The word sibyl probably comes (via Latin) from the Greek word sibylla, meaning prophetess. (Other schools of thought suggest that the word may have come from Arabic.) The earlier oracular seeresses known as the sibyls of antiquity, "who admittedly are known only through legend" (Burkert 1985 p 117) prophesied at certain holy sites, probably all of pre-Indo-European origin, under the divine influence of a deity, originally one of the chthonic earth-goddesses. Later in antiquity, sibyls wandered from place to place.
Homer seems to have been unaware of a Sibyl. "Frenzied women from whose lips the god speaks are recorded very much earlier in the Near East, as in Mari in the second millennium and in Assyria in the first millennium" (Burkert 1985, p 116). The first Greek writer, so far as we know, who mentions a sibyl is Heraclitus, in the fifth century BC:
Until the literary elaborations of Roman writers, sibyls are not identified by a personal name, but by names that refer to the location of their temenos, or shrine.
In Pausanias, Description of Greece, the first Sibyl at Delphi mentioned ("the former" [earlier]) was of great antiquity, and was thought to have been given the name "sibyl" by the Libyans. Sir James Frazer calls this text defective. The second Sibyl, referred to by Pausanias, and named "Herophile", seems to have been based ultimately in Samos, but visited other shrines, Delphi, etc. and sang there, but that at the same time, Delphi had its own sibyl.
Sir James Frazer writes, in his translation and commentary on Pausanias, quoting Prof. E. Maass and his work in 1879, that only two of the Greek Sibyls were historical: Herophile of Erythrae, who is thought to have lived in the eighth century BC, and Phyto of Samos who lived somewhat later. He goes on to write that the Greeks at first seemed to have known only one Sibyl, and the first ancient writer to distinguish several Sibyls was Heraclides Ponticus, in the fourth century BC, in his book On Oracles, wherein he names at least three Sibyls, the Phrygian, the Erythraean, and the Hellespontine. The scholar David S. Potter writes, "In the late fifth century BC it does appear that 'Sibylla' was the name given to a single inspired prophetess".
The so-called Libyan Sibyl was identified with prophetic priestess presiding over the ancient Zeus Amon (Zeus represented with the horns of Amon) oracle at the Siwa Oasis in the Western Desert of Egypt (incorrectly placed in the map). The oracle here was consulted by Alexander after his conquest of Egypt. The mother of the Libyan Sibyl was Lamia, meaning "devourer". Euripides mentions the Libyan Sibyl in the prologue to his tragedy Lamia.
The Delphic Sibyl was a legendary figure who gave prophecies in the sacred precinct of Apollo at Delphi, located on the slopes of Mount Parnassus. The Delphic Sibyl was not involved in the operation of the Delphic Oracle and should be considered distinct from the Pythia, the priestess of Apollo, also known as the "Oracle at Delphi." Pausanias claimed that the Sibyl was "born between man and goddess, daughter of sea monsters and an immortal nymph". Others said she was sister or daughter to Apollo. Still others claimed the Sibyl received her powers from Gaia originally, who passed the oracle to Themis, who passed it to Phoebe. The Delphic Sibyl has sometimes been confused with the Pythia, who gave prophecies at the Delphic Oracle. The two are not identical, and should be treated as separate figures.
The word acrostic was first applied to the prophecies of the Erythraean Sibyl, which were written on leaves and arranged so that the initial letters of the leaves always formed a word.
The Hellespontian Sibyl was born in the village of Marpessus near the small town of Gergitha, during the lifetimes of Solon and Cyrus the Great. Marpessus, according to Heraclides of Pontus, was formerly within the boundaries of the Troad. The sibylline collection at Gergis was attributed to the Hellespontine Sibyl and was preserved in the temple of Apollo at Gergis. Thence it passed to Erythrae, where it became famous.
The Tiburtine Sibyl, by name Albunea, is worshiped at Tibur as a goddess, near the banks of the Anio, in which stream her image is said to have been found, holding a book in her hand. Her oracular responses the Senate transferred into the capitol.(Divine Institutes I.vi)
An apocalyptic pseudo-prophecy exists, attributed to the Tiburtine Sibyl, written c. 380 CE, but with revisions and interpolations added at later dates. It purports to prophesy the advent of a final Emperor named Constans, vanquishing the foes of Christianity, bringing about a period of great wealth and peace, ending paganism and converting the Jews. After vanquishing Gog and Magog, the Emperor is said to resign his crown to God. This would give way to the Antichrist. Ippolito d'Este rebuilt the Villa d'Este at Tibur, the modern Tivoli, from 1550 onward, and commissioned elaborate fresco murals in the Villa that celebrate the Tiburtine Sibyl, as prophesying the birth of Christ to the classical world.
In the Middle Ages the number of Sibyls was canonized as twelve, a symbolic number. See, for example, the Apennine Sibyl, though sometimes, e.g. for François Rabelais, ten was still the proverbial number: “How know we but that she may be an eleventh Sibyl or a second Cassandra?” (Gargantua and Pantagruel, iii. 16, noted in Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, 1897. Late Gothic Sibyls, each with her emblem and a single line of prophecy, lettered on a fluttering banderole, were fixtures of Late Gothic illuminations, in 14th and 15th-century France and Germany.
From the early Renaissance, the Sibyls were also represented in publicly available art. Michelangelo fixed our image of the sibyls forever, in his powerful representations of them, seated, both aged and ageless, beyond mere femininity, in the frescos of the Sistine Chapel. Five sibyls were painted on the Sistine Chapel ceiling by Michelangelo; the Delphic Sibyl, Lybian Sibyl, Persian Sibyl, Cumaean Sibyl and the Erythraean Sibyl. The library of Pope Julius II in the Vatican has images of sibyls and they are in the pavement of the Siena Cathedral. The Basilica of Santa Maria in Aracoeli crowning the Campidoglio, Rome, is particularly associated with the Sibyl, because a medieval tradition referred the origin of its name to an otherwise unattested altar, ARA PRIMOGENITI DEI said to have been raised to the "firstborn of God" by the emperor Augustus, who had been warned of his advent by the sibylline books: in the church the figures of Augustus and of the Tiburtine sibyl are painted on either side of the arch above the high altar. In the 19th century Rodolfo Lanciani recalled, at Christmas time the presepio included a carved and painted figure of the sibyl pointing out to Augustus the Virgin and Child, who appeared in the sky in a halo of light. "The two figures, carved in wood, have now  disappeared; they were given away or sold thirty years ago, when a new set of images was offered to the Presepio by prince Alexander Torlonia." (Lanciani, 1896 ch 1) Like prophets, Renaissance sibyls forecasting the advent of Christ appear in monuments: modelled by Giacomo della Porta in the Santa Casa at Loreto, painted by Raphael in S. Maria della Pace, by Pinturicchio in the Borgia apartments of the Vatican, engraved by Baccio Baldini, a contemporary of Botticelli, and graffite" by Matteo di Giovanni in the pavement of the Duomo of Siena.
The nineteenth-century French historian Jules Michelet attributed the origins of European witchcraft to the religion of the sibyls. In his introduction to La Sorcière (1862) (A.R. Allinson's English translation, entitled Satanism and Witchcraft: The Classic Study of Medieval Superstition [ISBN 0-8065-0059-X], was reprinted in 1992 by Citadel Press and remains in print), Michelet wrote: "Une religion forte et vivace, comme fut le paganisme grec, commence par la sibylle, finit par la sorcière. La première, belle vierge, en pleine lumière, le berça, lui donna le charme et l'auréole. Plus tard, déchu, malade, aux ténèbres du moyen âge, aux landes et aux forêts, il fut caché par la sorcière..." ('A powerful, tenacious religion, as Greek paganism was, begins with the sibyl, ends with the witch. The former, a beautiful virgin, in the full light of day, rocked its cradle, gave it its charm and glory. Later, fallen, ill, in the darkness of the Middle Ages, on heaths and in forests, it was hidden by the witch...' —Translated by Mark K. Jensen)
The oldest collection of written Sibylline Books appears to have been made about the time of Solon and Cyrus at Gergis on Mount Ida in the Troad. The sibyl, who was born near there, at Marpessus, and whose tomb was later marked by the temple of Apollo built upon the archaic site, appears on the coins of Gergis, ca 400–350 BCE. (cf. Phlegon, quoted in the 5th century geographical dictionary of Stephanus of Byzantium, under 'Gergis'). Other places claimed to have been her home. The sibylline collection at Gergis was attributed to the Hellespontine Sibyl and was preserved in the temple of Apollo at Gergis. Thence it passed to Erythrae, where it became famous. It was this very collection, it would appear, which found its way to Cumae and from Cumae to Rome. Gergis, a city of Dardania in the Troad, a settlement of the ancient Teucri, and, consequently, a town of very great antiquity (Herodotus iv: 122). Gergis, according to Xenophon, was a place of much strength. It had a temple sacred to Apollo Gergithius, and was said to have given birth to the Sibyl, who is sometimes called Erythraea, from Erythrae, a small place on Mount Ida (Dionysius of Halicarnassus i. 55), and at others Gergithia ('of Gergis').