Massalia (Greek: Μασσαλία; Latin: Massilia; modern Marseille) was an ancient Greek colony founded ca. 600 BC on the Mediterranean coast of present-day France, east of the river Rhône, by Ionian settlers from Phocaea, in Western Anatolia. After the capture of Phocaea by the Persians in 545 BC, a new wave of settlers fled towards the colony. Marseille is the oldest city of France, and one of Europe's oldest continuously inhabited settlements.
After the middle of the 6th century BC, Massalia became an important trading post of the western Mediterranean area. It grew into creating colonies of its own on the sea coast of Gallia Narbonensis during the 4th and 3rd centuries BC, including Agathe (late 5th–early 4th c. BC), Olbia (ca. 325), Tauroentium (early 3rd c.), Antipolis and Nikaia (ca. mid-3rd c.). Massalia was known in ancient times for its explorers: Euthymenes travelled to the west African coast in the late 6th century BC, and Pytheas explored northwestern Europe in the late 4th century BC.
The colony remained a faithful ally of Rome during all of the Punic Wars (264–146 BC). The retreat of Carthage from the Iberian coast after its defeat in the Second Punic War (218–201) gave Massalia the dominancy over the Gulf of Lion, and the fall of Carthage in 146 probably led to the intensification of trade between the Greek colony and the Celtiberians.
Massalia initially chose neutrality during the Civil War between Caesar and the Senate, but sided with Caesar's opponents after the arrival of Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus. The city was besieged in 49 BC and eventually had to surrender to Caesar's army. Massalia lost most of its inland territory in the aftermath of this defeat.
During the Roman and Late Antique periods, the city, then known as Massilia in Latin, remained a major center of maritime trade. It became a civitas within the Roman Empire at the latest ca. 300 AD.
Massalia was ruled as an oligarchic republic by a closed aristocracy initially descending from the original settlers. An assembly of 600 timouchoi, whose membership was conditioned to the involvement in trading activities, elected 15 magistrates, 3 of them with executive power.
The Suda indicates that the Greeks used the proverbs Ἐκ Μασσαλίας ἥκεις ("you are coming out of Massalia") and Ἐς Μασσαλίαν πλεύσειας ("you might sail to Massalia") in reference to those living an effeminate and soft life, apparently because the men of Massalia were wearing fancy long perfumed robes and tying their hair up, which other Greeks interpreted as signs of disgrace.
A genetic study conducted in 2011 found that 4% of the inhabitants of Provence were derived for haplogroup E-V13, which is especially frequent among Phocaeans (19%), and that 17% of the Y-chromosomes in Provence may be attributed to Greek colonization. According to the authors, these results suggest "a Greek male elite-dominant input into the Iron Age Provence population".
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