REGGIO: THE OLDEST CITY IN THE SOUTH OF ITALY STILL INHABITATED
How the city was born
by William Versavia
The 8th century BC, Chalcis, Euboea. The city decided to found a colony and the Oracle of Delphi said that they had to found it where they would find a female embracing a male, in the Ausonian lands, near to the river Apsias, the most sacred of the river (today it’s called Fiumara Calopinace). The settlers, wih a group of exiles from Messenia, saw a grapevine wrapped around a fig tree, and they thought it was a female embracing a male; so they decided that this would be the place to found their colony. That land was already property of indigenous populations: the Ausones, Oenotrians and the Itali. The name of the whole peninsula derives from the name Itali: in the myth, Heracles went to Sicily and there he lost a calf belonging the Geryon’s cattle, and he had to catch him again in Calabria, from then on it was called “calf’s land”. The name Italy (in origin “Vitalìa”) comes from “calf”, in indigenous languages called “vitus” or “vitellus”.
There, the most important city, with the river Apsias and the grapevine on the fig, was Rhegion, “the city of the king”, founded on a older city called Erythrà (the Red one) before the Trojan War. It was a mythical land, with the seven rivers in which Orestes, Agamemnon’s son, purified himself from the murder of his mother. Close to this land Ulixes met Scylla while he was going to Itaca, in this land Heracles asked Zeus that the cicadas couldn’t sing in Rhegion, because he was tired.
Greeks defeated the indigenous people and settled there, without changing the city’s name: Ῥήγιον was born, and it’s the most ancient greek colony in the south of Italy still inhabitated, a city with more of 2700 years of history.
Rhegion was among the most active cities in Magna Grecia whitch thrived greatly thanks to its trade and control over the Strait of Messina, also allied with Locri they defeated Croton in the Battle of Sagra. This land gave birth to the poet Ibico from Reggio, already highly appreciated by his contemporaries, who sang of mythological subjects and that, in order not to become a tyrant of Reggio, he moved to Samo, to the court of Polycrates, where he wrote more introspective verses.
Instead, Anaxila, who became a tyrant of Reggio, besieged the other city that faced the Strait of Messina: Zancle (another name of indigenous origin, meaning “sickle” and alluding to the shape of the harbor). After having defeated it, the tyrant wished to destroy it, but his advisers convinced him to refound a sub-colony of Reggio, and it was called Messana, the present Messina.
Anaxila also participated at the Olympic games, as Aristotle tells us, and he won the race of the chariot of mules. After, in celebration, he held the biggest lunch ever offered in Olympia and commissioned the poet Simonides an ode to sing his victory, but the poet refused, saying that mules weren’t noble enough animals. Anaxila, however, increased the pay for the poet, who was convinced, and then he wrote the ode that began by saying, “Hello, oh daughters of the mares with feet of storm …”. Reggio was also the home of the sculptor Pythagoras from Reggio, who was greatly appreciated for his ability to sculpt beards and hair. So one of the most important cities of history was born. Perhaps, though, its history is even older: some sources would like Reggio founded by Aschenez, Noah’s nephew, around 2000 BC, long before the Greeks arrived, making Reggio about 4000 years old.