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Sicels

Sicel
Region Sicily
Era attested 6th–3rd century BC
Indo-European
  • (unclassified)
    • Sicel
Language codes
ISO 639-3
Linguist list
scx
Glottolog None
Sicilia arcaica.jpg
Tribes of Hellenic Sicily

The 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.

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 Umbrian and 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 (late 13th century BC).


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