The Saracen Conquest

The Aegadian Islands have been home to many civilisations. It’s been inhabited as far back as the Stone Age and has continued to see different cultures visit and occupy it ever since.

The area is well known for its Greek and Roman roots, but did you know that in the middle ages it was also inhabited by the Saracens?

Saracens were often at odds with the people of the west, like the Greeks, the Romans and eventually Christians. They resided in areas in and near Rome’s Arabian province which covered parts of North East Africa and Western Asia. Its capital was the city of Petra, home of the famous heritage sight Al-Khazneh, a rock-cut temple that is one of the New 7 Wonders of the World. We aren’t one hundred percent certain of the origins of the term ‘Saracen’, but by the Middle Ages it had begun to be more closely associated with a difference in ethnicity and religious background.

In the year 827 the Saracens began their conquest of Sicily after the Byzantine Commander in Sicily named Euphemius had rebelled against his Emperor. He was driven out of Sicily to North Africa, here he made a deal with Ziyadat Allah, the Emir of Tunisia, offering him rule of Sicily if he could have a place as general in his army along with protection from the Byzantine Empire. The Emir agreed to the arrangement and offered Euphemius the island in exchange for an annual tribute to himself. A Saracen army was sent backed by Euphemius’ own forces and the invasion had begun.

Emir of Córdoba and its officers, according to a 16th century manuscript.

The conquest consisted of many battles won by both sides; there was a great amount of continuing resistance from the Byzantines and many internal struggles to deal with along the way. After the siege of Syracuse in 878, the Saracens owned the majority of Sicily and claimed themselves rulers, but it wasn’t until 965, over a century after the siege had begun that the Saracens had finally managed to conquer the entire region.

The Aegadian Islands were included in the Saracens rule of Sicily. According to history this was a rather miserable time in the area’s past, though this could be a product of Christian Historians and Leaders creating propaganda to favourably show their religion and Western culture in comparison and allow shifts in power to seem like a needed change.

On Favignana, the largest of the Aegadian Islands there are three fortresses, St. Catherine, St. James and San Leonardo. These are believed to have originally been watchtowers created by the Saracens, built in order to prevent an invasion during those tumultuous times. These towers are depicted on the island of Favignana’s coat of arms, above sits a bird of prey which resembles the enemy and below stand the three towers, protecting the region.

The Fortress known as St. Catherine

After two centuries of occupation, the Saracens defeated and expelled from Sicily by the Normans in 1090. The three towers were built up with fortifications into castles and continued to be an integral part of the islands story throughout history, even being used in the Second World War, but that’s a story for another time.