History of Crotone (Kroton) in Italy


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History of Kroton: Crotone

According to a well-established tradition [Herodotus (484-425 BC), “Historiae”, VIII, 47] Kroton [=Greek Κρότων] was founded by settlers from Achaia led by Myskellos from Rhypai. "Myskellos" seemed to merge with the names of many legendary founders of cities in the Ancient World, and to many scholars he seemed to be a typical figure of Greek mythology.

However, the "strangeness" of the oecist’s name aroused great interest and many discussions between scholars, and O. Masson pointed out that “Myskellos” was a name largely spread over a wide geographical area, stretching from Sicily to Asia Minor.

Historical and mythical roots of Kroton

According to studies by O. Masson, Myskellos was not a mythological figure, even if in the Ancient World he did not play a particular reputation and, no doubt, "Myskellos" was a nickname referring to a particular physical characteristic of the oecist of Kroton, and it probably means "with the crooked foot " (1).

Despite Myskellos being a 'real' historical figure, the foundation of Kroton has also links with the mythological figure of Hercules, who "prophesied" the foundation of Kroton. The question is related to a widespread tradition in Magna Graecia, i.e. the so-called "ktisis" which could be translated as "foundation", or "Origins" in Latin, referring precisely to the "ancient origins of a city," narrated as a kind of "mythological novel" (2).

Why is Hercules’ name linked to the "historical founder” of Kroton? This was explained by I. Malkin, a prestigious scholar of antiquity, who, after stating that “ Kroton has a historical founder, a certain Myskellos of Rhipai ", asked himself: “Why, then, Heracles 'ktistes'?

Greek cities in the western Mediterranean of Classical times began to appropriate mythic origins in response to the challenge of their national youthfulness, apparently wishing to have ancestries as venerable as ancient as those of their mother cities […]

Moreover, this use of Heracles helped integrate the new colonies into the pan-Hellenic networks of myth, thus enhancing their Greekness. Sometimes he could be used to 'face' the “natives”, sometimes as an ancestor: so a mythic and cultic connection with a hero whose mythical time preceded the historical date of foundation could also mediate relationships with local populations” (3)

According to Malkin, the same Myskellos wanted to link himself to Hercules as the "founder" of Kroton, “by-passing himself”. Melkin also stressed that the people of Kroton became attached to this ancient "ktisis" referred to Hercules, as some of their coins represented Hercules with the inscription "OIKIMTAM" [= founder] (4).

In conclusion, the data assures us that the historical tradition attributes the role of the founder of Crotone to Myskellos of Rhype, a village located in Achaia in Greece.

The Herculean myth

The famous "Herculean" "ktisis" was handed down by Diodorus Siculus (90-27 BC) [IV, 24, 7], and supported by Ovid (43 BC-18 AD) [Met., XV, 12-40]. According to this, Croton was founded by Myskellos by order of Hercules, that in the course of his return from Spain with a herd of cattle, landed near a promontory called “Lacinius” where a thief named himself “Lacinius” robbed him of some oxen.

Heracles came upon him, but he also killed by mistake "Kroton", the friend with whom he was staying, and saddened by what had happened, he dedicated a monument to him. Heracles also predicted the foundation of Kroton.

Pythagoras and the historical origins of Crotone

Kroton is the city that Petronius Arbiter (27-66 AD) [Satyr.] called "Urbs antiquissima" [=a very old city] and that all the greatest writers of antiquity mentioned, from Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD) to Ptolemy (90-168 AD), from Cicero (106-43 BC) to Virgil (70-19 BC) and Ovid, and all they mentioned the Temple of Hera and the promontory on which Heracles landed, from which began the great and glorious early history of Kroton ...

The origin of Kroton is linked to its geographical location and the nature of the place. In a good natural harbour and safe place on the Ionian coast, it was the ideal spot for ships that lined the ancient Mediterranean.

Kroton was founded between 709 and 708 BC, and it is almost needless to say that it was the city that welcomed Pythagoras (570-495 BC), the famous mathematician who around 530 BC founded the school of the Pythagoreans, whose philosophy on the "transmigration of souls" is known throughout the world.

The story told by Xenophanes is well known:

"One day Pythagoras passed near a dog that was beaten, and he took pity on him and said to him who was beating," Stop! Do not hurt him, because his soul is that of a friend. I know it, because his soul has spoken to me."

Although Pythagoras had not accomplished more in his life, this gesture of generosity alone is enough to give him immortality. Moreover, only a man with intellectual faculties in so high a degree could make a similar gesture in the Ancient World. F. Lenormant, who was among the first major archaeologists visiting Crotone, in his "Grande Grèce" [Paris, 1881] described him as an "encyclopedic man”:

"Metaphysics, physics, science, religion, liturgy , morality, law and politics, the Pythagorean doctrine included anything".

Apparently, Pythagoras had an important role in the war against Sybaris, destroyed in 510 BC, after which Kroton controlled the territory. But the wind changed against Pythagoras and his school, and he was forced to abandon Kroton.

After the war against Locri at the beginning of the 6th century BC, Kroton was harshly attacked by the Brettii and an undoubted decline of the city began. Around 205 BC Hannibal placed his "castrum" here, near the temple of Hera. In 194 Kroton fell into the hands of the Romans, who founded here a colony of about 300 "virorum Romanorum" [Roman soldiers], which had the task of controlling the borders.

Crotone in the Middle Ages

In the Middle Ages, thanks to its strategic location and harbour, Crotone was also an important stronghold of the Byzantines against the advance of the Lombards. Totila took the city after a long siege, but Kroton strenuously defended itself.

It was also besieged by the Saracens, but it had a period of renewed vitality in the Norman period under Roger II (1095-1154), while Frederick II (1194-1250) restored the walls and the city's harbour.

Under the Angevins, it was the center of the Marquisate [=Italian “Marchesato”] of Ruffo, when in 1284 Charles I of Anjou (1226-1285) granted the city to Pietro Ruffo, Count of Catanzaro.

Political struggles and the profound disagreements that divided the popular social classes by local landowners determined its decline during the 17th and 18th centuries. During the first years of the 19th century, under the Napoleonic empire, the city was occupied and plundered by both the British and then by the French. During the period of the “Risorgimento” Crotone was the scene of important events, which led to the unification of Italy (1861).

Today Crotone is a city geared towards cultural tourism, thanks to new archaeological discoveries and also thanks to the beauty of its sea, which dominates with its clear waters and where we can taste traditional dishes based on fish...

Etymology of Kroton - Crotone

According to modern etymological studies, it would seem that the name of Kroton has nothing to do with the mythical "Kroton" killed by Hercules. Studies on the Indo-European language have given convergent results and as early as the 1970's G. Semeraro summed up them by noting that

"The name Gyrton , Gortyn in Crete, 'Kyrtòne', in Boeotia, and Croton in Italy, means city, fortress, Ugaritic ‘qrt’, Hebrew ‘qeret’. Aramaic ‘qartà’ ('Stadt'), Arab. ‘qarjat’ ('Stadt') '" (5). In effect Gortyn comes from the Indo-European root “gher [dh]”, with the meaning of to enclose, fortress, fortified city (6).

However, there are several assumptions that generally enjoy better luck among the Italian scholars, especially local ones. One of the most widely accepted is that the Greek term "Kroton" is the Latin equivalent of "Ricinus" [= castor-oil plant]. Kroton therefore would mean "the place of the castor-oil plants":

"A name linked to some local phytonyms. In fact, 'Kroton' is the castor-oil plant, a medicinal plant that already gave the name of the Greek colony" (7).

Finally, it remains to be considered that a substantial amount of scholars believe that the etymology of Kroton was due to the call of the stork, because the cry of this bird corresponds to the first letter of Kroton [= Kro]. Undoubtedly, this etymology is interesting and also a relatively common opinion among scholars that already advanced it in the early 19th century. However, this proposal was subject to increasingly stringent criticism.

In particular, B. Carroccio analyzed the problem and drew a contrary conclusion:

"The stilt-birds (herons, cranes, storks or ibises) represented on many Greek coinages, especially of Kroton, were interpreted as etymological references or symbols of local landscape or watery cults. Neverthless, the analysis of their distribution and literary sources carried out in accordance with the method of the Lexicon Iconographicum Numismaticae makes preferable a symbolic interpretation, as a pre-announcement of the good will of the gods with which they are joined, in accordance, at Kroton, with the Pythagorean doctrines.” (8).

Expanding on the subject, B. Carroccio adds:

"In a small contribution published a few years ago, A. Cahn, (9) turning his attention to the topic of the wader […] interpreted it as a “speaking symbol”, etymologically alluding to the city, which would have taken its name from the "clamour" (in Greek 'kroteo') of the jaws rhythmically beaten by storks stationed in its surroundings […] The hypothesis of Cahn, however, appears unreliable […] firstly, because, unlike them, the wader on the coinage of Kroton always appears in a subordinate position with respect to the tripod, the main type and true ‘episemon’ [=symbol] of the city " [p. 8].

The conclusion is that the various wading birds depicted in ancient coins of Kroton should be interpreted more as symbols than in the etymological sense: "The possibility that the birds in question have wanted symbolically to indicate only the location of the marshy river-worship foreshadowed in the images associated with them is more credible"[p. 10].

As we said above, this problem was already foreshadowed in almost the same words of Cahn, in particular with regard to the expression "speaking name", by C. Cavedoni in 1838: "The Stork is called 'Crotalistria' by Publilius Syrus (apud [=among] Petron., Satyr., 55) because of the similarity of its long beak and its sounds similar to crotalum [= an ancient musical instrument].

Ovid wrote that the Stork "“Glotorat immenso de turre Ciconia rostro". In the poem entitled 'Philomela' we read: “Glotorat immenso de turre Ciconia rostro” , where, for the usual exchange from "GL" to "CR", we have both "Glo-torat" and "Cro-torat" [...] The Stork was depicted on a tripod found in Kroton as a symbol and ' speaking name' of Crotone" (10).

Works Cited

1) O.Masson, “Myskellos fondateur de Crotone et le nom 'Myskel(l)os”, in" Rev. Phil.”, 1989, p. 61 ff.

2) On the relationship between "ktisis" and "Origins", See D. Erdas, “Tra Ktisis e Politeia”, in “Tradizione e trasmissione degli storici greci frammentari”, in “Atti del II Workshop Internazionale”, Rome, 16-18 February 2006, p. 583 ff.

3) I. Malkin, “Herakles and Melqart: Greeks and Phoenicians in the Middle Ground”, in “Cultural Borrowings and Ethnic Appropriations in Antiquity”, edited by Erich S. Gruen, 2005, p. 239.

4) I. Malkin, “The Returns of Odysseus: Colonization and Ethnicity”, University of California Press, 1998, p. 217 and I . Malkin, "The Middle Ground: Philoktetes in Italy", in “Kernos”, 11, 1998, p. 131.

5) G. Semeraro," Le origini della cultura europea", Olschki, 1984, Vol II, p. 433.

6) J. Puhvel, "Hyttite Etymological Dictionary", Gruyter, 1997, Vol. IV, p. 276.

7) A. Mele, “Il mondo enotrio tra VI e V secolo a.C”, in “Il mondo enotrio fra VI e V secolo a.C.”, edited by M. Bugno and C. Masseria, in “Atti dei seminari napoletani (1996–1998)”, Napoli, 2001, Vol. II, p. 272.

8) B. Carroccio, “Sulla valenza simbolica dei trampolieri nelle monetazioni antiche”, in “Miscellanea di studi storici”, Dipartimento di storia Università della Calabria, Estratto dal n. XV, 2008, pp. 7 ff.

9) A. Cahn, “Die Störche von Kroton”, Bern, 2000, pp. 31-32 and then “Zur Münzprägung von Kroton”, in “Quaderni ticinesi di numismatica e antichità classica”, 29, 71-76.

10) C. Cavedoni, “Spicilegio numismatico …” , Modena, 1838, p. 21 and footnote 30.

11) F. Mazza, “Crotone. Storia, cultura, economia”, Rubbettino, 1992, p. 235.

12) C. Carlino, “La 'Scuola' di Monteleone”, 2001, p. 67.

13) R. Belli Pasqua, “'Hestiatoria' nella tradizione rituale delle colonie d'occidente”, in “Thyasos”, Rivista di Archeologia e Architettura Antica”, 2012, n. 1, pp. 23-26.

14) F. Lenormant, “La Grande-Grèce”, Paris, 1881, Tome II, p. 8.