Ancient Greek Colonies, Trade and International Relations

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cargo ship

The Greeks traded all over the Mediterranean with metal coinage (introduced by the Lydians in Asia Minor before 700 B.C.); colonies were founded around the Mediterranean and Black Sea shores (Cumae in Italy 760 B.C., Massalia in France 600 B.C.) Metropleis (mother cities) founded colonies abroad to provide food and resources for their rising populations. In this way Greek culture was spread to a fairly wide area. ↕

Greece was resource poor and overpopulated. They needed to colonize the Mediterranean to get resources. Beginning in the 8th century B.C., the Greeks set up colonies in Sicily and southern Italy that endured for 500 years, and, many historians argue, provided the spark that ignited Greek golden age. The most intensive colonization took place in Italy although outposts were set up as far west as France and Spain and as far east as the Black Sea, where the established cities as Socrates noted like "frogs around a pond." On the European mainland, Greek warriors encountered the Gauls who the Greeks said "knew how to die, barbarians though they were." [Source: Rick Gore, National Geographic, November 1994]

During this period in history the Mediterranean Sea was frontier as challenging to the Greeks as the Atlantic was to 15th century European explorers like Columbus. Why did the Greeks head west? "They were driven in part by curiosity. Real curiosity," a British historian told National Geographic. "They wanted to know what lay on the other side of the sea." They also expanded abroad to get rich and ease tensions at home where rival city-states fought with one another over land and resources. Some Greeks became quite wealthy trading things like Etruscan metals and Black Sea grain.

Websites on Ancient Greece: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Greece ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Hellenistic World ; BBC Ancient Greeks; Canadian Museum of History; Perseus Project - Tufts University; ; ;; British Museum; Illustrated Greek History, Dr. Janice Siegel, Department of Classics, Hampden–Sydney College, Virginia ; The Greeks: Crucible of Civilization ; Oxford Classical Art Research Center: The Beazley Archive ;; Metropolitan Museum of Art; The Ancient City of Athens; The Internet Classics Archive ; Cambridge Classics External Gateway to Humanities Resources; Ancient Greek Sites on the Web from Medea ; Greek History Course from Reed; Classics FAQ MIT; 11th Brittanica: History of Ancient Greece ;Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy;Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Ancient Greek Trade

pile of Egyptian amphoras

Grain (wheat, oats and barely), olives, grapes, olive oil and wine were commonly traded goods. They were stored and transported by ships in large jug-like clay amphoras. Merchants in the Italian colonies grew wealthy by exporting wheat, oats and barley to Greece in return for pottery and bronze figurines.

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, ““Trading stations played an important role as the furthest outposts of Greek culture. Here, Greek goods, such as pottery, bronze, silver and gold vessels, olive oil, wine, and textiles, were exchanged for luxury items and exotic raw materials that were in turn worked by Greek craftsmen. The Greeks established trading enclaves within existing local communities in the Levant, such as at Al Mina. In the Nile Delta, the port town of Naukratis served as a commercial headquarters for Greek traders in Egypt. \^/

“Likewise, well-established maritime trade routes around the Mediterranean basin enabled foreigners to travel to Greece. In the seventh century B.C., contacts with itinerant eastern craftsmen, notably on Crete and Cyprus, inspired Greek artists to work in techniques as diverse as gem cutting, ivory carving, jewelry making, and metalworking. After the unprecedented military campaign of Alexander the Great (r. 336–323 B.C.), more extensive trade routes were opened across Asia, extending as far as Afghanistan and the Indus River Valley. These new trade routes introduced Greek art to cultures in the East, and also exposed Greek artists to a host of artistic styles and techniques, as well as precious stones.

Garnets, emeralds, rubies, and amethysts were incorporated into new types of Hellenistic jewelry, more stunning than ever before. In the ensuing centuries, the Greeks continued to live in these eastern regions, but always maintained contact with the Greek mainland. East Greek artists also emigrated to Etruria, where they settled at Caere, an Etruscan city on the Italian coast. \^/

“As a predominant naval force in the latter part of the sixth and fifth centuries B.C., Athens exerted its influence over sea trade. Athenian pottery was widely exported, especially to Etruria and to the colonies in southern Italy, where it inspired local imitations. In the Hellenistic period, Syracuse dominated much of Sicily, and local artistic styles flourished. Particularly ornate sculptural and painted vases were produced at Centuripe.

By this time, Syracuse as a cosmopolitan city rivaled any other in the Greek world. It boasted major temples, as well as civic buildings and monuments. In fact, the theater at Syracuse—one of the largest ever built in antiquity—continues to be a celebrated destination for dramatic performances. In 272 B.C., the Romans conquered Magna Graecia, and Sicily came under Roman rule when Syracuse fell to Rome in 212 B.C. As a result, the newly conquered western Greek colonies played an important role as the transmitters of Greek culture to the Romans and the rest of the Italian peninsula.” \^/

Trade Between Ancient Greek and Phoenicians

Before the Ancient Greeks became a significant economic power, trade in the Mediterranean was dominated by the Phoenicians. On the relationship between the Greeks and Phoenicians, Herodotus wrote in “Histories,” Book I, '1-2 (480 B.C.): “The Phoenicians, who had formerly dwelt on the shores of the Persian Gulf, having migrated to the Mediterranean and settled in the parts which they now inhabit, began at once, they say, to adventure on long voyages, freighting their vessels with the wares of Egypt and Assyria. They landed at many places on the coast, and among the rest at Argos, which was then pre-eminent above all the states included now under the common name of Hellas. [Source: Source: Herodotus, “Histories”, translated by George Rawlinson, New York: Dutton & Co., 1862]

Greek colonies in red; Phoenician colonies in yellow

“Here they exposed their merchandise, and traded with the natives for five or six days; at the end of this time, when almost everything was sold, there came down to the beach a number of women, and among them the daughter of the king, who was, they say, agreeing in this with the Hellenes, Io, the child of Inachus. The women were standing by the stern of the ship intent upon their purchases, when the Phoenicians, with a general shout, rushed upon them. The greater part made their escape, but some were seized and carried off. Io herself was among the captives.

The Phoenicians put the women on board their vessel, and set sail for Egypt. Thus did Io pass into Egypt, and thus commenced the series of outrages. . . .At a later period, certain Greeks, with whose name they are unacquainted, but who would probably be Cretans, made a landing at Tyre, on the Phoenician coast, and bore off the king's daughter, Europa. In this they only retaliated. The Cretans say that it was not them who did this act, but, rather, Zeus, enamored of the fair Europa, who disguised himself as a bull, gained the maiden's affections, and thence carried her off to Crete, where she bore three sons by Zeus: Sarpedon, Rhadamanthys, and Minos, later king of all Crete.”

In “Histories” Book V, '57-59, Herodotus wrote: “Now the Gephyraean clan, claim to have come at first from Eretria, but my own enquiry shows that they were among the Phoenicians who came with Cadmus to the country now called Boeotia. In that country the lands of Tanagra were allotted to them, and this is where they settled. The Cadmeans had first been expelled from there by the Argives, and these Gephyraeans were forced to go to Athens after being expelled in turn by the Boeotians. The Athenians received them as citizens of their own on set terms. These Phoenicians who came with Cadmus and of whom the Gephyraeans were a part brought with them to Hellas, among many other kinds of learning, the alphabet, which had been unknown before this, I think, to the Greeks.

As time went on the sound and the form of the letters were changed. At this time the Greeks who were settled around them were for the most part Ionians, and after being taught the letters by the Phoenicians, they used them with a few changes of form. In so doing, they gave to these characters the name of Phoenician. I have myself seen Cadmean writing in the temple of Ismenian Apollo at Boeotian Thebes engraved on certain tripods and for the most part looking like Ionian letters.

Phoenician trade

Trade Routes between Europe and Asia during Antiquity

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “New inventions, religious beliefs, artistic styles, languages, and social customs, as well as goods and raw materials, were transmitted by people moving from one place to another to conduct business. [Source: Department of Ancient Near Eastern Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2000 \^/]

“Long-distance trade played a major role in the cultural, religious, and artistic exchanges that took place between the major centers of civilization in Europe and Asia during antiquity. Some of these trade routes had been in use for centuries, but by the beginning of the first century A.D., merchants, diplomats, and travelers could (in theory) cross the ancient world from Britain and Spain in the west to China and Japan in the east. The trade routes served principally to transfer raw materials, foodstuffs, and luxury goods from areas with surpluses to others where they were in short supply. Some areas had a monopoly on certain materials or goods. China, for example, supplied West Asia and the Mediterranean world with silk, while spices were obtained principally from South Asia. These goods were transported over vast distances— either by pack animals overland or by seagoing ships—along the Silk and Spice Routes, which were the main arteries of contact between the various ancient empires of the Old World. Another important trade route, known as the Incense Route, was controlled by the Arabs, who brought frankincense and myrrh by camel caravan from South Arabia. \^/

“Cities along these trade routes grew rich providing services to merchants and acting as international marketplaces. Some, like Palmyra and Petra on the fringes of the Syrian Desert, flourished mainly as centers of trade supplying merchant caravans and policing the trade routes. They also became cultural and artistic centers, where peoples of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds could meet and intermingle. \^/

“The trade routes were the communications highways of the ancient world. New inventions, religious beliefs, artistic styles, languages, and social customs, as well as goods and raw materials, were transmitted by people moving from one place to another to conduct business. These connections are reflected, for example, in the sculptural styles of Gandhara (modern-day Pakistan and northern India) and Gaul (modern-day France), both influenced by the Hellenistic styles popularized by the Romans. \^/


Large Merchant Ships

At the Antikythera shipwreck large hull planks were found Jacques Cousteau in the 1960s. Jo Marchant wrote in Smithsonian Magazine: “At four inches thick, they rival those of 19th-century warships and are bigger than planks from the largest ships discovered from antiquity—including two 230-foot floating palaces sunk in Lake Nemi, Italy, built for the Roman emperor Caligula in the first century A.D. [Source: Jo Marchant, Smithsonian Magazine, February 2015]

“If the ship is as large as the hull planks and anchors suggest, Foley speculates, it might be a grain carrier, either repurposed to carry a luxury cargo or transporting treasures along with what was most likely primarily wheat. These grain carriers were the biggest seagoing vessels in antiquity. Not one has been found, but ancient writers described how these oversized freighters traveled from Alexandria to Rome.

“In the second century A.D., the Roman satirist Lucian described one such vessel, Isis, when it pulled in at Athens. Even larger was the Syracusia, reportedly built by Archimedes in the third century B.C. It carried grain, wool and pickled fish, and was equipped with flowerbeds, stables and a library. The cargo list of the maiden voyage, from Syracuse in Sicily to Alexandria, suggests it carried almost 2,000 tons. Finding one of these giants “has been one of the holy grails for archaeologists for generations,” Foley says. He can’t resist describing the Antikythera to journalists as “the Titanic of the ancient world.”“

Cyprus Shipwreck Yields Clues on the Ancient Greek Wine Trade

The examination of a Mediterranean shipwreck from the 4th century B.C. discovered in 2006 on the seafloor south of the island of Cyprus has yielded information on ancient sea routes and trade, researchers say. The remains of a merchant vessel was full of amphoras that probably had been filled with wine. The findings were described in a paper in the December 2010 issue of the International Journal of Nautical Archaeology. [Source: By Clara Moskowitz,, Ancientfoods, November 5, 2010]

Clara Moskowitz wrote for “The particularly well-preserved remains, especially the amphoras, which were oval, narrow-necked vases, reveal many clues about the ship’s story, the research team says in a new paper. “We know by having studied a lot of these ceramic containers — we have created catalogs with different shapes — we know where they come from and where they date,” said Stella Demesticha, a professor of maritime archaeology at the University of Cyprus, who is leading the shipwreck research team.

Roman tablet showing the transport of amphorae

The amphoras found at this site, she said, are very typical of those made on the Greek island of Chios in the Aegean Sea. “We know the red wine from Chios was praised,” Demesticha told LiveScience. “It was very good quality, very expensive.” A large collection of olive pits was also discovered at the shipwreck site. The scientists don’t know whether the olives were packed as a source of food for sailors or were a commodity to be sold.

“There’s a lot to learn from this wreck,” Demesticha said. “We know that wine commerce was flourishing in antiquity. But because we haven’t excavated many shipwrecks, we don’t know many details about how exactly this was happening.” For example, she said, researchers would like to know how cargo was stowed on ships, as well as how trade deals were brokered and how many transactions took place, particularly between people from the Aegean (between Greece and Turkey) and the rest of the Mediterranean, including Cyprus. “By studying the cargo of the ship, we’re going to find more details about contacts between the two areas in that period,” Demesticha said.

DNA Analysis Shows that Ancient Greek Ships Carried Many Kind of Foods

DNA analysis of ancient storage jars found in ancient Greek shipwrecks suggests that the Greeks traded a wide variety of foods — not just wine, olive oil and grain as was previously assumed. The study — by archaeologist Brendan Foley of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in Massachusetts and geneticist Maria Hansson of Lund University, Sweden, published in the Journal of Archaeological Science — found evidence of vegetables, herbs and nuts in nine amphorae — the storage containers of the ancient world — taken from Mediterranean shipwrecks dating from the fifth to the third centuries B.C. [Source: Jo Marchant,, October 14, 2011]

Jo Marchant wrote in “The researchers found grape DNA — as would be expected for containers of wine — in only five of the nine jars, and olive DNA, possibly from olive oil, in six of them. Other ‘hits’ included DNA from legumes, ginger, walnut and juniper and from herbs such as mint, thyme and oregano.

amphorae from the Kyrenia shipwreck

Amphorae have been found in their thousands in wrecks all over the Mediterranean Sea. Some of them contain residues of food, such as olive pits and fish bones, but the vast majority of them are discovered empty and unmarked. Foley says historians tend to assume that these containers were used mainly to transport wine — in a survey of 27 peer-reviewed studies describing 5,860 amphorae, he found that 95 percent of the jars were described as having carried the beverage.”

Foley and Hansson “gained permission from Greek authorities to test amphorae that had been held in storerooms in Athens since their retrieval as many as 20 years ago... The tests were successful, possibly because the jars had been kept in the dark, protecting the DNA from the damaging effects of sunlight. The range of ingredients found in each jar suggests that amphorae were commonly reused, and that they may have contained more complex foodstuffs than previously imagined, incorporating herbal flavourings or preservatives.

Mark Lawall, a specialist in ancient Mediterranean trade at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, says that historians have been quick to make assumptions about how the jars were used. “They just restated the common opinion without any thought,” he says. He says the team’s results fit with other archaeological and written evidence suggesting wine, oil and honey were traded, as well as fruit, fish, meat and resin. He says the DNA approach offers “great promise for advances in terms of analysing amphora contents from archaeologically documented wrecks”, where DNA data can be combined with other sources of information about a ship and its contents.”

Ancient Greek Shipwrecks and Underwater Treasures

In July, 1992, a recreational diver checking out a starfish in 50-foot-deep water near the Adriatic port of Brindisi, Italy noticed some greenish toes sticking out of the sand. His first though was that it was the foot of a copse dumped by gangsters. "Not here too!" he later told National Geographic. "I brushed the first three toes with my hand. They were rough and hard. I knew the foot was not human." [Source: National Geographic, April 1995]

The diver, a “ carabinieri” commander named Luigi Robusto, had discovered pieces of bronze sculptures, possibly dumped by sailors to lighten their load during a storm. The diversity of the objects and their ages—ranging from the 4th century B.C. to the 3rd century A.D.—has led archaeologists to believe that the pieces possibly were going to be melted down and made into new sculptures. Archaeologist Francesco Nicosia told National Geographic, "This discovery is the first tangible proof of commerce in the recycling of ancient bronzes."

Kyrenia shipwereck

The Antikythera shipwreck found off the island of Antikythera in 1900 by sponge divers is one of the most famous Ancient Greek shipwrecks. The immense size of the hull planks and anchors suggests the ship was a grain carrier, the only one found from antiquity. But even more amazing were its contents—Greek statues, glassware, jewelry and the sophisticated device called Antikythera Mechanism, a sophisticated 2nd century B.C. gadget described as an ancient Greek computer. According to Smithsonian magazine: “Studies of the ship and its contents have since concluded that this was a Roman vessel that sailed between 70 and 60 B.C., carrying Greek treasures—some of which were centuries old when the ship sank—from the eastern Mediterranean westward. At this time, the Romans were gradually taking over the entire region, and they shipped boatloads of Greek artwork, including paintings, mosaics and sculptures, back home to decorate their luxury villas. For archaeologists today, the wreck is a time capsule, a single moment of history preserved. Like the tomb of an ancient pharaoh, it offers a unique window into a long-lost world.” [Source: Jo Marchant, Smithsonian Magazine, February 2015]

Hundreds of ancient cargo ships have been excavated but only a handful with interesting items like those from Antikythera have been found: a load of marble columns and sculptures from a wreck near Mahdia, Tunisia; a bronze statue of Zeus in the act of throwing a thunderbolt, found off Greece’s Cape Artemision; ebony, ivory and ostrich eggs from a late Bronze Age ship that sank off Turkey’s Cape Gelidonya.

It is believed there are thousands of sunken ships, with untold treasures, are still out waiting to be discovered. In 2007, a new law intended to lure more tourists, opened most of Greece’s 15,000-kilometers of coastline to scuba divers, except for about 100 known archaeological sites. Archaeologists worry about the new law will attract looters and tempt divers to grab whatever artifacts they can find, Already some tour companies have run advertisements luring divers with promises of ancient artifacts. One has an ad that says: “Scuba diving in Greece is permitted everywhere...Ideal for today’s treasure hunter. ” An official at the Greek Culture Ministry said that metal detectors and bathyspheres allow treasure hunter to find objects with relative ease in the Aegean and Adriatic.

Greek Shipwreck from 350 B.C.

reconstruction of the Kyrenia oikas from the 4th century BC

In 2006, it was announced the remains of an ancient Greek cargo ship that sank around 350 B.C. had been uncovered by a deep-sea robot. The ship was carrying hundreds of ceramic jars of wine and olive oil and went down off Chios and the Oinoussai islands in the eastern Aegean Sea. Archeologists speculate that a fire or rough weather may have sunk the ship. The wreckage was found submerged in 60-meter (200-feet) deep water. The wreck is "like a buried UPS truck," said David Mindell of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). "It provides a wealth of information that helps us figure out networks based on the contents of the truck." [Source: Ker Than, Live Science, February 2, 2006]

Ker Than wrote in Live Science: “The shipwreck was located using sonar scans performed by the Greek Ministry of Culture in 2004. In July of 2005, researchers returned to the site with the underwater robot, called SeaBed. The robot scanned the shipwreck and scattered cargo and created a topographical sonar map of the region. It also took more than 7,500 images over of the site over the course of four dives. The researchers have assembled those images into a mosaic.

“The study of the Chios shipwreck is part of a 10-year project that aims to examine ancient trade in the Mediterranean during the Bronze age (2500-1200 B.C.). In particular, the project will focus on the Minoan and Mycenaean cultures and their trading partners. The investigating team also includes researchers from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI), the Greek Ministry of Culture and the Hellenic Centre for Marine Research (HCMR).

Ancient Greek Colonies

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, “Ancient Greek colonization began at an early date, during the so-called Geometric period of about 900 to 700 B.C., when many seminal elements of ancient Greek society were also established, such as city-states, major sanctuaries, and the Panhellenic festivals. The Greek alphabet, inspired by the writing of the Phoenician sea traders, was developed and spread at this time. [Source: Collete Hemingway, Independent Scholar, Seán Hemingway, Department of Greek and Roman Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, July 2007, \^/]

“Greece is a country surrounded by water and the sea has always played an important role in its history. The ancient Greeks were active seafarers seeking opportunities for trade and founding new independent cities at coastal sites across the Mediterranean Sea. By the seventh and sixth centuries B.C., Greek colonies and settlements stretched all the way from western Asia Minor to southern Italy, Sicily, North Africa, and even to the coasts of southern France and Spain. Regional schools of artists exhibited a rich variety of styles and preferences at this time. The major Ionian cities along the coast of Asia Minor prospered. They cultivated relationships with other affluent centers like Sardis in Lydia, which was ruled by the legendary King Croesus in the sixth century B.C. Indeed, by this time, the eastern Greeks controlled much of the Aegean Sea and had established independent cities to the north along the Black Sea. This region, in particular, opened up further trade connections to the north that gave access to valuable raw materials, such as gold.” \^/

John Porter of the University of Saskatchewan wrote: “In order to head off revolution and the rise of a tyrannos, various poleis began to adopt measures designed to ease the social and economic hardships exploited by the tyrannoi in their bid for power. One measure that became increasingly popular, beginning c. 750-725, was the use of colonization. A polis (or a group of poleis) would send out colonists to found a new polis. The colony thus founded would have strong religious and emotional ties to its mother city, but was an independent political entity. This practice served a variety of purposes. First, it eased the pressure of overpopulation. Second, it provided a means of removing the politically or financially disaffected, who could hope for a better lot in their new home. It also provided useful trading outposts, securing important sources of raw materials and various economic opportunities. Finally, colonization opened up the world to the Greeks, introducing them to other peoples and cultures and giving them a new sense of those traditions that bound them to one another, for all of their apparent differences. [Source: John Porter, “Archaic Age and the Rise of the Polis”, University of Saskatchewan. Last modified November 2009 *]

Places Colonized by the Ancient Greeks

Greek colonies were founded around the Mediterranean and Black Sea shores (Cumae in Italy 760 B.C., Massalia in France 600 B.C.) Metropleis (mother cities) founded colonies abroad to provide food and resources for their rising populations. In this way Greek culture was spread to a fairly wide area. ↕

John Porter of the University of Saskatchewan wrote: “The principal areas of colonization were: (1) southern Italy and Sicily; (2) the Black Sea region. Many of the poleis involved in these early efforts at colonization were cities that, in the classical period, were relatively obscure — an indication of just how drastically the economic and political changes entailed in the transition from Dark Age to Archaic Greece affected the fortunes of the various poleis. *\ [Source: John Porter, “Archaic Age and the Rise of the Polis”, University of Saskatchewan. Last modified November 2009 *]

Ancient Greece and its colonies in 550 BC

“The Black Sea Region. Numerous colonies were established as well along the shores of the Sea of Marmara (where colonization was particularly dense) and the southern and western shores of the Black Sea. The main colonizers were Megara, Miletus, and Chalcis. The most important colony (and one of the earliest) was that of Byzantium (modern Istanbul, founded in 660). Greek myth preserves a number of tales concerning this region (perhaps the distant echoes of stories told by the earliest Greeks to explore the area) in the legend of Jason and the Argonauts, who sail to Colchis (on the far eastern shores of the Black Sea) in search of the Golden Fleece. The adventures of Jason came to be celebrated in epic quite early: several of Odysseus' adventures in the Odyssey seem to be based on tales originally told of Jason.” *\

Magna Graecia: Greek Colonies in Italy

The Greek city states set up a number of colonies in Italy, known then as Magan Graecia (Great Greece), on the site of established town. The first known Greek settlement was established on Pithekoussai, an island off of present-day Naples, in 770 B.C. A few years later colonies were established in Sicily and southern Italy. Many of the early settlers were poor farmers looking for a better life the same way immigrants from Europe came to America in the 19th century to seek their fortune.

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, “The Greek colonies in Sicily and southern Italy, a region known as Magna Graecia, comprised politically independent entities that maintained religious ties and trade links with their mother cities. Up until the mid-sixth century B.C., Corinth dominated trade in the West. For the most part, it exported Corinthian vases, which were often filled with olive oil, in return for grain. Some city-states, such as Syracuse and Selinus in Sicily, erected major temples that rivaled those in the eastern part of Greece. Unlike the Aegean islands and mainland Greece, where marble was plentiful, Sicily and southern Italy had few local sources of high-quality marble. Thus, the artists in Magna Graecia established a strong tradition of working with terracotta and limestone. Many of the colonies in the West minted their own silver coins with distinctive designs and emblems.” [Source: Collete Hemingway, Independent Scholar, Seán Hemingway, Department of Greek and Roman Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, July 2007]

Two important concepts in the development of mankind — democracy and the construction of cities in a grid pattern — are believed to have evolved in the Greek colonies in Italy. Archimedes and Pythagoras came from Italy and many of the great Greek philosophers that preceded Socrates, were also from the west. The Sicilian city state of Syracuse crushed an invasion from Athens in 413 B.C.

John Porter of the University of Saskatchewan wrote: The fertile resources of Southern Italy and Sicily “attracted intensive colonization, beginning c. the third quarter of the 8th century with the foundation of Cyme (near Naples), a colony of Chalcis, Eretria, and Cyme — neighboring poleis on the island of Euboea. [Originally the colonists settled on the island of Pithecusae, just off the coast of Cyme. They later established the settlements that were to become Puteoli and Naples (originally: "Neapolis" — the "New City").] Colonization in the following years led to the area of southern Italy and eastern Sicily becoming, in effect, an extension of Greece itself, which it was to remain until the rise of Rome in the 3rd and 2nd centuries B.C. [Source: John Porter, “Archaic Age and the Rise of the Polis”, University of Saskatchewan. Last modified November 2009 ]

“Thus this region came to be known (in Latin) as Magna Graecia or "Great Greece," rather as we today speak of the "greater metropolitan" area of a major city. Settlement was limited by the other two great powers in the region: Carthage (which controlled western Sicily, Sardinia, and the coastal regions of Spain and Africa) and the Etruscans (who dominated northern Italy: today we still refer to the body of water off the west coast of Italy as the Tyrrhenian Sea, "Tyrrhenian" being the Greek for "Etruscan"). The other important Greek settlements in the region were: a) Syracuse (founded by Corinth and for many years one of the most powerful cities in the region), b) Corcyra (another colony of Corinth, off the northwest coast of Greece — a strategic settlement given the nature of Greek shipping [which tended to hug the coast rather than risk the open sea] since Corcyra provided the perfect jumping off point for sailors heading to Italy), c) Sybaris (on the west coast of Italy at the narrowest point of the Italian peninsula, where it controlled the most direct east-west land route through Italy; Sybaris was noted for its wild ways [rather like some towns of the Old West in the United States], to the degree that the adjective "sybaritic" today still denotes a wildly luxuriant and profligate lifestyle), and d) Massilia (modern Marseilles, a colony of Phocis). *\

“The colonies in Magna Graecia played a crucial role in the development of western culture. Through the close contacts between these colonies, on the one hand, and the local Italian populations, the Etruscans and, later, the Romans, on the other, Greek culture (its myths, religious views, alphabet, literary and philosophical traditions, art) came to pervade Italy, leaving a profound imprint on Roman culture and, through the Romans, on the West. (Thus, to pick just one example, Roman mythology is largely Greek mythology in another guise.) In fact, our word "Greek" itself derives from the Romans. The Greeks of the classical period (like Greeks today) referred to themselves as Hellenes (after their name for their homeland, *Hellas). However, a contingent of the colonists at Cyme came from an obscure place known as Graia (an area near Tanagra, just opposite Chalcis and Eretria on the Greek mainland). Somehow the local Italian populations came to refer to the settlers at Cyme as Graii, later transformed into the Latin form Graeci, whence modern English "Greek."” *\

Important Greek Colonies in Italy

The two greatest Greek colonies in Italy were probably Syracuse and Sybaris. "Magna Graecia and Sicily became the Texas of the Greek world," one historian wrote. "Everything was bigger, bolder. It was a grand experiment." Sicily was known as "Sicily the rich" and "the pride of the blossoming earth." In 443 B.C., Pericles — the great leader of Athens — founded the colony of Thurii on the instep of Italy's boot following advise from the oracle of Delphi. For political reasons he asked other city states to join him and called it a Panhellenic colony.

Paestum — south of Salerno in southern Italy — is one of the most impressive set of Greek ruins in the world. The "Temple of Poseidon" looks like a smaller version of the Parthenon (built around the same time) in Athens on steroids. Built about 100 years before is the equally impressive "Basilica." It lacks a roof but it has massive columns that bulge at the bottom. It is long and looks more "elastic." Other ruins include the Temple of Cerese (a 2500-year-old temple later turned into a church), the Roman forum, the gymnasium, the Roman amphitheater, the 2,600-year-old basilica, a museum with paintings and pottery taken from Paestum tombs. Make sure to check out the famous Tomb of the Diver. There is a private beach about a mile and a half from the Paestum.

On Sicily the Greeks established numerous colonies and left behind monumental temples and theaters which draw large numbers of tourists today. Eastern Sicily is said to have been the inspiration for the myth of Persephone and the seasons. Morgantina (near Armerina) is a Greek city on Sicily that was colonized in the 6th century B.C. and sacked by the Romans in the 3rd century B.C. has produced some of the most spectacular archaeological and looted discoveries made in recant years. Before the Roman invaded, the Greeks buried their wealth. Other Ancient Sites include the Greek ruins of Gela, Agrigento and Selinunte.

Syracuse (in the southeastern corner of Sicily) was almost as powerful as Athens during the golden age of Greece. During Hellenistic times, Syracuse along with Athens and Alexandria were the greatest centers of Greek culture. The city is closely associated with Archimedes. Syracuse's harbor was one of the best in the Mediterranean. An attack by the Sicilian city state against Athens led to the fall of the ancient Greece's most famous city. Although the Syracuse invasion was unsuccessful it crushed Athens' sea defenses, allowing the Spartan's to sack Athens a few years later.

Ancient Greeks in Spain

Emporion (Empúries) on the Catalan coast of Spain is the westernmost ancient Greek colony documented in the Mediterranean. Stella Tsolakidou wrote in the Greek Reporter: “Empúries, formerly known by its Spanish name Ampurias, was a town on the Mediterranean coast of the Catalan comarca of Alt Empordà in Catalonia, Spain. It was founded in 575 BC by Greek colonists from Phocaea with the name of Emporion, meaning “market”. It was later occupied by the Romans, but in the Early Middle Ages, when its exposed coastal position left it open to marauders, the town was abandoned. The ruins are midway between the Costa Brava town of L’Escala and the tiny village of Sant Martí. [Source: Stella Tsolakidou, Greek Reporter, March 29, 2012 /*]

“Empúries was founded on a small island at the mouth of the river Fluvià, in a region inhabited by the Indigetes. This city came to be known as the Palaiapolis, the “old city” when, around 550 BC, the inhabitants moved to the mainland, creating the Neapolis, the “new city”. After the conquest of Phocaea by the Persian king Cyrus II in 530 BC, the new city’s population increased considerably through the influx of refugees. In the face of strong pressure from Carthage, the city managed to retain its independent Hellenic character. Political and commercial agreements were concluded with the indigenous population long settled in the nearby city of Indika. Situated as it was on the coastal commercial route between Massalia (Marseilles) and Tartessos in the far south of Hispania, the city developed into a large economic and commercial centre, as well as being the largest Greek colony in the Iberian Peninsula./\ “During the Punic Wars, Empúries allied itself with Rome, and Publius Cornelius Scipio initiated the conquest of Hispania from this city in 218 BC. After the conquest of Hispania by the Romans, Empúries remained an independent city-state. However, in the civil war between Pompey and Julius Caesar, it opted for Pompey, and after his defeat it was stripped of its autonomy. A colonia of Roman veterans, named Emporiae, was established near Indika to control the region. /\

“The first excavations at Emporion began in 1908. Now it is a tourist site, welcoming around 200,000 tourists and 35,000 students a year, mostly from Spain and neighboring France. The is looked after and promoted by the Iberia Graeca centre, which is affiliated with the Spanish Ministry of Culture, through its National Archaeological Museum, and the Ministry of Culture of the Generalitat of Catalonia, and through its Archaeological Museum of Catalonia, with the collaboration of l’Escala Town Council (Girona). /*\

Greek Colonies in Cyrene (Libya)

“Herodotus wrote in “Histories”, “Book IV (c. 430 B.C.) “Grinus (they say), the son of Aesanius, a descendant of Theras, and king of the island of Thera, went to Delphi to offer a hecatomb on behalf of his native city. On Grinus consulting the oracle about sundry matters, the Pythoness gave him for answer, "that he should found a city in Libya." When the embassy returned to Thera, small account was taken of the oracle, as the Therans were quite ignorant where Libya was. [Source: Herodotus, “Histories”, Book IV,''150-151, 153, 156-159 translated by George Rawlinson, New York: Dutton & Co., 1862]

Greek colonies in 431 BC

“Seven years passed from the utterance of the oracle, and not a drop of rain fell in Thera: all the trees in the island, except one, were killed with the drought. After a while, everything began to go wrong. Ignorant of the cause of their sufferings, they again sent to Delphi to inquire for what reason they were afflicted. The Pythoness in reply reminded them reproachfully "that if they and Battus would make a settlement at Cyrene in Libya, things would go better with them." So, as there was no help for it, they sent messengers to Crete, to inquire whether any of the Cretans, or of the strangers living amongst them, had ever travelled as far as Libya: and these messengers fell in with a man named Corobius, a dealer in purple dye. In answer to their inquiries, he told them that contrary winds had once carried him to Libya, where he had gone ashore on a certain island which was named Platea. So they hired this man's services, and took him back with them to Thera. A few persons then sailed from Thera to reconnoiter. Guided by Corobius to the island of Platea, they left him there with provisions for a certain number of months, and returned home with all speed to give their countrymen an account of the island.

“The Therans who had left Corobius at Platea, when they reached Thera, told their countrymen that they had colonized an island on the coast of Libya. They of Thera, upon this, resolved that men should be sent to join the colony from each of their seven districts, and that the brothers in every family should draw lots to determine who were to go. Upon this the Therans sent out Battus with two penteconters, and with these he proceeded to Libya; but within a little time, not knowing what else to do, the men returned and arrived back off Thera. The Therans, when they saw the vessels approaching, received them with showers of missiles, would not allow them to come near the shore, and ordered the men to sail back from whence they came. Thus compelled, they settled on Platea.

“In this place they continued two years, but at the end of that time, as their ill luck still followed them, they went in a body to Delphi, where they made complaint at the shrine to the effect that they prospered as poorly as before. Hereon the Pythoness made them the following answer: "Know you better than I, fair Libya abounding in fleeces? Better the stranger than he who has trod it? Oh! Clever Therans!" Battus and his friends, when they heard this, sailed back to Platea: it was plain the god would not hold them acquitted of the colony until they were absolutely in Libya. So they made a settlement on the mainland directly opposite Platea, fixing themselves at a place called Aziris.

“Here they remained six years, at the end of which time the Libyans induced them to move, promising that they would lead them to a better situation. So the Greeks left Aziris and were conducted by the Libyans towards the west, their journey being so arranged, by the calculation of their guides, that they passed in the night the most beautiful district of that whole country, which is the region called Irasa. The Libyans brought them to a spring, which goes by the name of Apollo's Fountain, and told them, "Here, Hellenes, is the proper place for you to settle; for here the sky leaks."

“During the lifetime of Battus, the founder of the colony, who reigned forty years, and during that of his son Arcesilaus, who reigned sixteen, the Cyreneans continued at the same level, neither more nor fewer in number than they were at the first. But in the reign of the third king, Battus, surnamed the Happy, the advice of the Pythoness brought Greeks from every quarter into Libya, to join the settlement. Thus a great multitude were collected together to Cyrene, and the Libyans of the neighborhood found themselves stripped of large portions of their lands.

Strabo wrote in “Geographia” (c. A.D. 20): “Cyrene was founded by the inhabitants of Thera, a Lacedaemonian island which was formerly called Calliste, as Callimachus says: Calliste once its name, but Thera in later times, the mother of my home, famed for its steeds. The harbor of Cyrene is situated opposite to Criu-Metopon, the western cape of Crete, distant 2000 stadia. The passage is made with a south-southwest wind. Cyrene is said to have been founded by Battus, whom Callimachus claims to have been his ancestor. The city flourished from the excellence of the soil, which is peculiarly adapted for breeding horses, and the growth of fine crops. [Source: Strabo, “Geographia”, Fred Morrow Fling, ed., “A Source Book of Greek History,” Heath, 1907, pp. 38-39]

Greek colones on the Black Sea

Black Sea Colonization by the Ancient Greeks

Colchis, the destination of Jason and the Argonauts, is said to have been on the Black Sea in present-day Georgia There is little archeological evidence to support the existence of Colchis and Greeks in the region in the 13th century B.C., when the story is said to have taken place, but there is evidence of Greeks in Colchis from the mid 6th century B.C. onward. Some historians and archeologist believe the Argonauts myth reflects the earliest Greek explorations even though there is no physical evidence that the Greeks were exploring the Black Sea in 13th century B.C.

Igor V. Bondyrev, a Georgian geographer, wrote: Different ancient Greek city-states began exploring and settling the coastal areas of Black Sea region (Pontus) because of its accessibility by water, it abundant of natural resources as well as the political and ecological situations in Greece itself. The first documented Greek voyages to the north of Greece were around the 11th and 10th centuries B.C. Over time there information on region’s resources and the most suitable sailing routes were established [Source: Igor V. Bondyrev, Vakhushti Bagrationi Institute of Geography, Georgian Academy of Sciences, Tbilisi, Georgia, July 24, 2004]

By the middle of the 8th century B.C., Greeks had penetrated the Bosporus and founded three main colonies: on the south-west coast: Appolonya in the south, Sinopa and Heraklya. At the end of 8th century B.C. to the east of Pontus, another colony, Apsar (modern Gonio), appeared. Milesians — from Miletus, an ancient Greek city on the western coast of Anatolia — played a primary role in the colonization of western coasts of the Black Sea in 8th and 7th centuries B.C. They founded Fasis and Amis on eastern coasts (close to modern Samsun). Athenians founded Guenes and Dioskurya. In the 5th century B.C. a second period of colonization took place and relatively powerful city-colonies were established at Herakleya, Vizantya, Kolkhidon and Sinopa. Bondyrev believes that one reason the colonization of the Black Sea region took place is that the Greeks city states had exhausted their wood supplies to build huge numbers of ships to carry out military campaigns and trade, and needed new supplies of wood which the forests of the Blask Sea region provided.

The Greek colonization of the Black Sea took place in western and eastern directions in part because of .water currents, river run-off patters, prevailing wind directions and the influence of the mountains and topography framing the Black Sea. When Greeks were colonizing the region the sea level was lower than it is now and the climate was more humid. It is said that ancient seafarers were engaged mainly in coastal sailing (Odyssey). However the analysis of paleohydrology and paleoclimate of the Black Sea, knowledge of the business relations of the cities of the Black Sea (Peripl Arrianna) showed that they sailed in the open sea as well. The most suitable route for sailing to the northwest and north coasts of Pontus was via a route through the centre of west ring of currents or its east arc, allowing ships to reach ports of north Pontus in a short period of time (1,5- 2.5 day). The most suitable route for sailing towards Kolkhida coasts was the route along the south coast which took approximately the same time.

Greek colonies in the north Black Sea

Africans and Ancient Greeks

Tales of Ethiopia as a mythical land at the farthest edges of the earth are recorded in some of the earliest Greek literature of the eighth century B.C., including the epic poems of Homer. Greek gods and heroes, like Menelaos, were believed to have visited this place on the fringes of the known world. However, long before Homer, the seafaring civilization of Bronze Age Crete, known today as Minoan, established trade connections with Egypt. The Minoans may have first come into contact with Africans at Thebes, during the periodic bearing of tribute to the pharaoh. In fact, paintings in the tomb of Rekhmire, dated to the fourteenth century B.C., depict African and Aegean peoples, most likely Nubians and Minoans. However, with the collapse of the Minoan and Mycenaean palaces at the end of the Late Bronze Age, trade connections with Egypt and the Near East were severed as Greece entered a period of impoverishment and limited contact. [Source: Sean Hemingway, Department of Greek and Roman Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Colette Hemingway, Independent Scholar, Metropolitan Museum of Art, January 2008, \^/]

“During the eighth and seventh centuries B.C., the Greeks renewed contacts with the northern periphery of Africa. They established settlements and trading posts along the Nile River and at Cyrene on the northern coast of Africa. Already at Naukratis, the earliest and most important of the trading posts in Africa, Greeks were certainly in contact with Africans. It is likely that images of Africans, if not Africans themselves, began to reappear in the Aegean. In the seventh and early sixth centuries B.C., Greek mercenaries from Ionia and Caria served under the Egyptian pharaohs Psametikus I and II. \^/

“All black Africans were known as Ethiopians to the ancient Greeks, as the fifth-century B.C. historian Herodotus tells us, and their iconography was narrowly defined by Greek artists in the Archaic (ca. 700–480 B.C.) and Classical (ca. 480–323 B.C.) periods, black skin color being the primary identifying physical characteristic. It is recorded that Ethiopians were among King Xerxes' troops when Persia invaded Greece in 480 B.C. Thus, the Greeks would have come into contact with large numbers of Africans at this time. Nonetheless, most ancient Greeks had only a vague understanding of African geography. They believed that the land of the Ethiopians was located south of Egypt. In Greek mythology, the pygmies were the African race that lived furthest south on the fringes of the known world, where they engaged in mythic battles with cranes. \^/

“Ethiopians were considered exotic to the ancient Greeks and their features contrasted markedly with the Greeks' own well-established perception of themselves. The black glaze central to Athenian vase painting was ideally suited for representing black skin, a consistent feature used to describe Ethiopians in ancient Greek literature as well. Ethiopians were featured in the tragic plays of Aeschylus, Sophokles, and Euripides; and preserved comic masks, as well as a number of vase paintings from this period, indicate that Ethiopians were also often cast in Greek comedies. \^/

image of an African from 900 BC

“Well into the fourth century B.C., Ethiopians were regularly featured in Greek vase painting, especially on the highly decorative red-figure vases produced by the Greek colonies in southern Italy. One type shows an Ethiopian being attacked by a crocodile, most likely an allusion to Egypt and the Nile River. Depictions of Ethiopians in scenes of everyday life are rare at this time, although one tomb painting from a Greek cemetery near Paestum in southern Italy shows an Ethiopian and a Greek in a boxing competition. \^/

“With the establishment of the Ptolemaic dynasty and Macedonian rule in Egypt, after the death of Alexander the Great in 323 B.C., came an increased knowledge of Nubia (in modern Sudan), the neighboring kingdom along the lower Nile ruled by kings who resided in the capital cities of Napata and later Meroe. Cosmopolitan metropolises,including Alexandria in the Nile Delta, became centers where significant Greek and African populations lived together. \^/

“During the Hellenistic period (ca. 323–31 B.C.), the repertoire of African imagery in Greek art expanded greatly. While scenes related toEthiopians in mythology became less common, many more types occurred that suggest they constituted a larger minority element in the population of the Hellenistic world than the preceding period. Depictions of Ethiopians as athletes and entertainers are suggestive of some of the occupations they held. Africans also served as slaves in ancient Greece, together with both Greeks and other non-Greek peoples who were enslaved during wartime and through piracy. However, scholars continue to debate whether or not the ancient Greeks viewed black Africans with racial prejudice. \^/

“Large-scale portraits of Ethiopians made by Greek artists appear for the first time in the Hellenistic period and high-quality works, such as images on gold jewelry and fine bronze statuettes, are tangible evidence of the integration of Africans into various levels of Greek society.” \^/

Pausanias on Ethiopians

Pausanias wrote in “Description of Greece”, Book I: Attica (A.D. 160): “As to the Aethiopians, I could hazard no guess myself, nor could I accept the statement of those who are convinced that the Aethiopians have been carved upon the cup be cause of the river Ocean. For the Aethiopians, they say, dwell near it, and Ocean is the father of Nemesis. It is not the river Ocean, but the farthest part of the sea navigated by man, near which dwell the Iberians and the Celts, and Ocean surrounds the island of Britain. But of the Aethiopians beyond Syene, those who live farthest in the direction of the Red Sea are the Ichthyophagi (Fish-eaters), and the gulf round which they live is called after them. The most righteous of them inhabit the city Meroe and what is called the Aethiopian plain. These are they who show the Table of the Sun,1 and they have neither sea nor river except the Nile. [Source: Pausanias, “Description of Greece,” with an English Translation by W.H.S. Jones, Litt.D. in 4 Volumes. Volume 1.Attica and Cornith, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd., 1918]

bronze Ethiopian from the 2nd or 3rd century BC

“There are other Aethiopians who are neighbours of the Mauri and extend as far as the Nasamones. For the Nasamones, whom Herodotus calls the Atlantes, and those who profess to know the measurements of the earth name the Lixitae, are the Libyans who live the farthest close to Mount Atlas, and they do not till the ground at all, but live on wild vines. But neither these Aethiopians nor yet the Nasamones have any river. For the water near Atlas, which provides a beginning to three streams, does not make any of the streams a river, as the sand swallows it all up at once. So the Aethiopians dwell near no river Ocean.

“The water from Atlas is muddy, and near the source were crocodiles of not less than two cubits, which when the men approached dashed down into the spring. The thought has occurred to many that it is the reappearance of this water out of the sand which gives the Nile to Egypt. Mount Atlas is so high that its peaks are said to touch heaven, but is inaccessible because of the water and the presence everywhere of trees. Its region indeed near the Nasamones is known, but we know of nobody yet who has sailed along the parts facing the sea. I must now resume.

“Neither this nor any other ancient statue of Nemesis has wings, for not even the holiest wooden images of the Smyrnaeans have them, but later artists, convinced that the goddess manifests herself most as a consequence of love, give wings to Nemesis as they do to Love. I will now go onto describe what is figured on the pedestal of the statue, having made this preface for the sake of clearness. The Greeks say that Nemesis was the mother of Helen, while Leda suckled and nursed her. The father of Helen the Greeks like everybody else hold to be not Tyndareus but Zeus.[1.33.8] Having heard this legend Pheidias has represented Helen as being led to Nemesis by Leda, and he has represented Tyndareus and his children with a man Hippeus by name standing by with a horse. There are Agamemnon and Menelaus and Pyrrhus, the son of Achilles and first husband of Hermione, the daughter of Helen. Orestes was passed over because of his crime against his mother, yet Hermione stayed by his side in everything and bore him a child. Next upon the pedestal is one called Epochus and another youth; the only thing I heard about them was that they were brothers of Oenoe, from whom the parish has its name.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons except the Africans, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Greece ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Hellenistic World ; BBC Ancient Greeks ; Canadian Museum of History ; Perseus Project - Tufts University; ; MIT, Online Library of Liberty, ; Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Live Science, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Encyclopædia Britannica, "The Discoverers" [∞] and "The Creators" [μ]" by Daniel Boorstin. "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum.Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “History of Warfare” by John Keegan (Vintage Books); “History of Art” by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated October 2018

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