The History of Sicily

Roman Sicily: The Empire

Relatively little is known about the occupation of Sicily during the first five centuries after the birth of Christ. We do know, however, that the island was fairly prosperous because of its ability to provide mainland Italy and parts of the rest of Europe with grain.

Among the architectural evidence from this era is the magnificent fourth-century villa at Casale near Piazza Armerina. A World Heritage Site, the villa boasts about 3500 square meters of splendid, well-preserved mosaics in the floors of its many rooms and hallways. In fact, it contains the greatest number of Roman mosaics in the world. In addition to scenes from history and mythology, there are hunting scenes and depictions of wild animals, many of which were brought to Sicily from Africa. Perhaps the most famous mosaic is a picture of bikini-clad swimmers tossing around a ball.

Other important archaeological evidence from this time includes the Roman amphitheater in Taormina and the Christian catacombs in Siracusa, nearly as important as those in Rome itself. When the emperor Diocletian (244-312 A.D.) split the Empire into its eastern and western branches in 285 A.D., Ravenna became the capital of the West, while Constantinople became the capital of the East. Sicilian Christians adhered to the Eastern rite, with the liturgy spoken and sung in Greek. When Christianity became the Empire’s official religion with Constantine’s Edict of Milan in 313 A.D., many Greek and Roman temples were converted into churches, as previously noted in regard to Siracusa’s Duomo.


Detail from Mosaic Floor at Casale