VELIA ELEA YELE, A GREEK TOWN IN CILENTO NATIONAL PARK: A MAGNIFICENT ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITE IN THE CILENTO NATURAL PARK THAT IS VIRTUALLY UNKNOWN (if you want more information about National Park of Cilento and Vallo di Diano also visit www.discovercilento.com web site)
Many have been on holiday to Pompeii, Herculaneum, Cuma, Pozzuoli, the internationally renowned archaeological sites of Campania, and, without a doubt, many have been to the Amalfi coast, and savoured the delights of the beauty spots of Amalfi, Sorrento, Positano; but few have visited Paestum. Hardly anyone has heard of Velia Elea Yele, a great, ancient Greek town in the National Park of Cilento. Even if you were endowed with the wildest imagination, you would still never manage to picture its grandeur. So read these pages to give yourself at least an inkling of what it was like. Or why not come on holiday here to see it for yourself, and discover the other marvels that Cilento holds ?
THE BIRTH OF PHOCAEA, THE ORIGIN OF ELEA VELIA : GENERAL HISTORICAL OVERVIEW
In 2000 B.C. the Island of Crete was the commercial centre of the Mediterranean. Until 1600 B.C. the Cretan civilization made a prodigious contribution to the world of commerce and culture. At that time Crete was at the centre of Mediterranean life. The Cretans built the best ships the world had ever seen and dominated the maritime trade of the entire area. After a period of decline, in about 1600 B.C., influenced by the Greek Myceneans, Crete made a further development. Linear writing was invented. However, around 1450 B.C. the Achaeans - a people who in the meantime had taken control of Mycenean Greece - destroyed the Cretan hegemony. The Achaeans gained great power, shown by the conquest of Troy in 13thC B.C., an event immortalized in Homer's poem. In the course of 12thC B.C. all the ancient oriental civilizations collapsed under the joint impact of internal revolts and external attacks. These were carried out by peoples who had been subjugated up till that point. The Dorians invaded Greece, and the Cretan and Mycenean civilizations were wiped out. A lengthy period of decline ensued, known as the Hellenic Middle Ages (12th-8thC B.C.). In this era a merchant and fishing people became the main metal supplier in the Mediterranean : the Phoenicians. They were among the most expert sailors who had ever lived, and their ships were even better than those built by the Cretans. These vessels allowed them to create commercial bases in Asia Minor, on the Aegean islands of Samos, Khios, Naxos, and Amorgos, in the Attican and Hebean regions.They were the first to explore the Western Mediterranean. The vast scale of trade necessitated the invention of alphabetical writing and money. Subsequently, at the beginning of 9thC B.C. the commercial hegemony of the Phoenician cities diminished, and the larger part of Asia Minor trade passed into the hands of Greek merchants. This created a powerful new impulse that brought the entire Greek world out of the Hellenic Middle Ages, and into the splendour of 8thC B.C.. Thus new trade colonies sprang up in Asia Minor, like the powerful city of Miletus. The city of Phocaea was to be found beside this, in about 8thC B.C.. The population of Phocaea were natives of an inland region of Greece, the Phocide. The city rose up on a headland, a little to the north of Ermo; and in front of the most northern offshoot of the Smirne Peninsula. In this period new Greek cities were also founded in the Western Mediterranean and in Italy, forming the so-called Magna Graecia.
THE GREEK COLONIES
It is widely acknowledged that the Greek colonies were founded by groups of extremely courageous and intelligent people. Often it was the entire population of a town that emigrated en masse, in search of a new life. Before leaving, the colonists would carry out sacred rites to propitiate the gods, and would also choose a leader; they would take a sacred flame and a clod of earth from their own town or village with them, a symbol of eternal spiritual ties between the colonists and the motherland. When they arrived at the desired destinaition, the colonists would try to take possession of a high ground not far from the sea, so they could defend themselves better if the native people turned hostile; or they would sometimes occupy a nearby island, and then move from there to the mainland; or they would choose a place close to an inlet or at the mouth of a river. They would then fortify the chosen place with walls, and would immediately begin to build an altar or temple in honour of the overseeing divinity, trying all the while, as far as they could, to stay on friendly terms with the natives.Sailors who had preceded them, mainly concerned with commerce, had given the colonists a rough idea of what these lands had to offer, and of the warm welcome the local people would give them. Few Greek colonies were founded from scratch as there was almost always an existing populace already there; it usually meant the colonists blending in with the natives, and a new power gradually replacing the old. The Greek colonies, despite being made up of independent communitites in respect to the motherland, managed to maintain commercial and cultural exchanges, and, often good political relations; they kept traditions, customs, religious rites, language, political structures from the motherland, and, little by little, they added to this common Greek model to create and develop a unique civilization, which had very distinct physical features. Between 7th and 6thC B.C., the Mediterranean and Black Seas became Greek colony seas, and formed a "Greek world". Colonies sprang up along Asia Minor's coastlines, and the shores of the Black Sea, and also, after a second wave of colonization to the West, along the Mediterranean coasts. The Phocaean colonists, who were the most daring, ventured even further amd founded Massalia (Marseilles), which soon became a focal point for the spread of Greek culture and civilization in, the then, France and Spain. The beginning of Greek colonial expansion in Italy dates back to the second half of 8thC B.C.. Greek colonization took place along the coasts of Sicily and Southern Italy, up as far as the Gulf of Taranto on the Ionian side, and as far as the Campania coastline on the Tyrrhenian side. There were smaller colonial settlements along the Adriatic. However, the Greeks never managed to ethnically strip the Italian people (not even in the hinterland where they had complete control), often they merged with them, so that there is an Italo-Greek civilization so to speak of. Towards 5thC B.C. the name Magna Graecia, Mighty Greece, was given to the Greek colonies in Southern Italy. Such a name didn't infer a superiority over the motherland, but over the other colonies. The Greek colonies in Italy developed magnificent artistic and spiritual forces, and made a remarkable contribution to the history of art. Writing was spread in Italy by the colonists, whose works in civilization in the Italian territory constitute one of the most fascinating chapters of Mediterranean antiquity.
COMMERCIAL ACTIVITY OF PHOCAEA
The Acropolis of the city, seat of power in accordance with Mycenean tradition, was no longer able to control all of the urban territory. As what had happened in Miletus, the fishermen and saltmine owners were the first to set themselves up independently; followed by the manufacturers who worked gold and made bronze ornaments, and, more notably, iron weapons and armour. Therefore a class of independent merchants was created, like the entrepreneurs of today's society. These Phocaean merchants were very skilful sailors. They had inherited all the maritime expertise and boatbuilding techniques of, firstly, the Cretans, and then the Phoenicians, who came after. Like this latter people, they had explored the entire Mediterranean, and undoubtedly along their various routes had established numerous well equipped landing places, some already had been used by the Phoenicians themselves. One of these was Velia-Elea right up to the Persian conquest of Phocaea in 545 B.C.; this was considering the avourable situation of the coast at that time, the position of Cilento with regards to the rest of the Southern Tyrrhenian coastline, from Reggio up to Pozzuoli; and, moreover, considering the navigation techniques of the period. They bought slaves, gold, copper, tin, and iron for these entrepreneurs who then resold them in Egypt and Lydia. The ironworks produced weapons of the highest quality. Phocaean iron swords, shields and armour became famous in a short time, and could be bought everywhere. It is clear that the Phocaeans were the main weapon producers of the period and were in competition with the Etruscans. The swords were particularly appreciated, and formed a major part of the armies equipment in that period. Besides that, ornaments of gold and other precious metals were produced. The Phocaeans also imported the base metal from Lydia which was used to make coins. In fact Phocaea was the second town in Greece after Miletus to make coins in this way, in about 630 B.C.. Along with metals and products (grain, olive oil, almonds, dried figs and wine, the last of which came from Lydia), the famous Miletus tunic was also traded: this was made of very fine wool, dyed purple and saffron, and adorned with gold braid and clasps. This soon became a sign of social distinction and refinement in the whole region, compulsory dress of sovereigns, courtiers and rich landowners. In the surrounding areas of Phocaea business was flourishing, and often this created a great rivalry between them. This was the case in Chalcis, the main town of Euboea. Besides the sale of his famous wool, the town's merchants became rich selling the island's copper and iron to the Etruscans. From the Etruscans they then bought products with an iron metal finish - especially swords, shields and armour, and bronze ornaments - and resold them throughout Asia Minor. And so, the people of Chalcis were in fierce competition with the Phocaeans, and a large commercial war began between the two cities. In short, Phocaea had commercial fights with many cities; up to that point the Aegean and Mediterranean civilizations led the world. The extent of the commercial wars between the Phocaeans and the Etruscans, or, between Phocaea and the other cities can be compared to those between Microsoft and Netscape, or between the Western and Asian car manufacturers, for example. Chalcis had also opened the way to Greek colonization in Italy, leading to the foundation of Cuma (760 B.C.), Zancle, nearby present day Messina (757 B.C.), Taormina (734 B.C.), and Reggio (718B.C.). Chalcis used its own colonies as landings for trade and military ships, like the Phocaeans had done with Alalia and Marseilles; and it also strategically used Reggio to stop the Phocaeans from crossing the Messina strait, because of the aforementioned commercial war. Therefore Phocaea looked to circumnavigation of Sicily as an alternative, and found an ally in the city of Sibaris, a Greek colony situated in the Italian Gulf of Taranto. It was a very powerful city, founded in approximately 8thC B.C., and in 7thC B.C. it controlled twenty towns, two of which, Lao and Scidro (modern day Scalea), were on the Southern Lucanian coast, near Cilento. Phocaea could transport its merchandise through Sibaris, and its Tyrrhenian colonies without crossing the Messina strait. This was how Phocaea beat Chalcis in the centuries-old commercial and political duel. The Phocaeans made use of the Tyrrhenien colonies and Sibaris to carry out a massive commercial penetration into the Western Mediterranean. In 595 B.C. they founded the colony of Marseilles, the first city in France. This quickly became a densely populated city, equipped with a naval landing that was of vital importance to the Phocaean ships that were en route to Spain, in search of tin. The Phocaean colony of Rode was created in exactly 585 B.C. Finally in 565 B.C. they founded the colony of Alalia in Corsica as a setting down place on the way to Marseilles and Rode. Now you have an idea of the greatness, ability and efficiency of the founders of Velia Elea.
DESTRUCTION OF PHOCEA
In the meantime the Persian Empire had become very powerful. Ciro the Great proposed a formal act of submission to the Greek cities in Asia Minor. Only Miletus accepted; and so Arpagos, the general of the Persian army, destroyed the Greek colonies in Asia Minor, one by one. In 545 B.C. Phocaea was razed to the ground, with the clear aim of wiping it from history. Only a group of townspeople managed to save themselves.As they were very able sailors, equipped with a reliable fleet, they managed to flee into the Mediterranean, and distributed themselves between Marseilles and Alalia; and perhaps some of them settled near the ancient landing place of Elea-Velia. The Phocaeans, despite having lost their homeland, remained a strong merchant power whose centre had transferred itself to the Tyrrhenian Sea. The metal and ship industries were moved and reorganised in Alalia, and probably some also in Elea-Velia, even though no traces of them have been found as yet. Marseilles became a base for business envoys on their way to get metals from Spain and Africa. At this point the Phocaeans business interests became incompatible with those of the Etruscans. The Etruscans metal production had always given stiff competition to the Phocaeans, previously through the city of Chalcis, and now the Tyrrhenian shores. For this reason the Etruscans allied themselves to the Carthaginians, who were of Phoenician origin and had settled on the North African coast, and began an unrelenting war with the Phocaeans. In 535 B.C. the Carthaginian and Etruscan fleets destroyed the Phocaean one near the Corsican coast, not far from Alalia (modern day Aleria); and then their soldiers stormed and destroyed the same town. The Phocaeans who had settled on Corsica abandoned the island. Some of them were received by the people of Chalcis in Cuma; others moved to Elea - Velia - on the Cilentan coastline. The old rivalry between the Phocaeans and the people of Chalcis disappeared when faced with the threat of the Etruscans totally destroying the Greek colonies in the Tyrrhenian. Nine years later, in 542 B.C., the Etruscans attacked Cuma. However, this time, the Phocaeans and people of Chalcis united and annihilated the Etruscan fleet in Cuma waters. The Battle of Cuma was very important as it saved Greek colonization in the Tyrrhenian area from destruction.It wasn't, however, the beginning of a reconquest. Corsica was never retaken by the Greeks, and the metal business remained in the hands of the Etruscans alone. Marseilles and the other colonies survived only because they renounced their affairs in the metal industry; otherwise the Etruscans and Carthaginians would have easily destroyed them. The decline of Greek commercial power in the Tyrrhenian caused Sibaris to weaken, which was the go-between for Asia Minor trade to the whole Mediterranean basin. In the end, due to certain circumstances, Sibaris was destroyed by Crotone and Metaponto in 510 B.C. The people of Sibaris, like the Phocaeans, managed to flee with their ships, and in the south they founded a magnificent new town on the Tyrrhenian coast, Poseidonia, which is modern day Paestum.
ELEA VELIA, A GREAT TOWN
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