Alternate History

Arabized Sicily

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The course of the history of Sicily changed beginning in 1061 with the death of Roger the First. In this Alternate history, the island of Sicily ends up being ruled by the Arab Muslims for another 300 years and becomes one of the richest and most populous areas in the Mediterranean. The island remains under Arab rule for 300 and more years, becoming annexed to Al-Andalus. The culture and language of the island is completely changed compared to what it is today. Sicilian Dialect shares many similarities to what it is today, but with a much more marked Arabic influence. Many place names are changed are also said differently; more specifically in the province of Trapani (Itràbanis; Sicilian) , Palermo (Balermu; Sicilian) and a small amount in Agrigento (Girgenti or A-Bibirria: Sicilian). . Sicily in this this alternate history is much more linked to North Africa and the Middle East. The island only passes under Neapolitan/Christian rule in the 14th century and is invaded by Muslims again in 16th century; the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman Empire rules on the island until 1821, during the Greek war of independence when the Sicilians rebel and welcome the Kingdom of Naples into its kingdom. The island is annexed to Italy in 1861 by Garibaldi. The population of Sicily remains mostly Christian but retains a Muslim and small Jewish population up until modern day, with about 1/3 of native Sicilians being Muslim, focused primarily in the Western corner of the island.


Arab Domination:

827 - Beginning of Arab invasion with landing of 10,000 Arabs, Berbers and Spanish Muslims (collective term Saracens) at Mazara del Vallo.

832 - Arabs conquer Palermo making it their capital. Palermo becomes one of the most populous and cosmopolitan centres in the world. Trade flourishes, sophisticated irrigation systems built. Taxes reduce and an era of religious tolerance begins. What's left to see: Place names (Calta…., Gibil….), Citrus trees, Sugarcane. Thermal Baths at Cefala' Diana.

878 - Arabs conquer Syracuse.

1038 - Byzantines attempt to exploit Arab feuding as General George Maniakes tries to bring Sicily back under the influence of Constantinople.

1061- In 1061, the Norman knights have conquered the quasi-entirety of the Southern Italian peninsula. Led By Roger I, the Normans attack Messina on the Strait of Messina in a plan to invade Sicily. For many decades, the pope in Rome fears such a large Arab/Muslim presence so close to Rome in Sicily, and has pressured the Norman knights to bring Sicily into the Christian World once again. (Beginning Of Alternate History) At the battle on the Straits, Roger I is killed. The Normans are defeated and retreat to mainland Calabria. Throughout the 1060s, the Normans send excursions on the Eastern and Northern coasts of Sicily but without any success. Eventually, Roger's successor, his brother Robert De Hauteville, ceases attacks onto Sicily in 1079, as the Saracen forces are overwhelming to fight.

1105-1112- Ibn Abbad and Ibn Hamud are the two Emirs of Sicily, eventually both Emirates re-merge into one, and the island is annexed to the Caliphate of Cordoba in Al-Andalus in 1112.

1150- The population of Western Sicily is now 81% Muslim and Eastern Sicily is 40% Muslim. The large Greek-Orthodox community of the Val Demone in Northeastern Sicily continues to use a now Sicilian dialect of Greek, but adopts the Arabic alphabet. The proportion of each religious group remains relatively stable well into the 13th century and the island develops strong economic ties between Ifriqya and the Italian peninsula.

1230- Palermo or Balharm is said to reach a population of 500,000 people making it the largest city in the Mediterranean Basin. Palermo is uniquely split into quarters represented by each religious group; Christians, Jews, Muslims. The city becomes a place of major exchange and trade between Christian Europe and the Muslim North Africa and Middle East. The city competes with Cordoba, which is also another center of Exchange between North and South. At the same time the Reconquista was advancing south into Iberia, and therefore with Palermo being part of the Caliphate of Cordoba, merchants start avoiding Palermo due to fear of political instability in its ruling region.

1236- A revolt sparks in Syracuse and Messina, local Qadirs (Muslim chiefs) and the Christian communities begin feeling the economic decline of the island due to its relation with Al-Andalus. These Sicilians demand to seceed from the Caliphate of Cordoba. The revolution spreads west across to Palermo, and the people and army rebel against the island's Emir, representative of the Caliph. Demanding help from the Ayyubid empire, an army from Cairo arrives in December 1236 and expels the Emir; Ibn Basil El-Hajj, from the island along with his court. Sicily joins the Ayyubid Caliphate, now ruled from Cairo.

1236-1260- Mass reforms in language are achieved. There are currently three main Dialects in Sicily. Hebrew is spoken by a minority of Jews, but Siculo-Arabic is the widely diffused speech of the Muslims, urban Christians, and the administration and court. A vulgar latin dialect is also spoken. This descendant of Vulgar Latin is actually the base of what becomes modern Sicilian. Siculo-Latin as it can be called is spoken by the Christians of the rural regions of the Western part of the island and the majority language of the Christians of the Val Di Noto excluding the cities of Ibla, Modica, and Syracuse. A Sicilian dialect of Greek is also spoken by the Christians in the Val Demone, although it is gradually being replaced by Siculo-Latin and in fewer cases Siculo-Arabic. The Ayyubids greatly transform Siculo-Arabic, changing the court language from Siculo-Arabic to levantine-Egyptian Arabic, the Arabic of the Ayyubids. As a result, because the change was not a dramatic one, Siculo-Arabic becomes a much more Middle-Eastern Arabic, much closer to Classical Arabic, retaining its Maghrebi features, but resembling much more a Levantine dialect. (The Berber traces of Siculo-Arabic eventually disappears by 1300.)

1260- In Cairo, the Ayyubid Caliphate is invaded by the Mamluk Turks. The island is no longer ruled by the Ayyubids. The Anjou house ruling from Naples on the Kingdom of Naples stretching all the Southern Italian Mainland begins raiding the Northern and Eastern Coasts of the Island.

1285- The Normans of Anjou manage to conquer the area of Milazzo in Northern Sicily. The city is inhabited mostly by Muslims and surrounded by small Greek-Sicilian hamlets. Surprisingly the Latin-Sicilians which are Catholic do not support the Neapolitan's as much, as their situation is assumed to be well in Muslim Sicily. The Greek-Sicilians rise and join the Neapolitans in fighting for Messina. In 1289, the Neapolitans are defeated by an army from Palermo. The few Anjou administration flees before Milazzo is completely seized. When the Emir of Palermo finally retakes Milazzo in late 1289, he orders the executing or imprisonment of all Greek Orthodox Sicilians who are deemed as traitors. The Greek-Sicilians who are not killed are sold into slavery. Many of the younger children are sent to Palermo and converted to Islam.

1299- Within a decade, the Emir Ziyadat Min-Siqilyah has had all the remaining Sicilian-Greeks executed, sold to slavery, or converted to Islam; thus the estimated 13,000 remaining Greeks of the Island have been erased, Greek-Sicilian culture officially ends at this point on the Island. The last remaining Sicilians who were Catholic or Muslim and who had knowledge of Sicilian Greek language are last recorded in 1319; the official extinction of Siculo-Greek language.

1326- The island is again torn between Syracuse and Palermo. Ziyadat's son Mohammed Al-Siqilyah of Palermo declares war on a rising Muslim Qadir; Ali of Syracuse, who proclaims to be the rightful leader of the island, civil war breaks out on the island.

1327- Within one year, the Kingdom of Naples takes advantage of the situation in Sicily to Raid Palermo. Palermo is captured and Syracuse is captured in 1330.

Kingdom of Naples:

1330- The Ruling Angevin of Naples now control Sicily which is merged after 500 years of Muslim rule, to The Kingdom of Naples. The island is 80% Muslim in the West and 50% Muslim in the East. Christians represent about 30% of the population. The many sugar plantations and farming estates on the island owned by Muslims are handed over to the Pope in Rome. A mass of exodus of Muslims takes place. Within five years half of Palermo's Muslims migrate to North Africa and Malta. The wealthy Muslims manage to leave but the remaining Muslims become internally displaced. The Muslims of the Eastern half of the island; the Val Demone and Val Di Noto migrate to the city of Entella and Cinisi. Syracuse is the only city in the East within which Muslims still reside. An economic crash occurs, the farming and trading economy of Sicily crumbles.

1340s- The Black Death devastates the island leading its population to decline even more.

1360- The population of the island plummets to 500,000, what was once the population of only Palermo itself is now the whole island. Within 30 years, Latin becomes the language of the court. Because Siculo-Latin and Siculo-Arabic no longer are governed by any form of control, not being recognized nor used by the Angevin court, the languages begins to mix and exchange words and pronunciations; slowly they start to merge into one. The Clergy, which notices the vulgar Romance language of the island is losing popularity and being put aside to favour a more semitic type dialect, puts pressure on the Neapolitan court, which results, in an effort to Latinize the island, in the outlawing of the use of Arabic. By this time the Muslims only constitute 50% of Western Sicily only a few hundred in Syracuse. Mosques in the Eastern island and Palermo are mostly destroyed. One in three Muslims is said to convert to Christianity or be imprisoned/killed; they face a lot of persecution.

1380s- Sicily and Kingdom of Naples pass under Aragonese Rule.

1400- The use of Siculo-Arabic becomes strictly used by only the remaining Muslims. Four distinct areas are inhabited by Muslims; The coast between Marsala and Trapani; the region surrounding the Gulf of Castellamare and inland towards Alcamo, Jato, Corleone, Entella; Sciacca and Menfi; Mussomeli and north of Agrigento. With the Spanish/Habsburgs now in power, the Muslims are persecuted and pressured to convert even more so. Eventually the area north of Agrigento is fully evangelized with the last Mosque in Mussomeli being converted to a Church in 1403.

1410-1492- This period is marked by the Spanish rule of Sicily. The population stabilizes and grows slowly. The economy of the island improves and Sicily becomes an immense grain supply for Spain. The island starts to become treated more as a colony than province, therefore policies on Muslims begin to ease, thus are let free to practice but within certain areas of the island only. The Decree of Itràbanis states that Muslims may go anywhere on the island, but can only pubicly practice and live in the cities of Sciacca, certain Palermitan neighborhoods, and the area west of Menfi to the coast, north of Menfi until Entella, east of Entella until Corleone, and north of Corleone to Bagheria on the coast. As a result of the Decree in 1410, the Muslims only live in the mentioned areas, considerably large, alongside Christians. They are still considered second-class citizens but live more freely than ever before under Christian rule.

1492- The Kingdom of Granada is defeated by Castile. Many thousands of Muslims and Jews migrate east to Sicily's Muslim domains.

1492-1549- The island is in relative peace. Many Tuscan artists and poets visit the island during this period. A lot of exchange is done between Sicily and the mainland. Sicilian artisan becomes known across Europe and the Italian peninsula. Renaissance begins having an effect on Sicily, there is a desire to bring back ancient philosophy and art. The combination to the art of the Semitic people of the culture creates a style uniquely Sicilian.

Area of the island of Muslim Majority

Areas of the Island of Ethnic Muslim majority.

1550- The Puppet Hafsid Kingdom of Tunisia begins to fail under Ottoman expansion. The Spaniards and Habsburgs send fleets from Sicily to stop Ottoman advance. Rumors of the Sicilian Muslims wanting the encourage the Ottomans onto the island spreads, and many Christian aristocrats being flee north onto the mainland. The Aragonese want to keep calm onto the island but it is no use. In 1551 the Hafsid Kingdom is conquered by the Ottomans and the Ottomans begin sending fleets from Tunis within two weeks of conquest.

1551- The Ottomans disembark on the west coast at Marsala. They are supported by the

Muslims. The army comes in from Palermo but without success. The Ottomans send a counterattack from Greece to Messina within five days. The island is conquered and Palermo falls in January 1552. The island is once again under Muslim control. 

Ottoman Rule of Sicily:

Ottoman map

Ottoman Empire at peak expansion including the island of Sicily

1552- With the final capture of the city of Palermo, Sicily becomes an Ottoman Province. The island's traditional divisions (Val Di Mazara, Val Demone, Val Di Noto) are made into Sanjaks, and are ruled by a Sanjakbey, one in Palermo, one in Messina, and one in Syracuse. Rule over the island was very similar to Ottoman rule over Greece. Contrary to Aragonese rule, a reversal of social hierarchy occurred. The Muslims became first class citizens, with full privileges and right to land over Christians, whereas the Christian majority of the island became second class citizens, being even deprived of the right to ride a horse. The Muslims are also free to live wherever they wish on the island. A few Muslim-Sicilians do spread East to take advantage of land privileges, but most remain in the Val Di Mazara. In fact, even though the major cities are built a mosque, the Western part of the island is completely remodeled. Practically every village, town and city has mosques built or its already existing mosque expanded. There are very few actual Turks that move to Sicily apart from a few aristocrats which occupy part of Palermo. During this period certain Turkish loanwords enter both Siculo-Arabic and Latin-Sicilian. A most known one is the word for donkey, which becomes Sceccu; from the Turkish eşek.

1560-1700- The high point of Ottoman rule of the island. The Kingdom of Naples is often raided from the Ottomans in Sicily. Relatively quiet era, although for the Christian and little remaining Jewish population, this Ottoman rule is marked by a return to peasantry. Many Christians from the cities repopulate the countryside because they face less restrictions in rural areas than in urban areas. A general distrust grows of the Turks towards the end of the 1600s. Military rule becomes more widespread across the entire empire and so many Christian and Muslim peasants form rebel communities in the Madonie mountains along the Northern coast of the island. Because the ruling language is nor Latin nor Semitic during this era, both Siculo-Arabic and Sicilian really become one. Sicilian becomes one language, with two main dialects: Western and Eastern. Eastern Sicilian is almost exclusively spoken by Christians as there are practically no Muslims in Eastern Sicily. It is more Latinized, containing less Arabic loanwords. Western Sicilian although identical in grammar, tends to use more the Arabic version of words. The accent of the West is also harsher and harder to understand to the foreign ear. Western Sicilian is spoken by both the Christians and Muslims alike, the language one speaks is no longer according to their faith, but rather just to their geographic origin. The differences in both dialects are minor though, and an Eastern and Western Sicilian are intelligible.

1693- Mt Etna erupts with lava spewing all the way down to the sea into the Catania harbour. The city is mostly destroyed due to the following Earthquake. Despite reconstruction and gained land into the sea thanks to the lava flow, Catania takes two decades to properly rebuild itself. The city, inhabited by mostly Christians is not given much funding from Istanbul for reconstruction. The new harbour district however is quickly rebuilt to resettle the ruling Turkish Elite of the Val Demone Sanjak, but apart from that neighborhood built out of utility the city is slow to regrow.

1720s-1750s- A series of rebellions take place, in 1732 two occur. Rebel groups operating out of the Madonie and Nebrodi mountains attempt many times at provoking revolutions, notably in; Palermo, Catania, Messina, Cefalù, Termini Imerese, Milazzo, Troina, Regalbuto, Nicosia, Acireale, Enna, Taormina, and Corleone,  all failed attempts.

1741- Massacre at Troina, half the town is slaughtered after Rebellion.

1767- The Turks have already lost power over the Salento region of Puglia in 1694, and loose power of southern Calabria in 1767. An estimated 3000 Turks of nobility (most relatives of the Sanjakbeys and Imams) flee to Messina from the Neapolitan army.

1787-1788- A few Northern Europeans aristocrats visit Sicily. During this era of the Grand tour, Johann Wolfgang, a German aristocrat, is the first mainland European to visit Sicily out of leisure since the beginning of tensions between Naples and the Turks controlling the island. He describes Sicily as an exotic land straddling somewhere halfway between Europe, Africa, and the Orient. Small Christian mountain villages dominated by a church are run by Turkish janissaries, whereas the markets of Balharm still feel like the Souks of North Africa, as if the Arabs never left the island in the first place. The island however to him is in a state of deep poverty. The muslim regions of western Sicily are slightly wealthier but the Christian majority of the island is said to be comparable to the pitiful conditions of Ottoman Greece at the same era.

1810- Revolution at Messina, for 25 days Rebel forces from inside Messina fight the Turks out into the surrounding mountains. The Turks attempt to siege the city, but Neapolitan forces from Calabria maintain the connection across the straits. Eventually the Turks give up and the city of Messina and surrounding region inland to Rometta and north to the Tyrrhenian sea become annexed to the Kingdom of Naples. The Neapolitan court is content with control over both sides of the straits and the Turkish going through economic decline agree to led Naples have the Northeastern corner of the island. In Messina the Central Mosque is converted into a Church and the few Turkish residents flee west into the Turkish controlled island. 

1819- Sailors on the Eastern coast of Sicily bring the word from Greece of rumors of a revolution in Greece and the southern Ukraine. Revolutionist groups in and around Catania and Syracuse join to rebels from the Madonie mountains. On Etna itself plans to free Sicily are created. 

August 1822- Word from the Greek revolution pushes Sicilians in Eastern Sicily over the limit point, and a widespread uprising occurs in almost every Sicilian town and city on the East coast. The Turkish neighborhood in Catania is seized and burnt. Turkish Ships in the harbour are pillaged and sunk. The Ottoman janissaries quickly lose control, they eventually submit and are sent into the harbour mosque which is then burnt. The Neapolitan army arrives in both Catania and Syracuse. Naples' army combined the the thousands of Sicilian countrymen devastate every Turkish force west all the way to Agrigento. Ragusa, Gela, Enna, Castrogiovanni, and Girgenti are freed in that order from August to December. 

January 1823- Practically all of Christian Sicily is under Neapolitan control. Palermo and the Muslim Western Sicily are still under Turkish rule. In Sciacca, where the population is split in terms of faith, the Muslims turn against the Christians accusing them of Treason. The Muslims who benefit from Ottoman occupation fear the incoming revolution from the East, and therefore fear the local Christians allying themselves with the revolutionists. From the 15th to the 23rd the Christians of Sciacca are chased and killed by the Turkish Janissaries and local Muslims. Some surviving Christians flee to neighboring Ribera which is already under Naples' control. By the 27th the revolutionists arrive to free Sciacca but find a deserted town. So many Christians were killed that the corpses have become too many to clear, and so the town's air and water foul, therefore the Muslims who went through all that trouble not to lose their town, abandonned Sciacca for Melfi.

February 1823- Palermo has become surrounded by revolutionist forces. The Neapolitan army sieges Palermo for six months. 

July 1823- The Turks can no longer cope with the siege, they surrender to the Neapolitans. Aid is brought to the city's starving civilians Muslim and Christian alike. Mehmet Guz, the Sanjakbey of Sicily, is sent to Tunis. In August the army has freed all of Sicily except for Itrabanis, but when the revolutionist enter Trapani, the Turks have already deserted the city. 

August 21 1823- Sicily is free from the Ottoman Empire.


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