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An archaic Greek colony founded by Achaians and Troezenians about 720 B.C. on a fertile plain drained by the Crati and Sybaris rivers in a region lying between Metaponto and Kroton. Sybaris and the two successive cities of Thurii and Copia built on the same site are mentioned by at least 70 Greek and Roman writers, notably Herodotos (5.45), Aristotle (Pol. 5.2.10), Diodorus Siculus (11.90.3-4; 12), Strabo (6.1.13), and Athenaeus (Deip. 12.519). There is general agreement that the original city was destroyed by the Greeks of Kroton about 510 B.C.

Ancient authorities agree in placing the archaic colony somewhere on the plain of the Crati (125 sq. km). Systematic search for the site, begun in 1879, was finally rewarded in 1968. The precise location was defined and it was concluded that archaic Greek Sybaris was succeeded by Thurii and Copia on the same site (see Thurii).

Archaic Greek pottery was found in several hundred drill borings at a depth of 4.5-6 m; later Greek and Roman pottery in upper levels was still below 3 m in depth. The archaic deposits are now some 3 m below sea level and 4-5 m below the water table. Soundings exposed stone foundations of 6th c. B.C. structures, masses of roof tiles, and archaic pottery in a single level of occupation in the N sector of the site, i.e., not covered over by later Greek and Roman structures. But in the S sector only later Greek and Roman structures were found overlying a level of archaic Greek pottery at ca. 6 m in depth. A stone retaining wall was traced by the magnetometers, drills, and soundings for 800 m roughly parallel and to the N of the Crati river. The lower part of the wall was built in the Hellenistic period (Thurii) and the upper part during the period of Roman settlement.

Since 1968 there have been three seasons of excavation at the site. Utilizing a well point system, large sectors have been pumped constantly so that the water table has been reduced to a depth below the archaic level allowing dry excavation to at least 6 m. Four separate excavations have been made, the largest extending over 2 ha in the Parco del Cavallo area where a Roman structure protruding above ground was found in 1928, and where there were excavations in 1961-62. The principle structure now unearthed there is a theater of the 1st and 2d c. A.D., surrounded by a residential area of the period of Roman Copia. There is also a major road of the same period passing the theater in an E-W direction. Below the Roman theater, soundings have exposed Greek structures and pottery extending over the period from the 8th to the 5th c. B.C., indicating no significant period when the site was not occupied after the original settlement by the archaic Greeks. This excavation indicates that the site was abandoned in the 4th c. A.D.

The second major excavation was made in the N sector (Stombi—now called the Parco dei Tori) where the earlier research disclosed only an archaic level. Here the foundations of the three buildings have been uncovered; also a pottery kiln. Although unidentified, the structures appear to be part of an organized town settlement of the 6th c. B.C.

A third excavation in the locality of Casa Bianca, at the E end of the long retaining wall, exposed more of the Roman habitation area and part of a road which probably connects with another passing the Parco del Cavallo section in an E-W direction. The fourth excavation in the San Mauro area to the S and outside the limits of the Sybaris zone, exposed a small Roman structure in the upper level.

The almost total destruction of the archaic city, indicated by the six soundings excavated in the years 1962-67, is borne out by the large excavations in the Stombi area. The recent excavations also clarify the problem of the physical deposition of the ruins. It is now clear that the plain of the Crati settled below the present sea level after the period of Roman occupation rather than before, as assumed in the 1968 report. The problem of preserving the site is still to be solved. At present, constant and expensive pumping is required to expose Roman buildings which lie below the water table.


F. G. Rainey & C. M. Lerici, The Search for Sybaris (1967). [In introductory chapters all the pertinent material from the ancient authors is translated and the early excavations are summarized.]; Rainey, “The Location of Archaic Greek Sybaris,” AJA 73 (1969) 261-73; Autori vari, Sibari, NSc 1969, Suppl.

I. Report on the Italian excavations at Parco del Cavallo. F. RAINEY

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  • Cross-references from this page (2):
    • Herodotus, Histories, 5.45
    • Strabo, Geography, 6.1.13
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