The League Of The Achaen Cities

Of all the Greek settlements, that which retained most thoroughly its distinctive character and was least affected by influences from without was the settlement which gave birth to the league of the Achaean cities, composed of the towns of Siris, Pandosia, Metabus or Metapontum, Sybaris with its offsets Posidonia and Laus, Croton, Caulonia, Temesa, Terina, and Pyxus. These colonists, taken as a whole, belonged to a Greek stock which steadfastly adhered to its own peculiar dialect, having closest affinity with the Doric, and for long retained no less steadfastly the old national Hellenic mode of writing, instead of adopting the more recent alphabet which had elsewhere come into general use; and which preserved its own nationality, as distinguished alike from the barbarians and from other Greeks, by the firm bond of a federal constitution. The language of Polybius regarding the Achaean symmachy in the Peloponnesus may be applied also to these Italian Achaeans; "Not only did they live in federal and friendly communion, but they made use of like laws, like weights, measures, and coins, as well as of the same magistrates, councillors, and judges."

This league of the Achaean cities was strictly a colonization. The cities had no harbours--Croton alone had a paltry roadstead--and they had no commerce of their own; the Sybarite prided himself on growing gray between the bridges of his lagoon-city, and Milesians and Etruscans bought and sold for him. These Achaean Greeks, however, were not merely in possession of a narrow belt along the coast, but ruled from sea to sea in the "land of wine" and "of oxen" (--Oinotria--, --Italia--) or the "great Hellas;" the native agricultural population was compelled to farm their lands and to pay to them tribute in the character of clients or even of serfs. Sybaris--in its time the largest city in Italy--exercised dominion over four barbarian tribes and five-and-twenty townships, and was able to found Laus and Posidonia on the other sea. The exceedingly fertile low grounds of the Crathis and Bradanus yielded a superabundant produce to the Sybarites and Metapontines--it was there perhaps that grain was first cultivated for exportation. The height of prosperity which these states in an incredibly short time attained is strikingly attested by the only surviving works of art of these Italian Achaeans, their coins of chaste antiquely beautiful workmanship--the earliest monuments of art and writing in Italy which we possess, as it can be shown that they had already begun to be coined in 174. These coins show that the Achaeans of the west did not simply participate in the noble development of plastic art that was at this very time taking place in the motherland, but were even superior in technical skill. For, while the silver pieces which were in use about that time in Greece proper and among the Dorians in Italy were thick, often stamped only on one side, and in general without inscription, the Italian Achaeans with great and independent skill struck from two similar dies partly cut in relief, partly sunk, large thin silver coins always furnished with inscriptions, and displaying the advanced organization of a civilized state in the mode of impression, by which they were carefully protected from the process of counterfeiting usual in that age--the plating of inferior metal with thin silver-foil.

Nevertheless this rapid bloom bore no fruit. Even Greeks speedily lost all elasticity of body and of mind in a life of indolence, in which their energies were never tried either by vigorous resistance on the part of the natives or by hard labour of their own. None of the brilliant names in Greek art or literature shed glory on the Italian Achaeans, while Sicily could claim ever so many of them, and even in Italy the Chalcidian Rhegium could produce its Ibycus and the Doric Tarentum its Archytas. With this people, among whom the spit was for ever turning on the hearth, nothing flourished from the outset but boxing. The rigid aristocracy which early gained the helm in the several communities, and which found in case of need a sure reserve of support in the federal power, prevented the rise of tyrants; but the danger to be apprehended was that the government of the best might be converted into a government of the few, especially if the privileged families in the different communities should combine to assist each other in carrying out their designs. Such was the predominant aim in the combination of mutually pledged "friends" which bore the name of Pythagoras. It enjoined the principle that the ruling class should be "honoured like gods," and that the subject class should be "held in subservience like beasts," and by such theory and practice provoked a formidable reaction, which terminated in the annihilation of the Pythagorean "friends" and the renewal of the ancient federal constitution. But frantic party feuds, insurrections en masse of the slaves, social abuses of all sorts, attempts to supply in practice an impracticable state-philosophy, in short, all the evils of demoralized civilization never ceased to rage in the Achaean communities, till under the accumulated pressure their political power utterly broke down.

It is no matter of wonder therefore that the Achaeans settled in Italy exercised less influence on its civilization than the other Greek settlements. An agricultural people, they had less occasion than those engaged in commerce to extend their influence beyond their political bounds. Within their own dominions they enslaved the native population and crushed the germs of their national development as Italians, while they refused to open up to them by means of complete Hellenization a new career. In this way the Greek characteristics, which were able elsewhere to retain a vigorous vitality notwithstanding all political misfortunes, disappeared more rapidly, more completely, and more ingloriously in Sybaris and Metapontum, in Croton and Posidonia, than in any other region; and the bilingual mongrel peoples, that arose in subsequent times out of the remains of the native Italians and Achaeans and the more recent immigrants of Sabellian descent, never attained any real prosperity.

The Period Anterior to the Abolition of the Monarchy Page 58

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