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Groups within the Italian peninsula.      Ligures      Veneti      Etruscans      Picenum      Umbrians      Latins      Osci      Messapii      Greeks
Magna Graecia around 280 BC

Magna Græcia (Latin for "Greater Greece", Greek: Μεγάλη Ἑλλάς, Megálē Hellás) is the name of the coastal areas of Southern Italy on the Tarentine Gulf that was extensively colonized by Greek settlers, especially the Achaean colonies of Tatentium, Crotone and Sybaris but also, more loosely, the cities of Cumae and Neopolis to the north[1]. The colonists who started arriving in the eighth century BC brought with them their Hellenic civilization, which was to leave a lasting imprint in Italy and particularly on the culture of ancient Rome.





In the eighth and seventh centuries BC, for various reasons, including demographic crisis (famine, overcrowding, etc.), the search for new commercial outlets and ports, and expulsion from their homeland, Greeks began to settle in southern Italy (Cerchiai, pp. 14-18). Also during this period, Greek colonies were established in places as widely separated as the eastern coast of the Black Sea and Massalia (Marseille). They included settlements in Sicily and the southern part of the Italian peninsula. The Romans called the area of Sicily and the foot of the boot of Italy Magna Graecia (Latin, “Great Greece”), since it was so densely inhabited by the Greeks. The ancient geographers differed on whether the term included Sicily or merely Apulia and CalabriaStrabo being the most prominent advocate of the wider definitions.

With this colonization, Greek culture was exported to Italy, in its dialects of the Ancient Greek language, its religious rites and its traditions of the independent polis. An original Hellenic civilization soon developed, later interacting with the native Italic and Latin civilisations. The most important cultural transplant was the Chalcidean/Cumaean variety of the Greek alphabet, which was adopted by the Etruscans; the Old Italic alphabet subsequently evolved into the Latin alphabet, which became the most widely used alphabet in the world.

Many of the new Hellenic cities became very rich and powerful, like Capua, Neapolis (Νεάπολις, Naples), Syracuse, Acragas, Sybaris, (Σύβαρις). Other cities in Magna Graecia included Tarentum (Τάρας), Epizephyrian Locris (Λοκροί Ἐπιζεφύριοι), Rhegium (Ῥήγιον), Croton (Κρότων), Thurii (Θούριοι), Elea (Ἐλέα), Nola (Νῶλα), Ancona (Ἀγκών), Syessa (Σύεσσα), Bari (Βάριον) and others.

Following the Pyrrhic War, Magna Graecia was absorbed into the Roman Republic.

Temple of Hera in Metaponto, Matera, Italy

The Middle Ages

During the Early Middle Ages, following the disastrous Gothic War, new waves of Byzantine Christian Greeks came to Magna Graecia from Greece and Asia Minor, as Southern Italy remained loosely governed by the Eastern Roman Empire. The iconoclast emperor Leo III appropriated lands that had been granted to the Papacy in southern Italy[2] and the Eastern Emperor loosely governed the area until the advent of the Lombards then, in the form of the Catapanate of Italy, superseded by the Normans. Moreover the Byzantines would have found in Southern Italy people of common cultural root, the Greek-speaking eredi ellenofoni of Magna Graecia.

Although most of the Greek inhabitants of Southern Italy became entirely Italianized (as Paestum had already been in the 4th century BC) and no longer spoke Greek, remarkably a small Griko-speaking minority still exists today in Calabria and mostly in Salento. Griko is the name of a language combining ancient Doric, Byzantine Greek, and Italian elements, spoken by people in the Magna Graecia region. There is rich oral tradition and Griko folklore, limited now, though once numerous, to only a few thousand people, most of them having become absorbed into the surrounding Italian element. Records of Magna Graecia being predominantly Greek-speaking, date as late as the eleventh century (the end of Byzantine domination in Southern Italy).

Modern Italy

Today a small minority of around 30,000 speakers of Griko live in the Italian regions of Calabria and Apulia. Though modern Griko is closely related to the koine, or common Greek, which had spread throughout the Mediterranean in Hellenistic times, it is said to maintain some elements of Doric Greek, and some believe its origin may ultimately be traced to the colonies of Magna Graecia.


Wikiquote "...since the land of Italy was Greater Greece."
Ovid - Fasti, IV

See also


  1. ^ The Oxford Companion to Classical Litrature, Paul Harvey, 1927,1955, p258
  2. ^ T. S. Brown, "The Church of Ravenna and the Imperial Administration in the Seventh Century," The English Historical Review (1979 pp 1-28) p.5.


  • Luca Cerchiai, Lorena Jannelli, Fausto Longo, Lorena Janelli, 2004. The Greek Cities of Magna Graecia and Sicily (Getty Trust) ISBN 0-89236-751-2
  • T. J. Dunbabin, 1948. The Western Greeks
  • A. G. Woodhead, 1962. The Greeks in the West

External links

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

MAGNA GRAECIA µey tXi `EXX6), the name given (first, apparently, in the 6th century B.C.) to the group of Greek cities along the coast of the "toe" of South Italy (or more strictly those only from Tarentum to Locri, along the east coast), while the people were called Italiotes ('IraXeivrac). The interior, which the Greeks never subdued, continued to be in the hands of the Bruttii, the native mountaineers, from whom the district was named in Roman times (Bperrfa also in Greek writers).

The Greek colonies were established first as trading stations, which grew into independent cities. At an early time a trade in copper was carried on between Greece and Temesa (Homer, Od. i. 181). 1 The trade for a long time was chiefly in the hands of the Euboeans; and Cyme (Cumae) in Campania was founded in the 8th century B.C., when the Euboean Cyme was still a great city. After this the energy of Chalcis went onward to Sicily, and the states of the Corinthian Gulf carried out the colonization of Italy, Rhegium having been founded, it is true, by Chalcis, but after Messana (Zancle), and at the request of the inhabitants of the latter. Sybaris (721) and Crotona (703) were Achaean settlements; Locri Epizephyrii (about 710) was settled by Ozolian Locrians, so that, had it not been for the Dorian colony of Tarentum, the southern coast of Italy would have been entirely occupied by a group of Achaean cities. Tarentum (whether or no founded by pre-Dorian Greeks - its founders bore the unexplained name of Partheniae) became a Laconian colony at some unknown date, whence a legend grew up connecting the Partheniae with Sparta, and 707 B.C. was assigned as its traditional date. Tarentum is remarkable as the only foreign settlement made by the Spartans. It was industrial, depending largely on the purple and pottery trade. Ionian Greeks fleeing from foreign invasion founded Siris about 650 B.C., and, much later, Elea (540).

The Italian colonies were planted among friendly, almost kindred, races, and grew much more rapidly than the Sicilian Greek states, which had to contend against the power of Carthage. After the Achaean cities had combined to destroy the Ionic Siris, and had founded Metapontum as a counterpoise to the Dorian Tarentum, there seems to have been little strife among the Italiotes. An amphictyonic league, meeting in common rites at the temple of Hera on the Lacinian promontory, fostered a feeling of unity among them. The Pythagorean and Eleatic systems of philosophy had their chief seat in Magna Graecia. Other departments of literature do not seem to have been so much cultivated among them. The poet Ibycus, though a native of Rhegium, led a very wandering life. They sent competitors to the Olympic games (among them the famous Milo of Croton); and the physicians of Croton early in the 6th century (especially in the person of Democedes) were reputed the best in Greece; but politically they appear to have generally kept themselves separate. One ship of Croton, however, fought at Salamis, though it is not recorded that Greece asked the Italiotes for help when it sent ambassadors to Gelon of Syracuse. Mutual discord first sapped the prosperity of Magna Graecia. In 510 Croton, having defeated the Sybarites in a great battle, totally destroyed their city. Croton maintained alone the leading position which had belonged jointly to the Achaean cities (Diod. xiv. 103); but from that time Magna Graecia steadily declined. In the war between Athens and Syracuse Magna Graecia took comparatively little part; Locri was strongly antiAthenian, but Rhegium, though it was the headquarters of the Athenians in 427, remained neutral in 415. Foreign enemies pressed heavily on it. The Lucanians and Bruttians on the north captured one town after another. Dionysius of Syracuse attacked them from the south; and after he defeated the Crotoniate league and destroyed Caulonia (389 B.C.), Tarentum remained the only powerful city. Henceforth the history of Magna Graecia is only a record of the vicissitudes of Tarentum (q.v.). Repeated expeditions from Sparta and Epirus tried in vain to prop up the decaying Greek states against the Lucanians and Bruttians; and when in 282 the Romans appeared in the Tarentine Gulf the end was close at hand. The aid which Pyrrhus brought did little good to the Tarentines, and his final departure in 274 left them defenceless. During these constant wars the Greek cities had been steadily decaying; and in the second Punic war, when most of them seized the opportunity of revolting from Rome, their very existence was in some cases annihilated. Malaria increased in strength as the population diminished. We are told by Cicero (De am. 4), Magna Graecia nunc guidon deleta est. Many of the cities completely disappeared, and hardly any of them were of great importance under the Roman empire; some, like Tarentum, 1 This passage should perhaps be referred to the 8th century B.C. It is the first mention of an Italian place in a literary record.

maintained their existence into modern times, and in these only (except at Locri) have archaeological investigations of any importance been carried on; so that there still remains a considerable field for investigation. (T. As.)

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