by Wikipedia
published on 28 April 2011

Sicily is both the largest region of the modern state of Italy and the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. Its central location and natural resources ensured that it has been considered a crucial strategic location due in large part to its importance for Mediterranean trade routes. The area was highly regarded as part of Magna Graecia, with Cicero describing Siracusa as the greatest and most beautiful city of all Ancient Greece.

The indigenous peoples of Sicily, long absorbed into the population, were tribes known to ancient Greek writers as the Elymians, the Sicani and the Siculi or Sicels (from which the island gets its name). From the 11th century BCE, Phoenicians begin to settle in western Sicily, having already started colonies on the nearby parts of North Africa. As Carthage grew in power, these settlements came under its direct control.

Sicily was colonized by Greeks from the 8th century BCE, the most important colony being established at Syracuse in 734 BCE. The Sicilian colonial city states were an important part of classical Greek civilization, which included Sicily as part of Magna Graecia. By the 3rd century BCE, Syracuse was the most populous Greek city in the world. The Greeks came into conflict with the Punic trading communities, by now effectively protectorates of Carthage, with its capital on the African mainland not far from the southwest corner of the island. In the First and Second Sicilian Wars, Carthage was in control of all but the eastern part of Sicily, which was dominated by Syracuse. The constant warfare between Carthage and the Greek city-states eventually opened the door to an emerging third power.

In the 3rd century BCE the Roman Republic intervened in Sicilian affairs, which led to the First Punic War between Rome and Carthage. By the end of the war in 241 BCE all of Sicily was in Roman hands (except for Syracuse), becoming Rome's first province outside of the Italian peninsula. For the next six centuries Sicily was a province of the Roman Republic and later Empire. It was something of a rural backwater, important chiefly for its grain fields which were a mainstay of the food supply of the city of Rome until the annexation of Egypt after the Battle of Actium largely did away with that role. The empire made little effort to romanize the region, which remained largely Greek.

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