The Greek Origins Of Marseille

  • by XpatAthens
  • Thursday, 19 January 2023
The Greek Origins Of Marseille
The huge port city of Marseille in southern France was founded by Greeks back in 600 BC when the first immigrants arrived in the area and established a trading colony.

The Greeks are well known for their ancient tales of glory and tragedy, as well as their civilization’s innumerable contributions to the very foundations of our modern world.

However, what is lesser-known is that throughout the centuries, they founded scores of cities across the Mediterranean which not only exist today but thrive and play a crucial role in their region’s affairs.

One of these cities is the huge port city of Marseille, the second-largest city in France and definitely among the oldest in Europe.

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 Mediter-ranean.

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 Greek myth of Marseille

The Greek philosopher, Aristotle, informs us about the myth concerning the foundation of Massalia.

According to this tale, Protis, the son of Euxenous from Phocaea, married Gyptis, the daughter of a King of a Celt tribe named Segobriges or Segusiavi, who lived in Gaul, ancient France. This marriage was the beginning of the story of Marseille.

When the Greek man married this rich and beautiful Celtic woman, the local King gave him the right to obtain a piece of land and build his town. This small settlement was the foundation of what was to become the well-known city of Massalia.

The greater Mediterranean region, ca. 800-550 BC

However, this well-known legend may have been disproven since, according to archaeological evidence, the Phocaeans were not the first Greeks to arrive on the northern shores of the western Mediterranean Sea.

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 with whom to trade.

Nonetheless, the city of Massalia itself was indeed established by Phocaeans, as they were the first to permanently settle there.

Other neighboring Greek colonies

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.

These colonies included the cities of Agde (Agathe Tyche, meaning ”Good Fortune”) in France; Antibes; Emporiae (the modern city of Empuries in Catalonia); Rhoda (the modern Roses in Catalonia); and, of course, the well-known cities of Nice (Nikaia) and Monaco, the modern-day cosmopolitan principality.

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