Ancient Greece And Colonies

The vast number of the Greek colonies, their wide-spread diffusion over all parts of the Mediterranean, which thus became a kind of Grecian lake, and their rapid growth in wealth, power, and intelligence, afford the most striking proofs of the greatness of this wonderful people. Civil dissensions and a redundant population were the chief causes of the origin of most of the Greek colonies.


The vast number of the Greek colonies, their wide-spread diffusion over all parts of the Mediterranean, which thus became a kind of Grecian lake, and their rapid growth in wealth, power, and intelligence, afford the most striking proofs of the greatness of this wonderful people. Civil dissensions and a redundant population were the chief causes of the origin of most of the Greek colonies. They were usually undertaken with the approbation of the cities from which they issued, and under the management of leaders appointed by them. But a Greek colony was always considered politically independent of the mother-city and
emancipated from its control. The only connexion between them was one of filial affection and of common religious ties. Almost every colonial Greek city was built upon the sea-coast, and the site usually selected contained a hill sufficiently lofty to form an acropolis. The Grecian colonies may be arranged in four groups:
1. Those founded in Asia Minor and the adjoining islands;
2. Those in the western parts of the Mediterranean, in Italy, Sicily, Gaul, and Spain;
3. Those in Africa;
4. Those in Epirus, Macedonia, and Thrace.

1. The earliest Greek colonies were those founded on the western shores of Asia Minor. They were divided into three great masses, each bearing the name of that section of the Greek race with which they claimed affinity. The AEolic cities covered the northern part of this coast, together with the islands of Lesbos and Tenedos; the Ionians occupied the centre, with the islands of Chios and Samos; and the Dorians the southern portion, with the
islands of Rhodes and Cos. Most of these colonies were founded in consequence of the changes in the population of Greece which attended the conquest of Peloponnesus by the Dorians. The Ionic cities were early distinguished by a spirit of commercial enterprise, and soon rose superior in wealth and in power to their AEolian and Dorian neighbours. Among the Ionic cities themselves Miletus and Ephesus were the most flourishing, Grecian
literature took its rise in the AEolic and Ionic cities of Asia Minor. Homer was probably a native of Smyrna. Lyric poetry flourished in the island of Lesbos, where Sappho and Alcaeus were born. The Ionic cities were also the seats of the earliest schools of Grecian philosophy. Thales, who founded the Ionic school of philosophy, was a native of Miletus. Halicarnassus was one of the most important of the Doric cities, of which Herodotus was a native, though he wrote in the Ionic dialect.

2. The earliest Grecian settlement in Italy was Cumae in Campania, situated near Cape Misenum, on the Tyrrhenian sea. It is said to have been a joint colony from the AEolic Cyme in Asia and from Chalcis in Euboea, and to have been founded, according to the common chronology, in B.C. 1050. Cumae was for a long time the most flourishing city in Campania; and it was not till its decline in the fifth century before the Christian era that Capua rose into importance. The earliest Grecian settlement in Sicily was founded in B.C. 735. The extraordinary fertility of the land soon attracted numerous colonists from various parts of Greece, and there arose on the coasts of Sicily a succession of flourishing cities. Of these, Syracuse and Agrigentum, both Dorian colonies, became the most powerful. The former was founded by the Corinthians in B.C. 734, and at the time of its greatest prosperity contained a population of 500,000 souls, and was surrounded by walls twenty- two miles in circuit. Its greatness, however, belongs to a later period of Grecian history. The Grecian colonies in southern Italy began to be planted at nearly the same time as in Sicily. They eventually lined the whole southern coast, as far as Cumae on the one sea and Tarentum on the other. They even surpassed those in Sicily in number and importance; and so numerous and flourishing did they become, that the south of Italy received the name of Magna Graecia. Of these, two of the earliest and most prosperous were Sybaris and Croton, both situated upon the gulf of Tarentum, and both of Achaean origin. Sybaris was planted in B.C. 720 and Croton in B.C. 710.

For two centuries they seem to have lived in harmony, and we know scarcely anything of their history till their fatal contest in B.C. 510, which ended in the ruin of Sybaris. During the whole of this period they were two of the most flourishing cities in all Hellas. Sybaris in particular attained to an extraordinary degree of wealth, and its inhabitants were so notorious for their luxury, effeminacy, and debauchery, that their name has become proverbial for a voluptuary in ancient and modern times. Croton was the chief seat of the Pythagorean philosophy. Pythagroras was a native of Samos, but emigrated to Croton, where he met with the most wonderful success in the propagation of his views. He established a kind of religious brotherhood, closely united by a sacred vow. They believed in the transmigration of souls, and their whole training was designed to make them temperate and
self-denying. The doctrines of Pythagoras spread through many of the other cities of Magna Graecia.

Of the numerous other Greek settlements in the south of Italy, those of Locri, Rhegium, and Tarentum were the meet important. Locri was founded by the Locrians from the mother-country in B.C. 683. The laws of this city were drawn up by one of its citizens, named Zaleucus, and so averse were the Locrians to any change in them, that whoever proposed a new law had to appear in the public assembly with a rope round his neck, which was immediately tightened if he failed to convince his fellow-citizens of the necessity of the alteration. Rhegium, situated on the straits of Messina, opposite Sicily, was colonised by the Chalcidians, but received a large body of Messenians, who settled here at the close of the Messenian war. Anaxilas, tyrant of Rhegium about B.C. 500, was of Messenian descent. He seized the Sicilian Zancle on the opposite coast, and changed its name into Messana, which it still bears. Tarentum was a colony from Sparta and was founded about B.C. 708. After the destruction of Sybaris it was the most powerful and flourishing city in Magna Graecia, and continued to enjoy great prosperity till its subjugation by the Romans. Although of Spartan origin, it did not maintain Spartan habits, and its citizens were noted at a later time for their love of luxury and pleasure. The Grecian settlements in the distant countries of Gaul and Spain were not numerous. The most celebrated was Massalia, the modern Marseilles, founded by the Ionic Phocaeans in B.C. 600.

3. The northern coast of Africa, between the territories of Carthage and Egypt, was also occupied by Greek colonists. The city of Cyrene was founded about B.C. 630. It was a colony from the island of Thera in the AEgean, which was itself a colony from Sparta. The situation of Cyrene was well chosen. It stood on the edge of a range of hills, at the distance of ten miles from the Mediterranean, of which it commanded a fine view. These hills descended by a succession of terraces to the port of the town, called Apollonia. The climate was most salubrious, and the soil was distinguished by extraordinary fertility. With these advantages Cyrene rapidly grew in wealth and power; and its greatness is attested by the immense remains which still mark its desolate site. Cyrene planted several colonies in the adjoining district, of which Barca, founded about B.C. 560, was the most important.

4. There were several Grecian colonies situated on the eastern side of the Ionian sea, in Epirus and its immediate neighbourhood. Of these the island of Corcyra, now called Corfu, was the most wealthy and powerful. It was founded by the Corinthians about B.C. 700, and in consequence of its commercial activity it soon became a formidable rival to the mother-city. Hence a war broke out between these two states at an early period; and the most ancient naval battle on record was the one fought between their fleets in B.C. 664. The dissensions between the mother-city and her colony are frequently mentioned in Grecian history, and were one of the immediate causes of the Peloponnesian war. Notwithstanding their quarrels they joined in planting four Grecian colonies upon the same line of coast-- Leucas, Anactorium, Apollonia, and Epidamnus.

The colonies in Macedonia and Thrace were very numerous, and extended all along the coast of the AEgean, of the Hellespont, of the Propontis, and of the Euxine, from the borders of Thessaly to the mouth of the Danube. Of these we can only glance at the most important. The colonies on the coast of Macedonia were chiefly founded by Chalcis and Eretria in Euboea; and the peninsula of Chalcidice, with its three projecting headlands, was covered with their settlements, and derived its name from the former city. The Corinthians likewise planted a few colonies on this coast, of which Potidaea, on the narrow isthmus of Pallene, most deserves mention.

Of the colonies in Thrace, the most flourishing were Selymbria and Byzantium, both founded by the Megarians, who appear as an enterprising maritime people at an early period.