Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Greeks in Italy

The Greeks began to colonize the Italian Peninsula around the second half of the eighth century B.C. Those early settlements were agricultural communities, built by Greeks looking for a better life. Trade was also a factor, as they moved north to create contact with the Etruscans, who eventually became great trading partners.

The Italian Greek cities, called Magna Graecia, shared the great accomplishments of the motherland including town planning, art, coinage, science, and philosophy, but remained closed off from the rest of Italy. They quarreled among themselves often leading to civil war within the cities, and lacked the power to expand their area of dominance. Not able to stimulate the Latins to significant imitation, the Greeks had to be content to see their gods absorbed into the religion of Etruria and Rome.

A list of the leading cities of Magna Graecia would include:

Syracuse – a powerful city-state aligned with Sparta and Corinth

Tarantum – a wealthy and powerful seaport, center of trade with Greece, powerful enough to pursue expansion

Neopolis (Naples) – seaport and ally of the Romans against Carthage

Cumae – early Greek settlement, defeated by the Oscans in 421 BC, survivors founded Neopolis

Paestum – also defeated by the Oscans, stayed loyal to Rome against Hannibal

Rhegium – ally of Syracuse, occupied by the Romans during the First Punic War

Thurii – late Greek colony, constantly under attack from neighbors, defended by Rome

During the fourth and fifth centuries B.C, the Greek cities came under pressure from native Italian tribes. The most notable, the Lucanians, pushed into the foot of Italy and encroached on the land of the Greeks. Many times the Greek cities appealed for help from the motherland against them. Many times Athens or Sparta sent an army, but the cities never realized a permanent peace.

The Romans were not interested in the Greek cities during this period because they were distracted by invasions from the north and Samnite Wars, which lasted until 290 B.C. In 285 B.C, Thurii and Rhegium appealed to Rome for help against the Lucanians. These appeals forced Rome to create a policy for southern Italy designed to prevent the involvement of outsiders, and signaled the end of Magna Graecia as an independent entity.


Primvs Pilvs said...

Good post. I think most people don't pay enough attention to Magna Graecia. The cities of Magna Graecia played a big part in the introduction of Greek culture to Rome. Even during the Imperial age, long after Magna Graecia was part of the Roman Empire, those cities, especially Neapolis, were thought of as inherently "Greek."

Anonymous said...

You forgot to mention Locri, Croton and Sybaris. These three cities were also instrumental in Greek culture in southern Italy and the western world. Especially Croton which was the most powerful Greek city on mainland southern Italy. Pythagoras had his school there and had an advanced medical school with Alcmaeon as its most famous medical theorist. It also had many victors in the ancient Olympics as Milo was one of one. Sybaris is were the idea of living in luxury came from as the word "sybaritic" suggests. Locri had famous poets and writers like Nossis. Oh, and Rhegium had Ibycus the lyric poet.

matthewu said...
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