Greek colonization

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‘Colonization’, in the language of a former imperial power, is a somewhat misleading term for the process of major Greek expansion that took place between c.734 and 580 bc. In fact, the process itself was not so much ‘Greek’ as directed in different ways and for different reasons by a number of independent city‐states (see polis). This at least emerges with relative clarity from both the historical and the archaeological evidence.

There is little doubt about the areas first colonized and of the identity of the chief colonizing cities: Chalcis, Eretria, Corinth, Megara, Miletus, and Phocaea. Of these, the Euboean cities (Chalcis, Eretria) must rank as pioneers. Eretrian Corcyra was the first Greek colony in the Adriatic, which suggests that it was intended mainly as a way‐station on the route to the west; and the primarily Chalcidian foundation of Cumae on the bay of Naples is the most northerly as well as the earliest (before 725) Greek colony on the mainland of southern Italy—known to later historians as Magna Graecia. Cumae was a natural extension of the pre‐colonial Euboean venture at the emporion of Pithecusae, itself a result of earlier commercial experience—not least in a Levant (Al Mina) that had been aware of western resources (Sardinia) since the bronze age. Chalcidians extended their reach to eastern Sicily with the foundation of Naxos 2 in 734, soon followed by Leontini and Catana; on the straits of Messina (see messana), they were joined by Cumaeans at Zancle, and control of the vital passage was completed at Rhegium c.720. Nearer home, the Chalcidicē peninsula takes its name from the early and extensive Euboean presence on the northern shores of the Aegean. The Euboean domination of this area, motivated by land hunger rather than commerce, was not broken until c.600, when Corinth established Potidaea to trade with Macedonia. By then, Corinthians (and Corinthian pottery) had long enjoyed a substantial western presence, built on precolonial experience that had extended to expatriate ceramic production at Pithecusae. In 733, Corinth evicted the Eretrians from Corcyra and founded Syracuse, which had the best harbour in east Sicily and for long conditioned the history of nearby Megara Hyblaea, founded by Corinth's near neighbour at home, Megara—which elsewhere gained control by c.660 of the approaches to the Black (Euxine) Sea with Chalcedon and the superior site of Byzantium.

Early Euboean and Corinthian achievements in the west concentrated the attention of others, both on the west itself and on other areas as yet unopened. Of the former, the Achaeans were responsible from c.720 for Sybaris, Croton, Metapontum, and Poseidonia (i.e. Paestum). In the last decades of the 8th cent., Sparta founded its only colony by taking possession of the finest port in south Italy, Tarentum; Rhodians and Cretans (see rhodes; crete) combined to establish Gela on the south coast of Sicily in 688. By now, daughter‐foundations were a standard feature of the western scene: two of them, Selinus and Acragas, representing extensions into west Sicily by Megara Hyblaea and Gela respectively, boast temples that are no less magnificent than those of Greece itself.


Subjects: Classical Studies.

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