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Flourishing at the transition from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age


Bronze pin with a double spiral head decorated with engraving. 1300-1000 BC, found in Taranto, Scoglio del Tonno, 1899. (photo MArTa)

late 19th century discovery that reveals the beginnings of the port of Taranto


In 1899, the excavation of the Scoglio del Tonno (“Tuna Rock”), a promontory to the west of the mouth of Mar Piccolo, during the construction of the mercantile harbour quay, brought to light the remains of a Bronze-Iron Age settlement. An active and growing community had already been identified in the area over a period of time stretching from the Middle Neolithic to the 12th century BC: they had found ‘cave tombs’ and noted the use of red ochre in funerary rites.

And then the presence of Lipari obsidian (a volcanic glass much sought after and traded in antiquity to make weapons and sharp implements), and a deposit of ceramics from the Mycenaean period (14th-13th centuries BC) suggests the presence of an actual settlement there already at that time.


The port of Taranto has been of significance in different historical periods from a commercial point of view. Beginning with the Magna-Greek period and continuing until the mid-eighteenth century under Bourbon rule. In the French decade, at the beginning of the 19th century, it established itself as a military stronghold, and the same was true after the Unification of Italy.

Neolithic pottery


From a flourishing town in Magna Graecia to a Roman colony, from the decline during the Saracen and barbarian invasions to recovery under the Normans. After the Angevins and the heavy taxation of Prince Orsini del Balzo, the resumption of commercial trade under the Aragonese revived the city, a prosperity that returned in the 18th century under the Bourbons.At the beginning of the 19th century, Napoleon Bonaparte began to consider the port mainly as a military stronghold.


With the unification of Italy, the military role of the port was reaffirmed, but the commercial aspect also benefited, thanks to the construction of the New Arsenal, which marked the first phase of the city’s industrialisation; this was followed by a second phase in the 20th century, during the years of the economic boom, when the appearance of the port and the city changed: the industrial sites adjacent to the port basin gave the port a typically industrial appearance, and in terms of volume of shipments it rose to be among the top-ranked locations nationally.The port tried to keep up with the development of the industries based in Taranto.

Map of Southern Italy

finds show the success of the ancient settlement

Historical tradition dates the foundation of Taranto to 706 BC, by a Spartan warrior, Phalanthos, who landed on the shores of Taranto. The archaeological findings at the Scoglio del Tonno (“Tuna Rock”) [link to Scoglio del Tonno] (near the present stone bridge) confirm commercial contacts between the Greeks and the indigenous peoples.

The port of Taranto, during the city’s period of greatest splendour, from the 6th century BC until the Roman conquest, was the busiest of the southern ports. The power of its fleet and commercial activities gave ancient Taras considerable political and economic influence, as can be seen from the wide distribution of Tarantine coins [Link to coins minted in Taranto] and ceramics.

Transportation amphora 'Corinthia B', Corcyraean, from the 3rd century BC found in Taranto, via Dante, at the corner of via Polibio, Rione Italia, 1958. (photo MArTa

the bust of Archytas at Villa Peripato (photo Salvatore Tomai)

strategist and promoter of new trade routes

After the mythical Phalanthos, who is said to have founded the city following the words of the oracle of Delphi, it was Archytas (428-360 B.C.) who brought Taranto to its greatest splendour. Elected seven times as ‘stratego’, i.e. military commander and governor of the city, he implemented a development policy that led Taranto to become the richest and most important metropolis of Magna Graecia. By building temples and monuments he gave the city a new appearance; he encouraged trade by sea, strengthening relations with various coastal cities in Sicily, Istria, Greece, North Africa and Asia Minor.

The sea was in his destiny: he died in a shipwreck near the promontory of Mattinata, in the Gargano, during an action supporting the Syracusans in the Adriatic area.

The recollection of Horace

Archytas was an eclectic man: a Pythagorean philosopher, he was also a friend of his contemporary Plato (428-348 BC); as a mathematician he described the properties of the cube; as a mechanical engineer he built a flying machine known as Archytas’ Dove; as a musician, he adjusted the spacing of the flute’s holes in order to achieve better harmony, and invented a machine for making various sounds.

The poet Horace (65-8 BC) composed an ode in his honour, describing him as:

“measurer of the sea, and of the earth, and of the numberless sands; and a man who on the celestial spheres dared to rise and wander”.

the bust of Archytas at Villa Peripato (photo Salvatore Tomai)


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