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Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology



Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology & the Ancient World
Brown University
Box 1837 / 60 George Street
Providence, RI 02912
Telephone: (401) 863-3188
Fax: (401) 863-9423
[email protected]

Arune Gulati

Pithekoussai, founded in the early to middle 8th century by the Euboeans, is widely held to be the first Greek colony, though whether or not it was a colony or simply a trading post is debatable (Ridgway). Located on the island of Ischia off the western coast of Italy, Pithekoussai is strategically positioned one or two days’ sailing length away from important copper and tin sources located in modern day Tuscany. This speaks to Pithekoussai’s importance as primarily a trading center, established by the poleis Kalchedon and Eretria as a means of reaching important resources (Cerchiai 14). Whitley points out, though, that to label Pithekoussai as the daughter colonies of only two poelis would be ignoring the fact that many remains have indicated the presence of other cultural influences, most notable Levantine. Further evidence to support the idea of Pithekoussai as a trading colony is that it contained a wonderful harbor but little agricultural potential (Whitley 126). This has led many scholars to contend that Pithekoussai was in fact not a colony but an emporion, or a “planned commercial enterprise in which hundreds of families prospered by the sale (without coinage) of their skills and labor” (Ridgway). Being the first Greek extension Westward, it is interesting to note just how far away Pithekoussai was founded from the Greek mainland. Whitley contends that the original Euboeans could not only have relied on earlier Mycenaen expeditions but instead must have had “inside information” about the area from some central Mediterranean trading partners (Whitley 127). Ridgway names these trading partners as the Levantines, which jives well with the findings of Levantine remains all over the site.

Archaeological records at Pithekoussai have been incredibly important in learning the finer points of the colony. The excavations, conducted by Giorgio Buchner in the 1950’s, studied about 500 graves, which interestingly represented 5% of a grave site used in the late 8th century. The analysis and subsequent calculations have estimated the population of the colony at around five to ten thousand individuals (Ridgway). Remains of houses and other architectural remains have led scholars to estimate the size of the colony at 1 km long, which interestingly makes it 3 times the size of the contemporary settlement at Smyrna. Despite its size, however, scholars have hesitated to label Pithekoussai as a polis, probably because of its lack of political organization and purpose (Whitley 127). Also of incredible importance in the archaeological record of Pithekoussai was the finding of Nestor's Cup.

Though at its height Pithekoussai was a well entrenched trading center, its power was eventually surpassed as the nearby colony of Cumae grew. As is seen with other Greek colonies, Cumae was founded by members of Pithekoussai as a more conventional colony where the emphasis was not so much on trade. Historians date the decline of Pithekoussai to about 725 BCE (Whitley 127). Today, Pithekoussai, or more generally the island of Ischmia, is home to volcanic mud baths known to help sufferers of sciatica.

Cerchiai, L., L. Jannelli, and F. Longo. The Greek Cities of Magna Graecia and Sicily. Los Angeles: Getty Trust Publications, 2004.

Ridgway, David. The First Western Greeks. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

Whitley, James. The Archaeology of Ancient Greece. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

Posted at Dec 20/2007 11:00AM:
chris witmore: Good job Arune, but why not add some images?