Magna Graecia

Magna Graecia (UK: /ˌmæɡnə ˈɡrsiə, - ˈɡrʃə/ MAG-nə GREE-see-ə, -⁠ GREE-shə, US: /- ˈɡrʃə/ -⁠ GRAY-shə, Latin: [ˈmaŋna ˈɡrae̯ki.a]; Ancient Greek: Μεγάλη Ἑλλάς, romanizedMegálē Hellás, Greek: [/me.ɡá.lɛː hel.lás/]; both lit.'Great[er] Greece'; Italian: Magna Grecia, Italian: [ˈmaɲɲa ˈɡrɛʧa]) was the name given by the Romans to the coastal areas of Southern Italy in the present-day Italian regions of Calabria, Apulia, Basilicata, Campania and Sicily; these regions were extensively populated by Greek settlers.[1] These settlers, who began arriving in the 8th century BC, brought with them their Hellenic civilization, which left a lasting imprint on Italy (such as in the culture of ancient Rome). They also influenced the native peoples, such as the Sicels and the Oenotrians, who became hellenized after they adopted the Greek culture as their own.

Magna Graecia
Μεγάλη Ελλάς
Paestum Temples (Italy, October 2020) - 16 (50562474147).jpg
Segesta AncientGreekTemple 0932.jpg
Eos chariot 430-420 BC Staatliche Antikensammlungen.jpg
Youth donkey Louvre Cp5103.jpg
Clockwise from top left: Second Temple of Hera in Poseidonia, Campania; Doric-styled Temple, Segesta; Taras' sculpture of a young man wearing cucullus and leading his donkey; depiction of Eos riding a two-horsed chariot, on a krater from Southern Italy.
Magna Graecia ancient colonies and dialects-en.svg
Ancient Greek colonies and their dialect groupings in Magna Graecia.
Present status Italy

The Greek expression Megálē Hellás, later translated into Latin as Magna Graecia, first appears in Polybius' Histories,[2] where he ascribed the term to Pythagoras and his philosophical school.[3][4] Strabo also used the term to refer to the size of the territory that had been conquered by the Greeks,[5] and the Roman poet Ovid used the term 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.[6]

In the 8th and 7th century BC, due to 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.[5] Colonies began to be 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 "Greater 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 and Livy being the most prominent advocates of the wider definitions.[7]

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 and later interacted 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.

Some of these Hellenic colonies still stand today such as Neapolis ("New City", now Naples), Syracuse, Akragas (Agrigento), Taras (Taranto), Rhegion (Reggio Calabria), or Kroton (Crotone).

The first Greek city to be absorbed into the Roman Republic was Neapolis in 327 BC.[8] 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 Hieronymus however made an alliance with Hannibal, which prompted the Romans to besiege the city, which fell in 212 despite the machines of Archimedes, described by Proclus in his commentary on Euclid's Elements. Archimedes constructed weapons powered by compressed air, weights and counterweights, according to Ctesibius and Hero.[9]

List of Hellenic Poleis in mainland ItalyEdit

This is a list of the 22 poleis (city states) in Italy, according to Mogens Herman Hansen.[10] 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) Basilicata (abandoned) 433–432 BC Taras (and Thourioi) Un­known
Hipponion Calabria Vibo Valentia late 7th century BC Lokroi Epizephiroi Un­known
Hyele, or Elea, Velia (Roman name) Campania (abandoned) c.540–535 BC Phokaia, Massalia Refugees from Alalie
Kaulonia Calabria (abandoned) 7th century BC Kroton Typhon of Aigion
Kroton Calabria Crotone 709–708 BC Rhypes, Achaia Myscellus
Kyme, Cumae (Roman name) Campania (abandoned) c.750–725 BC Chalkis and Eretria Hippokles of Euboian Kyme and Megasthenes of Chalkis
Laos Calabria (abandoned) before 510 BC Sybaris Refugees from Sybaris
Lokroi (Epizephiroi) Calabria Locri early 7th century BC Lokris Un­known
Medma Calabria (abandoned) 7th century BC Lokroi Epizephiroi Un­known
Metapontion Basilicata Metaponto c. 630 BC Achaia Leukippos of Achaia
Metauros Calabria Gioia Tauro 7th century BC Zankle (or possibly Lokroi Epizephiroi) Un­known
Neapolis Campania Naples 6th–5th centuries BC (previously an 8th century BC harbour of Kyme known as Parthenope) Kyme Un­known
Pithekoussai Campania Ischia 8th century BC Chalkis and Eretria Un­known
Poseidonia, Paestum (Roman name) Campania (abandoned) c. 600 BC Sybaris (and perhaps Troizen) Un­known
Pyxous Campania Policastro Bussentino 471–470 BC Rhegion and Messena Mikythos, tyrant of Rhegion and Messena
Rhegion Calabria Reggio Calabria 8th century BC Chalkis (with Zankle and Messenian refugees) Antimnestos of Zankle (or perhaps Artimedes of Chalkis)
Siris Basilicata (abandoned) c. 660 BC (or c. 700 BC) Kolophon Refugees from Kolophon
Sybaris Calabria Sibari 721–720 (or 709–708) BC Achaia and Troizen Is of Helike
Taras Apulia Taranto c. 706 BC Sparta Phalanthos and the Partheniai
Temesa unknown, but in Calabria (abandoned) no Greek founder (Ausones who became Hellenised)
Terina Calabria (abandoned) before 460 BC, perhaps c. 510 BC Kroton Un­known
Thourioi Calabria (abandoned) 446 and 444–443 BC Athens and many other cities Lampon and Xenokrates of Athens

List of Hellenic Poleis in SicilyEdit

This is a list of the 46 poleis (city states) in Sicily, according to Mogens Herman Hansen.[11] 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)
Abakainon Metropolitan City of Messina (abandoned) no Greek founder (Sicels who became Hellenised)
Adranon Metropolitan City of Catania Adrano c.400 BC Syrakousai Dionysios I
Agyrion Province of Enna Agira no Greek founder (Sicels who became Hellenised)
Aitna Metropolitan City of Catania on the site of Katane 476 BC Syrakousai Hieron
Akragas Province of Agrigento Agrigento c.580 BC Gela Aristonoos and Pystilos
Akrai Province of Syracuse near Palazzolo Acreide 664 BC Syrakousai Un­known
Alaisa Metropolitan City of Messina Tusa 403–402 BC Herbita Archonides of Herbita
Alontion, Haluntium (Roman name) Metropolitan City of Messina San Marco d’Alunzio no Greek founder (Sicels who became Hellenised)
Apollonia Metropolitan City of Messina Monte Vecchio near San Fratello 405–367 BC Syrakousai Possibly Dionysios I
Engyon Province of Enna Troina? no Greek founder (Sicels who became Hellenised)
Euboia Metropolitan City of Catania Licodia Eubea 7th century BC, perhaps late 8th century BC Leontinoi Un­known
Galeria Un­known (abandoned) no Greek founder (Sicels who became Hellenised)
Gela Province of Caltanissetta Gela 689–688 BC Rhodes (Lindos), Cretans Antiphemos of Rhodes and Entimos the Cretan
Heloron Province of Syracuse (abandoned) Un­known Syrakousai Un­known
Henna Province of Enna Enna no Greek founder (Sicels who became Hellenised)
Herakleia Minoa Province of Agrigento Cattolica Eraclea after 628 BC Selinous, Sparta refounded by Euryleon after c.510 BC
Herakleia unlocated in Western Sicily (abandoned) c.510 BC Sparta Dorieus
Herbessos Province of Enna Montagna di Marzo no Greek founder (Sicels who became Hellenised)
Herbita Un­known (abandoned) no Greek founder (Sicels who became Hellenised)
Himera Province of Palermo Termini Imerese 648 BC Zankle, exiles from Syrakousai Eukleides, Simos and Sakon
Hippana Province of Palermo Monte dei Cavalli no Greek founder (indigenous settlement that became Hellenised)
Imachara Metropolitan City of Catania Mendolito no Greek founder (Sicels who became Hellenised)
Kallipolis Un­known (abandoned) late 8th century BC Naxos (Sicily) Un­known
Kamarina Province of Ragusa Santa Croce Camerina c.598 BC Syrakousai, Korinth Daskon of Syracuse and Menekolos of Corinth
Kasmenai Province of Syracuse (abandoned) 644–643 BC Syrakousai Un­known
Katane Metropolitan City of Catania Catania 729 BC Naxos (Sicily) Euarchos
Kentoripa Province of Enna Centuripe no Greek founder (Sicels who became Hellenised)
Kephaloidion Province of Palermo Cefalù no Greek founder (Sicels who became Hellenised)
Leontinoi Province of Syracuse Lentini 729 BC Naxos (Sicily) Theokles?
Lipara Metropolitan City of Messina Lipari 580–576 BC Knidos, Rhodes Pentathlos, Gorgos, Thestor and Epithersides
Longane Metropolitan City of Messina near Rodì Milici no Greek founder (Sicels who became Hellenised)
Megara Hyblaea Province of Syracuse Augusta 728 BC Megara Nisaia Theokles?
Morgantina Province of Enna near Aidone no Greek founder (Sicels who became Hellenised)
Mylai Metropolitan City of Messina Milazzo 700 BC? Zankle Un­known
Nakone Un­known (abandoned) no Greek founder (Sicels who became Hellenised)
Naxos Metropolitan City of Messina Giardini Naxos 735–734 BC Chalkis, Naxos (Cyclades) Theokles
Petra Un­known (abandoned) no Greek founder (indigenous settlement that became Hellenised)
Piakos Metropolitan City of Catania Mendolito? no Greek founder (Sicels who became Hellenised)
Selinous Province of Trapani Marinella di Selinunte 628–627 BC Megara Hyblaea Pammilos
Sileraioi Un­known (abandoned) no Greek founder (indigenous settlement that became Hellenised)
Stielanaioi Metropolitan City of Catania? (abandoned) no Greek founder (indigenous settlement that became Hellenised)
Syrakousai Province of Syracuse Syracuse 733 BC Korinth Archias of Korinth
Tauromenion Metropolitan City of Catania Taormina 392 BC Syrakousai perhaps Dionysios I
Tyndaris Metropolitan City of Messina Tindari 396 BC Syrakousai Dionysios I
Tyrrhenoi Province of Palermo? Alimena? no Greek founder (indigenous settlement that became Hellenised)
Zankle/Messana Metropolitan City of Messina Messina c.730 Chalkis, Kyme Perieres of Kyme and Krataimenes of Chalkis

Middle AgesEdit

During the Early Middle Ages, following the disastrous Gothic War, new waves of Byzantine Christian Greeks fleeing the Slavic invasion of Peloponnese settled in Calabria, further strengthened the Hellenic element in the region.[12] 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 (965 -1071) through the Middle Ages, well after northern Italy fell to the Lombards.[13]

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), up to one-third of Sicily (concentrated in the Val Demone), and much of Calabria and Lucania were still largely Greek-speaking. Some regions of southern Italy experienced demographic shifts as Greeks began to migrate northwards in significant numbers from regions further south; one such region was Cilento, which came to have a Greek-speaking majority.[14][15][16] 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 dialect of Greek, known locally as Griko, is found in the Italian regions of Calabria and Apulia. Griko is considered by linguists 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 local romance elements. There is a rich oral tradition and Griko folklore, limited now but once numerous, to around 30,000 people, most of them having abandoned their language in favour of Italian. Some scholars, such as Gerhard Rohlfs, argue that the origins of Griko may ultimately be traced to the colonies of Magna Graecia.[17]

Modern ItalyEdit

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 immigration to southern Italy from the Greek mainland. One example is the Griko people in Calabria and Salento, 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.[18] 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.[19]

Greek nobles started taking refuge in Italy following the Fall of Constantinople in 1453.[20] Greeks immigrated once again to the region in the 16th and 17th centuries 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.[21]

Other Greeks who moved to Italy came from the Mani Peninsula of the Peloponnese. The Maniots (their name originating from the Greek word mania)[22] were known for their proud military traditions and for their bloody vendettas, many of which still continue today.[23] Another group of Maniot Greeks moved to Corsica in the 17th century under the protection of the Republic of Genoa.[24]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Henry Fanshawe Tozer (30 October 2014). A History of Ancient Geography. Cambridge University Press. p. 43. ISBN 978-1-108-07875-7.
  2. ^ Polyb. Hist. 2.39.1
  3. ^ Polybius, ii. 39.
  4. ^ A. J. Graham, "The colonial expansion of Greece", in John Boardman et al., Cambridge Ancient History, vol. III, part 3, p. 94.
  5. ^ a b Luca Cerchiai; Lorena Jannelli; Fausto Longo (2004). The Greek Cities of Magna Graecia and Sicily. Getty Publications. p. 7. ISBN 978-0-89236-751-1.
  6. ^ Strabo. "I, Section I". Geographica (in Greek). Vol. VI.
  7. ^ "MAGNA GRECIA" (in Italian). Retrieved 24 November 2021.
  8. ^ Heitland, William Emerton (1911). A Short History of the Roman Republic. The University Press. pp. 72. Roman Republic Neapolis in 327 BC.
  9. ^ Proclus Phil., In primum Euclidis elementorum librum commentarii Page 41, line 7, Πρὸς δὴ ταύταις ἡ μηχανικὴ καλουμένη τῆς περὶ τὰ αἰσθητὰ καὶ τὰ ἔνυλα πραγματείας μέρος ὑπάρχουσα, ὑπὸ δὲ ταύτην ἥ τε ὀργανοποιϊκὴ τῶν κατὰ πόλεμον ἐπιτηδείων ὀργάνων, οἷα δὴ καὶ Ἀρχιμήδης λέγεται κατασκευάσαι τῶν πολεμούντων τὴν Συράκουσαν ἀμυντικὰ ὄργανα, καὶ ἡ θαυματοποιϊκὴ τὰ μὲν διὰ πνῶν φιλοτεχνοῦσα, ὥσπερ καὶ Κτησίβιος καὶ Ἥρων πραγματεύονται, τὰ δὲ διὰ ῥοπῶν, ὧν τῆς μὲν κινήσεως τὴν ἀνισορροπίαν αἰτιατέον, τῆς δὲ στάσεως τὴν ἰσορροπίαν, ὥσπερ καὶ ὁ Τίμαιος διώρισεν, τὰ δὲ διὰ νεύρων καὶ σπάρτων ἐμψύχους ὁλκὰς καὶ κινήσεις ἀπομιμουμένων
  10. ^ Hansen & Nielsen (eds.), Inventory of Archaic and Classical Poleis, pp. 249–320.
  11. ^ Hansen & Nielsen (eds.), Inventory of Archaic and Classical Poleis, pp. 189–248.
  12. ^ "Slavs and nomadic populations in Greece". Archived from the original on 2021-06-24. Retrieved 2021-06-19.
  13. ^ Brown, T. S. (1979). "The Church of Ravenna and the Imperial Administration in the Seventh Century". The English Historical Review. 94 (370): 5. JSTOR 567155.
  14. ^ 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 Lucania 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.
  15. ^ Oldfield, Paul (2014). Sanctity and Pilgrimage in Medieval Southern Italy, 1000-1200. Cambridge University Press. p. 13. ISBN 978-1-107-00028-5. "However, the Byzantine revival of the tenth century generated a concomitant process Hellenization, while Muslim raids in southern Calabria, and instability in Sicily, may also have displaced Greek Christians further north on the mainland. Consequently, zones in northern Calabria, Lucania and central Apulia which were reintegrated into Byzantine control also experienced demographic shifts and the increasing establishment of immigrant Greek communities. These zones also acted as springboards for Greek migration further north, into regions such as the Cilento and areas around Salerno, which had never been under Byzantine control.
  16. ^ Kleinhenz, Christopher (2004). Medieval Italy: an encyclopedia, Volume 1. Routledge. pp. 444–445. ISBN 978-0-415-93930-0. ISBN 0-415-93930-5" "In Lucania (northern Calabria, Basilicata, and southernmost portion of today's Campania) ... From the late ninth century into the eleventh, Greek-speaking populations and Byzantine temporal power advanced, in stages but by no means always in tandem, out of southern Calabria and the lower Salentine peninsula across Lucania and through much of Apulia as well. By the early eleventh century, Greek settlement had radiated northward and had reached the interior of the Cilento, deep in Salernitan territory. Parts of the central and north-western Salento recovered early, came to have a Greek majority through immigration, as did parts of Lucania.
  17. ^ Rohlfs, Gerhard (1967). "Greek Remnants in Southern Italy". The Classical Journal. 62 (4): 164–9. JSTOR 3295569.
  18. ^ 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.
  19. ^ 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.
  20. ^ 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.
  21. ^ Viscardi, Giuseppe Maria (2005). Tra Europa e "Indie di quaggiù". Chiesa, religiosità e cultura popolare nel Mezzogiorno (secoli XV-XIX) (in Italian). Rome: Ed. di Storia e Letteratura. p. 361. ISBN 978-88-6372-349-6.
  22. ^ Greece. Lonely Planet. 2008. p. 204.
  23. ^ Time. Time Incorporated. 1960. p. 4.
  24. ^ Greece. Michelin Tyre. 1991. p. 142. ISBN 978-2-06-701520-3.


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External linksEdit