Given that the colonies were not created in empty space, it may not have been necessary to equip each and every group of colonists with the skills needed to be self sufficient.

Assuming, further, that it was desired to reduce the number of people sustained on Greek soil, and some colonies were compulsory, they may not have asked for model craftsmen, farmers,…

Main part

In spite of the above, I suspect that it was a patently bad idea to send a trireme full of poets and dancing masters, trusting that some neighbouring city (or rivals also claiming the city) would have helped them to establish their own city.

Rather, some sensible rules must have been observed prior to leaving the metropolis (mother city). I suspect they stipulated:

  • sending someone who knew about canalisation
  • sending numerous experienced farmers
  • ~~sending priests ~~ Here I was likely mistaken. The literature appears to indicate that priests were often „just“ respected members of the community
  • sending doctors
  • sending shipbuilders

Do we know about the existence of such requirements or perhaps even have a record stating some?

Edit: As helpfully observed in the comments, the most important Greek colonisations predated the bulk of literary evidence. There were, however, a few colonies established in the 4th and even 3rd century BC (for examples in the region of the Euxine Sea, see here). Therefore we need not relinquish all hope.

  • 6
    I think most colonization occurred well before our written evidence starts in the 5th century BC, so it would be difficult to find this. However, if I remember right there are some references to repopulation or setting up 'permanent' camps in Thucydides.
    – gktscrk
    Commented Aug 5, 2020 at 4:44
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    @gktscrk Yes, the 'Golden Age' of Greek colonization was the archaic period, but the literary sources are from the classical period or later. Also, the info is sometimes contradictory and the sources frequently underplay the extent to which (as suggested by archaeology) the Greek colonizers depended on local populations for certain skills & provisions in the early years of many colonies. I'm trying to formulate an answer, but it isn't easy due to (a) lack of evidence, (b) academics disagreeing, and (c) the huge number of variables. Commented Aug 5, 2020 at 5:50
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    I'm thinking any answer would also need to take into consideration (1) people in those days did know many basic skills that would surprise us now, e.g. farming, wood working, fighting, first aid; & (2) the mother city was not overly concerned about the success of the colonists -- if a group of colonists landed somewhere, their harvest failed (or were overwhelmed by hostile locals) & all died, it was an acceptable outcome because the primary goal was to lessen population pressure on the mother city; so colonists might include a large share of the destitute & homeless.
    – llywrch
    Commented Aug 5, 2020 at 20:34
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    What makes you think there were requirements?
    – MCW
    Commented Aug 5, 2020 at 22:17
  • 3
    Well, we have Aeneid, and several similar accounts. What can be said for sure, canalization was not among their primary concerns:-)
    – Alex
    Commented Oct 1, 2021 at 0:22

3 Answers 3


I suggest to provide a precise response the question requires some clarification. The question seems to imply all colonies were set up in uninhabited or unclaimed locations for the same basic purpose while colony could be inter alia a trading post, a mining operation, a military base, a penal colony vis a vis Botany Bay or a settlement set up for religious purposes. Each would require colonists with specific skill sets.

Ref: The Cambridge Ancient History 3rd Edition, volume 03 part 3 - The Expansion of the Greek World

  • It appears you have perhaps not read the beginning of the question („disclaimers“), which specifically draws attention to the areas of interest not being empty.. Even if these requirements were strikingly different — or influenced by nearby populations — iI would still like to read what we know about any cases.
    – Ludi
    Commented Dec 6, 2022 at 16:07

It seems grossly unlikely that there was a formal process for setting up colonies that was consistent across different Greek cities. That just isn't how their ideas of politics or government worked.

It seems far more plausible that whoever was planning a colony considered the place where it was going to be, the available resources and the individual purpose of that specific colony and made their plans accordingly.


Reading Thucydides and in VDH's lectures on the Pelopponesian War the impression I have is that the colonies were not self sufficient at the outset but rather went on to develop self sufficiency to the point of repudiating their founding city. This independence then became a source of contention. The colonies were designed to be a source of income rather than independant. It brings to mind the colonies in America and the Declaration of Independence??

  • 4
    Is the last sentence intended as a question?
    – Steve Bird
    Commented Jan 4, 2021 at 22:27

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