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31 ancient Greek forts discovered in Italy's Calabria

Over the passed year, Lino Licari, has been identifying the remains of a long series of fortifications (phrouria) of Magna Graecia that presided over the route from the important colony of Epizephyrian Locris - founded by the Lokrians of Greece at the beginning of the seventh century BC, to Medma (today's Rosarno), a subcolony planted on the Tyrrhenian side towards the end of the same century, a period in which the Lokrians also founded the city of Hipponion (Vibo Valentia).

31 ancient Greek forts discovered in Italy's Calabria
Greek fortification section in Aspromonte National Park
[Credit: © Lino Licari]
Licari has identified 31 forts in all and, according to the preliminary examination of the structures and the discovery of ceramic fragments, they date back to the first centuries of the Greek settlement (6th-5th BC) founded in the 8th century by settlers from Lokris in Central Greece. The forts were established in order to control an independent trade route to the Tyrrhenian Sea, as an alternative route from the Strait of Messina which was under the strict control of the powerful cities of Reghion (Reggio Calabria) and Zankle (Messina). Economic and political reasons pushed the Lokrians to occupy new territories on the western side of Calabria - an area particularly fertile for the abundant presence of water and alluvial soils as well as strategic for its geographical position - and to protect the connecting route between the two coastal sides, at the same time creating a defensive belt to protect their cities and the territory's resources from possible attacks by the Chalkidian Reggians.

The route from Locri to Medma therefore consisted of an overland pass that climbed up the crests of Aspromonte, crossing the passes of Ropola and Mercante at an altitude of 952 metres before starting the descent towards the magnificent plateau of Pian delle Vigne, the heart of the ancient Mediterranean plain.

31 ancient Greek forts discovered in Italy's Calabria
Remains of one of the forts identified by Lino Licari on Aspromonte.
This is located in Zillastro [Credit: © Lino Licari]
The fortifications reveal the importance given by the Lokrians to this route that Licari, director of the "Medma Archaeological Group" as well as a guide of the Park, is continuing to explore together with cartography expert Andrea Ciulla, under the supervision of Antonino Siclari responsible for the research project of the Park and in constant contact with the Superintendence of Reggio Calabria through the archaeologist Fabrizio Sudano, director of the Archaeological Museum of Medma.

Licari is mapping all the sites within the Park's boundary, with measurements and detailed records of each fort, an operation that will be followed by a careful investigation by the Superintendence and Park officials: "All the sites", explains Licari, "are filed and photographed and each of them has its own topographic map that can be used to locate it, indicating places of interest, coordinates and ways to get there."

31 ancient Greek forts discovered in Italy's Calabria
Fortification remains on a ridge [Credit: © Lino Licari]
These structures have a square plan with walls up to 2.40 m wide and were divided into several floors, fulfilling the function of territorial control. Many of the walls are well preserved, which makes it possible to understand their construction techniques, type and function.

As the following map shows, the military route had a double course: a first stretch, from east to west, marked in yellow, follows the commercial and military road (dromos) Locri-Medma, along the path that started from the walls of the ancient city, climbed to Zomaro (a mountain village inside the park, rich in beech trees, fir trees, holm oaks, brooms and the very rare Woodwardia radicans, giant fern species that survived the Cenozoic), and then descends towards Medma: a route dotted with small forts, fountains and drinking troughs for horses, which in Zomaro crossed a larger military settlement where it was also possible to rest at night and during the day, refresh travellers and change horses.

31 ancient Greek forts discovered in Italy's Calabria
Infographic of the articulated Greek defence system [Credit: © Lino Licari]
"The track is made from beaten earth", explains Licari, "while at some points on steep slopes there were some paved sections made with local stones."

A second stretch, indicated in blue on the map, crossed the whole Aspromonte in a north-south direction, from Monte Limina to Amendolea di Condofuri (the ancient Peripolis), passing through the Piani di Carmelia (at Delianuova): "a very long military road at high altitude for which," adds Licari, "I use the ancient Greek term to call "Anadromos". Some of the fortresses also had a commercial function and in some places proceeded in parallel with the boundaries of Chalkis Reggina (the points marked in red), but these were subject to change depending on the course of the wars".

31 ancient Greek forts discovered in Italy's Calabria
Fortification section in the woods of Aspromonte [Credit: © Lino Licari]
Licari has been guided towards the discovery of this system of military outposts by his proven experience as a guide in the Park and by his extensive study of historical and academic accounts, as well as cartographic sources: "I began by carefully studying some topographical maps, both ancient and recent, in which it is still possible to find toponyms that bring us back to places frequented by ancient populations," says Licari.

"But the principal work was the research in the field turning every corner of the Aspromonte National Park. I started from Piano della Limina, continuing in a southerly direction passing from one side to the other, that is from the Ionian side to the Tyrrhenian side, and this after noticing the presence of archaeological remains that alternated on both sides: Monte Limina, Zomaro, Piano di Moleti, Zervò, Zillastro, Monte Fistocchio, Piani di Carmelia and so on. The presence of archaeological remains in strategic points has allowed me to identify both the sites and their functions."

31 ancient Greek forts discovered in Italy's Calabria
Remains of Greek defensive structures [Credit: © Lino Licari]
It is worth noting here how the Locri-Medma axis, along the eastern asphalt slope, is currently the focus of an excavation campaign by the University of Kentucky, under the direction of Prof. Paolo VisonĂ , who over the years has explored four fortified sites between Zomaro and the territory of Antonimina.

It should also be added that the archaeological remains of Aspromonte do not stop at the Greek period: the 64,153 hectares of the Park in fact also boast evidence of prehistoric habitation and comprises mainly of fragments of stone tools and ceramics to which has recently been added the discovery of a millstone of the Neolithic which was promptly delivered to the Archaeological Museum of Medma, in Rosarno.

31 ancient Greek forts discovered in Italy's Calabria
A short stretch of the Via Popilia, between Melia and Solano,
2nd century BC [Credit: © Lino Licari]
"During the archaeological investigations to identify and record the forts," says Licari, "we have also identified and surveyed many paths that have the characteristics of ancient roads, including roads completely covered with stones, some of which may have been commercial and military communication routes between the Ionian and Tyrrhenian sides. In short, much has emerged and much more could still emerge from this area that has not been little explored to date, mainly because of the dense vegetation; an element that, while on the one hand has always hindered research, on the other has favoured the preservation of the remains of structures often hidden on steep ridges."

After the work has been completed, Lino Licari's dream is that "a path could soon be created that would allow visitors to explore the historical-archaeological-naturalistic aspects of Aspromonte's forests for 3-4 days, and for another 2-3 days in the Hellenophone area, where the archaic Greek idiom is still in use and where they are accustomed to hosting visitors in their old Greek homes."

Source: Fame di Sud [June 11, 2018]

This article was originally published by the Italian website Fame di Sud... read the original article (in Italian) here.


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