History and Legend[cancia la surgenti]
The Trisceli (triskelion in English, from the Greek τρισκελης) means an object with three legs and is also the name of the Sicilian symbol (pictured right). Some time during the 8th century BC, a Greek expeditionary party was searching for new territories in the Mediterranean when they came across a large, previously unknown island. They were attracted by the bountiful natural resources the island offered. In circumnavigating the island, the Greeks discovered that it had three points, which we now know as Capu Pachinu in the south, Capu Peloru to the east, and Capu Lilibeu to the west. The Trisceli appeared soon after the Greeks settled on the island they were to call Trinacria, from the Greek word: trinacrios, which means triangle. The Trisceli was then adopted by the Greeks as the symbol of Trinacria and it has since remained the symbol of Sicily.
Isle of Man[cancia la surgenti]
The striking resemblance between the Trisceli and the three-legged symbol of the Isle of Man, has been the object of discussion for many centuries. A possible explanation is that it has pre indo-european origins (and it is certainly true that the symbol predates the ancient Greeks), or that there is a connection between the colonisation of the Isle of Man by the Vikings and the conquest of Sicily by the Normans. However, only Sicily has used this symbol continuously, from as far back as the pre-Christian era. Its use has survived the succeeding conquests of the Romans, the Goths, the Saracens, the Normans, etc. The Trisceli has always been the national symbol of Sicily, appearing on its flags, engraved in palace porticos and other important public buildings.
To understand how the symbol came to the Isle of Man, we must return to the final years of the Swabian rule of Sicily. Frederick II of Hohenstaufen (Frederick I of Sicily), took as his third wife Isabella, the daughter of Henry III of England. In 1254, four years after the death fo Frederick, his illigitimate son Manfred, became regent. Pope Innocent IV excommunicated him (a fate common to almost all the kings of Sicily), and Manfred's response was to take the Kingdom of Sicily for himself, which at the time included all of the Italian peninsular south of the papal territories. The papacy offered the crown of Sicily to Henry III of England, for his son Edmond, and the king began to raise an army. The young prince was paraded before the whole of the court in his Sicilian royal regalia. Flags were also prepared showing the sicilian symbol quartered with the royal coat-of-arms of England. Alexander III of Scotland agreed to take part in the expedition and he was present during the various parades and ceremonies. The Isle of Man was given to Alexander III some time after the whole venture died a natural death.
It was soon after this period, around 1266, that the tre cassyn (in Manx) became a permanent part of its coat-of-arms. Ironically, this was the year that the church's eventual champion, Charles of Angivin, defeated Manfred in the Battle of Benevento, taking the crown of Sicily, and ending the 136 year reign of the Norman-Swabian kings.
Today[cancia la surgenti]
Originally the head on the symbol was that of Medusa, the most terrible sister of Gorgon, who had snakes in place of hair. Today's version of the head is of a woman, perhaps a goddess, sometimes with wings to signify the eternal passing of time and snakes to signify wisdom. The snakes are now commonly replaced by sprigs of wheat, to signify the fertility of the island. The Trisceli (or Trinacria) was recently adopted by the Sicilian Regional Assembly as an integral part of the sicilian flag, and was placed in the middle, amongst the red and yellow of the flag.
- Situ Il Sicilianu - Information in relation to the ancient Greek period
- Presentatoin by John Newton on the history of the coat-of-arms of the Isle of Man
- Peter Symes, "The Isle of Man and the Triskelion"