The gemara in Megila 6b refers to איטליא של יון זה כרך גדול של רומי, which translates literally as: Italy of Greece, this is the great city of Rome.

This seems odd insofar as I know, Italy never belonged to Greece.

Also problematic is referring to Italy as being part of Rome, the opposite is true.

Soncino however translates this as

‘Greek Italy’ is the great city of Rome

and brings an explanation in this note:

(15) [home is so designated on account of the great influence of the Greek civilization on the Roman, v. Bacher, REJ, XXXIII, p. 190.]

While this addresses my first issue, it does not address my second issue. I also don't especially like this idea. I am looking for a different explanation of this line.

Please take into account that this phrase is stated by Ulla who lived into the fourth century, and would probably have a decent idea about Rome and it's history.

  • he.wikipedia.org/wiki/… perhaps – Double AA Jan 18 '16 at 15:58
  • Thank you. But I don't think the timing works out for my question. I'm actually surprised that wiki article thinks it makes sense regarding their subject. – user6591 Jan 18 '16 at 17:21

It is most likely referring to the major Greek city-state of Syracuse which was established by the Corinthians and is located in southern Italy on the island of Sicily. It was the Capital city of the province under the same name. It was described by Cicero as the greatest Greek city and the most beautiful of them all. It was renowned for its arts and sciences and was the birthplace of Archimedes, one of the greatest scientists of the ancient world.

As can be found in Jastrow, "איטליא" is usually referring to the southern end of the Italian peninsula, what was called "Magna Graecia" or 'Greater Greece'. As it mentions in the citation, the variant manuscript edition of Megilla 6b reads (זה כרך גדול שברומי), 'this is a great city of Rome', not 'this is the Roman Capital'. Together, that would be indicating the great Greek city in the southern end of the Italian peninsula.

Syracuse was ultimately conquered by the Romans in the first Punic War but remained independent and predominately Greek in culture even then.

The city of Syracuse was visited by Rabbi Akiva and is reputed to have had an established Jewish community even before the destruction of the second Temple. Some of the earliest Jewish communities on the Italian peninsula were in the area around Calabria, what is called Yanov, as in 'Yanover Esrogim'. This area is immediately proximate to the city of Syracuse.

The following links will provide information:






  • 1
    This is a very inventive pshat (in a good way) however, why chazzal would call Syracuse/Sicily by the name Italia is a crucial key that is missing here. – user6591 Dec 29 '15 at 19:53
  • @user6591 The post was updated, if you didn't notice. – Scimonster Dec 29 '15 at 20:00
  • I am going to disagree with your opening line, but the information about Magna Graecia has led me to think that Chazzal were in fact referring to the city state of Rome, and in their minds, that city state was the end all of all territories that would be called Rome. Any other area conquered by the Roman state was simply another province of Malchus Romi, southern Italy included. So as you describe, southern Italy was still miyuchas to the Greeks and the area in general was called Italia, and by the 3rd century b.c. it did in fact belong to Rome. Sounds good to you? – user6591 Dec 29 '15 at 20:19
  • en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Name_of_Italy the history of the name Italy seems to support this. I'm willing to accept your answer if you edit out that opening line and if you clarify that Italia probably refers to both Syracuse and the southern tip of the peninsula. – user6591 Dec 29 '15 at 20:31
  • @user6591, per your request. Although I don't understand what your disagreement is in regard to saying this is probably how Ulla understood the phrase. Even looking at your link above, it agrees with the answer. It is just quoting Dionysius of Halicarnassus who was also mentioned in the links I provided. The Rabbi Akiva connection is more significant. As found in Avodah Zara 10b, he made at least one trip to the city of Rome and would likely have stopped in Syracuse on the way. Evidence of this is found in a history by Jerome. Akiva provided a Targum (Greek) based on Onkelos. – Yaacov Deane Dec 29 '15 at 20:59

The Rabbonim treated the empires of the world in reference to how they were relative to the Jews. Thus, even though the Greeks never ruled Italy (which was to the west of Greece), the chachamim considered that everything to the west was under the Greek influence. "Italia of Yavan" would mean that Italy was (since it was to the west of Greece) still part of "Yavan", which would mean Europe rather than just Greece.

The normal reference to "Rome" at that time meant the Roman Empire. Thus, the "Italia of Yavan" does not refer to the peninsula of Italy but the center or control of the Roman Empire whose haskafa took over and replaced the hashkafa of Yavan. That is, the Roman Empire was about control and ruling rather than the Greek hashkafa which was about forcing a philosophical viewpoint on the world.

Originally, the hashkafa of Yavan ruled the world. Within this world, the "city" of "Italia" grew up and, having the basic trait of control, took the hashkafa of Yavan and replaced it (while pretending to follow it) with its own hashkafa of political rulership. The Romans did not care about the philosophies of the Greeks nor did they really want to bother about "religion". Note that the gemara discusses "Chachmei Atuna" as the ones pushing avodas zara and philosophical hefkeirus. This is why we have the reference of "Italia of Yavan" to refer to the hashkafic basis (and starting point) of the Roman Empire. We can see this when the Christians took over the Empire as it was all about hierarchical control rather than an honest belief in whatever avodas zara became popular.

See Art Scroll 6b2 note 20 which cites Rashi that the "island" of Italia was begun when Menashe Hamelech introduced an idol into the Bais Hamikdash. On a ruchnius level, the "city" of Rome controlled everything and symbolized the evil traits that overran the world.

  • Your explanation of Romi is very good, so +1. However the rest of the pshat " Roman Empire which took over the hashkafa of Yavan" is the same basic pshat that I mentioned that I don't really like. – user6591 Dec 29 '15 at 14:26
  • On second thought though, referring to the sovereign hegemony as simply another place within the empire seems odd. – user6591 Dec 29 '15 at 15:21
  • @user6591 I went into more detail. Since we speak on a ruchnius basis rather than a physical or political basis, it is a differenct concept. I think that the expansion explains what I mean. – sabbahillel Dec 29 '15 at 15:25
  • If anything you are now leaning even more into the explanation I said I did not like for which I was searching an alternative. Also your drasha now seems to conveniently bounce back and forth between referring to them as either the Romans and the Italians. Also saying that italia grew up in the world of Greece is incorrect afaik. Greece never ruled the Italian peninsula. All influence the Greeks had on the Italians came after the Italians conquered them. – user6591 Dec 29 '15 at 15:35
  • @user6591 I understand. However, the rabbonim thought of the world in terms of the hashkafa of the various civilizations. They also thought of them in terms of the effect that they had on the Jews. Thus, as far as they were concerned, everything in Europe was under the control of "Yavan" until the Romans grew and conquered their empire. The fact that the Greeks did not rule Italy (which was to the west of Greece) still had it (conceptually) as part of "Yavan" – sabbahillel Dec 29 '15 at 17:14

It seems to be referring to a city (apparently Reggio Calabria "The land around Reggio was first known as Saturnia, or Neptunia, and later Italia, which in Roman times became the name of the whole Italian peninsula. In those days however, it corresponded only to present-day, southern Calabria, which later came to be known as Bruttium, while the name Italia (Italy), in fact, was first used only for the area of Reggio itself." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reggio_Calabria) which was called Italia and was a Greek city, which became part of the Roman Empire.

Later this name began to be used for all of Calabria, and then all of Italy. According to Wikipedia "The modern name Italy derives from Italia, which was first used as a name for the southern part of modern Calabria. Over time the Greeks started to use it for the rest of the southern Italian peninsular as well." https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calabria

Additionally, the Lubavitcher Rebbe wrote in a letter "Regarding the esrogim of Calabria — called “Greek Italy” by our Sages..." http://www.chabad.org/therebbe/letters/default_cdo/aid/2277995/jewish/Letter-No-590-The-Lubavitch-custom-of-using-esrogim-from-Calabria.htm

  • This doesn’t answer the question whatsoever. – DonielF Feb 7 '18 at 14:55
  • It seems to be referring to a city (apparently Reggio Calabria "The land around Reggio was first known as Saturnia, or Neptunia, and later Italia, which in Roman times became the name of the whole Italian peninsula. In those days however, it corresponded only to present-day, southern Calabria, which later came to be known as Bruttium, while the name Italia (Italy), in fact, was first used only for the area of Reggio itself." en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reggio_Calabria) which was called Italia and was ruled by the Greeks, which became part of the Roman Empire. – shliachtx Feb 7 '18 at 18:03
  • The main question was about Italia being in Rome when it’s vice versa. This doesn’t address that whatsoever. (For the future, it’s best to address comments asking for clarification by editing them into your post rather than commenting back, as comments are always subject to deletion.) – DonielF Feb 7 '18 at 18:06
  • Is it not a city of the Roman Empire? – shliachtx Feb 7 '18 at 18:07
  • I don’t know, is it? I don’t know the exact boundaries of the Empire. This is why all important information should be included in the post itself. – DonielF Feb 7 '18 at 18:15

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