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LOCRI EPIZEPHYRII



Salvatore La Rosa
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SECOND PART - THE COLONIZATION AND THE GREEK AGE

CHAPTER VI

THE DECLINE OF THE GREEK POLIS
PYRRHUS OF EPIRUS AND THE ARRIVAL OF ROME
 

The first twenty years of the third century b.C. correspond to the last period of real independence and prosperity for the polis of Locri Epizephyrii.

The last major event of this period was probably an attempt made by Syracuse, under the guidance of the tyrant Agathocles, along with the Locrian ally, to regain control of what once was, under Dionysius I, the vast territory that was under the Syracusan influence.

But such an attempt, although initially marked by many successes (the taking of Kroton in 295 b.C., the liberation of Hipponion in 292 b.C. from the domination of the Bruttii), failed because of the illness that struck the tyrant and lead him to death (in 289 b.C.).

The consequences of such failure were disastrous, not only for Syracuse and Locri Epizephyrii itself, but also for all the other Greek cities of southern Italy which now, having lost their ancient splendor and heavily weakened by a military perspective found themselves unprepared for the threat that to them is now represented by the Bruttii and other indigenous populations, such as the Samnites or the Lucanians; the same also happened for the Greek cities in Sicily which, now without the protection of Syracuse, were easy prey for the Carthaginians.

Being unable to defend themselves and by now fearing for their own survival, the Greek cities of southern Italy now could only seek the help of Rome. Which, of course, took the opportunity to extend its control southward and thus answered favorably to the requests for help and to send a military garrison that one by one the Greek cities of southern Italy made.

Request that the even Locri Epizephyrii was forced to do receiving, in 282 b.C., a Roman military garrison.

PYRRHUS OF EPIRUS IN ITALY

In 280 b.C., however, the arrival in Italy of Pyrrhus of Epirus, whose aid had been requested from Taras to stem the southward Roman advance, changed again the fragile balances that were reached during those years in Magna Graecia and Sicily.

And this because the vast majority of the Greek cities of southern Italy (and in particular those based on a democratic system, such as Locri Epizephyrii) didn't look favorably on the presence of Roman armies in their territory, feeling themselves, in such way, subservient to Rome.

With these premises, supported by the first successes (albeit partial) that Pyrrhus obtained against the Romans, soon the cities began to side with the king of Epirus by removing, often by force, the garrisons that Rome had sent them.

So did Locri Epizephyrii, thus deciding to follow the fortunes of Pyrrhus. During this period, however, the Locrian polis was not involved in clashes of major importance, except for a joint effort of Carthaginians and Romans (allies against a common enemy in this historical period) that in 278 b.C. attempted a sortie against it by sea being, however, rejected.

Pyrrhus' expedition went on, meanwhile, with some success which however did not result in great results while, on the contrary, the Roman army was reorganized and seemed to have the upper hand over Pyrrhus and his allies from Taras.

Such a situation compounded by the arrogance and harassment that often were committed by Pyrrhus' expeditionary forces in the cities which were hosting them, was the cause of many contrasts within the Greek cities between the aristocrat (favorable to Rome) and the democrat (sided with Pyrrhus) sides and led, in 277 b.C., the polis of Locri Epizephyrii, in which prevailed the aristocratic party, to hand the city over to the Roman consul Publius Cornelius Rufinus who was advancing southward with his troops after regaining the control of many cities that at first had sided with Pyrrhus.

Thus Rome by now controlled most of southern Italy, and Pyrrhus, engaged against the Carthaginians in Sicily, was forced to go back to the Bruttium to try to stem the Roman advance.

So he moved his troops and first of all attacked Locri Epizephyrii, retaking its control in 275 b.C. and harshly taking revenge against the people who handed the city to the Romans; not satisfied with that he also became the protagonist of devastations and looting which didn't spare the famous Persephoneion, as Livy himself (Ab Urbe Condita XXIX 8, 9) narrates:

"Iam avaritia ne sacrorum quidem spoliatione abstinuit; nec alia modo templa violata sed Proserpinae etiam intacti omni aetate thesauri, praeterquam quod a Pyrrho [...] spoliati dicebantur."

"In fact their avarice did not refrain from despoiling even sacred things; and not only other temples were desecrated, but also the treasure of Proserpina (Persephone), untouched in every age, that it was said to have been despoiled only by Pyrrhus [...].".

Livy himself, however, continuing the narration, tells us how Pyrrhus, repentant of the serious outrage perpetrated against the goddess, interpreted some of his subsequent misfortunes as a punishment of the goddess herself against him and decided to return the treasure of the Sanctuary to try to appease her anger:

"[...] qui cum magno piaculo sacrilegii sui manubias rettulit."

"(But it was also said that Pyrrhus), after a severe atonement, restored the plunder (gained) by his sacrilege.".

However the failure for Pyrrhus was now close and took place, in 275 b.C., due to the defeat of Maleventum which forced him to leave Italy.

So the main effect that the arrival in Italy of Pyrrhus had was to have allowed Rome to accelerate its expansion southward, taking control of what had once been the Magna Graecia; and as it happened to all of the other cities in Bruttium, even Locri Epizephyrii fell back under the control of Rome thus following, from now on, its fortunes.

 
     

 

 

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