Sicels (Latin: Siculi; Ancient Greek: Σικελοί Sikeloi) were
an Italic tribe who inhabited eastern
Sicily during the Iron Age.
Their neighbours to the west were the Sicani. The
Sicels gave Sicily
the name it has held since antiquity, but they rapidly fused into the
culture of Magna Graecia.
4 See also
7 Further reading
8 External links
Archaeological excavation has shown some Mycenean influence on Bronze
Age Sicily. The earliest literary mention of
Sicels is in the Odyssey.
Homer also mentions Sicania, but makes no distinctions: "they were
(from) a faraway place and a faraway people and apparently they were
one and the same" for Homer, Robin Lane Fox notes.
It is possible that the
Sicels and the
Sicani of the
Iron Age had
consisted of an Illyrian population who (as with the Messapians) had
imposed themselves on a native, Pre-Indo-European ("Mediterranean")
population. Thucydides and other classical writers were aware of
the traditions according to which the
Sicels had once lived in Central
Italy, east and even north of Rome. Thence they were dislodged by
Sabine tribes, and finally crossed into Sicily. Their
social organization appears to have been tribal, their economy,
agricultural. According to Diodorus Siculus, after a series of
conflicts with the Sicani, the river Salso was declared the boundary
between their respective territories.
The common assumption is that the
Sicels were the more recent
arrivals; that they had introduced the use of iron into Bronze Age
Sicily and brought the domesticated horse. This would
date their arrival on the island to the early first millennium BC. But
there is some evidence that the ethnonym may predate the Iron Age,
based on the name Shekelesh given to one of the
Sea Peoples in the
Great Karnak Inscription
Great Karnak Inscription (late 13th century BC).
The Sicel necropolis of Pantalica, near Syracuse, is the best known,
and the second largest one is the Necropolis of Cassibile, near Noto;
their elite tombs "a forno" or "oven-shaped" take the form of
The chief Sicel towns were: Agyrium (Agira); Centuripa or Centuripae
(Centorbi, but now once again called Centuripe); Henna (later
Castrogiovanni, which is a corruption of Castrum Hennae through the
Arabic Qasr-janni, but since the 1920s once again called Enna); and
three sites named Hybla: Hybla Major, called Geleatis or Gereatis, on
the river Symaethus; Hybla Minor, on the east coast north of Syracuse
(possibly pre-dating the Dorian colony of Hyblaean Megara); and Hybla
Heraea in the south of Sicily.
With the coming of Greek colonists—both Chalcidians, who maintained
good relations with the Sicels, and Dorians, who did not—and the
growing influence of Greek civilization, the
Sicels were forced out of
most of the advantageous port sites and withdrew by degrees into the
hinterland. Sixty kilometres (forty miles) from the coast of the
Sicels and Greeks exceptionally lived side by side in
Morgantina to the extent that historians argue whether it was a Greek
polis or a Sicel city. Greek goods, especially pottery, moved along
natural routes, and eventually Hellenistic influences can be observed
in regularised Sicel town planning. However, in the middle of the
fifth century BC a Sicel leader, Ducetius, was able to create an
organised Sicel state as a unitary domain in opposition to Greek
Syracusa, including several cities in the central and south of the
island. After a few years of independence, his army was defeated by
the Greeks in 450 BC, and he died ten years later. Without his
charisma, the movement collapsed and the increasingly Hellenized
culture of the
Sicels lost its distinctive character. But in the
winter of 426/5
Thucydides noted the presence among the allies of
Athens in the siege of Syracuse of
Sicels who had "previously been
allies of Syracuse, but had been harshly governed by the Syracusans
and had now revolted". (
Thucydides 3.103.1) Aside from Thucydides, the
Greek literary sources on
Sicels and other pre-Hellenic peoples of
Sicily are to be found in fragmentary scattered quotes from the lost
Hellanicus of Lesbos
Hellanicus of Lesbos and Antiochus of Syracuse.
attested 6th–3rd century BC
Tribes of Hellenic Sicily
Linguistic studies have suggested that the
Sicels may have spoken an
Indo-European language and occupied eastern
Sicily as well as
southern Italy whereas the
Sicani (Greek: Sikanoi) and Elymi
(Greek Elymoi) inhabited central and western Sicily. It is likely that
the two latter peoples still spoke non-Indo-European languages,
although this is far from certain, particularly with regard to the
Elymian language, which some[who?] would consider related to Ligurian
or to Anatolian. The classification of the language of the Sicani
remains uncertain but it has been suggested that the
Elymians spoke an
Of the Sicel language the little that is known is derived from glosses
of ancient writers and from a very few inscriptions, not all of which
are demonstrably Siculian. It is thought that the
Sicels did not
employ writing until they were influenced by the Greek colonists.
Several Siculian inscriptions have been found to date: Mendolito
(Adrano), Centuripe, Poira, Paternò‑Civita, Paliké (Rocchicella di
Mineo), Montagna di Ramacca, Licodia Eubea, Ragusa Ibla, Sciri
Sottano, Monte Casasia, Castiglione di Ragusa, Terravecchia di
Grammichele, Morgantina, Montagna di Marzo (Piazza Armerina), and
Terravecchia di Cuti. The first inscription discovered, of
ninety-nine Greek letters, was found on a spouted jug found in 1824 at
Centuripe; it uses a Greek alphabet of the 6th or 5th century BC.
There have been various attempts at interpreting it (e.g. V. Pisani
1963, G. Radke 1996) with no sure results. Another long Siculian
inscription was found in Montagna di Marzo:
The best evidence for Sicel having been of Indo-European derivation is
the verb form pibe "drink", a second-person singular present
imperative active exactly cognate with Latin bibe (and Sanskrit piba,
etc.). Membership in the Italic branch, perhaps even close to
Latino-Faliscan, cannot be ruled out:
Varro states that Sicel language
was strictly allied to Latin as many words sounded almost identical
and had the same meaning, such as oncia, lytra, moeton (Lat.
Their characteristic cult of the
Palici is influenced by Greek myth in
the version that has survived, in which the local nymph Talia bore to
Adranus, the volcanic god whom the Greeks identified with Hephaestus,
twin sons, who were "twice-born (palin "again"; ikein "to come"), born
first of their nymph mother, and then of the earth, because of the
"jealousy" of Hera, who urged Mother Earth, Gaia, to swallow up the
nymph. Then the soil parted, giving birth to the twins, who were
Sicily as patrons of navigation and of agriculture. In
the most archaic level of Greek mythology, a titan, Tityos, grew so
large that he split his mother's womb and had to be carried to term by
Gaia herself. He came to the attention of later Greek mythographers
only when he attempted to waylay
Leto near Delphi. If such a mytheme
is set into action as ritual, it is usual to see a pair of sacrificial
children laid in the earth to encourage the green growth.[citation
In the temple to Adranus, father of the Palici, the
Sicels kept an
eternal fire. A god Hybla (or goddess Hyblaea), after whom three
towns were named, had a sanctuary at Hybla Gereatis. The connection of
Demeter and Kore with Henna (the rape of Proserpine) and of the nymph
Arethusa with Syracuse is due to Greek influence.
Ancient peoples of Italy
Ancient Italic peoples
^ Fox, Travelling Heroes in the Epic Age of Homer, 2008:115; Homer's
references are in
Odyssey 20,383; 24.207-13, 366, 387-90.
^ Fine, John (1985). The ancient Greeks: a critical history. Harvard
University Press. p. 72. ISBN 0674033140. Most scholars now
believe that the Sicans and Sicels, as well as the inhabitants of
southern Italy, were basically of Illyrian stock superimposed on an
aboriginal "Mediterranean" population.
^ The concern of
Thucydides is to acquaint his Athenian audience with
the cultural and historical background to Athenian invention in
Sicilians affairs, beginning in 415 BC, in his book vi, sections
^ Servius' commentary on
Aeneid VII.795; Dionysius of Halicarnassus
Diodorus Siculus V.6.3-4.
^ Sjöqvist, Erik (1973).
Sicily and the Greeks: Studies in the
Interrelationship between the Indigenous Populations and the Greek
Colonists. Jerome Lectures. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
^ Sicel at
MultiTree on the Linguist List
^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds.
Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute
for the Science of Human History.
^ The basic study is Joshua Whatmough in R.S. Conway, J. Whatmough and
S.E. Johnson, The Prae-Italic Dialects of Italy (London 1933) vol.
2:431-500; a more recent study is A. Zamponi, "Il Siculo" in A.L.
Prosdocimi, ed., Popoli e civiltà dell'Italia antica, vol. 6 "Lingue
e dialetti" (1978949-1012.)
Thucydides reported that there were still Siculi in Italy; he
derived "Italia" from an eponymous Italo, a Sicel king. (Histories,
^ Price 1998.
^ Luciano Agostiniani (2012). "Alfabetizzazione della Sicilia
pregreca". Aristonothos 4. Retrieved January 22, 2018.
^ Federica Cordano (2012). "Iscrizioni monumentali dei Siculi".
Aristonothos 4. Retrieved January 22, 2018.
^ Now in the Badisches Landesmuseum, Karlsruhe (Price 1998)
^ Martzloff Vincent (2011). "Variation linguistique et exégèse
paléo-italique. L'idiome sicule de Montagna di Marzo". La variation
linguistique dans les langues de l’Italie préromaine (in French).
Lyon. Archived from the original on 2015-04-02.
^ Fortson, Benjamin W. IV (2009). Indo-European Language and Culture
(Second ed.). Malden/Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell. p. 469.
Varro De Lingua Latina V 105 and 179.
^ Lucia Chiavola Birnbaum (1 January 2000). Black Madonnas: Feminism,
Religion, and Politics in Italy. iUniverse. pp. 31–.
Thucydides, vi.2 and vi.4.6
Price, Glanville Encyclopedia of the Languages of Europe s.v. "Sicel
L. Bernabò Brea, 1966.
Sicily Before the Greeks (revised edition;
originally published in Italian, 1966)
Archaic Italy: the Siculi (URL Checked 2006-03-26)
Sicilian Peoples: The
Sicels by Vi