Greeks in pre-Roman Gaul

Location of the Greek colony of Marseille.
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600 BC – 49 BC
Celtic Gaul   until 50 BC
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The Greeks in pre-Roman Gaul have a significant history of settlement, trade, cultural influence, and armed conflict in the Celtic territory of Gaul (modern France), starting from the 6th century BC during the Greek Archaic period. Following the founding of the major trading post of Massalia in 600 BC by the Phocaeans at present day Marseille, Massalians had a complex history of interaction with peoples of the region.

Settlement at Marseille (600 BC)

Remains of the Greek harbour in the Jardin des Vestiges in central Marseille, the most extensive Greek settlement in pre-Roman Gaul

The oldest city within modern France, Marseille, was founded around 600 BC by Greeks from the Asia Minor city of Phocaea (as mentioned by Thucydides Bk1,13, Strabo, Athenaeus and Justin) as a trading post or emporion (Greek: ἐμπόριον) under the name Μασσαλία (Massalia).[1][2]

A foundation myth reported by Aristotle in the 4th century BC as well as by Latin authors, recounts how the Phocaean Protis (son of Euxenus) married Gyptis (or Petta), the daughter of a local Segobriges king called Nannus, thus giving him the right to receive a piece of land where he was able to found a city.[2][3][4] The contours of the Greek city have been partially excavated in several neighborhoods.[5][6] The Phocaean Greeks introduced the cult of Artemis, as in their other colonies.[7]

It is thought that contacts started even earlier however, as Ionian Greeks traded in the Western Mediterranean and Spain, but only very little remains from that earlier period.[1] Contacts developed undisputedly from 600 BC, between the Celts and Celto-Ligurans and the Greeks in the city of Marseille and their other colonies such as Agde, Nice, Antibes, Monaco, Emporiae and Rhoda.[1][8] The Greeks from Phocaea also founded settlements in the island of Corsica, such as at Alalia.[9] From Massalia, the Phocaean Greeks also founded cities in northeastern Spain such as Emporiae and Rhoda.

In legend, Gyptis, daughter of the king of the Segobriges, chose the Greek Protis, who then received a site for founding Massalia.

Before the Greeks came to pre-eminence in the Gulf of Lion, trade was mainly handled by Etruscans and Carthaginians.[9] The Greeks of Massalia had recurrent conflicts with Gauls and Ligurians of the region,[10] and engaged in naval battles against Carthaginians in the late 6th century (Thucydides 1.13) and probably in 490 BC, and soon entered into a treaty with Rome.[7]

According to Charles Ebel, writing in the 1960s, "Massalia was not an isolated Greek city, but had developed an Empire of its own along the coast of southern Gaul by the fourth century".[11] But the idea of a Massalian "empire" is no longer credible in the light of recent archaeological evidence, which shows that Massalia never even had a very large chora (agricultural territory under its direct control).[12] However further archaeological evidence since shows Massalia had over twelve cities in its network in France, Spain, Monaco and Corsica. Cities Massalia founded that still exist today are Nice, Antibes, Monaco, Le Brusc, Agde, and Aleria. There is evidence of direct rule of at least two of their cities with a flexible system of autonomy as suggested by Emporion and Rhodus' own coin minting. Massalia's empire was not the same as the monolithic of the ancient world or of the nineteenth century being a scattered group of cities connected by the sea and rivers. The Delian League was also a scattered group of cities spread far across the sea and became known as the Athenian Empire.[13]

Greek Marseille eventually became a centre of culture which drew some Roman parents to send their children there to be educated. According to earlier views, a purported hellenization of Southern France prior to the Roman Conquest of Transalpine Gaul is thought to have been largely due to the influence of Massalia.[14][15] However, more recent scholarship has shown that the idea of Hellenization was illusory (and that the concept itself is seriously flawed). The power and cultural influence of Massalia have been called into question by demonstrating the limited territorial control of the city and showing the distinctive cultures of indigenous societies. Local Gauls were not Grecophiles who wanted to imitate Greek culture, but peoples who selectively consumed a very limited range of Greek objects (mostly ceramic vessels for drink) that they incorporated into their own cultural practices according to their own systems of value.[16][17]