Paestum is the Roman name for Poseidonia, a colony of Sybaris founded in about 600BC on the South West coast of Italy. It was named after the Greek god Poseidon. At this time this part of Italy was dominated by the Greeks and formed part of what was then known as Magna Graecia.

Around 400BC Poseidonia was conquered by the Lucanians, an indigenous and bellicose Italian tribe inhabiting the region South East of Naples, known today as Basilicata. Right through the 4th century B.C. the Lucanians were allied with the tyrant of Syracuse, Dionisio, in the conflict with the Italiot League. They launched several attacks on Turii and clashed with Taranto and Locri. Sometimes this pressure culminated in a seizure of power. Such was the case with Poseidonia, where the Lucanians, according to Strabo (V1, 254) overcame the citizens and their allies and conquered the city, ruling it until it passed under Roman rule in 273BC.

The extraordinary state of conservation of the city, with its encircling walls intact and majestic Greek temples, together with the mass of data brought to light by a  century of archaeological explorations, make Poseidonia (Paestum)a mine of information about the Lucanians.

The warlike nature of the Lucanians, suggested by sporadic literary references, is amply corroborated by the grave fumishings of armed warriors and the paintings on the slabs which formed their tombs.

The decoration of these tombs, in addition to their symbolic value reveal a wealth of detail concerning everyday life, rendered particularly vivacious by the painter’s art. Funeral rites, mourning, the laying out of the corpse, libations and sacrifices, sporting contests, hunting scenes, work in the fields and even gynaecological practices are all depicted.



By G Pugliese Carratelli

Electa Napoli, Naples 1996

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