Calabria, Magna Graecia human history

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Calabria, from the Magna Graecia to the spread of humanism 

The Calabria we know today was called, in the classical age and up to Italy’s Lombard and Byzantine period, Bruttium. Only between the seventh and the ninth century, the current name of Calabria extended to the area stretched out between the Tyrrhenian and Ionian seas to form the southern end of Italy. Although Calabria is a land of sea, the relationship between the Calabrians and the sea has always been controversial and difficult. In fact, for centuries the history of this land took place mainly in inland areas.

The Magna Graecia

Little is known about the ancient Italic populations, as well as the origins of the Bruttii. In the eighth century BC, there is the great colonization of the Calabrian lands by the Greeks. An area that offered fertile lands, near waterways and woods, essential for an economy based on agriculture, livestock, and fishing. This migration gives birth to the Magna Graecia with the creation of the poleis that contribute to the formation of the Western culture. But from the fourth century begins the decline of the Magno-Greek colonies besieged by the Lucanians and the Bruttii.

The Roman Empire

With the end of the Punic Wars (216 BC), the Roman Empire imposed a strict control of the whole territory. The Bruttium loses its centrality and becomes one of the many peripheral lands of Rome. The poleis are reduced to small municipalities. Agricultural complexes, like the roman centuriation, are formed with the characteristics of the latifundia (villae), a system that remains rooted until the first 900 of our era. The neglect of most of the land, mainly in the plains, favored the spread of malaria forcing the populations to move inland of the region.

Calabria as a borderland

With the collapse of the Roman Empire, Calabria was invaded by the Visigoths in 410 and by the Vandals in 455. The Ostrogoths of King Theodoric conquered the whole region towards the end of 400 and Cassiodorus became governor of this land and councilor of the king. He founded the monastery of Vivario, where the confreres dedicated themselves to the study and transcription of ancient texts, anticipating the works of the Benedictines. As most of Italy, Sardinia, and Sicily, in 553 the Byzantine Empire conquered the region defending Calabria from the Lombard invasion.

The Byzantine Empire

Despite a convulsive period of war, Calabria remains part of Byzantium from the mid-sixth century to the middle of the eleventh century. Christianized, the language and civilization of the Greeks are brought back. In addition, the region becomes the destination for refugees arriving from Sicily, the East, and former Roman Africa. These populations persecuted by the advance of Islam make Calabria a center of civilization in the midst of the prevailing barbarism in the rest of Europe. The invasions, sieges, and conquests by Muslims from the 7th to the 11th century contribute to the retreat of the population in inland areas.

Religious and social life

The Islamic invasion favors the strengthening of the presence of Basilian and cenobitic monks coming from the East, from Constantinople, from North Africa, and from Sicily, strongly influencing the daily life of the communities. From the ninth to the eleventh century, in the southern part of Calabria, a literary monastic tradition is established that will provide exceptional contributions to European culture and to humanism. The decline of Italian-Greek monasticism began in the twelfth century, with the arrival of the Normans and with their work of Latinization. But only after the Council of Trent (1545-1563) there will be an unstoppable decline.

The Normans and the birth of the feudal system

With the council of Melfi (Basilicata), in 1060 the conquest of Calabria by the Normans ended. The Norman conquest led to the birth of the feudal system with the construction of numerous castles and with the significant development of the agriculture and the sericulture. Relations with the Roman Church are strengthened and, at the end of the eleventh century, Bruno of Cologne, founder of the first monastery of the Carthusian Order, arrives in the Calabrian Serre. In the Middle Ages, the feudal policy of the Normans is consolidated with the succession to the throne of Frederick II of Swabia.

From the Angevin period to the Aragonese domination

The defeat of Conradin in 1268 marks the end of the Swabian power, beginning the new Angevin domination. And from this moment begins the economic and civil decadence of Calabria. From the end of the Angevin control (1442) to the Aragonese domination (1442 – 1503), the dynastic contrasts favor the expansion of the great feudalism, forcing the popular classes to live in insecurity and daily precariousness.

Under the Kingdom of Spain

With the unification of the kingdoms of Castile and Aragon, in 1505 Calabria passed under the crown of Spain. And it is during this domination that the region is divided into two parts: the lands north of the river Neto will be identified as Calabria Citeriore and those to the south with the appellative of Calabria Ulterior until the nineteenth century. The Iberian kingdom exacerbates taxes, and local populations are hit by famines and pestilences, creating continual revolts stopped with violent interventions. Moreover, the Calabrian coasts were continually attacked by pirates who left behind only death and destruction. The inhabitants took refuge in villages perched on the mountains, leaving only very rare ports and a long sequence of watchtowers on the coasts.

February 5, 1783

During the domination of the Bourbons, Calabria underwent the event that overturns the entire social fabric of the region: a violent earthquake that decimates the population, destroys countries, churches and convents. Mountains and chasms open up, ruining the entire landscape. The various political riots aggravated by the French and Bourbons occupations slow down the reconstruction. The political framework changed again in 1860 with the arrivals of Giuseppe Garibaldi’s volunteer corps during the unification supported by the House of Savoy. But the earthquake of 1908 with the subsequent 2 world wars aggravated the conditions of a territory so devastated, encouraging a continuous and unstoppable emigration.

The new Calabria

Despite centuries of exploitation and destruction, Calabria is proud of its traditions with clear evidence of a rich past. A unique character that the Calabrian has managed to export all over the world where he has been able to stand out his origins with works imitated and envied until our days.

Calabria map