Calabria is universally recognized as the heart of Magna Graecia, identifying with this expression that very important phase of Greek colonization of the South of Italy started in the eighth century BC. The Greek cities, mostly independently of each other, were looking for new lands to occupy at that time, both to escape the many internal political frictions and to improve their economic activities based on agricultural production and trade. Southern Italy and Calabria in particular turned out to be ideal for these purposes thanks to the mild climate, the abundance of water and the peninsular conformation of the territory which made it easy to move by sea.The Greeks were certainly not the first to colonize Calabria, but their colonies were completely different from the previous ones: the Greeks did not create anonymous deposits of goods, leaving some soldiers on guard, but settled in new lands, giving life to urban centers according to their use and that they had never known each other before in Italy. The Greek colonies experienced such rapid development that they not only equaled, but even surpassed the Motherland by culture and wealth, earning precisely the appellation of “Magna Grecia”.
Between 740 and 690 BC Rhegion (Reggio Calabria) was founded by the Calcidesi, Sybaris (Sibari) and Kroton (Crotone) from the Achaeans and finally Lokroi Epizephyroi (Locri) from settlers from the ancient Greek region known as Locride. According to tradition, the location of these cities was indicated by the Oracle of Delphi, through which God Apollo was interrogated by the chiefs of the expeditions. In any case, whatever the truth, one can not fail to notice some common sense in choosing areas of settlement that are quite far from each other. The Greek cities of the Motherland, in fact, had amply shown that two “poleis” in close contact with each other always ended up in war.
And this will also be confirmed in Calabria, where Crotone will attack Sybaris destroying it: in the meantime, however, the level of civilization reached by these cities had no equal in history. The three Ionian cities, Sibari, Crotone and Locri, wanted to consolidate their presence expanding inward and on the Tyrrhenian coast and founding sub-colonies. Remaining only in the Calabrian territories, the Sibariti founded Laos and Skydros (cities of difficult identification, but which were located in today’s Tyrrhenian coast of Cosenza), the crotonia founded among others Temese, Terina, Skylletion (today Roccelletta di Borgia) and probably also Kaulon (today Punta Stilo near Monasterace Marina), while locresi founded Hipponion (Vibo Valentia), Métauros (Gioia Tauro) and Medma (Rosarno).
The Reggini, instead, if not for a probable collaboration in the foundation of Métauros, did not have an expansionist vocation: Rhegion, thanks to its strategic position on the Strait, enormously strengthened its trades assuming a leadership in this field that remained for centuries unequaled.
The “poleis” of Magna Graecia resumed the administrative organization of the Motherland, thus giving life to the famous city-states that brought for the first time a democratic regime in Calabria: these institutions were defended by a military apparatus of the first order, based above all on a large fleet of warships. The sea was also a perfect communication route for trade with both the Motherland and other Mediterranean populations. It traded everything from food (especially cereals) to raw materials (wood and marble), from handicrafts to works of art (think of the Bronzes of Riace, for example).
Culture was probably the flagship of Magna Graecia: each city had at least one library and several centers for the study of the arts, philosophy, engineering and medicine. Just think of people like Pythagoras, Philip of Medma (Plato’s particular secretary), Nosside (poet Locrese) and the doctor Alcmeone, founder along with Hippocrates of modern medicine, who first intuited the function of command on the body operated by the brain.
In addition to the sciences and the arts, sport was also a field of excellence for the Calabrian cities of Magna Graecia: for example, the boxer Milone da Crotone, who still holds the record of 5 Olympic gold medals in 5 different editions. The crotonous athletes were celebrated as deities in Calabria and there were ample reasons: among all the editions of the Olympic Games of Antiquity, in fact, Kroton conquered more medals of Athens and of all the other great Greek and Magno-Greek cities, surrendering only to the excessive power of Sparta.