Ancient Greeks in Southern France


Archaeological findings belonging to the Mycenaean civilization (1600 to 1100 BC) provide evidence that the Greeks were visiting southern France in the 2nd millennium BC. Diodorus Siculus refers to Galatia as Ἑλληνογαλάται (Hellēnogalátai) due to the many Greek settlers and the Greek influence on the local populations.

According to ancient Greek tradition the Rhodians (from the island of Rhodes) colonized the southern shores of France and Spain by building Rodon in Galatia and Roda in Spain. The Rhodians also gave the name Rodanos to what is now known as the Rhone river ( German: Rhone; Walliser German: Rotten; Italian and Spanish: Rodano; Arpitan: Rôno; Occitan: Ròse).

Greek Phoceans colonized many parts of southern France and Spain. Massalia (now Marseille) was founded around 600BC (Poutarch, Athineos and Stravon refer to the founding of Massalia). During its peak (5th and 4th century BC) Massalia had a population estimated at 50,000 inhabitants. Massalia went on to found its own colonies in both France and Spain allowing in it to become independent from Greece and later maintain its independence from Rome for 5 ½ centuries (an admirable record since most Greek colonies were becoming part of the Roman empire from the late 3rd century BC.

Massalia developed trade mainly through the Rhone river and  through Loire, Seine and Garonne. Through these rivers Massalia could distribute its products to central Europe (wine, olive oil, metals and golden artifacts) Trade was also developed with Spain and Greece. Ancient artifacts from Massalia have been found in Switzerland, Germany and Scandinavian countries. Coins made in Massalia were the first coins to be circulated in western Europe. Massalia was a major nautical and commercial centre in the western Mediterranean sea and western Europe. The city had numerous  shipyards and a large port. Massalia was the most important Greek colony in western Europe.

The Greek “connection” still surviving in Marseille

The monuments and ancient ruins (in places such as Agde, Arles, Avignon, Marseilles, Nice, Nîmes, Saint Pierre d’ Almanarre, Saint Rémy de Provence)  are not the only connection to Greece. In many ways the connection lives on.

Local governments, organisation and the people of southern France recognise the importance of the Greek influence in their area since the ancient Greeks did not colonise to dominate populations but to promote trade and the dissemination of culture and ethos.

In Marseille, locals are proud of their ancestry. Children are taught that their city was founded by Greeks. An anthem of Provence (region of France in which Marseille is situated) includes the verse ‘‘Toulon la Guerrière et Marseille, la Grecque’’ (the warriors of Toulon and the Greeks from Marseille)

At the entrance of the Marseille port , there is a large metalic plate which reads ” Here, around 600BC, Greek sailors from Phocea of Asia Minor landed. They founded Marseille from where civilization shone to the West”


Greek names are used for streets, shops and local businesses. Locals use the word Phoceen-Phoceenne (Phoceans were the Greeks that colonised the area) to refer to something local to Marseille. The Affiliation of the locals is such that in 1914 when the Turks destroyed the modern city of Phocea (in Asia Minor) a substantial amount of money was sent to help the Greeks.

Today, the people of Marseills have not forgotten their Greek heritage. At the anniversary of the 2,600 years of Marseille the local government did not grant access to the central port to a Turkish ship (replica of an ancient Greek ship used by the Phoceans during colonisation) as a form of protest against the Turkish government’s attempt to forge history and present Greeks as Turks.

The Marseille football fans have many times declared their admiration to their Greek ancestors. In many cases they have raised  the Greek flag and banners declaring  ‘‘Ne Renions Pas Origine de Notre Ville!’’which means ” We do not deny the origin of our City”


Greek colonies in France  still in existence 

The list contains the modern French name followed by the original name in brackets

Agde (Agathi=Aγάθη)
Antibes (Antipolis=Αντίπολη)
Arles (Thilini=Θηλίνη
Avignon (Avenión= Αυενιών)
Cannes ( Egithna=Αίγιθνα)
Cavalier or Frejus (Iraklia= Ηράκλεια)
Hyeres (Ieropolis= Ιερόπολις)
Iles de Hyeres (Stihades Nisi=Στοιχάδες Nήσοι)
La Ciotat (Kitharísta=Κιθαρίστα)
Le Brusc (Tavróis=Ταυρόεις)
Marseilles (Massalia=Μασσαλία)
Monaco (Monikos=Μόνοικος)
Nice (Nikea= Νίκαια)
Nîmes (Nim=Νιμ)
Saint Blaise du Buis (Ródo=Ρόδο)
Saint Cyr Sur Mer (Tavroénton=Ταυροέντον)
Saint Gilles or Trinquetaille (Rodanusía=Ροδανουσία)
Saint Pierre d’ Almanarre or Cannes (Olvía=Ολβία)
Saint Tropez (Athinopolis=Αθηνόπολις


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