There are 12 entries linked below, from 2002 through 2021. Thus:
1. Magna Graecia 2. Greeks in Naples 3. The Greek Orthodox Church 4. Selinunte 5. Rebuilding
6. Segesta 7. Phalerum 8. Oikos, the Greek concept of "house & home" 9. Syracuse (ancient city)
10. Ancient Taranto 11. A Greek Church 12. The Torch has passed...
[1.+ - There is a separate entry called Greek Naples, by D. Taylor, not on this page.]
This enthralling spread of Magna Grecia has been told and retold in poetry and literature as one of the great cultural events in human history, and rightly so. Interestingly, it comes at the end of what some historians call the "Greek Dark Ages," by which they mean the period between the end of the Mycenaean civilization, conventionally set at c. 1200 BC and the rise of Archaic Greece (c. 700 BC), the beginning of the "historic Greece" that we know. The term "Dark Ages" is probably more of a statement of how little we know about that period than an actual description of the period itself. In spite of Robert Graves' statement in The Greek Myths [168.7] that "...Between 1100 and 1050 B.C., the Dorian invasion overwhelmed Mycenaean culture in the Peloponnese and the Dark Ages intervened," it is not at all clear whether a "Dorian invasion" ever really took place except in the minds of classical scholars looking for a concept to explain the fallow period before the rise of Archaic Greece. (*See note below this paragraph.) Later Greek historians such as Herodotus and Thucydides make no reference to such a dark past; indeed, it was the beginning of the culture-changing Iron Age, so something must have been going on. In terms of how societies changed in that period, we can say, however, that when the Mycenaeans left the stage, Aegean cultures had been marked for many centuries by "palatial" government and administration —that is, large structures (palaces) at the center of the state, such as the large palace at Knossos on Crete or at Mycenae, itself. Five-hundred years later, the beginnings of the dynamic, urban and literate (!) polis had arrived —the independent city-state. They then developed into the classical Greek city-states where very diverse manifestations of government, culture and science could spread and grow.
(*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 Great Schism (1054), 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 off.
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, next paragraph).
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 be 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 destruction of Selinunte on Sicily by Carthage who had come to the aid of Segesta. 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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7. added June 1, 2018
Phalerum, the First Naples?
Gathering of the ArgonautsI put a question mark up there because no one really knows. If you read about Naples and her history and mythology, sooner or later you learn that Naples is a very old city, founded by the Greeks. Reliable written historical and archaeological evidence puts stable Greek colonies at Cuma and on the island of Ischia around 600 BC. (Centuries earlier, there had been Mycenean settlements on Ischia and Procida (further noted in text, below). You will also know that settlers from Cuma then moved down and founded another city in the 400's (BC) named for their mythological siren, Parthenope. That much is relatively solid for scholars.
Attic red-figure vase, 460–450 BC, Louvre.
Then we might read something like: "But the real first settlement here from Greece wasn't called Parthenope -- it was Phalerum. Next question — what are they talking about? Is it true? Or, better, is it at least plausible? Is there a verifiable time-line that might shed some light on this? In order to figure that one out, we have to stretch our time-line a bit and — very fun to do! — juggle history and mythology and not mind a few fleeting centuries in which not much appears to have happened at all (Greece and the entire eastern Mediterranean were victims of what is called the Bronze Age Collapse from the end of the Mycenaean civilization around 1100 BC to the first signs of the Greek city states in the 9th century BC. But Italy kept humming right along with the arrival of the Etruscans.They were trying to escape the Bronze Age Collapse!). We also have to accept real history (such as the Trojan War) while ignoring all the magical heroes and heroines, and creatures that are half man and half horse as well as the sirens (half bird or fish and half tantalizing woman, at least the part that wasn't a bird or fish) such as our very own Parthenope.
Our time-line can start around 500 years ago, the late Middle Ages. That is when various historical sources in Naples started repeating legends passed down to them over the centuries. The legends told of the "tower of Phalerus" and gave the name of the original site of current Naples as Phalerum. Now we move back, back to the beginning of our time-line, back past the Etruscans (!), and even back past the Trojan War (!!) (around 1300 BC) to Mycenaean Greece, the last phase of the Bronze Age in Greece, spanning the period from around 1600–1100 BC. Mycenaean Greece was the first advanced civilization on mainland Greece.) This is where we run into Jason and the Argonauts and the tale of their quest to retrieve the Golden Fleece from Colchis, (an ancient kingdom on the coast of the Black Sea in present-day western Georgia). Whether or not that episode — or something like that episode — ever actually took place doesn't matter because that tale then became part of European lore forever. One of the heroes aboard the good ship Argos was said to be named Phalerus (yes, there are lists — rosters!). Now look at modern-day Greece. There is still (!) a Bay of Phalerum (the name of the ancient port of Athens, presumably built by, or at least named for, Phalerus).
Back to the bay of Naples. Well, there are enough nearby shards of pottery and bits of implements to let archaeologists reconstruct settlements of Mycenaean Bronze Age Greeks on both Ischia and Procida. [See "Uncovering the Bronze Age on Procida"] It isn't clear exactly when that might have occurred (except from 1600 to 1100). Fortunately, it's irrelevant because we're looking for a much later date, more or less close to the mainland settlement of Cuma (600 BC). But for the sake of the story, let's say that the Mycenaeans were here around the time of the Trojan war, give or take. They say, you know, that a number of cities in Italy were founded by refugees from Troy; maybe, but who wants a town built by of bunch of losers?! In our story, we want winners! Maybe colonists from Athens, itself. I am indebted to Selene Salvi of Opus Continuum for helping me to this possible explanation.
First, there is absolutely no physical evidence on or under the ground in downtown Naples of Mycenaean presence, only a few miles from the islands in the bay, where there is such evidence, so you can forget that. It just isn't there (if it ever was). (None! I can barely find my car most of the time in Naples, and that's just a few hours after I park it.) That detour back to Jason was merely for the sake of a possible or plausible etymology of the names Phalerus (the person) and Phalerum (the place). This has nothing to with when the colonists who might have built such a tower actually arrived.
Let's look then at the written literature of ancient Greece that survives. There are two sources that are relevant: there is, in fact, a work called Argonautica by Apollonius Rhodius, written down in the middle of the third century BC. Like the works of Homer (also written down at around the same time) it's an epic saga, this one of the quest of Jason and the Argonauts. It mentions Phalerus, a member of the crew. The second source is Alexandra by Lykophon (already discussed here), a difficult and obscure work. It is the only Greek source that actually uses the phrase "the tower of Phalerus":
...Parthenope washed ashore at the "tower of Phaleros near the Clani river"That's it. That is the sum total of Greek references to Phalerus and his Tower. Using, however, the record of other colonies on the southern mainland (not the islands) it is quite possible that our purported Phalerum was there at about the same time as the colony at Cuma or shortly before the newer city of Parthenope.
[Later known as the Sebeto river-- that puts it pretty much downtown at sea-level. jm].
Maybe Lycophron was trying to connect the founding of Naples to Athens by mentioning one of the Argonauts, the one for whom the port of Athens, Phalerum, was named. Maybe he just wanted to emphasize the ancient bonds between the two cities... who knows? So, can we accept as plausible that other Greeks landed on the mainland on the shores of Naples and named it after Phalerus and called the place Phalerum just like Phalerum back home... as a reminder of where they came from? Is that possible? Yes, and besides, it's a good story.
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8. added 20 Oct 2018
The image shows a ticket for an exhibit now running at the National Archaeological Museum of Reggio Calabria: the Inauguration of the 'Oikos', the house in Magna Graecia and Sicily”. I include it because it's about life among the ancient Greeks of southern Italy, and is meant to "reinforce the sense of belonging to the common European Mediterranean identity through the theme of the home and living in the Greek world (from the Archaic Age, 8th century BC, to the Hellenistic Age, 1st century BC)." Also because the exhibit includes material on loan from museums in Naples, Taranto, Syracuse and the archeological parks in Paestum and the Campi Flegrei near Naples. "The house for the ancient Greeks was the expression of the identity of the community of its inhabitants and it had been evolved over time depending on the changes of society", exhibit director Maurizio Cannatà says . "There is no term equivalent to the Latin familia in the Greek language. There is only one single term, oikos.
At that point, I was going to stop until I started to wonder if the word oikos itself was archaic or is still used in some fashion. (Maybe I needed a young Greek!) No, but I did find this about the contemporary use of oikos: it is used to describe social groups. Dozens of persons can be involved, but only those to whom quality time is devoted are part of the oikos. Individuals are related to one another by work, recreation, hobbies, or by being neighbors. They share some sort of social interaction.
Ah-HAH!, (my brain-storm thunders to life! ) what about the internet? Certainly at least some of those zombie phone users are spending quality time. I asked my go-to sociology guy, Prof. Warren Johnson, if I was entitled to claim "dibs" on the phrase cyber-oikos!
He (because he is a scholar and actually knows things) informed me that someone had beaten me to it. Some musician guy. Curses! But the concept? Well (maybe this is why I didn't do well in sociology). And so, Prof. Johnson:
I was crushed. Well, how about synchroikosinicity? Go see the exhibit.The thing about interaction is this: if we can change roles in real time, the interaction is direct. Every interaction involves an actor and a percipient. In face-to-face interaction, the actor speaks and the percipient listens. A few moments later, they switch roles, and the original actor becomes the percipient while the other person becomes the actor. Indirect interaction involves an actor and percipient, too. Writers, readers. Painter, viewers. Composers, listeners. Sculptors, beholders. Almost always, the actor is not available at the same time the percipient is. All too often the actor is downright dead. Poor Aristotle.
Society is a network of direct and indirect interactions. Intellectuals are mostly devoted to indirect interactions. They look at cave paintings and almost automatically think the painter and we belong to the same society, a network of interactions that extends over 30,000 years. You and I are in the same cyber-oikos, but unless we reply immediately to our emails our interactions are indirect.
It's easy to think indirect interactions are pointless. But not if you love painting, and writing, composing and sculpting. The sage's comments are just as real as they would be were he in the same room. The only difference is one of physical science. Face-to-face interactions most often involve airwaves that disappear in the course of the conversation. Indirect interactions include semi-permanent manifestations of the original actors' accomplishments. Books, stones, and sheets of music are on hand to study, even if the books have gone through translators and the music is played by countless musicians in between. A nice thing about music is that it has been played by countless musicians over the centuries. A nice thing about old musical instruments is they, too, have been played by countless hands performing wide varieties of music.
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9. added Nov. 2018. Copied to this page on 26 June 2019 from this Miscellany link where it is still present.
"Urbem Syracusas maximam esse Graecarum, pulcherrimam omnium saepe audistis. Est, iudices, ita ut dicitur."
"You have often heard it said that Syracuse is the largest and most beautiful of all Greek cities. Members, those who
say that are indeed correct." (Cicero, In Verrem, II,4,117)
Ancient Syracuse (originally called Συϱάϰουσαι, transliterated as Syrakousai by the later Greeks in Italy) and then as Syracusae by the Romans was founded on the island of Ortigia on the south-eastern coast Sicily in c.734 BC by colonists from Corinth led by their oekist (or oecist), Archias of Corinth. Some ancient sources, including Aristotle, say that the colonists, themselves, descended from Trojan prisoners captured by Agamemnon in the Trojan War. The oekist was picked by ancient Greek city-states to lead new efforts to go forth and colonize. He had the power to select where to settle and to direct the initial labors. The oekist was often accorded his own cult after his death, and his name was held sacred even when other details of the founding were forgotten. Foundation myths about Archias say he was descended from Hercules and that he founded Syracuse where he did after defeating a local population called the Siculi.
image above: Papertowns
The Greeks turned their colony into one of the most important commercial and cultural centers in the Mediterranean and, thus, one of the great cities in all of ancient Greece in literature, science, philosophy, and military might. Syracuse itself then founded other smaller colonies at Akrai, Kasmenai, Akrillai, Helorus, and Kamarina, all of them strung out from Syracuse's position on the east coast and running inland to the SW to keep an eye on Gela, a colony founded a bit after Syracuse by other Greeks (and thus potential enemies!) from Rhodes and Crete. (That creeping to the west also put Syracuse on a collision course with Carthaginian ambitions on the island.) At its height (around 400 BC) Syracuse's walls encircled 120 hectares (300 acres) and the population numbered around 250,000. It vied with Athens for number one among Greek cities. Syracuse was finally subdued in 212 BC by Rome. The city became part of the Roman Republic as the capital of the province of Sicily and then the Roman Empire. When that fell, it was taken by a succession of Germanic invaders, the Vandals, Goths, and Ostrogoths. In the 6th century it became part of the Eastern Roman Empire and in the 7th century was declared capital of the entire Byzantine empire for a short period before that function returned to Constantinople. It withstood an initial Arab assault and finally fell to the Arabs in 878.
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Thanks to Jeff Miller for calling this recent bit of archaeology to my attention: a 2,200-year-old chamber tomb in Taranto. It sheds light on the ancient underground structures at this location, the site of the only Greek colony of Magna Grecia settled by colonists from Sparta.
Most histories consider Magna Grecia (Greater Greece = Greek colonial expansion beyond the Aegean) to have started around 800 BC. Where is just as important as When. Sicily, for example, was good. It put you on major trade routes. So was the Tyrrhenean Sea, the west coast of Italy. There you had major trade routes, including with the mysterious Etruscans to the north and access to the large islands of Sardinia and Corsica and whatever lay along what is now the the French and Spanish coast. The Tyrrhenean led you along the routes plied by even earlier Bronze Age cultures. Naples is on the Tyrrhenean, and the Greek settlement at Ischia (called Pithecusa) and then the spread to the mainland to found Cuma is often cited as the beginning of Magna Graecia.
There is another early candidate, not so obvious. It's off the beaten track in terms of trade routes and stuck up at the top of the heel of the boot of Italy on the inside, the west (image, left). But if you had a flying Olympian god/goddess (they could fly, too, even better than Google maps!), he/she could have looked down and boomed out, "Hey, want the perfect natural port?" --and pointed you straight to Taranto." Look at it.
Taranto is one of the oldest cities in Italy. It was founded by the Spartans in the 8th century BC (that is, 706 BC) and is the only colony founded by Sparta. The warriors from Sparta settled there, naming it Taras. Ancient sources are not clear if the site was named for a local river (possible) or for Taras, a mythological Greek god (also possible). Some sources say that the city was founded by Philanthus, a Spartan also mentioned in mythology. So pick one. The important thing is that by 500 BC, the city was gigantic with as many as 300,000 inhabitants and was the seat of the Italiot League, a mutual defense pact of southern colonies of Magna Grecia to defend against the mainland Lucanians and Dyonisius I, the tyrant of Siracuse (in Sicily). During the period of Greek colonization, then, the city was a cultural, economic and military power, not just another Greek colony. It was, after all, full of Spartans. There are remnants in the area of habitation going back to 3500 BC, but that is common in many place in southern Italy. The people pushed out by the Spartans were an early Italic tribe called the Messapians and there is evidence that Sparta landed her first settlers somewhat to the south before moving up and in on Messapia. If that is true, the Spartans just couldn't resist that natural port that made those flying Greek gods so ecstatic.
The ancient city was built on a peninsula. In this photo, imagine a clock face at dead center. Twelve o'clock (the top) is south. Three o'clock runs out through an urban area, the modern city of Taranto. Big Sea and Little Sea (l & r, respectively) were originally an enclosed natural body of water shaped like spooky misshapen eye-glasses, indeed a unique geographical feature. The "peninsula" mentioned above is the section of shoreline of Little Sea running down at about 4 o'clock that now looks like an island. It is an artificial island. The old channel was cut there by the Spartan colonists and the large one on the left is almost modern. They built on a peninsula, yes, but they had turned it into a peninsula with that channel so they could get from their eye-glasses out to the open sea. Modern structures have been built over the ancient city and only a few ruins remain, including part of the city walls, two temple columns from the 6th century BC, and tombs. Farther out in the "Gulf of Taranto" the entire port is protected (here, out of view off to the upper right) by the islets of S. Pietro and S. Paolo, collectively known as the Cheradi Islands. In those early days of Magna Grecia, there was no doubt as to who ruled these waters -- the Spartans of Taras. That situation did not change considerably even after Rome got rolling. The Romans moved south, yes, but saw fit to draw up treaties with Taras instead of confronting the city head-on, after being forced to withdraw on the few occasions when they did try to take Taras.
Taras reached its height of military power and prosperity in the 4th century BC under the philosopher and scientist Archytas. After his death the city declined and eventually fell under the domination of Rome. Taras became became "Tarantum". We can say only that Taras was one of the first colonies of Magna Grecia, but we know for sure that it was the last. It was taken by Rome as result of the Pyrrhic War (280–275 BC). Pyrrhus, king of Epirus (a Greek state in the Balkans, right across the Adriatic) came to the aid of Taras to help the city in its struggle against the expansionist Roman Republic. Pyrrhus enjoyed initial success against the Roman legions, but suffered heavy losses. According to Plutarch, Pyrrhus said, after the second battle of the war, "If we are victorious in one more battle with the Romans, we shall be utterly ruined." This has led to the expression Pyrrhic victory, a term for a victory that inflicts losses the victor cannot afford in the long term.
There is an excellent Spartan museum in the old city, on "the island." They can tell you who that is riding a dolphin on the coat of arms of the city (top image, left, above). Oh, all right. Various mythological references agree that the person represented is Arion of Corinth, poet and killer musician on the lyre (which makes him a catherode!). He was kidnapped by pirates and rescued by dolphins, who (they're people, too!) took him to Taranto. I don't think the dolphin had a name. Go see the museum.
In modern times, the Italian port of Taranto played a startling and prescient part in WW2. It was the site of the first carrier-based attack by aircraft on a naval port, an event called "the blueprint for Pearl Harbor." (See this link.)
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added Dec.5, 2020
A Greek Church in Italy
If you wonder why there is still a "Greek church" in Italy, a working Greek church and monastery with monks who hold mass in ancient Greek(!), it's because everything in history is connected to everything else. So if you ask why something happened, the answer is that the other such-and-such happened before it – and off you go into a never-ending retrogression of cause and effect. Thus, let's just pick a big, solid "thing" –somewhere to start– that everybody knows about. For this entry, that would be The Roman Empire. And one more thing –a person, really– Jesus of Nazareth. We are concerned with how the Roman Empire and the religion of Jesus, Christianity, got intertwined –inextricably mixed together, such that Christianity not only outlived the Empire, but went from being an obscure Jewish sect to being the largest religion in the world. (If you need a reminder about the Roman Empire, the image (above) shows it in about the year 300 AD. Here, the empire is at its largest extent, under empire Constantine I (272–337 AD) known as Constantine "the Great". If you need a reminder of who Jesus was, go read something else.
You may recall that for their first 300 years Christians were persecuted. That ended when said emperor Constantine became a Christian, who said he had triumphed under a vision of the Cross.* That led to the edict of Milan (313), which defined Imperial religion(s) as tolerant. Christianity was therefore officially embraced along with traditional religions. From his new Eastern capital, Constantinople, Constantine embodied both Christian and older Greek religion. He passed laws to protect Christians from persecution; he also funded the building of churches, including Saint Peter's basilica in Rome, seat of the Bishop of Rome. Constantine promoted orthodoxy in Christian doctrine, so that Christianity might be a unifying rather than divisive faith. He summoned Christian bishops to a meeting that reached consensus on the Nicene Creed (a statement of Christian beliefs). In 380, under Theodosius I, Nicene Christianity became the official state religion of the Roman Empire.
*The triumph referred to is Constantine's victory at the battle of the Milvian Bridge, still a landmark over the Tiber river in Rome. The battle marked the beginning of Constantine's conversion to Christianity. It took place between Constantine I and Maxentius in October 312. (Both were claimants to the emperorship left vacant by the abdication of emperor Diocletian.) Constantine won and became the sole ruler of the Roman Empire. The causes of the battle were rivalries in Diocletian's Tetrarchy, a four-part division of "power-sharing" among junior and senior emperors, all equal but "some more equal than others" (George Orwell). Military historian, Paul K. Davis, writes, "Constantine’s victory gave him total control of the Western Roman Empire paving the way for Christianity to become the dominant religion for the Roman Empire and ultimately for Europe." Constantine's conversion to Christianity marks the beginning of the real spread of Christianity in the world and the circumstances of that conversion are important in Christian historiography. Some say that Constantine and his soldiers had a vision, a promise of victory if the sign of the Chi Rho (image) the first two letters of Christ's name in Greek, was painted on the soldiers' shields. The exact nature of the vision is unimportant – and whether or not it actually happened is unimportant. What matters is what Christians believe about their own history.
Somewhat later, under Emperor Justinian I (527–565) who tried to reunite the far-flung and splintered Empire,
the old Empire was viewed as a pentarchy, a five-part religious organizational scheme, each part a "See". In this model, the Christian church was governed by the heads (patriarchs) of the five major episcopal sees of the Roman Empire: Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem. The Islamic conquests of Alexandria,
Jerusalem, and Antioch in the 7th century left Constantinople as the Christian authority in the East. Rome was that authority in the West. The Pentarchy had ceased to exist. Now you had Christian Rome and Christian Constantinople, heading for the main event: the Great Schism.
The East–West Schism in 1054 broke the mutual communion between the Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox Churches. It came after centuries of theological and political differences between East and West. In 1053 came the first step towards the schism: the Greek churches in southern Italy were forced to become "Latin" or Roman (including the monastery I deal with in this entry, Grottaferrata (image, left). If they did not, they were forced to close. Indeed, after the Great Schism most Basilian monasteries elsewhere became part of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Those in Italy remained in communion with the Western Church. The Basilian church and monastery of Grottaferrata are – and always have been – Roman Catholic. That is important: to this day they use Eastern, Byzantine rites, including saying their Mass in ancient Greek. Today, most Catholics in the West say Mass in local languages and occasionally in Latin.
the facade of the abbey and church of Grottaferrata
Grottaferrata, itself, is a small town, 20 km (12 miles) SE of Rome, on the lower slopes of the Alban Hills. It has grown up around the church and monastery of Grottaferrata, founded in 1004. Historically, it is a Basilian monastery (after Basil of Caesarea [330-379], also called Saint Basil the Great, the bishop of Caesarea Mazaca in Cappadocia, modern-day Turkey). He was an influential supporter of the Nicene Creed and opposed the "heresies" of the early Christian church. His ability to balance his theological convictions with his political connections made Basil a powerful advocate for the Nicene position. The Nicene Creed is a statement of belief widely used in Christian liturgy. It is called Nicene because it was originally adopted in the city of Nicaea by the First Council of Nicaea in 325. (Nicaea is now İznik, Turkey.)
the church in the abbey of Grottaferrata
In 1004 Nilus founded the Basilian Monastery of Santa Maria, in Grottaferrata; it was completed by his disciple Bartholomew of Grottaferrata, who was also of Greek heritage. The emigration of the Greeks to the West after the fall of Constantinople (1452) lent prestige to these communities, and Cardinal Bessarion, who was Abbot of Grottaferrata, sought to stimulate the intellectual life of the Basilians by means of the literary treasures in their libraries. Other Italian monasteries of the Basilian Order affiliated theselves with the monastery of Grottaferrata in 1561.
The Abbey of Saint Mary of Grottaferrata was consecrated by John XIX in 1024. Some mosaics are still visible though many of the medieval structures were covered or destroyed during "restorations" over the centuries. A modern portico protects the ancient façade. The library of the Abbey has 50,000 volumes and has a Restoration Laboratory, which was entrusted with the conservation of Leonardo's Codex Atlanticus. The lab is a solid and respected part of the chain of such institutions that work to restore damaged ancient books.
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12. July 6 (2021)
The Torch Has Passed to a New...what? .... You Dropped it...?!
Last Saturday (June 26) the Greeks re-opened post-pandemic Naples as the never-never semi-functional city (mayor, Don E. Brook) of yore and evermore by holding a Lampadedromia (Torch Race) starting at Cuma. That is just north of the Gulf of Naples and was founded by the Greeks as a colony by other Greeks from Pithecusa (now Ischia). It was all Greek. If Greek is Greek to you, go read all about it in someone's fine translations of The Iliad and The Odyssey by Homer and Homer, respectively. (Back then, you got only one name; it made phone books much thinner.)
The runners finished at a square (image, right) on the sea-side of the Chiaia section of the city, not far from the small port of Mergellina. If they ran the whole way, they're still in good shape, those old-timey Greeks. At the finish they were met by a local actress in the guise of siren, Parthenope. (And by yours truly in back of Parthenope. Space-Time travel really makes you younger!) All of this was meant to revitalize the memory of Naples as part of Magna Graecia, Greater Greece, the many Greek colonies spread beyond the Aegean, yea, even unto the pillars of Hercules (Herakles). Indeed, the mayor of the province of Matera way down yonder in the land of palm trees wants to rename the Ionian Road, also known as highway SS 106 . (Don't worry. It's not German. It means strada statale [state road]. He wants to call it The Road of Magna Graecia. The current road crosses the entire Ionian Arc, stretching 500 km along the Ionian coast from Taranto to Reggio di Calabia, as you see in the image. (Note: Reggio Calabria [a semicircle with no label] is on the mainland. Messina is on the island of Sicily, a strong swim across the Straits of Messina. Problem? No. Modern Italian mumbo-jumbo covers them both as the Straits of Messina Metropolitan Area, not a single city, but wishing and pixie dust can make it so. Cue music. Cut.)
(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.)