The vast number of the Greek colonies, their wide-spread diffusion over all parts of the Mediterranean, which thus became a kind of Grecian lake, and their rapid growth in wealth, power, and intelligence, afford the most striking proofs of the greatness of this wonderful people. Civil dissensions and a redundant population were the chief causes of the origin of most of the Greek colonies. They were usually undertaken with the approbation of the cities from which they issued, and under the management of leaders appointed by them. But a Greek colony was always considered politically independent of the mother-city and emancipated from its control. The only connexion between them was one of filial affection and of common religious ties. Almost every colonial Greek city was built upon the sea-coast, and the site usually selected contained a hill sufficiently lofty to form an acropolis.

The Grecian colonies may be arranged in four groups: 1. Those founded in Asia Minor and the adjoining islands; 2. Those in the western parts of the Mediterranean, in Italy, Sicily, Gaul, and Spain; 3. Those in Africa; 4. Those in Epirus, Macedonia, and Thrace.

1. The earliest Greek colonies were those founded on the western shores of Asia Minor. They were divided into three great masses, each bearing the name of that section of the Greek race with which they claimed affinity. The AEolic cities covered the northern part of this coast, together with the islands of Lesbos and Tenedos; the Ionians occupied the centre, with the islands of Chios and Samos; and the Dorians the southern portion, with the islands of Rhodes and Cos. Most of these colonies were founded in consequence of the changes in the population of Greece which attended the conquest of Peloponnesus by the Dorians. The Ionic cities were early distinguished by a spirit of commercial enterprise, and soon rose superior in wealth and in power to their AEolian and Dorian neighbours. Among the Ionic cities themselves Miletus and Ephesus were the most flourishing, Grecian literature took its rise in the AEolic and Ionic cities of Asia Minor. Homer was probably a native of Smyrna. Lyric poetry flourished in the island of Lesbos, where Sappho and Alcaeus were born. The Ionic cities were also the seats of the earliest schools of Grecian philosophy. Thales, who founded the Ionic school of philosophy, was a native of Miletus. Halicarnassus was one of the most important of the Doric cities, of which Herodotus was a native, though he wrote in the Ionic dialect.

2. The earliest Grecian settlement in Italy was Cumae in Campania, situated near Cape Misenum, on the Tyrrhenian sea. It is said to have been a joint colony from the AEolic Cyme in Asia and from Chalcis in Euboea, and to have been founded, according to the common chronology, in B.C. 1050. Cumae was for a long time the most flourishing city in Campania; and it was not till its decline in the fifth century before the Christian era that Capua rose into importance.

The earliest Grecian settlement in Sicily was founded in B.C. 735. The extraordinary fertility of the land soon attracted numerous colonists from various parts of Greece, and there arose on the coasts of Sicily a succession of flourishing cities. Of these, Syracuse and Agrigentum, both Dorian colonies, became the most powerful. The former was founded by the Corinthians in B.C. 734, and at the time of its greatest prosperity contained a population of 500,000 souls, and was surrounded by walls twenty- two miles in circuit. Its greatness, however, belongs to a later period of Grecian history.

The Grecian colonies in southern Italy began to be planted at nearly the same time as in Sicily. They eventually lined the whole southern coast, as far as Cumae on the one sea and Tarentum on the other. They even surpassed those in Sicily in number and importance; and so numerous and flourishing did they become, that the south of Italy received the name of Magna Graecia. Of these, two of the earliest and most prosperous were Sybaris and Croton, both situated upon the gulf of Tarentum, and both of Achaean origin. Sybaris was planted in B.C. 720 and Croton in B.C. 710. For two centuries they seem to have lived in harmony, and we know scarcely anything of their history till their fatal contest in B.C. 510, which ended in the ruin of Sybaris. During the whole of this period they were two of the most flourishing cities in all Hellas. Sybaris in particular attained to an extraordinary degree of wealth, and its inhabitants were so notorious for their luxury, effeminacy, and debauchery, that their name has become proverbial for a voluptuary in ancient and modern times. Croton was the chief seat of the Pythagorean philosophy. Pythagroras was a native of Samos, but emigrated to Croton, where he met with the most wonderful success in the propagation of his views. He established a kind of religious brotherhood, closely united by a sacred vow. They believed in the transmigration of souls, and their whole training was designed to make them temperate and self-denying. The doctrines of Pythagoras spread through many of the other cities of Magna Graecia.