Family History - Italy and Sicily

Italy was the center of the Roman Empire at the beginning of the study period and the focus of human movement. Slaves, soldiers, merchants, and administrators from all over the empire came and went. So, if your ancestors lived here in 500 CE, their ancestors could easily have been from anywhere in the Roman Empire in 1 CE.

Fourth Century Germanic migrations: During the collapse of the Roman Empire, Italy was largely spared the effects of mass migrations, however there were two major exceptions. During the fourth century, the Goths had lived in what's now the Ukraine. The arrival of the Huns from Central Asia split them into two nations, Visigoths (West Goths) who fled westward into the Balkans, and Ostrogoths (East Goths) who submitted to Hunnish rule. The Goths originated in what is now Southern Sweden (maybe the Baltic Island of Gotland) and, in the first century, began a long migration that took them through Poland and the Ukraine. The Visigoths migrated through Italy during the early fifth century, becoming the first nation successfully to besiege the city of Rome in 500 years. Although they didn't stay long, they had their chance to spread their genes around. Later in the century, however, the Ostrogoths followed their path, but settled in Italy and ruled it competently. The Ostrogoths eventually lost power and assimilated with the local population. If your ancestors lived in Italy in 500 CE, then their ancestors might also have lived anywhere along the track of the Gothic migration, all the way back to Sweden, in 1 CE. Of course, the Ostrogoths had intermarried with the Huns before they left the Ukraine, so you probably have Central Asian ancestors in CE 1, also.

Sixth Century Langobard migrations: The Langobards (AKA Lombards, "Long-beards") Originated in southeastern Germany. During the sixth century they conquered and ruled the northern third of Italy. Like the Goths before them, they eventually lost power (see below) and assimilated. So, if your ancestors were in Northern Italy in CE 1000, they may have had ancestors in Southeastern Germany in CE 1. Note: Italian folklore typically attributes Northern European features in northern Italians to Langobard ancestry.

827: Fatimids in Sicily: The Shiite Fatimid rulers of North Africa conquered Sicily and ruled it for a century and a half. During this time Sicily was open to settlement from North Africa (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia) . What makes this interesting is that the Fatimid army consisted largely of slaves and mercenaries from the Sahel (The African nations bordering the Sahara on the south) and Slavs from the Balkans. If your ancestors were in Sicily in CE 1000, they would have had ancestors in North Africa, the Sahel, and the Slavic countries of the Balkans in CE 500.

Eleventh Century: Norman Italy. The Normans, (the French-speaking Scandinavian rulers of Normandy) appeared in Southern Italy as mercenaries during the early eleventh century. By mid-century, they had taken over under the leadership of Robert Guiscard. By 1091, his brother Roger had conquered Sicily from the Fatimids. As in England, the Normans became permanently ensconced in these lands. If your ancestors lived in Southern Italy or Sicily in 1490, they probably had ancestors in Normandy in 1000 and in Denmark and Norway in 500.

From this point onward, there have been occasional incursions into this region by foreign armies (Medieval English mercenaries, Napoleonic French) but without lasting impact on the population. If you are descended from one of these later visitors, your family folklore will probably inform you.