Greeks

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© Bob Denton 2014

The first permanent Greek settlement in France, and the oldest city, was called Massalia, established at modern-day Marseille in about 600 BC by colonists coming from Phocaea (now Foça, in modern Turkey) on the Aegean coast of Asia Minor. A second wave of colonists arrived in about 540, when Phocaea was destroyed by the Persians.

The connection between Μασσαλία and the Phoceans is mentioned in Book I, 13 of the History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides.[14] The founding of Massalia has also been recorded as a legend. According to the legend, Protis, while exploring for a new trading outpost or emporion for Phocaea, discovered the Mediterranean cove of the Lacydon, fed by a freshwater stream and protected by two rocky promontories.[15] Protis was invited inland to a banquet held by the chief of the local Ligurian tribe for suitors seeking the hand of his daughter Gyptis in marriage. At the end of the banquet, Gyptis presented the ceremonial cup of wine to Protis, indicating her unequivocal choice. Following their marriage, they moved to the hill just to the north of the Lacydon; and from this settlement grew Massalia.[15] Graham Robb in his The Discovery of Middle Earth gives greater weight to the Gyptis story, though also states that the tradition was to offer water, not wine, to signal the choice of marriage partner (p. 16), with several references in Bibliography of versions of the story.

Massalia became one of the major trading ports of the ancient world. At its height, in the 4th century BC, it had a population of about 6,000 inhabitants, on about fifty hectares surrounded by a wall. It was governed as an artistocratic republic, by an assembly of the 600 wealthiest citizens. It had a large temple of the cult of Apollo of Delphi on a hilltop overlooking the port, and a temple of the cult of Artemis of Ephesus at the other end of the city. The Drachma coins minted in Massalia were found in all parts of Ligurian-Celtic Gaul. Traders from Massalia ventured into France on the Rivers Durance and Rhone, and established overland trade routes to Switzerland and Burgundy, and as far north as the Baltic Sea. They exported their own products; local wine, salted pork and fish, aromatic and medicinal plants, coral and cork.

The most famous citizen of Massalia was the mathematician, astronomer and navigator Pytheas. Pytheas made mathematical instruments, which allowed him to establish almost exactly the latitude of Marseille, and he was the first scientist to observe that the tides were connected with the phases of the moon. Between 330 and 320 BC, he organized an expedition by ship into the Atlantic and as far north as England, and to visit Iceland, Shetland, and Norway, where he was the first scientist to describe drift ice and the midnight sun. Though he hoped to establish a sea trading route for tin from Cornwall, his trip was not a commercial success, and it was not repeated. The Massalians found it cheaper and simpler to trade with Northern Europe over land routes

Forward to Celts – Back to Hominids in France
Back to 1789 and all that!
© Bob Denton 2014