This video is part of a series of 16 animated maps.

View series: Ancient Greece

An example of an animated map


This map is part of a series of 16 animated maps showing the history of Ancient Greece.

In the 8th century, the Greeks were well-established on both sides of the Aegean Sea and they continued to extend their territories through colonization over the next two centuries.

This led to some Greeks leaving their cities and founding others elsewhere in the Mediterranean Basin.  

There were many reasons why they went in search of new lands, and these reasons changed over time: search for farming land, control of trade routes, escape from political conflicts, or simply the spirit of adventure.  

The first phase of colonization focused on an area relatively close to their home territory: southern Italy, Sicily and the straits. The main cities that founded colonies were: Chalcis and Eretria, on the island of Euboea, and Megara, Corinth and Sparta, in the Peloponnese.  

The Euboeans established a settlement on the Island of Pithekoussai, now Ischia, on the metal trading sea routes, shortly before founding the city of Cumae in around 750 BC, in what is now the Bay of Naples.

During the following decades, other colonies were founded in Southern Italy: Taranto by the Spartans, Croton and Sybaris by the Achaeans. 

At the same time in Sicily, Megara Hyblaea was founded by the Megarians, Naxos by the Euboeans and Syracuse by the Corinthians.  

Syracuse is fairly typical of the sites chosen by the Greek colonists as it contained many of the prerequisites they needed:

-  Proximity to fertile land: its coastal plain was irrigated by the rivers Anapos and Cyane;

-  Well-protected: the island of Ortygia with its natural spring, the Arethusa. 

The foundation of Zancle (Messina) and Rhegion (Reggio di Calabria) on either side of the Straits of Messina, together with cities created at Byzantium and Chalcedon, facing each other across the Bosporus, bear witness to the Greeks’ desire to control shipping routes. 

In the second phase, between 650 and 510, Greek colonies spread further around the Mediterranean Basin. Settlers now came from all over the Greek world, particularly from cities on the Ionian coast, such as Miletus or Phocaea, or in Magna Graecia, such as Naxos or Sybaris. 

To the North, on the shores of the Black Sea where wheat was plentiful, the people of Miletus founded Sinope, Olbia, Panticapaeum.

To the West on the pewter route, the Phocaeans founded Massalia, the future city of Marseilles, which gave them access to the trade routes up the Valley of the Rhone, and later Alalia in Corsica and Emporiae in Spain. 

To the South, the inhabitants of Thera, the southernmost of the Cycladic islands, founded Cyrene in modern-day Libya. 

Nevertheless, the presence of the Kingdom of Egypt and rivalry with Carthage in the Western Mediterranean placed serious constraints on the settlement of Greek colonies on the African coast and the Iberian Peninsula”

This expansion came to an end in the late 6th century BC.  Colonization was halted mainly because of resistance from local populations such as the Etruscans and the Illyrians.The main outcome of colonization was the spread of Greek civilization across a large part of the Mediterranean Basin: the Etruscans learned to write and in turn handed this skill on to the Romans.  The native peoples were introduced to wine, oil, ceramics, and urban architecture.