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The Lucanian Conquest

Around 400 BCE the city of Poseidonia was conquered by one of the indigenous samnite peoples, the Lucanians, that hitherto had lived in the mountainous areas further inland. Little is known about the reasons for the conquest or exactly how and when it happened.

While the conquest did have an impact on life in Poseidonia, the basics remained much the same. The city was called Poseidonia as before, Greek continued both as the spoken and written language, the temples and sanctuaries were respected, the ancient cults and gods were venerated and trade relations continued as before.

Lucanian painted tomb
Lucanian painted tomb

No new major monuments were build in the Lucanian period, which has led to the belief that the period was one of decline compared to the previous two centuries, but this was not the case. The new ruling class just expressed itself in other ways.

The necropolises are very different from the Greek burials. The outer form is more or less the same, a rectangular hole cut in the rock, lined internally by slabs of travertine, but social differences are clearly marked and much more striking that in the earlier period, indicating a more stratified social system.

The tombs of the upper class are ostentatiously decorated with frescoes on the inside, and they contained very rich grave goods. Men were inhumated with their arms and armour and the tombs decorated with pictures of the deceased armed and on horseback, or with images of chariot races. Women were buried with their jewellery of silver, bronze and amber, and with vases, amphorae and other pottery. Some women were buried with a special kind of vase, the lebes gamikos, which is a very elaborately decorated bowl, a symbol of marriage.

The tombs of common people are much simpler, often just interment with no or almost no grave goods.

The second important change after the Lucanian conquest was the settlement pattern in the countryside. In the Greek period the surrounding area was sparsely settled, but after the Lucanian conquest settlement became much denser. This is no doubt a result of Lucanians moving into the territory of Poseidonia, and maybe the quest for more land to cultivate was the driving force behind the invasion.

The arts didn't suffer as a result of the invasion, as can be seen from the tomb paintings and the pottery found. In fact, two of the most famous known artists from Poseidonia/Paestum are from this period. The pot painters Python and Assteas have signed several pots, vases and bowls found in and around Poseidonia, many of which are now in the Archaeological Museum in Paestum. Though they are from the Lucanian period, the artists are unmistakenly Greek. Their names are Greek, their pots are Greek in style and they signed their names in Greek.

The overall picture appears to be one of integration of a new ruling class into the existing social, cultural and economic fabric of the city. Lucanians settled in the countryside and they have had a decisive influence on political and economic matters in the city, the warlike images in their tombs are unambiguous, but they didn't change the city and its population much. The Greek priests, administrators, merchants, artisans and workers continued to live and work in the city. Even if Poseidonia was removed from the Greek world politically, it remained Greek in every other sense.

This article has been split into 8 separate sections. Use the menu below to jump to another section.

  1. Introduction
  2. Poseidonia - The Greek City
  3. The Lucanian Conquest
  4. Paestum - The Roman Colony
  5. Decline and Disappearance
  6. Rediscovery of the City
  7. Literature and links
  8. Photographs

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Copyright © 2005 René Seindal, last changed 2005-06-04

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