il museo archoelogico della Magnia Grecia
The origins of this beautiful Apulian
city, looking out onto the Ionian sea, disappear into the
mists of time. Historians think that it was founded in 706
B.C., when a group of Spartans landed on the coast of the
gulf; though the ancient name Taras may be of Messapian origin.
Alongside the historical theories lie a series of mythical
ones, whose roots undoubtedly have some distant connection
to real events.
versions of the city's foundation inc- lude the story of Falanto,
the Spartan hero, whom the Delphic oracle foretold would found
a city on the spot where he had been drenched by a magical
shower of rain falling from a clear blue sky. Falanto, the
wandering hero of ancient Sparta, landed in Apulia and underwent
a series of sometimes painful adventures, which can be found
night, exhausted by his travels, he fell deeply asleep. His
wife, contemplating his sleeping face and all their vicissitudes,
burst into uncontrollable tears, which drenched her husband's
face. Her name was Etra, which in Greek means "a clear
sky"; thus, the prophecy was fulfiled and Falanto carried
out the will of the gods, founding the new city.
is not the only myth which surrounds the subject. Another
tells the story of a hero with divine blood in his veins,
who also embarked on the coast. His name was Taras and he
was no other than the son of Neptune, god of the sea. The
story has it that, while he was performing a sacrifice in
honour of his father on the banks of an Apulian river, a flashing
dolphin appeared. The dolphin was a sign from above: a city
was to be founded on the site of the apparition. It is for
this reason that even in modern times the coat of arms of
Taranto contains the image of Taras riding a dolphin. The
real facts are that Taranto was an important Greek colony
and later became the most important city of Magna Graecia.
The Spartans managed to concentrate a sizeable movement of
sea-traffic on the city and built some magnificent buildings
and temples. During the city's period of greatest affluence,
its population reached 300 thousand and fabulous riches passed
between its walls. The surrounding countryside was extremely
fertile, the sea bursting with fish, and on the streets of
the city lay the great workshops where the purple robes were
woven. People from all over the known world crowded the town,
intensifying its commerce and endowing it with prosperity.
seems that modern Taranto occupies only the acropolis of the
gigantic city of Magna Graecia. The latter was gradually filled
with grandiose monuments: baths, theatres, temples and museums.
Lysippus built a bronze colossus of Hercules which was considered
one of the wonders of the world. Governments were elected
following the spirit of wisdom nourished by Pythagoras. Schools
flourished and art and science were held in great esteem.
The most famous ruler of the city was Archytas whose political
instincts did not prevent him from being a great mathematician
and a formidable general.
But, the slow cancer of luxury began to devour Taranto from
within: some historians have written that at the moment when
the city was reaching its highest level of prosperity, the
collapse of its institutions and power had already begun.
A determining factor was its conflict with Rome. The motive
for this conflict was provided by Taranto itself, when the
public in a crowded theatre threw mud onto the robes of a
Hostilities were begun and even the elephants which Pyrrhus,
the King of Epirus, an ally of Taranto, sent into battle could
not succeed in driving back the soldiers of Rome. Taranto's
fate was sealed: the victorious Romans made a clean sweep
of the city's riches. Worse fortune was to come when Taranto
set itself against Rome once again, as an ally of Hannibal.