The first three items appeared separately in the original version of the Around Naples Encyclopedia on the dates indicated. They have been consolidated onto a single page here. Item 4 is a new addition from November, 2017 and logically follows the the first item. Item 5 is also from November, 2017 and is the logical extension of number 4. Number 6, also from Nov 2017 is related to number 5. Other entries on the Greek history of Naples and southern Italy are linked from within these items or in the main index under G. Thus, below:
1. Magna Graecia 2. Greeks in Naples 3. The Greek Orthodox Church 4. Selinunte 5. Rebuilding 6. Segesta
(*Note on the Dorian Invasion: The four most famous proto-Hellenic nations were the Ionians, the Aeolians, the Achaeans, and the Dorians. These four tribes or peoples were historically in place on the islands of the Aegean by about 1500 BC. In Greek mythology, the peoples are named for Ion, Aeolus, Achaeus, and Dorus, respectively, all descended from Hellen [sic] (from which we have the word "Hellenic," another word for "Greek"), son of Deucalion, who was the "Greek Noah," in that he built an ark for himself and his wife Pyrrha in order to survive the Great Flood loosed by Zeus. The theory of a "Dorian invasion" posits that the Dorians spread from their home island or islands and "invaded" the Mycenaean mainland such as to cause the collapse of that civilization.)
Driven by the need for trade and
the desire to set up relations with the Etruscans of the central and
northern Italian peninsula, Euboeans founded the first
colony of Magna Grecia, Pithecusae,
on what is now called the island of "Ischia" in c. 750
b.c. Shortly thereafter, they moved to the mainland and
founded Cuma. They were followed
by the Chalcidians at Zancle (modern "Messina") on Sicily;
then, also on Sicily, the Corinthians founded Siracuse,
which would develop into one of the great cities in the
ancient Greek world. Back on the mainland, along the
bottom of the boot, the Aecheans founded Metapontum,
Croton and Sybaris (which,
itself, later sent more settlers out to found other Greeks
sites to the north, such as Poseidonia/Paestum); and the
Spartans settled at Tarantum. Paestum
was founded in about 600 BC. Within a century of the first
colony at Ischia, the Greeks had established themselves as
a powerful trading bloc in southern Italy and were already
being jealously watched by the Carthaginians and
Phoenicians. Naples, itself—somewhat late in the scheme of
Magna Graecia—was founded as "Parthenope" in the 6th
century b.c. It was a second-generation colony, in that it
was settled by the Euboeans of Cuma just to the north,
people who by now no doubt thought of themselves simply as
"Cuman". They rebuilt somewhat inland a few years later
and called it New City, Neapolis—Naples. (See
also: Old City, New City.) The
last important Greek colony to be founded in Italy was
Acgragas (modern Agrigento) in 580 b.c.
Many of the cities of
Magna Graecia that have since drifted into obscurity
are as old as Athens, itself, and—if history had been
different—might have spawned Golden Ages of their own that
we would be reading about in history books today. That was
not to be, however, for a number of reasons. One of them
was that although the atmosphere in Magna Graecia is said
to have been somewhat freer than in Greece, politically it
suffered from the same fragmentation as the homeland. The
settlements of Greater Greece were independent and
autonomous, and, like the city-states of Greece, they
spent much of their time fighting each other. Between
warring among themselves and fighting to subdue the native
populations of Sicily and the southern Italian mainland,
it is no wonder that Magna Graecia never managed to
present a united front against those who, in historical
hindsight, were or would become their true
enemies—Carthage and, of course, Rome.
In the 4th century
b.c., with Alexander the Great looking to the east to
conquer the civilized world of his day, the Persian
Empire, the settlements of Magna Grecia were, more or
less, on their own. Siracuse on Sicily had become the most
powerful city-state of Magna Graecia by that time. (Cicero
later called Siracuse "the greatest and most beautiful of
all Greek cities.") In 415 b.c. Siracuse was decisive in
the outcome of the Peloppenesian War between Sparta and
Athens by defeating the Athenian force that had invaded
Sicily. The ruler of Siracuse, Dionysius, then tried to establish a
single Empire of Magna Graecia starting in 400 b.c. It
was, in a way, quite like Phillip of Macedonia's
(Alexander's father) plan to unify Greece, itself. A
united southern Italy might have been a forerunner of, or
maybe—if we play the 'what-if' game of history—a
substitute for the Roman Empire, itself. Alas for
Dionysius and his less capable successors, they couldn't
fend off the Carthaginians or the increasingly belligerent
native tribes of Italy. When one of these tribes, the
Romans, took Taranto in 272, b.c. Greek history in Italy
was overwhelmed by the onrush of Roman history. Magna
Graecia was at an end.
brickwork at Elia, originally
the Greek city of Hyele
In Naples you are in Magna Graecia.
The Archaeological Museum is,
appropriately, at what was once the northwest corner of
the original wall of the city, 2,500 years ago. A few
blocks away you can still find part of that wall, and you
can walk the grid of the original
streets. They're covered with centuries of other
stone and decades of asphalt, but they're down there.
Also, on the isle of Megaride, the site of the so-called Castel dell'Ovo, you are on the site
of the original city of Parthenope. A little further
afield, the ruins of Cuma and Paestum can give you insight into
what happens to cities when people don't live in them for
a few thousand years. And, as a final note to what is left
of Greater Greece in our immediate area, there are the
ruins, discovered in this century a bit south of Paestum,
of the city of Hyele (then, under
the Romans, Elia, now called Velia). It was the home of
the influential philosophers Parmenides and Zeno and was
founded in the 5th century b.c. by refugees from the
Persian invasions of eastern Greece of that epoch. Take
the autostrada for Reggio Calabria, exit at Battipaglia
and head towards Omegliano Scalo. Ask for the "scavi
di Velia". In nearby Ascea, there is even a hotel
called Magna Grecia!
Is nothing sacred?
[To continue with Magna
Graecia, see item 4, below.]
Considering the Greek history of Naples, it isn't surprising that one should find considerable amounts of Greek masonry beneath the city and in the outlying areas. It is, however, the little bits and pieces of "mental masonry"—less tangible fragments of Greekness in the history and customs of Naples—that fascinate the most. One such item, for example, is the simple fact that after the fall of the Roman Empire, under Justinian's brief unification of the eastern and western empires, Greek was again the language of Naples. A thousand years after it first reached these shores, Greek was for a brief time once again the language of official commerce, politics and religion.
That last item, religion, has perhaps to do with another piece of Greekness still left in the city. The long history of the Greek Orthodox Church in Naples (item #3, below) and southern Italy, in general, has begotten the curious tradition of otherwise typical Roman Catholics calling upon the services of a Greek Orthodox priest to perform ritual blessings of newly built houses and even to ward off the "evil eye".
I know, personally, of two such cases. A friend of mine moved into a new house and simply called up the priest from the one Greek Orthodox church in Naples to come over and bless the place. Also, a woman I know was a librarian at one of the many university libraries in town. Books were disappearing. Whether that was due to simple mundane larceny or otherworldly book-fairies was irrelevant. She called the same church and got a young priest to come over and bless the library. Interestingly, he was aware of the custom, yet guarded in his willingness to muscle in on Roman Catholic turf. Nevertheless, he did as requested.
My friend's house is
doing fine, but I never found out if the books were
returned or, at least, stopped disappearing. That, of
course, is not the point. In both cases, my friends simply
shrugged off my "But-you're-a-Catholic" challenge.
Everyone knows the Greeks have "something special".
In 330 a.d. a Christian convert built a Christian city to replace the old and pagan Rome. His —Constantine the Great's— faith would soon be proclaimed the official religion of the Roman Empire. The bad news would be that he had inadvertently made it possible for that Empire to be divided in two, sundering its church right along with it.
There were organizational problems among early Christians. Should the bishops of Rome, Alexandria, Ephesus, Antioch and Constantinople all have equal authority? Or should Rome dominate, based on its imperial political status and the special history of the Roman church —that is, its founding by the apostle Peter? This squabble was joined by divisive theological ones: debates on the nature of God, Christ and the Trinity.
When the Western
Roman Empire fell in 476, the Western church bided its
time with organizational matters. The lack of imperial
authority actually led to a strengthening of the Roman
church, since it took over a number of civic functions it
might never have had to, if there had remained in place a
true imperial bureaucracy in the West.
On the other hand,
Constantinople viewed itself as the natural continuation
of Empire. The emperor was "High Priest and King," God's
emissary on earth and the head of the Church. He could not
owe allegiance to anyone else, much less a bishop of the
Western church. In the years between 500 and 800,
Constantinople became by default a Greek State: the
Byzantine Empire. Latin ceased to be the official language
of government and was replaced by Greek, accentuating the
religious differences and accelerating the separation of
the Greek and Roman Churches.
of a Western Empire by Charlemagne in 800 meant that there
were two strong competing Christian empires. In the two
centuries that followed, while having to relinquish Asia
Minor and the Middle East to the surge of Islam, the East
remained powerful, spreading to carry Orthodox (meaning
"Right Faith") Christianity to Russia. The Western Empire
carried its faith to the north and to the British Isles.
In spite of seven ecumenical conferences held over the
centuries to resolve theological differences, the two
churches finally excommunicated each other in 1054. This
was called the Great Schism and effectively destroyed the
integrity of the Christian Church.
At present the
Orthodox Eastern Church has approximately 150 million
followers, and is the second largest Christian
denomination in the world. It is composed of 15
self-governing churches worldwide, such as, among others,
the Russian Orthodox Church, the Cyprus Orthodox Church
and the Greek Orthodox Church.
Greeks and Naples
have always had a special relationship. First, of course,
the city was founded by the Greeks. But even later, when
Naples and Greece, itself, were part of the Roman Empire,
Greek remained a widely spoken language in Naples. When
the West fell to the Goths, Naples fell with it, but was
quickly retaken by the Byzantine Empire. Byzantine power
surged and ebbed in Southern Italy in the sixth, seventh
and eighth centuries, but Greek influence in Naples
remained strong. Even after Charlemagne refounded the
Western Empire, southern Italy was not part of it. In
spite of the growing hostility between the Eastern and
Western branches of Christianity, there were Eastern
Churches and monasteries all over the south, Naples
included. After the Schism, Orthodox rites were still
commonly held in and around Naples, and there was even a
Greek monastery in use here until the Counter-Reformation
in the 17th century. Visitors to the Naples Cathedral will
still find a double baptistery inside, one for Roman
Catholic rites and the other for Greek rites. Also, for
reasons obscured by time, a benediction by a Greek
Orthodox priest is considered particularly auspicious by
otherwise quite Roman Catholic Neapolitans. It is,
according to popular custom, one of the ways in which the
so-called malocchio, the 'evil eye,' can be warded
The Greek Orthodox
Church in Naples
In 1518, a Byzantine
prince, Tommaso Assanios Paleologos, paid for the
construction of the chapel. The text of the Greek rites
was defined in 1760 by a decree of the Bourbon Kingdom of Two Sicilies.
The status of the church, as defined by the Bourbons, was
accepted by the new Italian State after the unification of
Italy in the 19th century.
The members of the
confraternity vote by secret ballot on how to distribute
income from offerings and the few properties that the
Church owns in Naples. Monies are used for philanthropic
and educational purposes, as well as to pay those who work
for the church. Such income has helped to create an
elementary school for Greek children as well as children
of mixed marriages. There is also an auditorium for social
church, itself, is small and intensely spiritual. The
silver icons have an overpowering presence and are close
enough to touch —indeed, they are meant to be touched.
Personally, I first noticed the music. Byzantine
chants are related at some point in a higher
dimension to their Gregorian cousins in the Western
church, but a thousand words detailing untempered minor
scales, mysterious quarter-tones and the Eastern passion
for the ornamental quiver in the voice would do as little
justice to the music of Byzantium as my other words have
done to the religion. You will have to go hear and see for
[There is a related item on the Greek Orthodox celebration of Christmas in Naples at this link.]
4. added Nov 4, 2017 Selinunte
This item follows logically after the
main article on Magna Graecia, number 1, at the top of
You should read that one first.
Magna Graecia, National Archaeologial Parks and Selinunte (in Sicily) or
"A thing of beauty is a joy for ever." --the first line of Keats' Endymion (published in 1818).
The poem is based on the Greek myth of Endymion, the shepherd beloved by the moon goddess, Selene.
Stalking the Sacred Celery
A National Archeological Park (NAP) is not the same as an archeological site, although there may be overlap. Sites such as Pompeii or Herculaneum are usually large, and work on them is funded from a variety of sources, from local to international to private institutions and philanthropy. A NAP, on the other hand, is generally smaller, lesser known and of less current interest to tourists but worth drawing attention to, cultivating, and preserving. Most of them are parks because they have a special feature, such as the Mt. Vesuvius NAP or the underwater (!) NAP off of Baia in the bay of Pozzuoli, where you really can scuba down (with guides) to visit the ruins or view them from a glass-bottom boat.
Currently in Italy there about 25 such parks with more on the way. The largest one in Italy —really, the largest in Europe— is the NAP of Selinunte on the southwestern coast of the island of Sicily. It used to be an entire city. On the map (above) it is marked as Selinus on the southwestern coast of Sicily and was one of the cities of Magna Grecia (Greater Greece, that is, ancient Greek settlements beyond the Aegean) that didn't "make it". Many of the other ones have survived in some form or other. Neapolis (Naples) simply changed names and kept on going; Paestum disappeared for a while but has now been dug back up and reconstructed into a thriving tourist attraction; Croton (now Crotone) is a modern town built near, in and around the ancient one, and so forth. The ones that survived have done so by virtue of various episodes of rejuvenation beginning with the Romans and then being patched up over the centuries by a string of post-Roman feudal landlords. The ones that died —such as Selinunte— generally died early and suddenly.
Selinunte was founded around 630 BC putting it in the mainstream of Greek expansion into Italy. That is, once the Greek city states got going (around 750 BC) they spread out, and the island of Sicily or the southern Italian mainland was not that far away. Really. Depending on where you start in the Aegean and where you wind up in Italy, you can have a new colony in just a few hundred miles. Most sources say that Selinunte was a second generation colony; that it, it was founded by earlier colonists from elsewhere, Megara Hyblaea,* on the southwestern coast now so obscure that it is barely remembered. The founders of Megara Hyblaea had come from Megara (still called by that name) in Attica in Greece, not far from Athens. (The term "Hyblaea" is from the name Hyblon, king of a Sicilian tribe, the Siculians, in eastern Sicily, which granted land to the settlers from Greece to build on.) If some settlers of Magara Hyblae then went west they probably did so because they didn't like living next door to Syracuse, a powerful "ethnic" enemy. Syracuse was Dorian, while Selinunte was Ionian.)
[This is a link back up to a note in
the first article on this page, Magna Graecia, below the
second paragraph, with more information on the "ethnic"
make up of Greece in around 700 BC.]
Second-generation colonies are not that rare; Naples was
founded by settlers from Cuma. (But, if Cuma,
itself, was really founded by a colony from
Pithecusa/Ischia) then Cuma was second generation and
Naples gets bumped down to third!)
Selinunte was the westernmost Greek city on Sicily and that became a source of trouble. The city came into hostile contact with native Sicilian tribes, other Greek colonies, and eventually mighty Carthage, which finally razed Selinunte to the ground in about 250 B.C. It was never rebuilt and now archaeologists are having a fine time uncovering a square mile (image, above) of broken roads, homes and temples. (Literature on the site goes back to the late 1800s. The long central north-south axis in this reconstructed image is about 400 meters long.) The site is now all a National Archaeological Park and contains five temples centered on an acropolis. Of the five temples, only the Temple of Hera also known as "Temple E" (image, right) has thus far been totally re-erected. At its height as the most important Greek city on Sicily (around 400 BC) Selinunte may have contained as many as 30,000 people.
Selene? This all started because I asked a real-life
Selene why she was named for the celery plant. She sniffed
Very probably the plant was sacred to the goddess of the moon (Selene), who watches over both the passage to birth and to death. Celery stimulates contractions of the uterus (thus easing birth but also provoking miscarriages). It was used during ancient funeral rights (I imagine as a symbol of the last passage). Wreaths of celery were used to crown victors at athletic contests (see the Isthmian Games).
The Isthmian Games
were one of the Panhellenic Games of ancient Greece, named
after the Isthmus of Corinth, where they were held. In
short, a local Olympics. Miss Celery was right. Another
goddess of information, Laura, chimed in with:
I told little Despina that epistemologically she couldn't possibly know that no one was thinking of celery. In fact, right now someone in the world is certainly thinking of celery. That kind of gives me the creeps. (Quick! Don't think of celery!)
The moon of course controls the menstrual cycle; hence the ready association with procreation...Hecate was the dark side of the moon and possibly a manifestation of the once popular PMS syndrome. The moon sometimes had a third face which was Despina or Miss. In Greek I was Despina Laura until I got married. Panselinos is still the word for full moon in Greek, and under the full moon you can bet no one is thinking of celery! The everyday word for moon in modern Greek is quite different. Fengari is something that shines, so rather than refer to a deity we say φεγγάρι. And, yes, celery is selino. Σέλινο.
Thoughts on Monument Restoration and Pseudo-Places
The current round of reconstruction at Selinunte has largely been completed. Work focuses now on consolidating what has been done so far. There is now an on-site museum, for example, and a small tram available for tourists to get
around on, and other such amenities. As noted above, one temple has been re-erected, temple E (the temple to Hera). The question of how much more actual "temple re-erecting" or restoration is going to take place is a thorny one having to do with the great temple of Zeus. It is currently a massive jumble of stone blocks scattered right where the Carthagians and a couple of later earthquakes dumped them many centuries ago. From the dimensions of the material, it appears that if reassembled the finished product would be the largest temple ever erected to Zeus by the ancient Greeks of Magna Graecia. The blocks have all been numbered and at least one table-top display (pictured above) as well as computer-generated imagery show what the finished product would look like. The experts know where each piece goes. They could do it. That's not the problem.
The arguments in favor of the undertaking seem obvious. The arguments against it are always going to be about money, right? No, quite the contrary. There is an entire school of thought that is against such restoration on aesthetic, even philosophical, grounds. These people fear the "quick and simple ‘consumption’ of impressive ruins" and the popularization of antiquity for mass tourism, creating another of what cultural historian Paul Fussel (1924-2012) called 'pseudo-places', sites that have the sole function of luring in tourists and selling them things. The tourist trap.
The phrase "quick and simple ‘consumption’ of impressive ruins" is by German engineer, Hartwig Schmidt (1942-2016), who was very active in what is termed “cultural heritage management.” He went so far as to say that
...it is the ruins on excavation sites, even in their damaged state, that are the irreplaceable, authentic records of the past. Archaeological preservation, therefore, has to mean uncompromising conservation of the damaged original remains. They should not be sacrificed for the sake of questionable ‘progress’ or popularization.He also thinks that "The romantic and mysterious atmosphere of the ruins as they were discovered is generally always lost in exchange for a site presented successfully to visitors."
In “The impossibility of resurrecting the past: Reconstructions on archaeological excavation sites.” Hartwig Schmidt, pp. 61-68 | Published online: 18 Jul 2013 in Journal of Conservation and Management of Archaeological Sites (CMAS) Volume 3, 1999 - Issue 1-2.
From a favorable book review by Jukka Jokilehto of Schmidt's book Wiederaufbau (Reconstruction) ISSN 1350-5033. 1995 James & James Science Publishers Limited in CMAS (1995) volume 1 69-71 .In other words, "authentic" refers to the entire 2,500-year-old history of the building. Any slice of the time-line that you cut into to see what was happening gives you a different but equally valid look. The day on which the temple was built is no more authentic than the present-day ruins. I don't accept Hartwig's view. The most authentic view of Selinunte would be about 150 years after it was built when it was a living example of Greek Sicily, when it was a thriving city—not when it was destroyed or when it was toppled by earthquakes. Those are important historical facts, perhaps, but they are not what the city was about, not what archaeology is about. Schmidt's attachment to the “romantic and mysterious atmosphere of the ruins as they were discovered” says more, in my view, about him as a researcher than it does about the function of archaeology. Whether or not disintegrated ruins have their own fascination is irrelevant. Archaeology is not about contemplation of the past, about triggering reflex romantic tremblings before sacred shards and dust (ok, maybe a bit, but then that is where real archaeology begins!). Archaeology is about knowledge of the past —exploring it, and showing, in the words of John Derek in his poem “Archaeologist”
I, indeed, admit that pseudo-places exist. As much as German poet Rainer Maria Rilke loved the island of Capri, he said that the town of Capri, itself, looked like a bad movie set built by German tourists. “..The signs of their stupid admiration...are so showy and tenacious that even the terrible storms that from time to time grip the island cannot cancel them...”. That's a tourist trap. Italy has them, as do all countries that try to attract tourism. But I have been on both sides of tourism, one, as a guide and two, as a tourist. Just in my local area, there is Cuma, Paestum, the Flavian amphitheater, and other sites that have been carefully restored (not over-restored to gleaming perfection, not to resurrect the past, but enough to give intelligent visitors what they came for—information and a chance to be in the presence of something special (see the images at the three links directly above).
There may a compromise. I really don't want tour guides dressed up like ancient Greeks, or a Disneyfied version of the sibyl of Cuma parading around that site hawking trinkets, but I do want an idea of what it was all about. So don't rebuild the temple of Zeus. Just reassemble or move a few blocks so you can walk around the terrain; make is less of a jumble. Hoist a few columns back into place (note "back into place"—you're not adding a thing). Integrate it into the surroundings. Show me at least that it used to be a temple. Help me “recognize the patterns.” You can do that without turning it into a pseudo-place. You really can. Do that for me, and I promise not to buy a trinket. Well, maybe a postcard.
6. added Nov. 13, 2017
When the Greeks spread out from the Aegean over to Italy (beginning around 700 BC) they found Sicily already occupied by three main indigenous groups (as shown on the map). From east to west: the Siculians (Sikeloi), the Sicanians (Sikanoi), and the Elymians (Elymoi). Of interest to the entries on Selinunte (items 4 and 5, above) is the westernmost group, the Elymians. The other two groups had originally migrated from the Italian mainland, but the situation with the Elymians is not clear. Like almost everyone else in Italy, they "became Greek" quickly, adopting the architecture and the Greek alphabet. But unlike the others, what they wrote has not been deciphered. Like the Etruscans, they wrote very little, mostly fixed tomb inscriptions and other pat phrases, and as with Etruscan, all you know is that you can't understand it, in spite of the Greek letters (which give you the sound of a word but not the meaning). One conclusion is that, like the Etruscans, these people came from somewhere in Anatolia. Myths claim they were losers from the Trojan War (but myths also say that about many of the peoples in Italy, including the Romans).
The main city of the Eymian people was Segesta; it is 40 km over the hills north of Selinunte and only 10 km from the gulf of Castellammare on the northern coast of Sicily. As noted in item 4 (above), the conflicts with Segesta are what led to the eventual destruction of Selinunte. At first Segesta asked Athens, itself, for aid against Selinunte. That led to a disastrous Athenian expedition to Sicily (415-413 BC).* Then Segesta asked powerful Carthage, which obliged by destroying Selinunte. Segesta remained an ally of Carthage and then wound up, along with everyone else, as part of the Roman empire.
The archaeological park of Segesta, just outside the modern town of Calatafimi has a splendid Greek theater as well as a very well preserved Greek Doric temple (pictured, above).
*The Sicilian Expedition was part of the broader Pelopennesian War going on in Greece, essentially a conflict (431-404) between Athens and Sparta. The war broadened out into Sicily because the colonies on Sicily called home for help from their parent cultures. First, Selinunte called for aid from Athens because it couldn't handle conflicts with Segesta, Siracuse and even Carthage in north Africa; then Syracuse, fearing Athenian designs on all of Sicily, sent out a distress pigeon to Sparta, which responded with forces. Thus the Athens-Sparta conflict was continued in another venue. The upshot was a victory in Greece for Sparta and for the Spartan client-state of Syracuse on Sicily, a loss for Athens and its allies in Greece as well as the total destruction of Selinunte on Sicily by Carthage who had come to the aid of Segesta. I know, I know; it's complicated. Fortunately, Alexander the Great was about to come along and then, of course, the Romans. That simplified things.
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(See also this article by David Taylor: Greek Naples.)
(See also this entry on the Cilento region where there is a history of Greek monasteries.)