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Map of Italy showing Taranto in the bottom right
Map of Italy showing Taranto in the bottom right
Taranto is a coastal city in Apulia, southern Italy. It is the capital of Taranto province and is an important military and commercial port.

According to the 2001 census, it has population of 201,349. Its coordinates are 40°28' Nord and 17°14' Est. Its altitude on the sea level is 15 metres, with a surface of 217 kmē. The postal code is 74100, the phone prefix is 099, and the fiscal code L049.

Taranto is also a very important naval base, both commercial and military, and it has well-developed steel and iron foundries, oil refineries, chemical works, some shipyards for building warships, and food-processing factories.

Taranto history dates back to the 8th century BC, as a Greek colony. The ancient city was situated on a peninsula, protected by a helm; the modern city has been built over the ancient Greek necropolis. The islets S. Pietro and S. Paolo (S. Peter and S. Paul) protect the bay (called Mar Grande, Big sea) where the commercial port is located. Another bay, called Mar Piccolo (Small sea), is formed by the old city, and there fishing is flourishing; Mar Piccolo is a military port with a strategic importance; at the end of the XIX century, a channel was excavated to allow the militar ships to enter Mar Piccolo harbour, and the ancient Greek city become an island. Also the islets and the coast are strongly fortified. Because of the presence of these two bays, Taranto is also called “the city of the two seas”.

The Greek colonists called the city Taras, from the name of the mythical eponym hero Taras, while the Romans, who connected the city to Rome with an extension of the Appian way, called it Tarentum.

Taranto is also famous for the British attack to the Regia Marina base during the World War II, known as the Battle (or Nigth) of Taranto


History of Taranto

The Greek period

Foundation and splendour

Taranto was founded in 708 BC by Spartan immigrants. It is the only Spartan colony, and its origin is peculiar: the founders are partheniae, sons of Spartan women and perioeci (free men, but not citizens of Sparta); these unions were decided by the Spartans to increase the number of soldiers (only the citizens of Sparta could become soldiers) during the bloody Messenian wars, but later they were nullified, and the sons were forced to leave. Phalanthus, the partheninan leader, went to Delphi to consult the oracle: the puzzling answer designed the harbour of Taranto as the new home of the exiles. The partheniae arrived in Apulia, and founded the city, naming it Taras after the son of the Greek sea god, Poseidon, and of a local nymph, Satyrion. According to other sources, it was Heracles who founded the city. Another tradition indicates Taras as the founder of the city; the symbol of the Greek city (as well as of the modern city) is Taras riding a dolphin. Taranto increased its power, becoming a commercial power and a sovereign city of Magna Graecia, ruling over the Greek colonies in southern Italy.

In its beginning, Taranto is a monarchy, probably modelled on the one ruling over Sparta. In 466 BC, Taranto is defeated by Iapyges, a native population of ancient Apulia, and the monarchy falls, with the instauration of a democracy, and the espulsion of the Pythagoreans.

In 472 BC, Taranto signed an alliance with Rhegion, to counter the Messapi, Peucezi and Lucanians (all Italic populations), but the Tarantine and Reggian joint armies were defeated near Kailėa (mod. Ceglie).

In 432 BC, after sever years of war, Taranto singed a peace treaty with the Greek colony of Thurii; both cities contributed to the foundation of the colony of Heraclea, which rapidly falls under Taranto control.

In 367 BC Carthage and the Etruscans signed a pact to counter Taranto power in southern Italy.

Under the rule of its greatest statesman, strategist and army commander-in-chief, the philosopher and mathematician Archytas, Taranto reached its peak power and wealth; it was the most important city of the Magna Graecia, the main commercial port of southern Italy, it produced and exported goods to and from motherland Greece, it had the biggest army and the largest fleet in souther Italy. But with the death of Architas in 347 BC, the city started a slow, but ineluttable decadence; the first sign of the decreased power was the inability to field an army, since the Tarantines preferred to use their large wealth to hire mercenaries, rather than to leave their lucrative trades.

In 343 BC Taranto appealed for aid against the barbarian to its mother city Sparta, in the face of aggression by the Bruttian League. In 342 BC, Archidamus III, king of Sparta, arrived in Italy with an army and a fleet, fighting the Lucanians and their allies. In 338 BC, during the Battle of Manduria, the Spartan and Tarantine armies were defeated in front of the walls of Manduria (nowadays in province of Taranto), and Archidamus was killed.

In 333 BC, still troubled by its Italic neighbors, the Tarantine called the Epiriotic king Alexander Molossus to fight the Bruttii, Samnites, and Lucanians, but he wass later (331 BC) defeated and killed in the battle of Pandosia (near Cosenza).

In 320 BC, a peace treaty was signed between Taranto and the Samnites.

In 304 BC, Taranto was attacked by the Lucanians, and asked for the help of Agathocles tyrant of Syracuse, king of Sicily. Agathocles arrived in southern Italy, took control of Brutium (the ancient Calabria), but was later called back in Syracuse.

In 303 BC-302 BC Cleonymus of Sparta established an alliance with Taranto against the Lucanians, and fougth against them.

Wars against Rome

First contrasts

In the beginning of the 3rd century BC, the Romans's increasing power started to frighten Taranto, especially for the mastery of the sea and the control over the Greek colonies in Magna Graecia. After the surrender of the Samnites in 290 BC, the Romans founded many colonies in Apulia and Lucania. Furthermore, some of the city-states in Magna Graecia, such as Rhegion, Croton and Locri, asked Rome for military help because of the wars which they were leading with their neighbours; also Thurii, which was located on the Gulf of Taranto and was under Tarantine rule, asked Rome for help in 282 BC, after having been attacked by Lucanians. This situation inevitably led to a conflict between Taranto and Rome, since Taranto felt Rome was interfering in the affairs of the Greek colonies in southern Italy, which the Tarantines considered under their dominion.

Two political parties were present at the time within Taranto. The democrats, led by Philocharis or Ainesias, were dominant; they were against Rome, because they knew that if the Romans entered Taranto, the Greeks would have lost their independence. The second faction in Taranto were the aristocrats, led by Agis; they had lost their power when Taranto had become a democracy, and did not oppose surrendering to Rome as it would increase their own influence on the city, by reducing the power of the democrats. However, the aristocrats did not want to surrender openly to Rome and become unpopular with the population.

At that time, Taranto had the most powerful naval forces in Italy, and hastened to come to an agreement with Rome which stated that Roman ships could not enter into the Gulf of Taranto.

In 282 BC, Rome sent a fleet carrying troops to garrison Thurii, but ten ships were caught by a tempest, and arrived in the sea in front of Taranto, during a holy day (the festival of Dionysus). The angered Tarantines, considering it a hostile act openly in contrast with the pact which forbade the gulf of Taranto to Roman ships, responded attacking the Roman fleet: the Tarantine navy sunk four Roman ships, and captured a fifth. According to some historians, Tarantine aristocrats had been asked the Roman commanders Publius Cornelius and Lucius Valerius to arrest and execute the democrats and their followers, which would allow the aristocrats to lead the city, and to sign an alliance with Rome.

Pirrhic wars

The Tarantines decided to call for help Pyrrus, king of Epirus. The army and fleet of Taranto moved to Thurii and helped the democrats there exile the aristocrats. The Roman garrison placed in Thurii withdrew.

Rome sent diplomats to Taranto, but the talks were broken off by the Tarentines: the Roman ambassador, Postumius, was insulted and mocked by Philonides, a member of the popular party. In 281 BC, Roman legions, under the command of Emilius Barbula, entered Taranto and plundered it. Taranto, with Samnite and Sallentinian reinforcements, then lost a battle against the Romans. After the battle, the Greeks chose Agis to sign a truce and begin diplomatic talks. These talks were also broken off when 3000 soldiers from Epirus under the command of Milon entered the town. The Roman consul withdrew and suffered losses from attacks by the Greek ships.

Pyrrhus decided to help Taranto because he was in debt to them - they had earlier helped him conquer the island of Corcyra. He also knew that he could count on help from the Samnites, Lucanians, Bruttians, and some Illyrian tribes. His ultimate goal was to conquer Macedonia, but did not have enough money to recruit soldiers. He planned to help Taranto, then go to Sicily and attack Carthage. After winning a war against Carthage and capturing south Italy he would have enough money to organise a strong army and capture Macedonia.

Before he left Epirus, he borrowed some phalanxes from the Macedonian king, and demanded ships and money from the Syrian king and from Antigonus II Gonatas of Antioch. The Egyptian king also promised to send 9000 soldiers and 50 war elephants. These forces had to defend Epirus while Pyrrhus was gone. He recruited soldiers in Greece as well, as the Greek cities wanted to avoid a war with Epirus, even though they were unconcerned with the Greek colonies in Italy. In the spring of 280 BC, Pyrrhus landed without losses in Italy. He had 20,000 phalanxes, 500 peltasts, 2,000 archers, 3,000 elite cavalry from Thessaly, and 20 war elephants.

After hearing of Pyrrhus' arrival in Italy, the Romans mobilized 8 legions with auxiliares, totalling about 80 000 soldiers, and divided into 4 armies. Valerius Levinus marched to Taranto, with an army of 30,000 legionnaires and auxiliares. Pyrrhus moved from Taranto to meet its allies, but fell into the Roman army, and decided to fight it next to Heraclea. The battle of Heraclea was won by Pyrrhus, but the casualties were very high. Upon his arrival in Italy, Pirrhus thought that the Roman army would have been easily defeated by his Macedonian phalanx; the strength of the Roman legions, on the contrary, proved to be big; furthermore, Rome was able to raise a high number of legions, while Pirrhus was far from home, and had only an handful of veterans with him.

Pyrrhus moved towards Rome, with the intention of rallying the peoples ruled by the Romans and conquer the city, but he had no success in this, and forced to return Apulia.

In 279 BC, Pyrrhus defeated another Roman army in the battle of Asculum (the modern Ascoli Satriano, in Foggia province), again with many casualities. Most of the men Pyrrhus had brought over from Epirus were disabled or dead, including nearly all of his officers and friends. Recruiting would be impossible, and his allies were unreliable. The Romans, on the other hand, quickly replaced their losses with fresh men, and with every defeat the Romans were becoming more determined to win. At the same time, Pyrrhus received a proposal from the Sicilian Greek colonies of Syracuse, Leontini, and Agrigentum, to lead them in a war against the Carthaginians, and left Italy for Sicily, pausing the war against Rome, and leaving a garrison in Taranto.

The Tarentines called back Pyrrhus in 276 BC, and the king gladly returned from the Sicilian adventure. The war against Rome revamped, but this time Pyrrhus and the Tarentines were defeated by the Romans in the battle of Beneventum . After six years, Pyrrhus returned to Epirus, with only 8,500 men: only a garrison was left in Taranto, under the command of Pirrhus' vice-commander Milon.

The Romans conquered the city in 272 BC, by treachery of the Epiriotic soldiers, and demolished the defensive walls of the city.

Second Punic War

During the Second Punic War, Taranto was conquered by Hannibal 212 BC, and suported his war against Rome, but later returned to Rome, in 209 BC, ending the Greek period of Taranto.

Roman and Byzantine periods

Roman Republic and Empire

In 122 BC a Roman colony is founded next to Taranto, according to the law proposed by Gaius Sempronius Gracchus; the name of the colony was Neptunia, with a reference to the Roman sea god Neptunus , worshipped by the Tarantines. The Roman colony was separated by the Greek city, and populated by Roman colons, but it was later unificated to the main center when Taranto become a municipium, in 89 BC.

In 38 BC Mark Antony, Octavianus and Lepidus sign the Treaty of Tarentum, extending the second triumvirate until 33 BC.

During the late Republic and all the Roman Empire, Taranto was a simple city of the province. Emperor Trajan tried to counter the reduction of the population giving the Tarantine lands to his veterans, but the operation failed. Taranto followed the story of Italy during the late Empire, with the Visigoth attacks and the Ostrogoth domination.

Byzantine, Longobard, Arab, and Norman dominations

Byzantine and Longobard dominations

In the wake of the Gothic wars, Taranto became part of Byzantine Empire in 540, and ruled by them until the Lombards of the Duchy of Benevento captured it in 662. In spring 663, basileus Constans II arrived at Taranto with a fleet and an army, and defeated the Longobards: it was the first time a Byzantine Emperor arrived in Italy with an army. Next, he conquered Apulia, and went to Rome to meet the Pope Vitalian. After the Emperor got back to Byzantium, a new war between the Byzantines and the Duchy of Beneventum started, and lasted for years. Duke Grimoaldus conquered the northern Apulia, his son Romoaldus, in [[686], took Taranto and Brindisi to the imperial army.

In 700s, Berbers started to raid Taranto and southern Italy; their menace will last up to the 11th century.

Arab domination

The first years of the 9th century are charcterized by the internal fights that weakened the Longobard power. In 840, a Longobard prince, who was held prisoner in Taranto, was freed by his partisan, brought to Benevento, and made duke; at the same time, the Saracens took control of Taranto, exploiting the weak Longobard control. Taranto become for forty years the Arab stronghold and privileged harbour: it was from here that ships loaded with prisoners sailed to the Arab ports, were the prisoners were sold in the slave market. In the same 840, an Arab fleet left Taranto, defeated in the gulf of Taranto a Venetian fleet of 60 ships, summoned by the emperor Theophilus, and entered in the Adriatic sea, sacking the coastal cities. In 850 four Saracen columns departed from Taranto and Bari to sack Campania, Apulia, Calabria e Abruzzi; in 854, again, Taranto was the base for an Arab raid, led by Abbas-ibn-Faid, which sacked the Longobard province of Salerno. Two Arab fleets arrived to Taranto, in 871 and later in 875, carrying the troops which sacked Campania and Apulia. The situation of southern Italy worried Emperor Basil the Macedonian, who decided to fight the Arabs and take them the harbour of Taranto. In 880, two Byzantine armies, led by generals Procopius and Leo Apostyppes, and a fleet, commanded by the admiral Nasar took Taranto from the Arabs, ending a forty years dominion. Among the first actions taken by the Byzantine ruler Apostyppes, there was the enslavement and deportation of the latin-longobard origin inhabitants - which were almost completely converted to islamic behaviours - and the arrival of Greek colons, in order to increase the population. Taranto became, however, one of the most important cities in the Thema Longobardia, the Byzantine possession in southern Italy.

Second Byzantine domination

The city suffered from Saracen raids other times, such as in 922. On 15 august 927, the Saracens, led by the slavic Sabir, conquered and destroyed the city, enslaving and deporting in Africa all the survivors. Taranto saw no inhabitants, until the Byzantine conquest, in 967; the Byzantine emperor Nicephorus II Phoca understood the importance of a strong military presence and harbour in southern Italy, and rebuilt the city, adding several military fortifications, and making of Taranto a stronghold on Byzantine resistence against the uprising Norman power in south Italy. But the weakness of the Byzantine local government exposed Taranto to other Saracen raids: in 977 it is attacked by Saracens led by Abn'l-Kāsim, who takes many prisoners and sacks the city, burning some zones of Taranto. In 982, emperor Otto II started from Taranto his war against Saracens, but he will be defeated by Abn'l-Kāsim in the battle of Stilo (Calabria).

Norman conquest

The 11th century is characterized by a bloody struggle between Normans and Byzantines for the rule over the Tarentine and Barensis lands. In May 1060, Robert Guiscard conquers the city, but in October Taranto is re-occupied by the Byzantine army. After three years, in 1063, the Norman count Godfried, son of Petrone I, enters in Taranto, but he is obliged to flee from it at the arrival of the Byzantine admiral Michele Maurikas. Taranto is defintely conqered by the Normans: the sons of Petrone elect the first Norman arcibishop, Drogo, in 1071, and prepare a fleet to conquer Durazzo.

Principality of Taranto (1088-1465)

Taranto becomes the capital of a Norman principality, whose first ruler was Robert Guiscard's son, Bohemond of Taranto. The principality of Taranto, during its 377 years of history, was sometimes a powerful and almost independent feud of the Kingdom of Sicily (and later of Naples), sometimes only a title, often given to the heir to the crown.

The princes of Taranto were:

Hauteville dinasty:

  • 1088 - Bohemond I (1054-1111), later Bohemond I prince of Antioch;
  • 1111 - Bohemond II (1108, 1130), also prince of Antioch;
  • 1128 - Roger II (1093-1154), duke of Apulia, king of Sicily;
  • 1132 - Tancred, son of Roger II, prince of Taranto and prince of Bari, receives the principality from his father;
  • 1138 - William I, later king of Sicily, son of Roger II, becomes prince of Taranto with the death of his brother Tancred;
  • 1144 - Simon, son of Roger II, becomes prince of Taranto when his brother William becomes duke of Capua;
  • 1157 - William II, king of Sicily;
  • 1194 - William III, king of Sicily;

1194 - Henry IV, Holy Roman Emperor and king of Sicily;

1198 - Robert;

Brienne dinasty:

  • 1200 - Guy III, husband of Elvira, daughter of Tancred of Hauteville;

Hohenstaufen dinasty:

Anjou dinasty:

  • 1266 - Charles I (1227-1285), defeats Manfred and is entitled by the pope king of Naples and Sicily;
  • 1285 - Charles II (1248-1309), son of Charles I, king of Naples;
  • 1294 - Philip I (1278-1332), son of Charles II;
  • 1332 - Robert of Taranto (1299-1364), son of Philip I;
  • 1346 - Louis of Taranto (1308-1362), son of Philip I, later king of Naples;
  • 1364 - Philip II (1329-1374), son of Philip I;
    • 1356 - Philip III, son of Philip II, dies in his youth, the title returns to his father;

Del Balzo (Baux) dinasty:

  • 1373 - James of Baux;

Brunswick dinasty:

Orsini Del Balzo dinasty:

  • 1393 - Raimondo Orsini del Balzo, also known as Raimondello;
  • 1406 - (non Orsini Del Balzo) Ladislas, king of Naples;
  • 1414 - (non Orsini Del Balzo) James Bourbon of Marca, husband of Joan II of Naples.
  • 1420 - Giovanni Antonio Orsini del Balzo;
  • 1463 - Isabel of Clermont, nephew of Giovanni Antonio;

1465 - Ferdinand I of Naples, also known as Ferrante, unifies the Principality of Taranto to the Kingdom of Naples, at the death of his wife, Isabel of Clermont. The principality ends, but the kings of Naples keep on giving the title of Prince of Taranto to their sons

From Reinassance to unification

In 1502, on March, the Spanish fleet of Ferdinand II of Aragon, allied to Louis XII of France, seizes the port of Taranto, and conquers the city.

Modern times

In November 1940, during the World War II, the Italian ships, which were at anchor in Mar Grande and Mar Piccolo, were greatly damaged by the British naval forces (see Battle of Taranto.)

British forces landed near the port on September 9, 1943 as part of the Allied invasion (Operation Slapstick).

Historical figures

Here is a list of historical figures, who had a relationship with the city. Not all of them were actually born in Taranto.


  • Star of David: "A David's shield has recently been noted on a Jewish tombstone at Tarentum, in southern Italy, which may date as early as the third century of the common era."
  • From the Tarpeian Rock, the Romans executed in 212 BC the traitors who gave Tarentum city to Hannibal

Last updated: 02-08-2005 15:11:45
Last updated: 05-02-2005 11:43:05