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Sybaris (Σύβαρις), a city of Magna Graecia, on the Gulf of Taranto, between the rivers Crathis (Crati) and Sybaris (Coscile), which now meet 3 miles from the sea, but in ancient times had independent mouths, was the oldest Greek colony in this region.

It was an Achaean colony founded by Isus of Helice about 720 BC, but had among its settlers many Troezenians, who were ultimately expelled. Although the region is now unhealthy, at the time it was very fertile, and following a liberal admission policy, the city became large and wealthy, with a vast subject territory and diverse daughter colonies even on the Tyrrhenian Sea (Posidonia, Laus, Scidrus).

For magnificence and luxury the Sybarites were proverbial throughout Greece, and in the 6th century probably no Hellenic city could compare with its wealth and splendor. Tension between the democrats and oligarchs, in which many of the latter were expelled and took refuge at Crotona, led to a war with that city, and the Crotoniats with very inferior forces were completely victorious. They razed Sybaris to the ground and turned the waters of Crathis to flow over its ruins in 510 BC.

Explorations undertaken by the Italian government in 1879 and 1887 failed to lead to a precise knowledge of the site. Only two discoveries were made: an extensive necropolis, some 8 miles to the west of the confluence of the two rivers, of the end of the first Iron age, known as that of Torre Mordillo, the contents of which are now preserved at Potenza; a necropolis of about 400 BC – the period of the greatest prosperity of Thurii – consisting of tombs covered by tumuli (locally called timponi), in some of which were found fine gold plates with mystic inscriptions in Greek characters; one of these tumuli was over 90 feet in diameter at the base with a single burial in a sarcophagus in the centre.

Sybaris Stater, Text SY (for Sybaris), c. 550 BC

Sybaris, Didrachma,

Aristotle, Politics, Book 5

Another cause of revolution is difference of races which do not at once acquire a common spirit; for a state is not the growth of a day, any more than it grows out of a multitude brought together by accident. Hence the reception of strangers in colonies, either at the time of their foundation or afterwards, has generally produced revolution; for example, the Achaeans who joined the Troezenians in the foundation of Sybaris, becoming later the more numerous, expelled them; hence the curse fell upon Sybaris. At Thurii the Sybarites quarrelled with their fellow-colonists; thinking that the land belonged to them, they wanted too much of it and were driven out.

Strabo, I, pp. 395, 396

Beyond this, at the distance of 200 stadia, is situated Sybaris, a colony settled by the Achaeans, between the two rivers Crati and Sybaris. Its founder was Is ... the Helicocn. So great was the prosperity enjoyed by this city anciently, that it held dominion over four neighboring people and twenty-five towns ; in the war with the Crotoniatae it brought into the field 300,000 men, and occupied a circuit of fifty stadia on the Crati. But on account of the arrogance and turbulence of its citizens, it was deprived of all its prosperity by the Crotoniatae in seventy days, who took the city, and turning the waters of the river (Crati), overwhelmed it with an inundation. Some time after, a few who had escaped came together and inhabited the site of their former city, but in time they were dispossessed by the Athenians and other Greeks, who came and settled amongst them, but they despised and subjugated them, and removed the city to a neighboring place, calling its name Thurii, from a fountain of that name. The water of the river Sybaris has the peculiar property of making the horses which drink it shy, for which reason they keep their horses away from the river.

Telys of Sybaris

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