Good books on the history of Magna Graecia?

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Ignoramus Maximus, Apr 10, 2020.

  1. Ignoramus Maximus

    Ignoramus Maximus Active Member

    So I have been collecting Ancients for about two years now.

    What started as an ephemeral fancy and a worn sestertius of Marcus Aurelius grew into a trickle of curiosity and then into a time and money-consuming hobby. Late nights poring over a computer screen, looking over auction catalogues, reading up on places, people and even whole empires I'd never heard of before...( no, I had never heard of the Seleucids before I started collecting. If that sounds unlikely, just check my username, it tells you all you need to know.:)). Well, you get it. I got into the Ancients. And once you go that way there is no way back.
    I even joined CT. ( quite a feat for someone who is notoriously non-existent on Facebook, WhatsApp and whatever else is out there :)). So there you have it.

    But let me get to the point.

    Since I'm addicted to this hobby I thought it was time to delve a bit deeper in the subject and do some coherent reading on ancient history. Reading scraps and bits from Wikipedia and other sources is fine of course, but it gets sketchy and fragmentary in the long run. And feeling a coin in your hand is one thing, but to see and understand it in its historical context is quite another. And what better place to begin my reading then Magna Graecia? Playground of rivergods, colonists, ambitious generals, philosophers, Carthagenians, Romans, mercenaries and many more... Also it happens to be the place where I first saw Greek temples when I was a child. So definitely the place to start my education.

    So here's my question:

    Is there anyone here who can point me to a halfway decent book on the history of MG/Sicily? Not necessarily numismatic history, although, if a coin appears on its pages, I won't complain of course. My main focus is the Greek colonies, but I'm equally interested in its history in general. So everyone is welcome in my book: Romans, Carthagenians, Mamertini, Brettii, overambitious cousins of Alexander... It needn't be wholy scolary, but some content is appreciated. Preferred language is English and if doesn't completely break the bank that's a bonus.
    I could buy something pot-luck of course, but I was hoping that people here could get me some pointers and spare me costly mistakes. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

    And if you can't help me with a book suggestion but simply feel the need to make me jealous by posting a coin from Magna Graecia that leaves me drooling over my computer, you're welcome to do so as well.:)

    I'll even post a pic myself.
    Steeped in MG history (and incidently the last coin to make it to Norway before the shut down):

    Akragas Hemilitron 10,57 gr. 24 mm. 405-392. Punic occupation. Herakles.jpg Akra.jpg
    Akragas. Hemilitron. 10.57 gr. 24 mm. Punic occupation 405-392.
    Countermark: head of Herakles (or river god?)

    I assume the c/m on this worn example is a direct consequence of the destruction of the city and that whoever was left had no other choice but to recycle worn coins. Was the mint destroyed? Did they lose access to metal? Punic policy that forbade them to strike? Payment of reparations or tribute perhaps, that left them dead poor? I don't know. See..? That's exactly my point.
    I have to

    Thanks in advance for any replies.
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  3. Theoderic

    Theoderic Member

    I can recommend the book "The Greeks Overseas: Their Early Colonies and Trade" by John Boardman. I have the 4th edition paperback from 1999; not sure if there's been further updates. It's a good general history but has an emphasis on art and archaeology in line with Boardman's background, and it helps if you already have some prior knowledge on the subject. Many black and white photos and drawings and even a few coin illustrations.
  4. Justin Lee

    Justin Lee I learn by doing

    I don't have an answer for you, but I'm interested in hearing other's answers! I've recently picked up Sear's Greek Coins and Their Values, Vol 1 & 2 (some paragraphs of history throughout), Les Monnaies De L'afrique Antique (MAA; in French but use Google Translate app; got it for the Carthage coinage and has some really nice content about the history and numismatics tied to it for the different coin types and dates), Carthage's Other Wars (just started but seems promising), and I have A Companion to the Punic Wars and Mastering the West: Rome and Carthage at War on order from Amazon, and am excited to get the first delivered this coming Monday.
    Ignoramus Maximus likes this.
  5. Voulgaroktonou

    Voulgaroktonou Well-Known Member

    A quick check of "Magna Graecia" as a subject in my university library catalog produced over 200 titles. As usual with our collection, 75% of them are not in English, but I have done a little selection and produced a few of general interest. There are many more specialized studies, congresses, and specific topics, but I hope this will be helpful. If you want to browse our library catalog yourself, you can do so at: If you want to learn more about our library, go to: Below are a few books I chose, in no particular order.
    AUTHOR Woodhead, A. G. (Arthur Geoffrey)
    TITLE The Greeks in the West.
    IMPRINT London, Thames and Hudson [1962]
    SERIES Ancient peoples and places (Thames and Hudson) ; v. 28.

    AUTHOR Lomas, Kathryn, 1960-
    TITLE Rome and the Western Greeks, 350 BC-AD 200 : conquest and acculturation in Southern Italy /
    IMPRINT London ; New York : Routledge, 1993.
    ISBN 0415050227.

    AUTHOR Dunbabin, T. J. (Thomas James)
    TITLE The western Greeks : the history of Sicily and South Italy from the foundation of the Greek colonies to 480 B.C.
    IMPRINT Chicago : Ares, 1979.
    ISBN 0890053006.

    AUTHOR Cerchiai, Luca.
    TITLE The Greek cities of Magna Graecia and Sicily
    IMPRINT Los Angeles : J. Paul Getty Museum, c2004.
    ISBN 0892367512.

    TITLE The Greeks in Sicily / Lorena Jannelli, Fausto Longo ; photography, Mark E. Smith.
    IMPRINT Venezia : Arsenale, 2004.
    ISBN 8877432985.

    AUTHOR Bennett, Michael J., 1959-
    TITLE Magna Graecia : Greek art from south Italy and Sicily
    IMPRINT Cleveland Museum of Art ; New York : distributed by Hudson Hills Press, 2002.
    NOTE Catalog of an exhibition held at the Cleveland Museum of Art,Oct. 27, 2002-Jan. 5, 2002 and at the Tampa Museum of Art, Feb. 2-Apr. 20, 2003.
    ISBN 0940717727(pbk)

    AUTHOR Holloway, R. Ross, 1934-
    TITLE Art and coinage in Magna Graecia / R. Ross Holloway.
    IMPRINT Bellinzona [Switzerland] : Edizioni Arte e Moneta, [1978?]
    ISBN 0839002068.

    AUTHOR Hoover, Oliver D. (Oliver David), 1972-
    TITLE Handbook of coins of Italy and Magna Graecia : sixth to first centuries BC /
    IMPRINT Lancaster ; London : Classical Numismatic Group, [2018] ©2018.
    SERIES Handbook of Greek coinage series ; v. 1.
    ISBN 9780989825436.

    TITLE Fourth century B.C. Magna Graecia : a case study / by M. Gualtieri (ed.) ; texts by S. Bökönyi ... [et al.]
    IMPRINT Jonsered : P. Åströms förlag, 1993.
    SERIES Studies in Mediterranean archaeology and literature. Pocket -book ; 114.
    ISBN 9170810397.

    AUTHOR Langlotz, Ernst, 1895-1978.
    TITLE The art of Magna Graecia; Greek art in Southern Italy and Sicily. Photos. by Max Hirmer. [Translated by Audrey Hicks]
    IMPRINT London, Thames and Hudson [c1965]

    AUTHOR Hands, Alfred Watson.
    TITLE Coins of Magna Graecia. The coinage of the Greek colonies of southern Italy
    IMPRINT London, Spink & son, ltd., 1909.

    AUTHOR Ceserani, Giovanna.
    TITLE Italy's lost Greece : Magna Graecia and the making of modern archaeology
    IMPRINT New York : Oxford University Press, c2012.
    SERIES Greeks overseas.
    ISBN 9780199744275.

    TITLE The Greek world : art and civilization in Magna Graecia and Sicily / edited by Giovanni Pugliese Carratelli ; [translators, Andrew Ellis ... [et al.]]
    IMPRINT New York : Rizzoli, 1996.
    NOTE Catalog of an exhibition held in the Palazzo Grassi, Venice, Mar.-Dec., 1996.
    ISBN 0847819809.

    TITLE The treasures of Hera : Magna Grecian antiquities from southern Italy / catalogue compiled by Roberto Spadea.
    IMPRINT [Milano : Edizioni ET, 1998]
    NOTE Catalogue of the exhibition at the European Academy for the Arts & Accademia italiana, London 28 April-7 June 1998.

    AUTHOR Berger, Shlomo.
    TITLE Revolution and society in Greek Sicily and southern Italy /
    IMPRINT Stuttgart : F. Steiner, 1992.
    SERIES Historia (Wiesbaden, Germany). Einzelschriften ; Heft 71.
    ISBN 3515059598.
    Ryro, DonnaML, Jay GT4 and 4 others like this.
  6. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    I wish I knew the answers to your questions. I have read things on history and seen catalogs of coins but information on how coins fit into history is not the interest of either.

    Regarding the c/m coin. My observation is that these are not hard to find with a decent strike of the mark on worn coins and not too hard to find with clear undertypes on a coin with still enough detail to see the type BUT finding a decent coin and a decent strike together takes more looking. Mine is no prize winner but not bad as an average. Had the c/m been applied hard enough to be clear, it would have destroyed the crab detail and flattened the eagle worse than it did as it is.
    Ryro, Johndakerftw, Bing and 2 others like this.
  7. Jay GT4

    Jay GT4 Well-Known Member

    I'm actually more interested in the non Greek original inhabitants of Southern Italy. Here are a few in my own library.

    Samnium and the Samnites by E.T. Salmon

    Many books on the Punic Wars deal with Southern Italy:

    Between Rome and Carthage, Southern Italy during the 2nd Punic war
    By Michael P. Fronda

    Carthage must be Destroyed by Richard Miles

    Mystic Cults in Magna Grecia by Giovanni Casadio and Patricia A. Johnston
    Last edited: Apr 10, 2020
  8. zumbly

    zumbly Ha'ina 'ia mai ana ka puana Supporter

    This is a coin reference book rather than a history book, but I like the entire HGC series and highly recommend it. The coverage of cities is comprehensive and the catalogue of coin types as good as can be expected of a work intended to be a general rather than specialist reference. For each city, you get a concise section on its history and another on its coinage. A sample below on Brundisium:


    The history and coinage sections are followed by a catalog of coin types. Major cities get more pages dedicated to them. For example, there are over 5 pages discussing the history and coins of Tarentum, and a further 30 pages cataloging its coin types. The volume on Italy and Magna Graecia covers over 110 cities. Great value for $65 IMHO.
  9. Ed Snible

    Ed Snible Well-Known Member

    I also desire a book on the history of Magna Graecia.

    A few years ago I purchased a coin said to be struck in Syracuse by Dionysius I.

    Dionysius I (or Dionysius the Elder) was a Greek tyrant of Syracuse from 405 BC to 367 BC. After working as a clerk in a public office, Dionysius distinguished himself fighting in the war with Carthage that broke out in Sicily in 409. He invented the catapult in 399 BCE. Siezed power and became tyrant. He introduced the five-man per oar-bank three banked warship. Dionysius was described as the very archetype of the worst kind of despot—cruel, suspicious and vindictive. foolish He conquered several cities in Sicily and southern Italy, opposed Carthage's influence in Sicily and made Syracuse the most powerful of the Western Greek colonies.

    Sounds fascinating, right? I found a book on him on Amazon but it costs $55 in paperback, $160 in hardcover. I would rather have a book no Magna Graecia with a chapter on him. Something that explains the history in a way that a non-specialist will find memorable. Suggestions?
  10. Ryro

    Ryro You'll never be lovelier than you are now... Supporter

    Donald Kagan has some wonderful books. I loved the one he wrote about the Peloponesian war.
    Ignoramus Maximus likes this.
  11. Ignoramus Maximus

    Ignoramus Maximus Active Member

    Thanks to all for your input. Some very good tips. I was really hoping there would be some standard work on Magna Graecia, the one book you have to read. Guess I was wrong. :(:banghead:

    Looks interesting, although one reviewer accused the author of being Hellenophilic to the extreme. Also, it might in places be outdated, but the latest edition comes with a modern afterword, I believe. Not necessarily an easy read, but highly regarded. A good candidate.

    I looked into that one. A good book for quick reference and an overview of the cities. And then there's coins..:). And endorsed by zumbly as well! Definitely on the shortlist.

    As the Handbook series, but without the coins, but with pictures of the archaelogical sites.

    Unfortunately many of the other books on your list are difficult to get in Norway: many bookstores on Amazon don't ship to Norway, or only at a hefty charge. And then there's custom duties...

    Thanks for the tips on the Punic and Peleponesian wars.I'll keep them in mind once I get there. Still taking baby steps here...

    To others also looking: I came across this one while searching the net. More Syracuse than MG, although it bracnches out ( and obviously conflict-oriented). Also a critical reviewer wrote: 'an ok survey that could have been better', but an easy read. Nothing wrong with that. Perhaps as an introduction? I'm half- tempted.

    Tyrants of Syracuse: War in Ancient Sicily.
    Jeffrey Champion
    Vol I : 48-368 BC ISBN:9781848840638
    Vol II 367-211 BC ISBN:9781848843677

    and also:

    The History of Sicily to the Athenian War
    (with Elucidations of the Sicilian Odes of Pindar).
    William W. Lloyd

    The Story of Sicily: Phoenician, Greek and Roman.
    Edward A. Freeman.

    Couldn't find a review on the last two. They're both 19th c. books, recently republished in a 'Scholar Select' series. I guess the authors must have done a lot right to survive to this day... Anyone read them?
  12. Nicholas Molinari

    Nicholas Molinari Well-Known Member

    For an ancient source I like Diodorus Siculus. I can't remember which books specifically deal with Magna Graecia but check here, and then I recommend the Loeb edition. The Boardman reference above is also excellent.
    Ignoramus Maximus likes this.
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