Magna Graecia

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Magna Graecia

Μεγάλη Ελλάς
  Northwestern   Achaean   Doric   Ionian
Present status  Italy

Magna Graecia (/ˌmæɡnə ˈɡrsiə, ˈɡrʃə/, US: /ˌmæɡnə ˈɡrʃə/; Latin meaning "Great Greece", Greek: Μεγάλη Ἑλλάς, Megálē Hellás, Italian: Magna Grecia) was the name given by the Romans to the coastal areas of Southern Italy in the present-day regions of Campania, Apulia, Basilicata, Calabria and Sicily; these regions were extensively populated by Greek settlers, particularly the Achaean settlements of Croton, and Sybaris, and to the north, the settlements of Cumae and Neapolis.[1] The settlers who began arriving in the 8th century BC brought with them their Hellenic civilization, which was to leave a lasting imprint on Italy, such as in the culture of ancient Rome. Most notably, the Roman poet Ovid referred to the south of Italy as Magna Graecia in his poem Fasti.


According to Strabo's Geographica, the colonization of Magna Graecia had already begun by the time of the Trojan War and lasted for several centuries.[2]

In the 8th and 7th centuries BC, demographic crises (famine, overcrowding, etc.), stasis, a developing need for new commercial outlets and ports, and expulsion from their homeland after wars, Greeks began to settle in southern Italy.[3] Colonies were established all over the Mediterranean and Black Seas (with the exception of Northwestern Africa, in the sphere of influence of Carthage), including in Sicily and the southern part of the Italian Peninsula. The Romans called this area Magna Graecia (Latin for "Great Greece") since it was so densely inhabited by the Greeks. Ancient geographers differed on whether the term included Sicily or merely Apulia, Campania and Calabria, Strabo being the most prominent advocate of the wider definitions.[citation needed]

With 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 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.[citation needed]

These Hellenic colonies became very rich and powerful, and some still stand today, like Neapolis ("New City", now Naples), Syracuse, Akragas (Agrigento), Taras (Taranto), Rhegion (Reggio Calabria), or Kroton (Crotone).[citation needed]

The first Greek city to be absorbed into the Roman Republic was Neapolis in 327 BC.[4] The other Greek cities in Italy followed during the Samnite Wars and the Pyrrhic War; Taras was the last to fall in 272. Sicily was conquered by Rome during the First Punic War. Only Syracuse remained independent until 212, because its king Hiero II was a devoted ally of the Romans. His grandson Hieronymous however made an alliance with Hannibal, which prompted the Romans to besiege the city, which fell in 212, despite the machines of Archimedes.[citation needed]

List of Hellenic Poleis in Italy

This is a list of the 22 poleis (city states) in Italy, according to Mogens Herman Hansen.[5]:249-320 It does not list all the Hellenic settlements, only those organised around a polis structure.

Ancient name(s) Location Modern name(s) Foundation date Mother city Founder(s)
Herakleia (Lucania)[5]:259-61 Basilicata (abandoned) 433–432 BC Taras (and Thourioi) Unknown
Hipponion[5]:261-3 Calabria Vibo Valentia late 7th century BC Lokroi Epizephiroi Unknown
Hyele, or Elea, Velia (Roman name)[5]:263-5 Campania (abandoned) c.540–535 BC Phokaia, Massalia Refugees from Alalie
Kaulonia[5]:265-6 Calabria (abandoned) 7th century BC Kroton Typhon of Aigion
Kroton[5]:266-70 Calabria Crotone 709–708 BC Rhypes, Achaia Myscellus
Kyme, Cumae (Roman name)[5]:270-2 Campania (abandoned) c.750–725 BC Chalkis and Eretria Hippokles of Euboian Kyme and Megasthenes of Chalkis
Laos[5]:272-3 Calabria (abandoned) before 510 BC Sybaris Refugees from Sybaris
Lokroi (Epizephiroi)[5]:273-8 Calabria Locri early 7th century BC Lokris Unknown
Medma[5]:278-9 Calabria (abandoned) 7th century BC Lokroi Epizephiroi Unknown
Metapontion[5]:279-82 Basilicata (abandoned) c. 630 BC Achaia Leukippos of Achaia
Metauros[5]:282-3 Calabria Gioia Tauro 7th century BC Zankle (or possibly Lokroi Epizephiroi) Unknown
Neapolis[5]:283-5 Campania Naples c. 470 BC Kyme Unknown
Pithekoussai[5]:285-7 Campania Ischia 8th century BC Chalkis and Eretria Unknown
Poseidonia, Paestum (Roman name)[5]:287-9 Campania (abandoned) c. 600 BC Sybaris (and perhaps Troizen) Unknown
Pyxous[5]:289-90 Campania Policastro Bussentino 471–470 BC Rhegion and Messena Mikythos, tyrant of Rhegion and Messena
Rhegion[5]:290-93 Calabria Reggio Calabria 8th century BC Chalkis (with Zankle and Messenian refugees) Antimnestos of Zankle (or perhaps Artimedes of Chalkis)
Siris[5]:293-5 Basilicata (abandoned) c. 660 BC (or c. 700 BC) Kolophon Refugees from Kolophon
Sybaris[5]:295-9 Calabria Sibari 721–720 (or 709–708) BC Achaia and Troizen Is of Helike
Taras[5]:299-302 Apulia Taranto c. 706 BC Sparta Phalanthos and the Partheniai
Temesa[5]:302-3 unknown, but in Calabria (abandoned) no Greek founder (Ausones who became Hellenised)
Terina[5]:303-4 Calabria (abandoned) before 460 BC, perhaps c. 510 BC Kroton Unknown
Thourioi[5]:304-7 Calabria (abandoned) 446 and 444–443 BC Athens and many other cities Lampon and Xenokrates of Athens

Middle Ages

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During the Early Middle Ages, following the disastrous Gothic War, new waves of Byzantine Christian Greeks may have come to Southern Italy from Greece and Asia Minor, as Southern Italy remained loosely governed by the Eastern Roman Empire. Although possible, the archaeological evidence shows no trace of new arrivals of Greek peoples, only a division between barbarian newcomers, and Greco-Roman locals. The iconoclast emperor Leo III appropriated lands that had been granted to the Papacy in southern Italy and the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire continued to govern the area in the form of the Catapanate of Italy through the Middle Ages, well after northern Italy fell to the Lombards.[6]

At the time of the Normans' late medieval conquest of southern Italy and Sicily (in the late 12th century), the Salento peninsula (the "heel" of Italy) and up to one third of Sicily was still Greek speaking (concentrated in the Val Demone).[7] At this time the language had evolved into medieval Greek, also known as Byzantine Greek, and its speakers were known as Byzantine Greeks. The resultant fusion of local Byzantine Greek culture with Norman and Arab culture (from the Arab occupation of Sicily) gave rise to Norman-Arab-Byzantine culture on Sicily.

A remnant of this influence can be found in the survival of the Greek language in some villages of the above mentioned Salento peninsula (the "heel" of Italy). This living dialact of Greek, known locally as Griko, is found in the Italian regions of Calabria and Apulia. Griko is considered by linguistics to be a descendant of Byzantine Greek, which had been the majority language of Salento through the Middle Ages, combining also some ancient Doric and modern Italian elements. There is a rich oral tradition and Griko folklore, limited now but once numerous, to around 30,000 people, most of them having become absorbed into the surrounding Italian element. Some scholars, such as Gerhard Rohlfs, argue that the origins of Griko may ultimately be traced to the colonies of Magna Graecia.[8]

Modern Italy

Although many of the Greek inhabitants of Southern Italy were entirely Latinized during the Middle Ages, pockets of Greek culture and language remained and survived into modernity partly because of continuous migration between southern Italy and the Greek mainland. One example is the Griko people in Apulia, some of whom still maintain their Greek language and customs. Their working practices have been passed down through generations through storytelling and allowing the observation of work.[9] The Italian parliament recognizes the Griko people as an ethnolinguistic minority under the official name of Minoranze linguistiche Grike dell'Etnia Griko-Calabrese e Salentina.[10]

Greek nobles started taking refuge in Italy following the Fall of Constantinople in 1453.[11] Greeks re-entered the region in the 16th and 17th century in reaction to the conquest of the Peloponnese by the Ottoman Empire. Especially after the end of the Siege of Coron (1534), large numbers of Greeks took refuge in the areas of Calabria, Salento and Sicily. Greeks from Coroni, the so-called Coronians, were nobles, who brought with them substantial movable property. They were granted special privileges and tax exemptions.[citation needed]

Other Greeks who moved to Italy came from the Mani Peninsula of the Peloponnese. The Maniots (their name originating from the Greek word mania)[12] were known for their proud military traditions and for their bloody vendettas, many of which still continue today.[13] Another group of Maniot Greeks moved to Corsica in the 17th century under the protection of the Republic of Genoa.[14]

See also


  1. ^ Henry Fanshawe Tozer (30 October 2014). A History of Ancient Geography. Cambridge University Press. p. 43. ISBN 978-1-108-07875-7.
  2. ^ Strabo. "I, Section I". Geographica (in Greek). VI.
  3. ^ Luca Cerchiai; Lorena Jannelli; Fausto Longo (2004). The Greek Cities of Magna Graecia and Sicily. Getty Publications. pp. 14–18. ISBN 978-0-89236-751-1.
  4. ^ Heitland, William Emerton (1911). A Short History of the Roman Republic. The University Press. p. 72.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w Mogens Herman Hansen; Thomas Heine Nielsen; Lecturer in the Department of Greek and Latin Thomas Heine Nielsen (11 November 2004). An Inventory of Archaic and Classical Poleis. OUP Oxford. ISBN 978-0-19-814099-3.
  6. ^ Brown, T. S. (1979). "The Church of Ravenna and the Imperial Administration in the Seventh Century". The English Historical Review: 5. JSTOR 567155.
  7. ^ Loud, G. A. (2007). The Latin Church in Norman Italy. Cambridge University Press. p. 494. ISBN 978-0-521-25551-6. At the end of the twelfth century ... While in Apulia Greeks were in a majority – and indeed present in any numbers at all – only in the Salento peninsula in the extreme south, at the time of the conquest they had an overwhelming preponderance in Lucaina and central and southern Calabria, as well as comprising anything up to a third of the population of Sicily, concentrated especially in the north-east of the island, the Val Demone.
  8. ^ Rohlfs, Gerhard (1967). "Greek Remnants in Southern Italy". The Classical Journal. 62 (4): 164–9. JSTOR 3295569. Retrieved 5 February 2020.
  9. ^ Rocco Agrifoglio (29 August 2015). Knowledge Preservation Through Community of Practice: Theoretical Issues and Empirical Evidence. Springer. p. 49. ISBN 978-3-319-22234-9.
  10. ^ Lapo Mola; Ferdinando Pennarola; Stefano Za (16 October 2014). From Information to Smart Society: Environment, Politics and Economics. Springer. p. 108. ISBN 978-3-319-09450-2.
  11. ^ Nanō Chatzēdakē; Museo Correr (1993). From Candia to Venice: Greek icons in Italy, 15th-16th centuries : Museo Correr, Venice, 17 September-30 October, 1993. Foundation for Hellenic Culture. p. 18.
  12. ^ Greece. Lonely Planet. 2008. p. 204.
  13. ^ Time. Time Incorporated. 1960. p. 4.
  14. ^ Greece. Michelin Tyre. 1991. p. 142. ISBN 978-2-06-701520-3.


  • Polyxeni Adam-Veleni and Dimitra Tsangari (editors), Greek colonisation: New data, current approaches; Proceedings of the scientific meeting held in Thessaloniki (6 February 2015), Athens, Alpha Bank, 2015.
  • Michael J. Bennett, Aaron J. Paul, Mario Iozzo, & Bruce M. White, Magna Graecia: Greek Art From South Italy and Sicily, Cleveland, OH, Cleveland Museum of Art, 2002.
  • Giovanni Casadio & Patricia A. Johnston, Mystic Cults In Magna Graecia, Austin, University of Texas Press, 2009.
  • Lucia Cerchiai, Lorenna Jannelli, & Fausto Longo (editors), The Greek cities of Magna Graecia and Sicily, Photography by Mark E. Smith, Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum, 2004. ISBN 0-89236-751-2
  • Giovanna Ceserani, Italy's Lost Greece: Magna Graecia and the Making of Modern Archaeology, New York, Oxford University Press, 2012.
  • T. J. Dunbabin, The Western Greeks, 1948.
  • M. Gualtieri, Fourth Century B.C. Magna Graecia: A Case Study, Jonsered, Sweden, P. Åströms, 1993.
  • Mogens Herman Hansen & Thomas Heine Nielsen, An Inventory of Archaic and Classical Poleis, Oxford University Press, 2004.
  • R. Ross Holloway, Art and Coinage In Magna Graecia, Bellinzona, Edizioni arte e moneta, 1978.
  • Margaret Ellen Mayo, The Art of South Italy: Vases From Magna Graecia, Richmond, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, 1982.
  • Giovanni Pugliese Carratelli, The Greek World: Art and Civilization In Magna Graecia and Sicily, New York: Rizzoli, 1996.
  • ———— (editor), The Western Greeks: Catalog of an exhibition held in the Palazzo Grassi, Venice, March–Dec., 1996, Milan, Bompiani, 1976.
  • William Smith, "Magna Graecia." In Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography, 1854.
  • A. G. Woodhead, The Greeks in the West, 1962.
  • Günther Zuntz, Persephone: Three Essays On Religion and Thought In Magna Graecia, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1971.

External links

  • Map. Ancient Coins.
  • David Willey. Italy rediscovers Greek heritage. BBC News. 21 June 2005, 17:19 GMT 18:19 UK.
  • Gaze On The Sea. Salentine Peninsula, Greece and Greater Greece. (in Italian, Greek and English)
  • Oriamu pisulina. Traditional Griko song performed by Ghetonia.
  • Kalinifta. Traditional Griko song performed by amateur local group.
  • Second Interdisciplinary Symposium on the Hellenic Heritage of Southern Italy. Archaeological Institute of America (AIA). June 11, 2015. (Dates: Monday, May 30, 2016 to Thursday, June 2, 2016.)
  • Sergio Tofanelli et al. The Greeks in the West: genetic signatures of the Hellenic colonisation in southern Italy and Sicily. European Journal of Human Genetics, (15 July 2015).
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