previous next

The Tensions of Colonization

The case of the foundation of a Greek colony in Cyrene1 (in what is now Libya in North Africa) in about 630 B.C. reveals how full of tensions the process of colonization could be. The people of the polis of Thera, on an island north of Crete, apparently were unable to support their population. Sending some people out as colonists to Cyrene therefore made sense as a solution to population pressures. A later inscription purports to tells us what happened at the time of colonization and reveals the urgency of the situation at the time: “One adult son [from each family] is to be conscripted....If any man is unwilling to leave when the polis sends him, he shall be subject to the death penalty and his property shall be confiscated.” (M. Crawford and D. Whitehead, Archaic and Classical Greece: A Selection of Ancient Sources in Translation, Cambridge, 1983, no. 16B) Evidently the young men of Thera were reluctant to leave their home for the new colony. This evidence shows, then, that colonization in response to population growth was not always a matter of individual choice of the people feeling the pressure. The possibility of acquiring land in a colony on which a man could perhaps grow wealthy obviously had to be weighed against the terrors of being torn from family and friends to voyage over treacherous seas to regions filled with unknown dangers. Greek colonists had reason to be scared about their future. Moreover, in some cases, colonies were founded to rid the metropolis of undesirables whose presence was causing social unrest. The Spartans, for example, colonized Taras2 (modern Taranto) in southern Italy in 706 B.C. with a group of illegitimate sons whom they could not successfully integrate into their citizen body. These unfortunate outcasts certainly did not go as colonists by their own choice.

hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: