Magna Graecia (/ , /, US: / /; 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. 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. They also influenced the native peoples, especially the Sicilian Sicels, who became hellenised after they adopted the Greek culture as their own.
In the 8th and 7th centuries 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. 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.
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.
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).
The first Greek city to be absorbed into the Roman Republic was Neapolis in 327 BC. 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.
List of Hellenic Poleis in Italy
|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||c. 470 BC||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 Sicily
|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|
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.
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). 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.
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. 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.
Greek nobles started taking refuge in Italy following the Fall of Constantinople in 1453. Greeks returned 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. They were granted special privileges and tax exemptions.
Other Greeks who moved to Italy came from the Mani Peninsula of the Peloponnese. The Maniots (their name originating from the Greek word mania) were known for their proud military traditions and for their bloody vendettas, many of which still continue today. Another group of Maniot Greeks moved to Corsica in the 17th century under the protection of the Republic of Genoa.
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- Oriamu pisulina. Traditional Griko song performed by Ghetonia.
- Kalinifta. Traditional Griko song performed by amateur local group.
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