To the average person, the terms Italiote and Siciliote mean exactly nothing, but to those familiar with history, they would be accepted as terms referring to the Pre-Roman Greek speaking inhabitants of the Apennine Peninsula and the island of Sicily. However, these two terms are much more. If one takes the time to learn and understand the history of the region, they will come to realize that they refer to a forgotten ethnos that encompass all the native inhabitants of the region. As such, Italiotes and Siciliotes are the indigenous inhabitants of Magna Graecia, who currently makes up the Italianized people of Southern Italy. The ancient region of Magna Graecia was divided by two geographical locations, the southern portion of the Apennine Peninsula, which was referred to as Italia and the island of Sicily. This ethnos today has been incorporated in to the modern Italian identity, as merely Southern Italians. It is this ethnos’ undying urge to reclaim its freedom that attracts Southern Italians to today’s many movements for Southern Italian autonomy.
Magna Graecia’s role in Hellenism
Since the beginning, of recorded history, the region today referred to as Southern Italy, has been an undisputable part of the Hellenic World. It is the location of numerous sacred myths and has played a pivotal role in the development of Hellenism and the Greek ethnos. It was a vital part of the Hellenic world in every detail, even sending inhabitants to participate in PanHellenic Games, such as the Olympics. It, therefore, makes perfect sense that the main foundation of this region’s own distinct identity and history from the North would be found in its Hellenic roots. This unique identity stems from the regions own unique Hellenic Civilizations, which resulted from several waves of ancient Greek Colonization. It was these colonists who brought with them their language, rites and traditions of Hellenismos and the concept of the independent polis, which spawned the indigenous ‘Italic’ and ‘Latin’ Hellenic Civilizations, as well as numerous 8th-3rd century Greek city-states. However, it was these indigenous civilizations that would alter the Cumaean Greek alphabet into Old Italic, which would later evolve into the Latin alphabet.
The Indigenous’ own self-image
The most important thing that must be taken into account when identifying the ancient Italic and Latin civilizations is its people’s own self-image. In other words, how the indigenous people thought and spoke about themselves and their civilization. Now whether or not their version of events concerning their origins is accurate maybe debatable, the fact still remains; no historian has the right to change their beliefs through revisionism. With this understood, who is anyone to deny the Romans, Latins, Sabines, and others Greek ancestry and thus acceptance of their Civilizations as distinctly Hellenic?
One particularly fascinating thing linking these civilizations with traditionally accepted Hellenic people, besides the numerous myths, is the fact that the ancient Romans and others throughout the Peninsula, specifically the Italic, Latin and even Etruscan speaking people identified themselves through the Hellenic concept, of Genos, which in Latin is called Gens and is translated as ‘race’ or ‘nation’. Such a feature strongly demonstrates that the indigenous people identified with the Hellenic Nation in general, and freely used its concepts of identification to distinguish themselves from surrounding non-Hellenic people.
Southern Italy and Hellenismos
Hellenismos is a term used to refer to the traditional polytheistic way of life of ancient Greece, which revolves around Hellenic Mythology, Values and Virtues. One inescapable fact that Southern Italy is and was woven into the Hellenic consciousness is through the sacred Myths of Hellenismos.
The Great Philosopher Plato reveals in his book, ‘Cratylus’ that ‘Mythology’ itself ‘is a science, written with codes’, in a way distorted accounts of historical events. This theory is referred to by modern scholars as Euhemerism, which interestingly is named after the ancient Greek Mythologist Euhemerus, who was born in Messina, Sicily. Regardless if, these myths are accounts of historical events or not, the fact remains that, throughout numerous sacred narratives, Southern Italy is the scene of significant cultural stories that connect the area with Hellenismos. This obvious sense of camaraderie between the people of Southern Italy and the Aegean is found throughout Hellenic traditions and Native Italic and Latin ones.
It is on Sicily that the legendary King Minos is murdered, and the Great Hero Heracles wins the western portion of the island for his descendants in a wrestling match. It was here that Arethusa, a nymph was transformed into a fountain on the island of Ortygia in Syracuse, Sicily. It is even said by the Roman poet Ovid that her stream had a subterranean communication with the river Alpheius in the Peloponnesus. It also serves as the starting point, in a series of events that lead to the establishment of the Eleusinian mysteries, thereby, connecting Sicily to one of the most celebrated Mysteries of Hellenismos. For it was here we learn in Homer’s epic the Odyssesy, as well as by Hesiod and Diodorus Siculus that Persephone, the daughter of the Goddess Demeter used to play with the Nymphs around the city of Enna, in Central Sicily. It was in these Sicilian fields that she was kidnapped by Pluto, God of the Underworld. After waiting nine days for her daughter to return, Demeter set out in search of her, which upon reaching, Eleusina, established the Eleusinian mysteries.
It was Southern Italy that served as a favorite destination for countless exiles in Greek Mythology, from King Hyperenor to King Idomeneus of Crete. The story of Diomedes, who after the Trojan War migrated to Daunia (Apulia) Italy, is one of the greatest examples. It is here that Diomedes agreed to help King Daunus defeat the Messapians and in return was assigned land, which he left to his followers, the Dorians. Mythology records that Diomedes founded ten cities across the eastern part of the Apennine peninsula and according to post Homeric stories was given immortality by Athena. It is told by Pindar that Diomedes would later become a minor god in Southern Italy and was worshipped under various names.
Southern Italy in the Hellenic World
Southern Italy is home to three extremely significant places in Hellenic tradition, two of which are found on the island of Sicily. The first is located on the eastern coast of the island, near Messina and Catania. The tallest volcano in Europe, Mount Etna, is said to be the resting place of Typhon, ‘Father of all monsters’, and son of Gaia and Tartarus. It was Typhon’s attempt to kill Zeus during the Titanomachy that led to him being trapped underneath Mount Etna by Zeus.
The Second is located on the southern coast of the island, just North West of Agrigento. The site is located next to the ancient Greek city of Akragas, which was one of the leading cities of the Hellenic World during the Golden Age of Ancient Greece. It is here on the Monte Kronio, today Mont San Calogero that some traditions claim as the resting place of Kronos. Both its ancient and modern names demonstrate Hellenic origins. In some ancient traditions Kronos, leader of the Titans, was imprisoned in Tartarus after the Titanomachy and later was made King of Elysium. Other sources claim, Kronos, escaped to Latium to become King and Lawgiver to the Apennine Peninsula. The mountains modern name is connected to Saint Calogero, a Thracian hermit born in Chalcedon on the Bosphorus. Today, he is revered as a saint by both the Catholic and Orthodox Church. The term Calogero is of Greek origins and means ‘good old’.
The final, important location of the Hellenic World is found on the Apennine Peninsula. It was here in the city of Croton, that the Great Greek Philosopher and Mathematician Pythagoras founded his religious sect called Pythagoreanism.
Although no longer an entirely Hellenic people, it is the Hellenic roots of Southern Italy that actually provides the basis of its separate and distinctive identity. It is the heart and soul of the forgotten Italiote and Siciliote ethnos that continues to beat in the seekers of autonomy and which must be embraced by the Modern Greek ethnos as genuine brother nation, in the same way Greeks and Cypriots are today.
- Clement of Alexandria ‘Protrepticus’(Exhortation to the Greeks)
- ‘San Calogero’ by Antonio Borrelli
- Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities
- Aristotle, Politics
- Harper’s Dictionary of Classical Literature andAntiquities, Second Edition, Harry Thurston Peck
- Oxford Classical Dictionary, 2nd Ed.
- Titus Livius, Ab Urbe Condita, Book II
- Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, William Smith
- Herodotus, The Histories
- Pausanias, Description of Greece
- Ovid, Metamorphoses
- Virgil, Aeneid
- Examples of the Science of the ethnic cleaningof Roman history and a vision of the future United States of Franco-Romania by John Romanides