Magna Grecia: History of a Name

Magna Grecia is the term first used by Greek, then by Roman authors to refer to the region in southern Italy.
View of the Norman basilica in the Scolacium Archaeological Park

Μεγάλη ῾Ελλάς is the term first used by Greek, then by Roman authors to refer to the region in southern Italy where Greek settlers had found their new home from the 8th century BC.

Iconic Arc Area

The Greeks found vast swaths of flat and fertile land with plenty of water in the south of Italy, and in particular along the so called ‘Ionian Arc’. This region must have had the same effect on them as the great North American prairies had on 19th century settlers.

This rich and well-farmed land, great producer of wine – so much so that it was called ‘Enotria’ – rich in crops and inhabited by farmers and merchants, must have really looked special to them.

Also, the homogeneity of the settlements, the fast development of a new culture that combined Greek knowledge and traditions with those of the pre-existing Italic population, might have given the Greeks the idea of unity, far from their motherland’s political fragmentation.

Polybius was the first to use the term Magna Grecia

The term Magna Graecia was first mentioned by Polybius, a Greek historian who lived in the 2nd century BC. However, scholars today agree that it had already been employed much earlier, at least two, perhaps, three centuries before.

Some scholars, in particular the writer Iamblichus, have assumed that this name derives from admiration for the ground-breaking work of Pythagoras of Croton. He was not only a philosopher, but above all the teacher and inspirer of a school that, combining science, religion and politics, had a dramatic impact on the historical events of the whole of Italy.

Impressive and Widespread Artistic and Cultural Growth

Its majestic cities and acropolises, fertile fields, thriving maritime trade, rapidly growing population, as well as its impressive and widespread artistic and cultural growth rightly deserved the attribute ‘Magna’, as it was later translated by the Romans, who kept using it for the whole of southern peninsular Italy.

“When Greece had plenty of powerful and great cities in Italy, and therefore was called Magna Graecia, first the name of Pythagoras and then that of the Pythagoreans were held in high esteem”.


According to Strabo, the famous geographer under the Roman emperor Augustus, “Since the time of the Trojan War, the Greeks had seized a large swath of Italy. This land has grown to such an extent that they would call it ‘Megale Hellas’. The admiration that this land compelled in ancient populations has continued to fascinate travelers for centuries. It is the same admiration filling tourists today, who are prepared to be surprised by this beautiful land.