Dr Michael Scott presents Sicily: Wonder of the Mediterranean

Hot on the heels of his latest BBC series Invisible Cities Dr Michael Scott Associate Professor in Classics and Ancient History at the University of Warwick presents Sicily: Wonder of the Mediterranean starting on BBC Two at 9pm from the 31 January 2017.

This two part series will examine the history of Sicily as a cultural melting pot from the Neolithic period to the modern day and ask what it means to be Sicilian. From treading grapes in an ancient wine press, scrambling across a 20ft Lava wall on mount Etna, reciting Shakespeare in an ancient Greek theatre, excavating child bones from a possible human sacrifice, salt mining old-fashioned style, having a cut throat shave from an 80 year local barber, trying his hand at Sicilian martial art of stick-fighting, making puppets and chocolate to exploring the underground Arab aqueducts of Palermo, Dr Scott will travel across the length and breadth of this extraordinary island.

Dr Michael Scott, Associate Professor in Classics and Ancient History at the University of Warwick said,

“Sicily in 2016 was the subject of British Museum and Ashmolean Museum exhibitions and also commissioned as subject for this TV series. It feels like Sicily speaks to us right now. Its message - I discovered - is a simple and powerful one. This is an island that has - over the last 2500 years seen countless cultures come and go from the Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Normans, Spanish, French, and British to finally the Italians! It has always been a cosmopolitan melting point sitting at east/west and north/south juncture of the Mediterranean. And as such, if we want an example of the long term effects of migration and immigration, Sicily is THE case study. Especially since Sicily finds itself today, once again, at the forefront of the largest migration movement since WWII with its coast guard rescuing people daily from the seas off Libya. And for an island with this much experience, we should look and listen carefully to what they are doing today in response. In contrast to the close door policy of much of Europe, Sicily is opening its arms to the world."

In episode one Historian Dr Michael Scott journeys through Sicily, the Mediterranean’s largest island, to find out how 3,000 years of conquest and settlement have shaped the identity of the island we see today.

His journey through Sicily begins on the slopes of Mount Etna, Europe’s largest active volcano. For the Ancient Greeks the island was a land of gods and monsters – a dangerous and unpredictable world.

Michael discovers how 3,000 years ago the Greeks began to settle on Sicily’s east coast – planting their olives and vines and building great city states that soon came to rival even Athens itself. He learns how great battles were fought between the Greeks and the Carthaginians for control of the island and how the Romans made it their first foreign colony, stripping Sicily of its forests to plant vast fields of grain. When Rome fell, waves of Barbarian invasions followed, before Sicily was conquered by the Byzantines – the Eastern Roman Empire.

How have those early invaders helped to shape the character of the island we see today? And what lessons have Sicilians learnt from their turbulent past?

In episode two Michael continues his journey through Sicily, telling the story of how the Christian Byzantine Empire was swept aside by a Muslim Arab invasion from North Africa. He learns how the island’s new Muslim rulers didn’t force Christians and Jews to convert and how new trade networks and agricultural techniques transformed Sicily.

When Sicily was later conquered by the Normans, it entered a golden age. All religions and cultures were granted equal rights. The later arrival of the Spanish Inquisition brought an end to that tolerance.

In the 19th century, Sicily was unified with Italy – and Sicilians were finally in charge of their own destiny. As Michael discovers, the greatest threat then came from within - the rise of the Mafia. Now as Sicily emerges from the Mafia’s shadow it faces a new challenge. The island is on the frontline of Europe’s migrant crisis. But the Sicilian response, formed in part by their own turbulent history, may well surprise many North Europeans.

Episode One:
Beginnings to the Arab Conquest – 31st January 2017, 21:00

Episode Two:
The Arabs to Sicily in the 21st Century – 7th February 2017, 21:00

Dr Michael Scott will be live tweeting during the programmes from @drmichaelscott

Catch up and watch Dr Scott’s latest series ‘Invisible Cities’ on BBC iPlayer: