Fast Facts About Ancient Greek Colonies

Fast Facts About Ancient Greek Colonies

Map of ancient Greece
Map of ancient Greece. Fast Facts About Greece | Topography - Athens | Piraeus | Propylaea | Areopagus

Colonies and the Mother Cities

Greek Colonies, Not Empires

Ancient Greek traders and sea-farers traveled and then moved beyond mainland Greece. They settled in generally fertile locations, with good harbors, friendly neighbors, and commercial opportunities, that they established as self-governing colonies. Later, some of these daughter colonies sent out their own colonists.

Colonies Were Tied by Culture

The colonies spoke the same language and worshiped the same gods as the mother city. The founders carried with them a sacred fire taken from the mother city's public hearth (from the Prytaneum) so they could use the same fire when they set up shop. Before setting out to establish a new colony, they often consulted the Delphic Oracle.

Limits on Our Knowledge of Greek Colonies

Literature and archaeology teach us much about the Greek colonies. Beyond what we know from these two sources there are many details to argue over, such as whether women were part of the colonizing groups or whether Greek men set out alone with the intention of mating with natives, why certain areas were settled, but not others, and what motivated the colonialists. Dates for the establishment of colonies vary with the source, but new archaeological finds in the Greek colonies may iron out such conflicts, while at the same time they provide missing bits of Greek history. Accepting that there are many unknowns, here is an introductory look at the colonizing enterprises of the ancient Greeks.

Terms to Know About Greek Colonies

1. Metropolis
The term metropolis refers to the mother city.

2. Oecist
The founder of the city, generally chosen by the metropolis, was the oecist. Oecist also refers to the leader of a cleruchy.

3. Cleruch
Cleruch was the term for a citizen who was allotted land in a colony. He retained his citizenship in his original community

4. Cleruchy
A cleruchy was the name of a territory (notably, Chalcis, Naxos, the Thracian Chersonese, Lemnos, Euboea, and Aegina) that was broken up into allotments for what often amounted to absentee landlords, the cleruch citizens of the mother city. [Source: "cleruch" The Oxford Companion to Classical Literature. Editied by M. C. Howatson. Oxford University Press Inc.]

5 - 6. Apokoi, Epoikoi
Thucydides calls the colonists Ἀποικοι (like our emigrants) Ἐποικοι (like our immigrants) although Victor Ehrenberg in "Thucydides on Athenian Colonization" says Thucydides doesn't always clearly distinguish the two.

Areas of Greek Colonization

The specific colonies listed are representative, but there are many others.

I. First Wave of Colonization

Asia Minor

C. Brian Rose tries to determine what we really know about the early migrations of the Greeks to Asia Minor. He writes that the ancient geographer Strabo claimed the Aeolians settled four generations before the Ionians.

A. Aeolian colonists settled on the northern area of the coastline of Asia Minor, plus the islands of Lesbos, home of lyric poets Sappho and Alcaeas, and Tenedos.

B. Ionians settled on the central part of the coast of Asia Minor, creating the especially noteworthy colonies of Miletus and Ephesus, plus the islands of Chios and Samos.

C. Dorians settled on the southern part of the coast, creating the especially noteworthy colony of Halicarnassus from which the Ionian dialect-writing historian Herodotus and the Peloponnesian War Battle of Salamis naval leader and queen Artemisia came, plus the islands of Rhodes and Cos.

II. Second Group of Colonies

Western Mediterranean

A. Italy -

Strabo refers to Sicily as part of Megale Hellas (Magna Graecia), but this area was usually reserved for the south of Italy where the Greeks settled. Polybius was the first to use the term, but what it meant varied from author to author. For more information on this, see: An Inventory of Archaic and Classical Poleis: An Investigation Conducted by The Copenhagen Polis Centre for the Danish National Research Foundation.

Pithecusa (Ischia) - 2nd quarter of the eighth century B.C. ; Mother cities: Chalcis and Euboeans from Eretria and Cyme.

Cumae, in Campania. Mother city: Chalcis in Euboea, c. 730 B.C.; in about 600, Cumae founded a daughter city of Neapolis (Naples).

Sybaris and Croton in c. 720 and c. 710; Mother city: Achaea. Sybaris founded Matapontum c. 690-80; Croton founded Caulonia in the second quarter of the 8th century B.C.

Rhegium, colonized by the Chalcidians in c. 730 B.C.

Locri (Lokri Epizephyrioi) founded early 7th century., Mother city: Lokris Opuntia. Locri founded Hipponium and Medma.

Tarentum, a Spartan colony founded c. 706. Tarentum founded Hydruntum (Otranto) and Callipolis (Gallipoli).

B. Sicily - c. 735 B.C.;
Syracuse founded by the Corinthians.

C. Gaul -
Massilia, founded by Ionian Phocaeans in 600.

D. Spain

III. Third Group of Colonies


Cyrene was founded c. 630 as a colony of Thera, a colony from Sparta.

IV. Fourth Group of Colonies

Epirus, Macedonia, and Thrace

Corcyra founded by Corinthians c. 700.
Corcyra and Corinth founded Leucas, Anactorium, Apollonia, and Epidamnus.

Megarians founded Selymbria and Byzantium.

There were numerous colonies along the coast of the Aegean, Hellespont, Propontis, and Euxine, from Thessaly to the Danube.


  • "Ancient Greek Civilization in Southern Italy," by Michael C. Astour; Journal of Aesthetic Education, Vol. 19, No. 1, Special Issue: Paestum and Classical Culture: Past and Present (Spring, 1985), pp. 23-37.
  • Collected Papers on Greek Colonization, by A. J. Graham; Brill: 2001.
  • "The Early Period and the Golden Age of Ionia," by Ekrem Akurgal; American Journal of Archaeology , Vol. 66, No. 4 (Oct., 1962), pp. 369-379.
  • Greek and Phoenician Colonies
  • "Greek Ethnicity and the Greek Language," by Edward M. Anson; Glotta , Bd. 85, (2009), pp. 5-30.]
  • "Patterns in Early Greek Colonisation," by A. J. Graham; The Journal of Hellenic Studies, Vol. 91 (1971), pp. 35-47.
  • "Separating Fact from Fiction in the Aiolian Migration," by C. Brian Rose; Hesperia: The Journal of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, Vol. 77,No. 3 (Jul. - Sep., 2008), pp. 399-430.
  • A Smaller History of Greece from the earliest times to the Roman conquest, by William Smith
  • "Thucydides on Athenian Colonization," by Victor Ehrenberg; Classical Philology , Vol. 47, No. 3 (Jul., 1952), pp. 143-149.
mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Gill, N.S. "Fast Facts About Ancient Greek Colonies." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, Gill, N.S. (2021, February 16). Fast Facts About Ancient Greek Colonies. Retrieved from Gill, N.S. "Fast Facts About Ancient Greek Colonies." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 31, 2023).