Rome and the Western Greeks, 350 BC-AD 200: Conquest and Acculturation in Southern Italy

By Kathryn Lomas | Go to book overview

Introduction

…magnamque Graeciam, quae nunc quidem deleta est, turn florebat…1

This fundamental contrast, articulated by Cicero in the first century BC, represents the dominant view of the region known as Magna Graecia in the years after the Roman conquest-a region once stupendously wealthy, even decadently so, now shorn of its past glories and largely deserted. It is an image perpetuated not only by ancient authors but also in many modern perceptions of the region. The apparent poverty and depopulation of the region of southern Italy known as the Mezzogiorno in more recent times may have unconsciously reinforced the dismal images of Magna Graecia preserved for us in Roman and Greek literature alike during the Roman Empire. Since Late Antiquity, the majority of cities which were Greek foundations have indeed been abandoned, preserved only as picturesque ruins, if at all. 2 Those which continued as urban centres-Naples, Taranto, Reggio-were far distant from the new centres of power in Italy. It seems, though, that these images of desolation from both the ancient world and from more recent times have coloured our perceptions of Magna Graecia too much. Over the last thirty years, there has been a tremendous, and ever increasing, volume of archaeological evidence from both survey and excavation in the Mezzogiorno which is forcing a radical reassessment of many aspects of its history, including the history of Magna Graecia. Slowly but surely, the 'dark ages' of the Greek colonies, following their conquest by Rome in the third century BC, are emerging into the light. It is becoming clear that the history of Magna Graecia was not simply one of frenetic overachievement followed by decline and desolation, but that many of the Greek cities continued to flourish under Roman rule and played an important role in the development of Roman Italy.

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