Last year, on the last day of the 25th consecutive year of excavations, large panels depicting a 20-by-13-foot dragon, a sea serpent, a large rosette and multiple panels of floral designs from a large Hellenistic mosaic were uncovered in the ancient Greek colony of Kaulon or Kaulonia, today the city of Monasterace Marina outside of Reggio Calabria, the toe of the Italian boot. Archaeologists and students from Italy and Argentina were digging on the site of a monumental bath from the 4th century B.C. when they unearthed a long pool. At the end of the pool, they found a floor covered with a vast maritime-themed mosaic that covered an area of 25 square meters (260 square feet) and they had only uncovered two-thirds of it.
Now archaeologists have found more panels of the same mosaic adding another five square meters (54 square feet) to the total and making this the largest Hellenistic mosaic ever discovered in Magna Graecia (Greater Greece, ie, Greece’s colonies in southern Italy). The new panels feature another dragon, a small dolphin and a larger dolphin facing off against the dragon. The space has thus been dubbed “the room of dragons and dolphins.” Its Hellenistic style dates the mosaic to between 323 and 146 B.C., a period when the city was on the come up after some rough treatment with the tyrants of Syracuse.
Legend has it that the city of Kaulon was founded by Caulon, the son of Clete, an Amazon warrior who was Queen Penthesilea’s nurse and one of the twelve women who followed her to Troy. After Penthesilea was killed by Achilles, Clete left Troy to return home but a storm drove her ship off-course. She landed in Calabria and founded the city of Clete (Cleto). Her son Caulon struck out on his own, taking after Mom and naming a new town after himself. He and his mother are both said to have died fighting to defend their cities from the city of Croton.
Whatever the kernel of truth there may or may not be in the foundational mythology, the city of Kaulon was prosperous and independent for centuries after its founding in the 8th century B.C. It had a large port and supplied timber to the Athenians during the Peloponnesian War. It also traded in stone, salt, gold, lead, ceramics and metal objects. With all this trade income coming in, the city minted its own coins.
In 389 B.C., Kaulon was conquered by Dionysius I, the tyrant of Syracuse, who had in fact conquered Croton 10 years before and would hold it for another two years after the fall of Kaulon. He destroyed the city and deported all its residents to Syracuse. Kaulon was rebuilt by the tyrant’s son Dionysius II. He was visiting it in 357 B.C. when his uncle Dion, a philosopher student of Plato’s who, having failed to convert his dissipated and cruel nephew to enlightened despotism, overthrew him instead and established a quasi-democracy/senatorial republic/slightly less abusive tyranny in Syracuse. Dion was assassinated by his soldiers in 354 B.C. and Dionysius II stepped back into the breach in the chaos that followed.
(Dionysius II is also the star of the story of Damocles’ sword. Damocles was a courtier who flattered the king, exclaiming upon what a fortunate man he was to wield so much power and wealth. Dionysius had him sit on his throne so he could experience the good fortune of kingship himself, then hung a large pointy sword above his head hanging from a thread the thickness of a single horse hair. Damocles thus realized that all the trappings of wealth of power come at a huge price: constant fear.)
Kaulon took up with Hannibal during the Second Punic War and was destroyed for good by the Romans around 200 B.C. When people rebuilt, they moved inland creating the ancestor of the town of Monasterace, leaving the Greek city in ruin.