Remains of the port facilities of Sybaris
|Location||Sibari, Province of Cosenza, Calabria, Italy|
|Area||5 km2 (1.9 sq mi)|
|Management||Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici della Calabria|
Sybaris (Greek: Σύβαρις; Italian: Sibari) was a Greek colony on the western shore of the Gulf of Taranto in Calabria, at the very southern end of the Italian peninsula. Enjoying an excellent weather, surrounded by fertile land, and extremely wealthy due to its busy port, the city's level of prosperity was vast, and its inhabitants were famous for their hedonism, feasts, and excesses, to the extent that "sybarite" and "sybaritic" have become bywords for opulent luxury and outrageous pleasure seeking.
The modern town of Sibari lies near the ruins of the Greek city.
Sybaris was situated close to the sea and lay between the Crathis and Sybaris rivers (from which the city derives its name). Most modern research places the city on a coastal ridge near a wetland lagoon. In the present the rivers are known as the Crati and Coscile. Today the Coscile feeds into the Crati about five kilometers from its mouth, passing just south of the archaeological site of the city. When Sybaris was still populated the river pursued a direct course into the Gulf of Taranto, probably at a short distance to the north. The city lay on a plain that was renowned for its fertility.
Sybaris was founded in 720 BC according to Pseudo-Scymnus. Strabo mentions it was an Achaean colony and that its oekist (founder) was Is of Helice, a city in Achaea. Aristotle writes the Achaeans were accompanied by a number of Troezenian citizens, but they were eventually expelled by the more numerous Achaeans. According to legend the city was founded by Sagaris, the son of Oïlean Ajax.
The name of the oekist that is passed on might be wrong. Foundation stories are often dependent on what later generations of colonists wanted to communicate. Strabo is the only source for the name of the oekist, which might be a corruption of (Sagar)is or (Sybar)is. The letters Wiis or Fiis appear on coins of Poseidonia, a colony of Sybaris. This has been interpreted as a confirmation of Strabo's account and evidence against the idea that the oekist was a later invention, but there is no consensus.
Sixth century 
By the 6th century BC Sybaris had amassed great wealth and a huge population as a result of the rich farming land nearby and its policy of admitting settlers of other nations to its citizenry, a practice shunned by other Greek colonies. During this period the wealth and power of Sybaris was greatly envied and admired by the rest of the Hellenic world. It minted its own coinage and pioneered the concept of intellectual property. According to Athenaeus the latter notion was developed to ensure that cooks could exclusively profit from their signature dishes for a whole year.
Sybaris was also a dominant power in the region. Strabo writes that the Sybarites ruled over 25 subject cities and could bring into the field 300,000 of their citizens (probably an exaggeration). The walls of the city itself had a circumference of fifty stadia, which is equivalent to an area of approximately five square kilometers. Most of the subject cities were probably Oenotrian towns in the interior, but we know that Sybaris had extended its dominion across the peninsula to the Tyrrhenian Sea, where it founded the colonies of Poseidonia (Paestum), Laüs (Laus), and Scidrus. It is said by Athenaeus that 5000 knights attended its religious processions, which would mean that their number was four times greater than at Athens.
Sybaris was at its height during the time of Smindyrides (c. 580–560 BC), a prominent citizen who is claimed by Herodotus to have surpassed all other men in refined luxury. He was the wealthiest suitor for the daughters of Cleisthenes of Sicyon and was accompanied by a train of 1000 slaves on this occasion. Athenaeus provides many examples of the opulent wealth for which Sybaris was famous in this period. In particular they were renowned for the splendour of their attire, which was made from the finest Milesian wool, and as such developed extensive commercial relations and a close friendship with Miletus. Another example of Sybaritic luxury is found in the story of Alcimenes of Sybaris, who gave a splendid figured robe as a votive offering to the temple of Lacinian Hera. Much later the robe fell into the possession of Dionysius of Syracuse and was sold by him for 120 talents.
Justin tells of a monetary and commercial league that Sybaris had formed with Metapontum and Croton towards the middle of the sixth century. Soon the league transformed into an alliance of Achaean colonies against the other Greeks. This resulted in the destruction of Ionian colony Siris, which was a rival of Metapontum and Sybaris.
The fall 
Diodorus Siculus writes that the oligarchic government of the city was overthrown in 510 BC by a popular leader named Telys. He persuaded the Sybarites to exile the 500 richest citizens and confiscate their wealth. The exiled citizens took refuge at the altars of Croton. Telys became a tyrant (according to Herodotus) and demanded the Crotoniats return the exiles under threat of war. The Crotoniats were inclined to surrender the exiles to avoid war, but Pythagoras convinced them to protect the suppliants. As a consequence the Sybarites marched upon the Crotoniats, who were led by Milo. Even though they were greatly outnumbered, the Crotoniats won the battle and took no prisoners, killing most of the Sybarites. After their victory they plundered and razed Sybaris.
Walter Burkert questions the veracity of the account given by Diodorus Siculus. It would have been illogical for Telys to banish his opponents first and then to demand their return. He argues that the elements of the story resemble fictional tragedies. The version of Herodotus is more brief and doesn't involve Pythagoras, but does claim that the Crotoniats received help from Dorieus. Strabo claims that the Crotoniats diverted the course of the river Crathis to submerge Sybaris.
The Crati transports coarse sand and pebbles in its channel. If Strabo's claim is true, that material would have been deposited as sediment above the city when the river submerged it. An analysis of core samples taken from the site by Stanley and Bernasconi did not find such river deposits directly above the former city. The burial of Sybaris about 2500 years ago more likely resulted from natural processes such as fluvial overbank alluviation. Future retrieval of additional cores and facies analysis will eventually confirm or discredit Strabo's account.
Alternative explanations for the fall 
The destruction of Sybaris was seen by some ancient writers as divine vengeance upon the Sybarites for their pride, arrogance, and excessive luxury. According to Atheneaus the oracle of Delphi foretold the Sybarites that war and internal conflict awaited them if they would honor man more than the gods. Later in his work he cites Phylarchus, who wrote that the Sybarites invoked the anger of Hera when they murdered thirty ambassadors from Croton and left them unburied. He also cites Herakleides who attributes the divine wraith to the murder of supporters of Telys on the altars of the gods. Herakleides also mentions that the Sybarites attempted to supplant the Olympic Games by attracting the athletes to their own public games with greater prizes. Claudius Aelianus attributes the fall of Sybaris to its luxury and the murder of a lutenist at the altar of Hera.
Vanessa Gorman gives no credence to these accounts because grave sins followed by divine retribution were stock elements of fictional stories at the time. Peter Green likewise argues that these accounts are most likely the inventions of moralists. He points out the vast natural wealth of the city was the more likely reason it was attacked by Croton.
After its destruction the surviving inhabitants took refuge at Laüs and Scidrus. Diodorus Siculus mentions that Croton besieged Sybaris again in 476 BC. In 453 BC Thessalians joined the Sybarites in resettling the city, but they were again driven off by the Crotoniats after a few years. The Sybarites requested Sparta and Athens to help them with founding a new colony. With the help of Athens and some other cities in the Peloponnese they founded the city of Thurii not far from the site of Sybaris. The second destruction of Sybaris and the foundation of Thurii are now dated to respectively 448 BC and 446/445 BC.
Soon a conflict arose between the Sybarites and the other colonists of Thurii over the privileges the Sybarites enjoyed. Practically all of the Sybarites were killed by the other colonists, who were more numerous and powerful. Some of the Sybarites managed to flee and founded Sybaris on the Traeis in 445 BC. That city was destroyed by the Bruttii after some time.
Over time the sediment accretion of the Crati river caused its river delta to shift towards the sea at a long term rate of one meter a year. As a consequence the successive sites of Sybaris, Thurii and Copia became landlocked and lost their importance because they no longer had easy access to the sea for trade.
The site today 
The earliest archaeological exploration in the last quarter of the 19th century failed to find the location of Sybaris. Finding the location was difficult because the site had been buried over time by more than four meters of alluvial sediment from the Crati delta. The location of the city was found only after an massive core drilling project had been undertaken from the early to mid-1960's. The archaeological site is located about 2.5 kilometers west of the present Gulf of Taranto coastline. The excavations were difficult because the human structures lay below groundwater level. It was found that the later cities of Thurii and Copia were built partially above Sybaris. An archaeological museum was built near the site.
Use as byword for luxury 
The city and its inhabitants were well known in Antiquity for their excessive luxury. An illustrative anecdote concerning their defeat by Croton is given by Atheneaus. He relates that to amuse themselves the Sybarite cavalrymen trained their horses to dance to pipe music. Armed with pipes, an invading army from nearby Croton assailed the Sybarite cavalry with music. The attacking forces easily passed through the dancing horses and their helpless riders, and conquered the city. This association transferred to the English language, in which the words "sybarite" and "sybaritic" have become bywords for opulent luxury and outrageous pleasure seeking. One story, mentioned in Samuel Johnson's A Dictionary of the English Language, has a Sybarite sleeping on a bed of rose petals, but unable to get to sleep because one of the petals was folded over.
See also 
- Strabo, Geographica 6.1.13; Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca historica 12.9.2
- Stanley, Jean-Daniel; Bernasconi, Maria Pia (2009). "Sybaris-Thuri-Copia trilogy: three delta coastal sites become land-locked". Méditerranée (112).
- Varro, De re rustica 1.44.2
- Pseudo-Scymnus, Periodos to Nicomedes 360
- Strabo, Geographica 6.1.13
- Aristotle. Politics 5.1303a
- Gaius Julius Solinus, De mirabilibus mundi 2.10
- Hall, Jonathan M. (2008). "Foundation Stories". In Tsetskhladze, Gocha R. Greek Colonisation: An Account of Greek Colonies and Other Settlements Overseas 2. Leiden: Brill. p. 411. ISBN 9789004155763.
- Greco, Emanuele (2011). "On the Origin of the Western Greek Poleis". Ancient West & East 10. doi:10.2143/AWE.10.0.2141822.
- Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca historica 12.9.2
- Athenaeus, Deipnosophistae 521c–d
- "Sibari, Thuri e Copia". ArcheoCalabriaVirtual. Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici della Calabria. 2007. Retrieved 16 February 2013.
- Athenaeus, Deipnosophistae 519c
- Herodotus, The Histories 6.127.1; Claudius Aelianus, Varia Historia 9.24
- Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca historica 8.18–19
- Athenaeus, Deipnosophistae 519–521; Suda, under Συβαριτικαῖς
- Athenaeus, Deipnosophistae 519; Herodotus, The Histories 6.21.1
- Pseudo-Aristotle, De mirabilibus auscultationibus 96; Athenaeus, Deipnosophistae 541a–b
- Justin, Historiarum Philippicarum libri XLIV 20.2
- Sourvinou-Inwood, Christiane (1974). "The Votum of 477/6 B. C. and the Foundation Legend of Locri Epizephyrii". The Classical Quarterly 24 (2): 186–198. doi:10.1017/S0009838800032729.
- Herodotus, The Histories 5.44
- Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca historica 12.9–10
- Burkert, Walter (1972). Lore and Science in Ancient Pythagoreanism. Harvard University Press. p. 166. ISBN 9780674539181.
- Zhmud, Leonid (2012). Pythagoras and the Early Pythagoreans. Oxford University Press. p. 96. ISBN 9780199289318.
- Athenaeus, Deipnosophistae 520a–b, 521d–522a; Pseudo-Scymnus, Periodos to Nicomedes 350-360
- Claudius Aelianus, Varia Historia 1.19, 3.43
- Gorman, Vanessa B. (2001). Miletos, the Ornament of Ionia: A History of the City to 400 B.C.E.. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. p. 106. ISBN 9780472111992.
- Diodorus Siculus (2006). In Green, Peter. Books 11-12.37.1: Greek History 480-431 B.C., the Alternative Version. Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press. pp. 190–191. ISBN 9780292712775.
- Herodotus, The Histories 6.21.1
- Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca historica 11.48.4
- Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca historica 11.90.3–4, 12.10.2–6
- Walbank, Frank W, (2000). "Hellenes and Achaians: 'Greek Nationality' Revisited". In Flensted-Jensen, Pernille. Further Studies in the Ancient Greek Polis. Historia Einzelschriften Series 138. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag. p. 24. ISBN 9783515076074.
- Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca historica 12.11.1–2, 12.22.1
- Athenaeus, Deipnosophistae 520c–d
- Johnson, Samuel (1830). Johnson's English Dictionary, as Improved by Todd and Abridged by Chalmers. Boston: Perkins and Marvin.
Further reading 
- Bullitt, Orville H. (1969). Search for Sybaris. Philadelphia: Lippincott.
- Cucci, Luigi (2005). "Geology versus myth: the Holocene evolution of the Sybaris Plain". Annals of Geophysics 48 (6).
- Ferranti, Luigi; Pagliarulo, Rossella; Antonioli, Fabrizio; Randisi, Andrea (2011). ""Punishment for the Sinner": Holocene episodic subsidence and steady tectonic motion at ancient Sybaris (Calabria, southern Italy)". Quaternary International 232 (1–2): 56–70. doi:10.1016/j.quaint.2010.07.014.
- Kleibrink, Marianne (2001). "The Search for Sybaris: An Evaluation of Historical and Archaeological Evidence". BABESCH 76 (1): 33–70. doi:10.2143/BAB.76.0.76.
- Rainey, Froelich G.; Lerici, Carlo M., eds. (1967). The Search for Sybaris, 1960-1965. University Museum Monographs 29. University Museum Publications. ISBN 9780934718219.