position of Sicily as a stepping stone of sorts
in the center of the Mediterranean Basin has
lent it strategic importance throughout history,
resulting in an endless procession of settlers
and conquerors. Modern methods of genetic
testing enable us to see which have had the
greatest demographic impact. Several studies
show strong ties between Sicily, mainland
southern Italy and Greece, suggesting that the
Siculi, Elymi and Greek colonizations were the
It has been proposed that a genetic boundary
divides Sicily into two regions, reflecting the
distribution of Siculi and Greek settlements in
the east, and Sicani/Elymi, Phoenician/Arab and
Norman settlements in the west. However, other
research has failed to detect any such division.
No data exists on the contribution of Normans,
but a number of studies hint that North African
and Middle Eastern gene flow was limited by the
physical barrier of the Mediterranean Sea and
resulting cultural differentiation.
Sicily's population is approximately 5 million,
and there are an additional 10 million people of
Sicilian descent around the world, mostly in the
United States, Argentina, Canada, Australia and
other EU countries.
The island today, like all
of western Europe, is home to growing
communities of immigrants, including Tunisians,
Moroccans, Nigerians, Indians, Romanians,
Russians, Chinese and Gypsies from the Balkans.
Evidence indicates an organised human presence
in Sicily durng the Mesolithic Age (circa 10,000
BC). Drawings found in the Addaura Cavern,
beneath the slopes of Mount Pellegrino near
Palermo, have been dated to about 8000 BC and
imply that the neolithic culture which
eventually emerged was quite similar to those
present in central and western Europe.
The Sicanians are identified as the earliest
"native" Sicilian civilisation, possibly direct
descendants of the earliest humans present here,
followed by the Sicels and Elymians. We are
uncertain whether the first people arrived in
Sicily from the North or the South, but the
Sicanian language probably was not Indo-European,
while Elymian and Sicel were.
The megalithic temple of "Diana" at Cefalý is
probably Sicanian in origin. By around 1100 BC,
two populations arrived to inhabit certain parts
of Sicily, in the process forcing the Sicanians
away from certain territories. In the east, the
Sicels (or Sikels), from whom the island takes
its name, arrived from the Italian peninsula.
Their language was probably Italic. The Elymians
arrived, probably via Africa, from western Asia
(possibly what is now Turkey) and occupied parts
of northwestern Sicily (Egesta, Eryx, Entella).
It appears that the Elymians, despite their
proximity to what (by 700 BC) was Phoenician
Sicily, assimilated easily with the conquering
Greeks, followed by the Sicels. The Sicanians
eventually amalgamated with the Greeks, but
theirs was a slower assimilation with a
completely alien culture.
Having founded Carthage in North Africa, the
Phoenicians began to colonize the northwest of
Sicily around 800 BC, founding Mozia, Solunto
and Palermo. About the same time, the Greeks
arrived in eastern Sicily, establishing Naxos (near
Taormina) followed by Catania and Messina.
Though the three Sicilian civilizations were
eventually amalgamated with Hellenic culture,
the Greeks often found themselves in conflict
with the Carthaginians --partly because of
Greco-Phoenician conflicts in the eastern
The Sicilians of today are said to be a "mixed
race" (i.e. varied ethnic group) descended from
early Sicilians (Sicani, Sicels, Elymians) and
the peoples who subsequently conquered or
colonized Sicily: Phoenicians, Greeks,
Carthaginians, Romans, Byzantine Greeks, Saracen
Arabs, Normans, and to some extent Longobards,
Goths, Angevin French, Aragonese and Spanish.
A number of Sicilians are descended from Albanians
who settled in several communities in the
sixteenth century. Sicilian genetics and
ethnology are indeed complex, a fact confirmed
by genetic studies and known history.