Greek Colonisation

Greece, a country known for it’s richness in culture, art, and architecture, has had an enriching history. During her colonization, the civilisation extended across the Mediterranean and Black Sea. But why did the Greeks start colonising? This post will mainly explore multiple complex reasons for her colonisation, the extent and effect of it including - major cities that were colonised, their relationship with Greeks and how it led to the Greco Persian War.


What led the Greeks to start colonising and expanding their control over lands?


As we learnt in class, the Greeks were great seafarers. This led to the Greeks going further to discover new lands to expand their power and find more opportunities for trade. Hence, after the first millennium BCE, Greek cities, most of which possess maritime prowess began to sail out and colonise lands. Whenever the Greeks found a favourable place for trade or settlement due to its resources, they would first establish a trade contact with the people before subduing them and taking over the land overtime. (Sounds kinda sneaky and scheming right?) In Greek Colonisation, instead of dominating the native people of the land and enforcing their own culture on them, the Greeks allowed the different cultures to mix and interact, there were even inter-marriages.The expansion of Greek city states throughout the Mediterranean meant that the trade of various goods ranging from luxurious items to raw materials and products for farming such as timber,metals,grains and dried fish could take place.

Trading allowed for food, raw materials and manufactured goods to be made available to the Greeks. The Greeks also exported goods such as wine, olives and pottery. Wine was exported from islands such as Mende and Kos. Goods such as bronze work, olive and olive oil were transported from Mende and Kos to places such as Atlantic Coast of Africa. Wine and Olives were the most exported trade products of that time. The islands such as Mende and Kos within the city Aegean which were exporting these products became powerful trading points.

Through trading, some colonies became so prosperous to the point that their power was comparable to some of the greatest founding Greek cities. For example, having the best harbour in East Sicily, Syracuse grew so much that it became a large polis. The military was present in order to guard the profitable sea routes, preventing anybody from jeopardising their business.

Rosemania, Greek Pottery, 30 December 2005, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license   

Rosemania, Greek Pottery, 30 December 2005, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license   

What colonies did the Greeks colonise and why?


Regaliorum, Greek colonization during Archaic Period, 30 March 2014, Creative Commons CC0 1.0    Universal Public Domain Dedication

Regaliorum, Greek colonization during Archaic Period, 30 March 2014, Creative Commons CC0 1.0    Universal Public Domain Dedication

Which states states started the colonisation? It all started with six Greek cities, Chalcis, Eretria, Corinth, Megara, Miletus and Phocaea. They thought, ‘You know what? Let’s go conquer more land to increase our strength and prosperity!’. Of course, they were smart in choosing which states to colonise to gain the most out of! Euboean cities (Chalcis and Eretria) were the first to make a move. Eretrians took Corsica (not for long, read on to find out more!) before they sailed over to conquer cities in Italy. This was crucial as it opened up opportunities to trade with the far west, meaning more money! On the other hand, the Chalcidians colonized Cumae, the first Greek city in southern Italy. The entire area in southern Italy colonized by the Greeks would later be known as Magna Graecia. Through that, they managed to colonize Pithecusae and this was key to the Euboean’s trade as they set up an emporiun (just another complicated term for ‘trading place’) there. You might think that the Euboeans would take a chill pill after conquering so many cities, right? Wrong. They continued to colonise  the Chalcidice Peninsula in order to expand their trade opportunities and assert dominance. .

So where are the other 4 Greek cities that wanted to colonize? Here they are. Seeing the success of the Euboeans, the Corinths set up Potidaea to trade with Macedonia. The Corinths then chased Eretrians out of Corsica (remember I said earlier the Eretrians did not own Corcyca for long?) and then established Syracuse which had the best harbor in Eastern Sicily. Megara (one of the six Greek colonizing cities and Corinth’s neighbor) had their eyes set on the land towards the Black Sea and hence conquered Chalcedon and Byzantium. They also had a city next to Syracuse, named Megara Hyblaea.

With so much land conquered, Greek cities started to grab what was left. Sparta occupied Tarentum, the finest port in southern Italy. Thera established Cyrene in North Africa. Miletus (one of the six Greek colonizing cities) founded a large number of cities along the Turkish coast all the way to Trapezus. Finally, the Phocaea (last of the six Greek colonizing cities) focused on the far west and managed to conquer Massalia, Nicaea and Antipolis in southern France and Emporion in northern Spain.  

If you decided it was too long and complicated for you to understand and skipped the entire portion (it’s ok), here’s the summary. Basically, the Greeks were smart people and they chose strategic places to colonise for one of the following four reasons. 1. Serve as a pit stop of a trade route. 2. Trade with the foreigners. 3. Serve as a port for ships to dock and trade. 4. Expand land and power. A second look at the map and you will see that the Greeks conquered most of the lands near the sea in all directions as an effort to trade with people from everywhere, not just a particular foreign land. All of these reasons supported their rationale and goals for colonising which was to find new trade opportunities and increase their power.


Relationship of colonies with Greeks


Having colonised over a number of cities and places, the Greeks who considered themselves citizens of their own native cities (as we already know from the “Crash Course” video and Prof Bennett’s class on Greece) established unique relationships with the people whom they colonised. In the article “The Relation of a Greek Colony to Its Mother City”, Morris gave us insights to what the relationships of colonists were like with the mother country. It is important to note of how Greece shared about three different types of relationships: antagonistic, isolated and integrated. Here, we will take a look at a few of the more prominent relationships that have been recorded down.


Antagonistic Relations

Colonization of Sicily and Southern Italy

The native people of Italy and Sicily were strongly rooted to their culture and grounded in the places and lands that were rightfully theirs. They were not in favour of any external party invading their boundaries. Who likes it when someone else comes and occupies your land right? The Greeks colonizing their land had caused severe strains in relations between both parties. As much as the Italians were culturally rooted, the Greeks colonies in Magna Graecia (a region in Italy) shared strong bonds and trade-relations with their homeland and cities.

Isolated Relations

Colonization of Spain

Greek colonies created a trade base which extended far and wide, specifically in Southern Spain. The colonies in the Spanish region were not as culturally involved as compared to the colonies in other regions of the Mediterranean. The Greeks in this Spanish region were seen to be detached and secluded, as recorded in Greek literary sources.


Integrated Relations

Colonization of Ionia

Ionia was a melting pot of cultural influences and creations. This was prominently seen in the areas of Mathematics, Science and Philosophy. This was where some of the most intelligent and significant Greeks in history came from. The art scene and architectural structures in, such as palmed column capitals, sphinxes and vibrant pottery designs were integrated into Ionia from regions in the East. It became a source of inspiration for the Greek the architects and artists to discover new forms of architecture and design. Protogeometric pottery (a style of ancient Greek pottery) existed in Ionia before the colonisation had even taken place. This goes on to show that Greece had a strong influence and was very much in existence within Ionia, way before the colonisation had even taken place.

Tilemahos Efthimiadis, Protogeometric Pottery, 27 September 2009, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0   Generic

Tilemahos Efthimiadis, Protogeometric Pottery, 27 September 2009, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0   Generic


Colonisation of the Black Sea

The Aegean Sea was mostly ruled by the Greeks and they had colonised cities in the Black Sea region. The colonisation of this area expanded trade links which allowed the trading of gold and other precious raw materials. Miletos was the one of the most significant cities founded, boasting an estimate of 70 colonies within it. Some of the most prominent cities of the Black Sea to have been founded were Kyzikos, Sinope, Pantikapaion, and Olbia. Greek colonies had ruled over almost all of the Black Sea. However, they had to engage in certain activities such as compromising inter-marriages, diplomacy with the native people of that land and warfare to ensure that the Greek colonies survived well.


What led to its end?


We have seen above how Greece’s colonization period had flourished in the Mediterranean. The trade network, colonised cities and it’s relationship with Greeks played a vital role in Greece’s history. One of the main reasons for the flourishment of the empire was the control and utilisation of the Ionia sea. By using sea as a means of transportation, it immensely benefitted the Greeks as it was much faster, cheaper and more efficient in comparison to transportation by land. Using the sea as a highway, Greeks developed and expanded their empire in such a way that conflict with other powers became inevitable. However, their monopoly of the vital lands and sea did not last long and competition with other rising empires led to the downfall of the Greek empire. The Greco-Italian-Sicilian trading route that the Greeks controlled competed more with the Oriental Indo-Persian-Phoenician. This rivalry eventually led to the Greco Persian wars.

Greece has always been rich in terms of it’s history and power but what’s interesting to ponder about is how such a prosperous empire eventually fell apart? Was it simply because of competition with other empires? Or was there more to it? And how different is Greece’s present state as compared to its considerably glorious past?


Reference List

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Cartwright, Mark. Greek Colonization. (28 October 2014). From Ancient History Encyclopedia.     (2014) Accessed 17 February 2017 (hv to remove this now)

Colette Hemingway and Séan Hemingway. “Ancient Greek Colonization and Trade and their Influence on Greek Art.”(July 2007) In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. From The Metropolitan Museum of Art. (2000) Accessed 17 January 2017.

Emanuele Greco. Greek Colonisation In Southern Italy: A methodological essay. 2006. From Greek Colonisation an Account of Greek Colonies and other Settlement Overseas. pg 169

Esfahani, Haideh. Rule of law: A comparison between ancient persia and ancient Greece. (2008) International Society of Iranian Studies.

Hornblower, Simon & Spawforth Antony & Eidinow Esther. The Oxford Classical Dictionary. (2012). Oxford Reference.

Lindenlauf, Astrid. “The sea as a place of no return in Ancient Greece” (2003) World Archaeology, 35(3): 416-433.

Morris, C. D. "The Relation of a Greek Colony to Its Mother City." The American Journal of            Philology 5, no. 4 (1884): 479-87.

Pritchard, David M: Public Finance and War in Ancient Greece. (Apr 2015) Greece and Rome (62:1), 48-59.

Rubini,M., Bonafede, E., & Mogliazza, S. The Population of East Sicily During the Second and First Millenium BC: The Problem of the Greek colonies. (1999). International Journal of Osteoarchaeology