Wednesday, October 30, 2019


Currently the second-largest city in France and definitely among the oldest in Europe, Marseille can trace its origins back to 600 BC, when the first Greeks arrived in the area and established a trading colony. This was at a time when many Phocaeans left their homeland in today’s Turkey (then Greek-speaking Asia Minor), and reached the northern shores of the Western Mediterranean. They found a locale which could easily accommodate a large port and in a few years’ time, a new Greek colony had been established. Its name was ”ΜΑΣΣΑΛΙΑ” (”Massalia”).

The entire coastal region comprised of the modern regions of Catalonia, Spain and France had seen the arrival of many Ionian Greeks before that time, during their expeditions to the West to find new places to live and people to trade with. Nonetheless, the city of Massalia itself was indeed established by Phocaeans, as they were the first to settle permanently there. These first Greek settlers of the port city very soon established a wide network of trade relationships with neighboring cities, not only along the coast but into the French mainland areas as well, where various Celt tribes once lived.

The “Massaliotes,” as the Greeks of Marseille were known, first established good relations with other neighboring Greek colonies in the region beginning in the early stages of their colonization.

Shipments of Greek produce constantly arrived at the region’s ports, and ancient Gaul was able to form a consistent, well-established network of communications and relations with the metropolitan areas of Greece via their colonies, especially Marseille. During the following centuries, the people of Marseille continued to traded with the entire Mediterranean region, and the port grew in importance and size. Consequently, a great deal of pottery, artwork, coins and other objects from that period have been discovered all over France, from the southern to the very northern extremes of the country.

Greek coinage was freely circulating across France, local Celtic tribes were using Greek themes to make their own coins, and the whole region was heavily influenced by the Greek settlers’ ”soft power” of commerce and trade. Their influence even reached the shores of Britain, where local coins discovered in Kent and Surrey have depictions of Apollo. These coins are believed to have been influenced by the designs used in Marseille.

Of course, as the centuries went by, the Romans arrived, other peoples and tribes made it to the shores of southern France, and history moved on. However, the distinctive Greek origins of Marseille have somehow managed to remain intact in the city’s psyche to this very day.


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