The Greek colonization in Mediterranean and the Black sea

The 8th century saw an unprecedented colonization of the Greeks beyond the narrow limits of the Aegean into the rest of the Mediterranean by establishung several colonies controled by Greek city states. Certainly, the commercial activity of the Euboeans with the island of Pithecus helped to start such an expansion. This commercial dominance is the generative cause for the massive establishment of cities and the Greek expansion over a large geographical area.

The ancient known world

About the one third of the known world at the time belonged to basically Greek cities. Of course, we must not forget that at the same time there is another phenomenon in progress. It is about the intense urbanization of the Greek area and by extension the Mediterranean, with the merging of settlements into one city. We are now leaving the isolation of the 10th and 9th centuries behind us.

Having examined the time, let’s focus on the protagonists since there is a question about their identity. Opinions conflict as to whether those who undertook the establishment of the colony were sent by the city or were individuals seeking new opportunities. In both cases depends on the colonizer city. It may be that in a city where there was no economic space (trade opportunities and available land) for a serious number of people, the solution of colonization was preferred, or simply that a city wanted to expand its economic and military influence.

Note that many times the aristocrats of a city saw it as an opportunity to weaken the opposition in the city, appointing other aristocrats as leaders of colonizing missions.

As far as the place is concerned, the Greeks turned to neighboring southern Italy, Sicily, the Adriatic, the Ionian, Cyrenaica, which flourished in the Hellenistic years, the straits of the Hellespont, the Black Sea, an area rich in wheat, southern France and distant Spain.

This is due to the existence of organized states, the Phoenician and the Egyptian respectively. Regarding northern Africa we have the spread of the Phoenicians. It is the awe-inspiring rival of the Greeks and their theater of conflict is Sicily on an economic and military level.

map-of-the-known-world-8BC-by-Eratosthenes

Greek colonies in Lower Italy and Sicily

As far as the place is concerned, the Greeks turned to neighboring southern Italy, Sicily, the Adriatic, the Ionian, Cyrenaica, which flourished in the Hellenistic years, the straits of the Hellespont, the Black Sea, an area rich in wheat, southern France and distant Spain. The Greeks did not operate in today’s Syria, Egypt (one colony: Naucratis) and in northern Africa (except Cyrenaica). This is due to the existence of organized states by the Phoenician and the Egyptian respectively. Regarding northern Africa we have the spread of the Phoenicians. It is the awe-inspiring rival of the Greeks and their theater of conflict is Sicily on an economic and military level.

greek colonies map in southern Italy

The causes of colonization

The phenomenon of Greek colonization was caused by population growth and the accumulation of arable land in the hands of a few. Thus, the available land areas were reduced, with a direct risk of food shortages for certain social classes. Therefore, the escape from this unfavorable situation was the colonization of new regions. Of course, there were also political and social problems, such as the famine in Thebes and the Parthenians in Sparta. Of course, we must not forget the will to control the trade routes of the Mediterranean. Trade is now the key to the economic empowerment of the city and at the same time to its military superiority.

Important help was provided by the knowledge of the geography of the Mediterranean in the 8th century, as well as the assumption of leadership positions by aristocrats who gathered their spiritual and material forces in large ports to begin their journey. The place they chose to build their new city had to communicate with other cities and usually have physical fortifications. Also, the fertility of the soil was important, as well as the disposition of the local populations.

The relations of the settlers with the locals were determined by the intentions of the latter. Many times, the native populations were displaced or made up the working class of the city, as the new residents shared the available land and were the new aristocracy of the city. The colony’s relationship with its metropolis ranged from friendly to hostile in some cases. The colony was completely independent at all levels from the metropolis. For example, Potidea, although a colony of Corinth, was until 432 BC. in the Delian alliance and its only connection with Corinth was on a religious level each year.

The impact of colonization

The effects of colonization became evident at many levels of Greek life. The contact with the foreign made the Greeks aware of the identity of their nation. The city-state model is entering a period of maturation, taking second place to tribal states. Greek culture radiates in the Mediterranean and receives the corresponding influences from the peoples it comes into contact with. Also, many mercenaries and artisans moved to the East, helping to develop the states that existed in the region. Finally, relations with the aristocracy of Scythia and Libya are strengthened.

Greek-colonization-map