Greek colonisation of Sicily : greek soul of Sicily

Greek colonisation of Sicily

Sicily has a big greek soul.

From the middle of the 8th century BC a vast migratory movement of Greek populations affected Sicily and changed its political, economic and social structure. This is called greek colonisation. Sicily and the southern regions of Italy were the places most affected by these migrations because of their geographical position. And in these places, in fact, the Greek population founded the largest number of colonies.

greek colonisation in Sicily

Causes of greek colonisation

One of the reasons that led Greek populations to seek new territories was the mountainous nature of Greece that did not allow the development of agriculture. This developed in the few flat and hill regions and did not produce enough to satisfy the needs of the whole population.
In addition, at the end of the 9th century, there was a significant demographic rise.

Political reasons of greek colonisation

Fundamental were also political factors. Oligarchic regimes dominated most of the Greek cities. There was disagreement among the lower classes of the population forced to undergo the intolerable predominance of the aristocratic class.
The poorest people thought of leaving their territory in search of luck. The aristocracy certainly did not hinder their departure, because this meant potential enemies would go away. This way the ruling part would avoid the risk of riots by the poorest and the spread of violence.
Sometimes also noblemen who had lost their power preferred to leave their cities in search of luck.

The ecista or founder

We can say the city-states encouraged shipments of Greek colonists to the conquest of new lands. Citizens who wanted to leave also received a ship and a guide. The ecista or chief of the expedition was generally a nobleman near the dominant aristocracy. He would lead the settlers to the land of conquest. When they would arrive, he would work on the construction of the new town and would direct the work. He would give the individual settlers a piece of land to cultivate.

Greek colonisation mostly as cultural contact

The very term colonization infers the domination of indigenous peoples, a feeling of cultural superiority by the colonizers, and a specific cultural homeland which controls and drives the whole process. This was not necessarily the case in the ancient Greek world. Greek colonization was a very different process from the policies of  European powers in the 19th and 20th centuries. It is perhaps better described as “culture contact”.

However, before the colonisation Sicily and Greece already traded with each other. In fact, the Aegean-Cretan and Achaean merchants traversed the entire Mediterranean for their businesses.
The establishment of colonies across the Mediterranean allowed the export of luxury goods such as fine Greek pottery, wine, oil, metalwork, and textiles. And also the extraction of wealth from the land such as timber, metals.They often became lucrative trading hubs and a source of slaves.

The Greater Greece

The eastern coast of Sicily, largely made up of fertile plains, was well suited to agricultural activity. Here the first Greek colonies by Chalcis, Megalith and Corinth settlers were founded around the middle of the 8th century BC.

Greek colonies
Greek colonists eventually subdued the local population of Sicily and Southern Italy and spreaded their culture on the region to such an extent that they called it “Greater Greece” or Megalē Hellas. It would become the most Greek of all the colonized territories. Doric temples were the most striking symbol of Hellenization.

First greek colonies

Chalcis colonists had been the fist to colonize Sicily. They founded Naxos on the Ionian coast in 735 a. C. Then the colonists went to the plain of Catania founding two more sub-colonies, Leontini and Catana. Later, near the Strait of Messina  they founded Zancle. Continuing from there along the Tyrrhenian coast they moved to the headland of Milazzo where they founded Mile.

Syracuse colony

Immediately after Chalcis, the Corinthian colonists landed on the south-eastern coast of Sicily. Here they founded Syracuse on the island of Ortigia in 734 BC.

Syracuse expanded inward by founding the sub colonies Acre, Casmene and Camarina. It became a vast territorial domain that made it the most powerful and thriving city in Sicily.

Other colonies in south Sicily

In 750 BC a group of Megara colonists colonized a small site near Ibla where they founded Megara Iblea. The Megara settlers were surrounded by the Syracuse territory and the Chalcis colonies, so they sought out to the west of Sicily and founded Selinus.
Instead in 689 BC, a group of Rodhes and a small group of Cretans settled in the southern coast of Sicily and founded Gela. Rhodes settlers then found Akragante (Agrigento) in 583. This soon became a very populous and powerful city.

The last colonies were Imera and Lipara. Imera was the last Chalcis colony, founded by Zancle’s Chalcis in 648.

Western Sicily

The western side of Sicily was firmly occupied by Elimi and Phoenician-Punic colonies.
Some colonists tried to occupy Lilibeo, the present Marsala, but the expedition failed. The survivors took refuge in the Aeolian Islands where they founded Lipara. With this, the Greek colonization ends.

Most important cultural influences

As already said, colonization exported Greek culture to Italy. Such as its dialects, 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.

Selinunte By Ludmilla Bianco and Antonino Sammartano


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