in communities. It was not an occupation but a migration. These people were called Sicans, just because they came from a region of the Iberian peninsula where the river Sicanus was located. Their king, according to traditions, was Cocalus. On the contrary, Tucidides (V century B.C.) says that the Sicans were a people autochthonous of Sicily. Later still another people landed on the East coast of Sicily that were called Siculis form their leader Siculus. It seems that during this period the Phoenicians could have established some commercial basis in Sicily for their commerce with the Mediterranean countries while the Greeks visited Sicily more than once.

    It is said that the Phoenician, a people much more advanced in culture and politics, were the first to give the alphabet to the inhabitants of Sicily, an alphabet of twenty-two consonants to which later on the Greeks added the vowels. But written history did not start till the V century B.C., and even from then we have only tidbits of news of the past of Sicily, given by Tucidides when he was writing of the Peloponnesian war. The Greeks. As the Sicans, did not come to Sicily with an army to conquer the land, it was also an immigration factor due to the hard living conditions to which they subject in their own land, like political situations, high taxation and social conditions. Once they evaluated the situation on the new land, as a society much more advanced in civilization, they took the land as their own chased the aborigines away not before having captured some to make them slaves.

    The first Greek colony was Naxos, founded in 750 B.C., while in 734 B.C. the Corinthian, led by Archias, landes at Ortigia, where they found a town called Siccusion, because it was close to a swamp region called Siraca. Successively was founded Palazzolo Acreide in 664B.C. and Camarina in 598 B.C. Gela was founded in 589 B.C., with the same name of the near by river, by a people from Crete which later founded Agrigento (Akragas) in 581 B.C. The only colony founded by the Greeks in the western part of the island was Selenunte. We find the Elimi also in Sicily, a mysterious people that by some accounts they landed in Sicily after the fall of Troja. Therefore Trojans, who, are said, that they did not want to follow Eneas anymore, while others say that they came from Tuscany driven out by the Etrurians. We find also the Ausonians in the Pelage Islands, and the Phoenicians, even if these last ones used only some commercial bases in Sicily to trade with the Mediterranean people. It is said that the Phoenicians founded Palermo.

Up to now as far as the history of Sicily goes we are still on legend, but historic legend.