Theodor Mommsen.

The History of Rome, Book I The Period Anterior to the Abolition of the Monarchy online

. (page 15 of 27)
Online LibraryTheodor MommsenThe History of Rome, Book I The Period Anterior to the Abolition of the Monarchy → online text (page 15 of 27)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

as to the region from which, and as to the period at which, the Greek
seafarers came thither, only the former admits of being answered
with some degree of precision and fulness. The Aeolian and Ionian
coast of Asia Minor was the region where Hellenic maritime traffic
first became developed on a large scale, and whence issued the
Greeks who explored the interior of the Black Sea on the one hand
and the coasts of Italy on the other. The name of the Ionian Sea,
which was retained by the waters intervening between Epirus and
Sicily, and that of the Ionian gulf, the term by which the Greeks
in earlier times designated the Adriatic Sea, are memorials of
the fact that the southern and eastern coasts of Italy were once
discovered by seafarers from Ionia. The oldest Greek settlement in
Italy, Kyme, was, as its name and legend tell, founded by the town
of the same name on the Anatolian coast. According to trustworthy
Hellenic tradition, the Phocaeans of Asia Minor were the first of
the Hellenes to traverse the more remote western sea. Other Greeks
soon followed in the paths which those of Asia Minor had opened up;
lonians from Naxos and from Chalcis in Euboea, Achaeans, Locrians,
Rhodians, Corinthians, Megarians, Messenians, Spartans. After the
discovery of America the civilized nations of Europe vied with one
another in sending out expeditions and forming settlements there;
and the new settlers when located amidst barbarians recognized their
common character and common interests as civilized Europeans more
strongly than they had done in their former home. So it was with
the new discovery of the Greeks. The privilege of navigating the
western waters and settling on the western land was not the exclusive
property of a single Greek province or of a single Greek stock,
but a common good for the whole Hellenic nation; and, just as in
the formation of the new North American world, English and French,
Dutch and German settlements became mingled and blended, Greek Sicily
and "Great Greece" became peopled by a mixture of all sorts of
Hellenic races often so amalgamated as to be no longer distinguishable.
Leaving out of account some settlements occupying a more isolated
position - such as that of the Locrians with its offsets Hipponium
and Medama, and the settlement of the Phocaeans which was not founded
till towards the close of this period, Hyele (Velia, Elea) - we may
distinguish in a general view three leading groups. The original
Ionian group, comprehended under the name of the Chalcidian towns,
included in Italy Cumae with the other Greek settlements at Vesuvius
and Rhegium, and in Sicily Zankle (afterwards Messana), Naxos,
Catana, Leontini, and Himera. The Achaean group embraced Sybaris
and the greater part of the cities of Magna Graecia. The Dorian
group comprehended Syracuse, Gela, Agrigentum, and the majority
of the Sicilian colonies, while in Italy nothing belonged to it
but Taras (Tarentum) and its offset Heraclea. On the whole the
preponderance lay with the immigrants who belonged to the more
ancient Hellenic influx, that of the lonians and the stocks settled
in the Peloponnesus before the Doric immigration. Among the Dorians
only the communities with a mixed population, such as Corinth and
Megara, took a special part, whereas the purely Doric provinces had
but a subordinate share in the movement. This result was naturally
to be expected, for the lonians were from ancient times a trading
and sea-faring people, while it was only at a comparatively late
period that the Dorian stocks descended from their inland mountains
to the seaboard, and they always kept aloof from maritime commerce.
The different groups of immigrants are very clearly distinguishable,
especially by their monetary standards. The Phocaean settlers coined
according to the Babylonian standard which prevailed in Asia. The
Chalcidian towns followed in the earliest times the Aeginetan, in
other words, that which originally prevailed throughout all European
Greece, and more especially the modification of it which is found
occurring in Euboea. The Achaean communities coined by the Corinthian
standard; and lastly the Doric colonies followed that which Solon
introduced in Attica in the year of Rome 160, with the exception
of Tarentum and Heraclea, which in their principal pieces adopted
rather the standard of their Achaean neighbours than that of the
Dorians in Sicily.

Time of the Greek Immigration

The dates of the earlier voyages and settlements will probably always
remain enveloped in darkness. We may still, however, distinctly
recognize a certain order of sequence. In the oldest Greek document,
which belongs, like the earliest intercourse with the west, to
the lonians of Asia Minor - the Homeric poems - the horizon scarcely
extends beyond the eastern basin of the Mediterranean. Sailors
driven by storms into the western sea might have brought to Asia
Minor accounts of the existence of a western land and possibly
also of its whirlpools and island-mountains vomiting fire: but in
the age of the Homeric poetry there was an utter want of trustworthy
information respecting Sicily and Italy, even in that Greek land
which was the earliest to enter into intercourse with the west;
and the story-tellers and poets of the east could without fear of
contradiction fill the vacant realms of the west, as those of the
west in their turn filled the fabulous east, with their castles in
the air. In the poems of Hesiod the outlines of Italy and Sicily
appear better defined; there is some acquaintance with the native
names of tribes, mountains, and cities in both countries; but Italy
is still regarded as a group of islands. On the other hand, in
all the literature subsequent to Hesiod, Sicily and even the whole
coast of Italy appear as known, at least in a general sense, to the
Hellenes. The order of succession of the Greek settlements may in
like manner be ascertained with some degree of precision. Thucydides
evidently regarded Cumae as the earliest settlement of note in the
west; and certainly he was not mistaken. It is true that many a
landing-place lay nearer at hand for the Greek mariner, but none
were so well protected from storms and from barbarians as the island
of Ischia, upon which the town was originally situated; and that
such were the prevailing considerations that led to this settlement,
is evident from the very position which was subsequently selected
for it on the mainland - the steep but well-protected cliff, which
still bears to the present day the venerable name of the Anatolian
mother-city. Nowhere in Italy, accordingly, were the scenes of
the legends of Asia Minor so vividly and tenaciously localized as
in the district of Cumae, where the earliest voyagers to the west,
full of those legends of western wonders, first stepped upon the
fabled land and left the traces of that world of story, which they
believed that they were treading, in the rocks of the Sirens and
the lake of Avernus leading to the lower world. On the supposition,
moreover, that it was in Cumae that the Greeks first became the
neighbours of the Italians, it is easy to explain why the name
of that Italian stock which was settled immediately around Cumae,
the name of Opicans, came to be employed by them for centuries
afterwards to designate the Italians collectively. There is a
further credible tradition, that a considerable interval elapsed
between the settlement at Cumae and the main Hellenic immigration
into Lower Italy and Sicily, and that in this immigration Ionians
from Chalcis and from Naxos took the lead. Naxos in Sicily is said
to have been the oldest of all the Greek towns founded by strict
colonization in Italy or Sicily; the Achaean and Dorian colonizations
followed, but not until a later period.

It appears, however, to be quite impossible to fix the dates of
this series of events with even approximate accuracy. The founding
of the Achaean city of Sybaris in 33, and that of the Dorian city
Tarentum in 46, are probably the most ancient dates in Italian
history, the correctness, or at least approximation to correctness,
of which may be looked upon as established. But how far beyond
that epoch the sending forth of the earlier Ionian colonies reached
back, is quite as uncertain as is the age which gave birth to the
poems of Hesiod or even of Homer. If Herodotus is correct in the
period which he assigns to Homer, the Greeks were still unacquainted
with Italy a century before the foundation of Rome. The date thus
assigned however, like all other statements respecting the Homeric
age, is matter not of testimony, but of inference; and any one who
carefully weighs the history of the Italian alphabets as well as
the remarkable fact that the Italians had become acquainted with
the Greek people before the name "Hellenes" had emerged for the
race, and the Italians borrowed their designation for the Hellenes
from the stock of the -Grai- or -Graeci- that early fell into
abeyance in Hellas,(1) will be inclined to carry back the earliest
intercourse of the Italians with the Greeks to an age considerably
mere remote.

Character of the Greek Immigration

The history of the Italian and Sicilian Greeks forms no part of
the history of Italy; the Hellenic colonists of the west always
retained the closest connection with their original home and
participated in the national festivals and privileges of Hellenes.
But it is of importance even as bearing on Italy, that we should
indicate the diversities of character that prevailed in the Greek
settlements there, and at least exhibit some of the leading features
which enabled the Greek colonization to exercise so varied an
influence on Italy.

The League of the Achaen Cities

Of all the Greek settlements, that which retained most thoroughly
its distinctive character and was least affected by influences from
without was the settlement which gave birth to the league of the
Achaean cities, composed of the towns of Siris, Pandosia, Metabus
or Metapontum, Sybaris with its offsets Posidonia and Laus, Croton,
Caulonia, Temesa, Terina, and Pyxus. These colonists, taken as a
whole, belonged to a Greek stock which steadfastly adhered to its
own peculiar dialect, having closest affinity with the Doric, and
for long retained no less steadfastly the old national Hellenic
mode of writing, instead of adopting the more recent alphabet which
had elsewhere come into general use; and which preserved its own
nationality, as distinguished alike from the barbarians and from other
Greeks, by the firm bond of a federal constitution. The language
of Polybius regarding the Achaean symmachy in the Peloponnesus may
be applied also to these Italian Achaeans; "Not only did they live
in federal and friendly communion, but they made use of like laws,
like weights, measures, and coins, as well as of the same magistrates,
councillors, and judges."

This league of the Achaean cities was strictly a colonization. The
cities had no harbours - Croton alone had a paltry roadstead - and
they had no commerce of their own; the Sybarite prided himself on
growing gray between the bridges of his lagoon-city, and Milesians
and Etruscans bought and sold for him. These Achaean Greeks,
however, were not merely in possession of a narrow belt along the
coast, but ruled from sea to sea in the "land of wine" and "of
oxen" ( - Oinotria - , - Italia - ) or the "great Hellas;" the native
agricultural population was compelled to farm their lands and to
pay to them tribute in the character of clients or even of serfs.
Sybaris - in its time the largest city in Italy - exercised dominion
over four barbarian tribes and five-and-twenty townships, and was
able to found Laus and Posidonia on the other sea. The exceedingly
fertile low grounds of the Crathis and Bradanus yielded a superabundant
produce to the Sybarites and Metapontines - it was there perhaps
that grain was first cultivated for exportation. The height of
prosperity which these states in an incredibly short time attained
is strikingly attested by the only surviving works of art of
these Italian Achaeans, their coins of chaste antiquely beautiful
workmanship - the earliest monuments of art and writing in Italy
which we possess, as it can be shown that they had already begun to
be coined in 174. These coins show that the Achaeans of the west
did not simply participate in the noble development of plastic art
that was at this very time taking place in the motherland, but were
even superior in technical skill. For, while the silver pieces
which were in use about that time in Greece proper and among the
Dorians in Italy were thick, often stamped only on one side, and
in general without inscription, the Italian Achaeans with great
and independent skill struck from two similar dies partly cut in
relief, partly sunk, large thin silver coins always furnished with
inscriptions, and displaying the advanced organization of a civilized
state in the mode of impression, by which they were carefully
protected from the process of counterfeiting usual in that age - the
plating of inferior metal with thin silver-foil.

Nevertheless this rapid bloom bore no fruit. Even Greeks speedily
lost all elasticity of body and of mind in a life of indolence, in
which their energies were never tried either by vigorous resistance
on the part of the natives or by hard labour of their own. None
of the brilliant names in Greek art or literature shed glory on the
Italian Achaeans, while Sicily could claim ever so many of them,
and even in Italy the Chalcidian Rhegium could produce its Ibycus
and the Doric Tarentum its Archytas. With this people, among whom
the spit was for ever turning on the hearth, nothing flourished from
the outset but boxing. The rigid aristocracy which early gained
the helm in the several communities, and which found in case of need
a sure reserve of support in the federal power, prevented the rise
of tyrants; but the danger to be apprehended was that the government
of the best might be converted into a government of the few,
especially if the privileged families in the different communities
should combine to assist each other in carrying out their designs.
Such was the predominant aim in the combination of mutually
pledged "friends" which bore the name of Pythagoras. It enjoined
the principle that the ruling class should be "honoured like gods,"
and that the subject class should be "held in subservience like
beasts," and by such theory and practice provoked a formidable
reaction, which terminated in the annihilation of the Pythagorean
"friends" and the renewal of the ancient federal constitution. But
frantic party feuds, insurrections en masse of the slaves, social
abuses of all sorts, attempts to supply in practice an impracticable
state-philosophy, in short, all the evils of demoralized civilization
never ceased to rage in the Achaean communities, till under the
accumulated pressure their political power utterly broke down.

It is no matter of wonder therefore that the Achaeans settled in
Italy exercised less influence on its civilization than the other
Greek settlements. An agricultural people, they had less occasion
than those engaged in commerce to extend their influence beyond
their political bounds. Within their own dominions they enslaved
the native population and crushed the germs of their national
development as Italians, while they refused to open up to them
by means of complete Hellenization a new career. In this way the
Greek characteristics, which were able elsewhere to retain a vigorous
vitality notwithstanding all political misfortunes, disappeared
more rapidly, more completely, and more ingloriously in Sybaris
and Metapontum, in Croton and Posidonia, than in any other region;
and the bilingual mongrel peoples, that arose in subsequent times
out of the remains of the native Italians and Achaeans and the more
recent immigrants of Sabellian descent, never attained any real
prosperity. This catastrophe, however, belongs in point of time
to the succeeding period.

Iono-Dorian Towns

The settlements of the other Greeks were of a different character,
and exercised a very different effect upon Italy. They by no means
despised agriculture and the acquisition of territory; it was not
the wont of the Hellenes, at least when they had reached their full
vigour, to rest content after the manner of the Phoenicians with a
fortified factory in the midst of a barbarian land. But all their
cities were founded primarily and especially for the sake of trade,
and accordingly, altogether differing from those of the Achaeans,
they were uniformly established beside the best harbours and
lading-places. These cities were very various in their origin and
in the occasion and period of their respective foundations; but
there subsisted between them a certain fellowship, as in the common
use by all of these towns of certain modern forms of the alphabet,(2)
and in the very Dorism of their language, which made its way at an
early date even into those towns that, like Cumae for example,(3)
originally spoke the soft Ionic dialect. These settlements were
of very various degrees of importance in their bearing on the
development of Italy: it is sufficient at present to mention those
which exercised a decided influence over the destinies of the
Italian races, the Doric Tarentum and the Ionic Cumae.


Of all the Hellenic settlements in Italy, Tarentum was destined
to play the most brilliant part. The excellent harbour, the only
good one on the whole southern coast, rendered the city the natural
emporium for the traffic of the south of Italy, and for some portion
even of the commerce of the Adriatic. The rich fisheries of its
gulf, the production and manufacture of its excellent wool, and
the dyeing of it with the purple juice of the Tarentine -murex-,
which rivalled that of Tyre - both branches of industry introduced
there from Miletus in Asia Minor - employed thousands of hands, and
added to the carrying trade a traffic of export. The coins struck
at Tarentum in greater quantity than anywhere else in Grecian
Italy, and struck pretty numerously even in gold, furnish to us a
significant attestation of the lively and widely extended commerce
of the Tarentines. At this epoch, when Tarentum was still contending
with Sybaris for the first place among the Greek cities of Lower
Italy, its extensive commercial connections must have been already
forming; but the Tarentines seem never to have steadily and
successfully directed their efforts to a substantial extension of
their territory after the manner of the Achaean cities.

Greek Cities Near Vesuvius

While the most easterly of the Greek settlements in Italy thus rapidly
rose into splendour, those which lay furthest to the north, in the
neighbourhood of Vesuvius, attained a more moderate prosperity.
There the Cumaeans had crossed from the fertile island of Aenaria
(Ischia) to the mainland, and had built a second home on a hill
close by the sea, from whence they founded the seaport of Dicaearchia
(afterwards Puteoli) and, moreover, the "new city" Neapolis. They
lived, like the Chalcidian cities generally in Italy and Sicily,
in conformity with the laws which Charondas of Catana (about 100)
had established, under a constitution democratic but modified by
a high census, which placed the power in the hands of a council
of members selected from the wealthiest men - a constitution which
proved lasting and kept these cities free, upon the whole, from
the tyranny alike of usurpers and of the mob. We know little as to
the external relations of these Campanian Greeks. They remained,
whether from necessity or from choice, confined to a district of
even narrower limits than the Tarentines; and issuing from it not
for purposes of conquest and oppression, but for the holding of
peaceful commercial intercourse with the natives, they created the
means of a prosperous existence for themselves, and at the same time
took the foremost place among the missionaries of Greek civilization
in Italy.

Relations of the Adriatic Regions to the Greeks

While on the one side of the straits of Rhegium the whole southern
coast of the mainland and its western coast as far as Vesuvius,
and on the other the larger eastern half of the island of Sicily,
were Greek territory, the west coast of Italy northward of Vesuvius
and the whole of the east coast were in a position essentially
different. No Greek settlements arose on the Italian seaboard of
the Adriatic; and with this we may evidently connect the comparatively
small number and subordinate importance of the Greek colonies
planted on the opposite Illyrian shore and on the numerous adjacent
islands. Two considerable mercantile towns, Epidamnus or Dyrrachium
(now Durazzo, 127), and Apollonia (near Avlona, about 167), were
founded upon the portion of this coast nearest to Greece during
the regal period of Rome; but no old Greek colony can be pointed
out further to the north, with the exception perhaps of the
insignificant settlement at Black Corcyra (Curzola, about 174?). No
adequate explanation has yet been given why the Greek colonization
developed itself in this direction to so meagre an extent. Nature
herself appeared to direct the Hellenes thither, and in fact from
the earliest times there existed a regular traffic to that region
from Corinth and still more from the settlement at Corcyra (Corfu)
founded not long after Rome (about 44); a traffic, which had as its
emporia on the Italian coast the towns of Spina and Atria, situated
at the mouth of the Po. The storms of the Adriatic, the inhospitable
character at least of the Illyrian coasts, and the barbarism of
the natives are manifestly not in themselves sufficient to explain
this fact. But it was a circumstance fraught with the most momentous
consequences for Italy, that the elements of civilization which
came from the east did not exert their influence on its eastern
provinces directly, but reached them only through the medium of those
that lay to the west. The Adriatic commerce carried on by Corinth
and Corcyra was shared by the most easterly mercantile city of
Magna Graecia, the Doric Tarentum, which by the possession of Hydrus
(Otranto) had the command, on the Italian side, of the entrance of
the Adriatic. Since, with the exception of the ports at the mouth
of the Po, there were in those times no emporia worthy of mention
along the whole east coast - the rise of Ancona belongs to a far
later period, and later still the rise of Brundisium - it may well
be conceived that the mariners of Epidamnus and Apollonia frequently
discharged their cargoes at Tarentum. The Tarentines had also much
intercourse with Apulia by land; all the Greek civilization to be
met with in the south-east of Italy owed its existence to them.
That civilization, however, was during the present period only in
its infancy; it was not until a later epoch that the Hellenism of
Apulia was developed.

Relations of the Western Italians to the Greeks

It cannot be doubted, on the other hand, that the west coast
of Italy northward of Vesuvius was frequented in very early times
by the Hellenes, and that there were Hellenic factories on its
promontories and islands. Probably the earliest evidence of such
voyages is the localizing of the legend of Odysseus on the coasts
of the Tyrrhene Sea.(4) When men discovered the isles of Aeolus
in the Lipari islands, when they pointed out at the Lacinian cape
the isle of Calypso, at the cape of Misenum that of the Sirens,
at the cape of Circeii that of Circe, when they recognized in the
steep promontory of Terracina the towering burial-mound of Elpenor,
when the Laestrygones were provided with haunts near Caieta and
Formiae, when the two sons of Ulysses and Circe, Agrius, that is
the "wild," and Latinus, were made to rule over the Tyrrhenians in
the "inmost recess of the holy islands," or, according to a more
recent version, Latinus was called the son of Ulysses and Circe,
and Auson the son of Ulysses and Calypso - we recognize in these
legends ancient sailors' tales of the seafarers of Ionia, who
thought of their native home as they traversed the Tyrrhene Sea.
The same noble vividness of feeling, which pervades the Ionic poem
of the voyages of Odysseus, is discernible in this fresh localization
of the same legend at Cumae itself and throughout the regions
frequented by the Cumaean mariners.

Other traces of these very ancient voyages are to be found in the
Greek name of the island Aethalia (Ilva, Elba), which appears to

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 15 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27

Online LibraryTheodor MommsenThe History of Rome, Book I The Period Anterior to the Abolition of the Monarchy → online text (page 15 of 27)