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

By Kathryn Lomas | Go to book overview

1

The Geography and Early Settlement of Magna Graecia

The importance of the physical geography of Italy in moulding the development and political integration of the peninsula cannot be overestimated. Its central position in the Mediterranean facilitates communications and trade with both West and East, and its shape, being much longer than wide, ensures that peninsular Italy covers a broad spectrum of climatic and geological conditions. All of these factors have significant bearing on the economic and political development of communities and also on the ways in which they interact. 1 Even within the area of this study, the coastal region from the Bay of Naples to Taranto, there is a wide range of climate, vegetation and physical landforms which had a major impact on the siting and development of cities, their interaction, and their wider network of communications. However, it must be stressed that although an appreciation of the geography of southern Italy is vital to our understanding of its historical development, it is not an unchanging factor. Climatic fluctuations affect local economies and habitation patterns, and land-forms can change significantly over a relatively short period of time, due to the effects of erosion and siltation. Survey work in Apulia using geological core sampling techniques has revealed that the ancient coastline was considerably further inland than the modern one in many places, and that a number of rivers have changed course. 2 Extensive coastal erosion or deposition of this type can potentially have a drastic effect on local economies of coastal cities such as those of Magna Graecia. 3

The Greek cities were essentially maritime settlements, occupying areas of coastal plain. These plains are not continuous, however, but are broken, particularly in Calabria, by mountainous terrain. Many settlements are restricted to a fairly narrow strip of low-lying ground separating the mountains of the hinterland from the sea. In this respect,

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