From the 21st April, the British Museum presents the first exhibition in the UK that will explore over 4000 years of history on the island of Sicily. The exhibition entitled Sicily: culture and conquest will attempt to provide new insight into the intriguing past of the Italian island. The story of the island’s history is told through over 200 objects, some from the British Museum’s own collection alongside loans from Sicily and around the world, many that are shown in the UK for the first time.
Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean and has been valued for its position on the trading routes and its fertile soil. Over a period of time people from eastern Mediterranean and northern Europe settled on Sicily, forging a diverse and unique culture. The exhibition examines two major eras of settlement: first, the arrival of the Greeks from the latter half of the 7th century BC and their encounters with earlier settlers and with the Phoenicians, and second the period of enlightenment under Norman rule, about AD 1100 – 1250.
When the Greeks created their first official colony at Naxos in around 735 BC, they introduced new ideas and forged links with the earlier indigenous settlers. A rare and extraordinarily well-preserved terracotta altar, dating to about 500 BC, is one of the highlights of the loans coming from Sicily. Another loan is a terracotta architectural sculpture of a Gorgon which was once perched on the highest point of a building at Gela in south-east Sicily.
After a series of wars involving Greek Sicilians, Carthaginians, and Romans, the island was eventually conquered by Rome. One of the highlights of the exhibition is an object that was used in the final battle of that conquest which took place in 241 BC: the bronze battering ram that was fitted on the front of the Roman warships to sink enemy ships, and has only recently been excavated from the waters around the island.
After the Roman conquest, Sicily became known as Rome’s ‘granary’ supplying the Roman population and its armies with grain. After the fall of Rome, the island became dominated by Christian Byzantines and Muslim Arabs until the end of the 11th century, when Norman mercenaries took control.
Under the enlightened rule of Roger II, Sicily now inhabited by a Byzantine Greek, Muslim, Jewish and Norman population began to develop a unique culture which emerged from a variety of influences. The exhibition features a number of objects taken from buildings which include twelfth-century Byzantine-style mosaic, marble and wooden Islamic-influenced decorations that will give visitors a sense of the art and architectural style that emerged under Roger II. Roger welcomed scholars of all races and faiths to his court and took a considerable interest in scientific works. The exhibition displays one of the oldest surviving copies of a new world map that Roger commissioned from al-Idrisi, an Arab cartographer.
This exhibition will offer the opportunity for visitors to explore how Sicily has been shaped by many different cultures over centuries. The island’s location in the Mediterranean and its fertile agriculture attracted a large number of states and groups who were willing to fight for the island’s benefits. Various empires from the Greeks, Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Christian Byzantines, Muslim Arabs and Normans tried and often succeeded to conquer the island. However, for all the bloodshed, the enlightened rule of Roger II who created a unique culture built on cooperation not conflict provided one of the more enlightened and lasting legacies.
Visiting London Guide Rating – Recommended
Sicily: Culture and conquest
21 April – 14 August 2016
Tickets £10.00, children under 16 free
Saturday –Thursday 10.00–17.30
For more information or book tickets, visit the British Museum website here
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