Salvatore La Rosa




In the beginning of the VI century b.C. all the principal cities of Magna Graecia's Ionian coast had reached an high economic, cultural and demographical development. This is why the interest of every city was focused on the increasing of the territory under their own control.

But at that time every portion of territory was under the influence of one or another city; trying to expand the control of a single city over other territories meant a declaration of war against another polis.

That's why the VI century b.C. was the stage of great clashes between Magna Graecia's colonies; battles which established the new balances and the new power relationships and that were: the battle of the Sagra River (the clash between Locri Epizephyrii and Kroton), the destruction of Siris (accomplished by Sybaris and Metapontum), and the clash between Kroton and Sybaris (which ended with the destruction of the latter).

As it happens for other events of this age, as well for these military clashes we don't have the exact dates; regarding the destruction of Sybaris the scholars, following the historical tradition, believe that it was around the 510 b.C., while it's much difficult to point out a certain date for the other two great battles (which, probably, have to be placed around the 580-560 b.C., with the destruction of Siris preceding the battle of the Sagra).


As we have already seen, the battle of the Sagra river (a still unidentified water stream; probably one of the modern Torbido, Amusa or Allaro) has to be counted amongst those territorial expansion clashes and it was fought by the armies of Locri Epizephyrii and Kroton.

It's the first half of the VI century b.C. and the two cities, Locri and Kroton, had reached a very high economic and social development; both of them had expanded their territory: Locri over the Tyrrhenian coast and Kroton to the south, taking the control of the city of Kaulon (name that could make you think about the modern Caulonia, located 25 km away to the north from the ancient Locri Epizephyrii, but actually its ruins have been brought to light near the modern town of Monasterace, which is 35 km away to the north from the site of the ancient Locri), last outpost of Kroton before Locri Epizephyrii's territory.

Influence areas during the VI century b.C.

So, during that age, there was a standstill situation since the two cities hadn't any chance of further expansion: Locri, once accomplished the expansion over the Tyrrhenian coast, had to stop since its expansion routes were blocked southwards by Rhegion and to the north by Kroton; a similar condition involved Kroton, which was blocked to the north by Sybaris and to the south couldn't go past Kaulon.

With a situation like this and since both the two cities had a strong will of expansion war was just a matter of time.

That said, now it has to be taken into account another fact: the strength of the two cities. As a matter of fact, even if both of them had a prosperous economic situation, from a demographical point of view Kroton was a metropolis compared to Locri. In fact the population of Locri Epizephyrii, even at the time of his largest expansion, didn't count more than 40.000 people and, also with the help of the city's sub-colonies (and, probably, of Rhegion, at least during this age), its army was formed by only 10-15.000 men. On the contrary Kroton, counting on a larger population (from the city itself and from the allied towns) formed an army of more than 120.000 men (probably these numbers, handed down by the tradition, are excessive compared to the ones that really were involved in the event that took place at the Sagra river, but that doubtless witness the unbalanced strengths which were about to fight, with Kroton starting the battle with a really large numeric advantage).

If it is also considered that, during that age, the military strength of Sybaris was at least equal to the one of Kroton, it seems obvious that Kroton decided to look at Locri, willing to conquest it and certain, thanks to the large military superiority, of doing so in an extremely easy way, planning to expand its own territory southwards, next to Rhegion's borders.

But the people of Kroton didn't think about the strength and the surviving instinct of a population, the Locrian one, which was well aware that a surrender or a defeat would have meant his own end and that, therefore, was ready for all to reject such eventuality.

The Locrians, therefore, not panicked and planned the defense as best as possible. They decided not to wait for the enemy inside the city, within the walls; they, rightly, believed that they wouldn't be able to keep at bay the overwhelming superiority of Krotonians that, sooner or later, could have made a breach in the walls.

Then it was decided for an open field battle, and there the Locrian commanders fulfilled their masterpiece; they chose, in fact, a place along the Sagra river wedged between the sea on one side and the last slopes of the mountains on the other, a place where it was impossible to deploy a large number of soldiers.

In that place took sides the Locrian army waiting for the Krotonian enemy. The army of Kroton reached that place and, as expected by the Locrian commanders, could not deploy as desired without being able to express all his power and superiority. At this stage it was the Locrian army that decided to launch the attack with the anger and the fury of those who know they have nothing left to lose, and soon managed to make a breach in the central part of the enemy deployment, wounding the Krotonian commander in chief, Leonimus, and throwing into disarray the entire enemy army (of which one must also consider the psychological situation of those who, sure of winning, are now facing a disastrous defeat) that, now broken, was caught behind by the Locrian cavalry.

It was a victory so extraordinary and unexpected that many were the accounts and the legends that flourished about it; among them should be mentioned the Legend of the Dioscuri. In fact the tradition tells that during the battle, amongst thousands of contenders, two young men rose, armed unlike the others, who gave no respite to the Krotonian soldiers and that, at the end of the battle, disappeared into thin air. These young men were immediately identified as the Dioscuri, Castor and Pollux, the twin sons of Zeus and Leda, wife of Tyndareus, king of Sparta and brothers of Helen of Troy and Clytemnestra.


The defeat of Kroton resulted, obviously, in serious consequences in terms of control over the territory. Locri Epizephyrii, in fact, expanded his control much further north than it had ever done, incorporating under its influence Kaulon and, probably, Skylletion (Scylletium) on the Ionian coast and Terina and (maybe) Temesa on the Tyrrhenian coast, thus taking the control of the area between the gulfs of Squillace and S. Euphemia. To the south, however, at least at this time, Locri Epizephyrii had close relationships of good neighborliness with Rhegion (saved, thanks to the Locrian victory, from a later Krotonian advance).

So the situation was prosperous for Locri Epizephyrii that, in fact, experienced in the years between the mid-sixth century and its end (Kroton defeated Sybaris in 510 b.C. regaining the ancient strength) a period of great prosperity.




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