Sicily: The History and Legacy of the Mediterranean’s Most Famous Island
Publisher: Charles River Editors
Date: July 2019
Duration: 3 hours 7 minutes
It is hard to find an island on the map more central than Sicily. Located at the crossroads between Europe and Africa, and between the Eastern and Western Mediterranean, Sicily has rarely been governed as an independent, unified state. Nonetheless, the island has always occupied a front-row seat to some of the most important events in history, and nowhere is this more obvious than during antiquity.
After the Punic Wars, Sicily would remain a Roman domain until the end of antiquity, and affairs on the island dramatically affected the Romans at home. The First Servile War (135-132 BCE) and Second Servile War (104-100 BCE) both took place in Sicily, and they were perhaps the largest (and temporarily successful) slave revolts in antiquity, demonstrating a great unease in the early stages of Roman imperialism. In 70 BCE, the Roman orator and statesman Cicero gave a speech against Verres, the corrupt governor of the island, and over 2,000 years later it still provides an invaluable glimpse into the way things were run in Sicily and the Roman Republic as a whole.
Over 1500 years later, the largest island of the Mediterranean remains a complicated place with a fraught relationship to the Italian mainland. Separated by only the narrow Strait of Messina, Sicily feels like a different country in many ways, and the differences between Sicilians and Italians are much vaster than the tiny geographical separating them might intimate. For example, the linguistic differences between the two are substantial, as Sicilian is practically its own language, rather than just a dialect. It differs from Italian most apparently insofar as the normal final “o” of masculine nouns is replaced by a “u,” but beyond that difference, there are lengthy, five syllable words that a standard Italian tongue tends to trip over. In fact, most Italians have difficulty understanding Sicilian if they can comprehend any of it at all.