History of Taranto







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History of Taranto                                  (Back to Taranto main information page)  

Taranto was founded as a Greek colony in the VIII century B.C. by the Spartans. It was therefore a city of the Magna Grecia powerful enough to stand the Roman attack until 272 B.C. renowned for its wool, its oysters and mussels, and its dyes (the imperial purple was the product of decayed Tarentine mollusc). Its acropolis harboured a vast bronze of Poseidon that was one of the wonders of the ancient world.

In 367 BC Carthage and the Etruscans signed a pact to counter Taranto's power in southern Italy.

Under the rule of its greatest statesman, strategist and army commander, the philosopher and mathematician Archytas, Taranto reached its peak power and wealth; it was the most important city of the Magna Grecia, the main commercial port of southern Italy.

The Greek colonists called the city Taras, from the name of the mythical eponymous hero Taras, while the Romans, who connected the city to Rome with an extension of the Appian way, called it Tarentum.

During the Second Punic War, the Romans heavily stronghold the city for fear that it might go over to Hannibal. In 122 BC a Roman colony named Neptunia was founded next to Taranto, after the Roman sea god Neptune. The Roman colony was separate from the Greek city, and populated by Roman colons, but it was later unified to the main centre when Taranto become a municipium, in 89 BC.

In 540, Taranto became part of Byzantine Empire until the arrival of the Longobards with the Duchy of Benevento who captured the city in 662 to be again under the Byzantine rule in 663. In 700s, the Arabs started to raid Taranto and southern Italy.

The city became an Arab stronghold and privileged harbour for long years. In 880, the Byzantine took back Taranto from the Arabs, ending a forty years dominion.

Among the first actions taken by the Byzantine ruler was to import in the city Greek colons in order to increase the population. Taranto became one of the most important cities in the Byzantine possession in southern Italy.

Numerous other fights between Arabs and Byzantine were on play and the city was again destroyed (927) by the Arabs and again rebuilt by the Byzantines.

Indeed, the history of Taranto is full of wartime events, and the town was invaded and destroyed. The Saracens were ruthless with Taranto, and they turned it into a heap of rubble, then, was taken by the Normans, the Swebians, the Angevins.

In the XI century the city witnessed the struggle between Normans and Byzantines. With the Norman victory, Taranto became a principality and for 377 years it was a powerful and almost independent feudal fief of the Kingdom of Sicily and later the Kingdom of Naples where the city was strongly fortified.

The strategic position of Taranto on the sea was again recognized with Napoleon as he wanted to build a stronghold to keep under pression the British base of Malta.

After the fall of napoleon, southern Italy and Taranto, returned under the Bourbon dynasty's rule, forming the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.

Southern Italy was then annexed to the Savoy dynasty's Kingdom of Piemonte-Sardinia, which became the Kingdom of Italy.

Home to the Italian fleet after Unification, the city was consequently heavily bombed during the last war.

In this times, Taranto became famous for the British attack on the Regia Marina base during the World War II, known as the Battle (or Night) of Taranto.



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