Magna Graecia, Latin for "Greater Greece," refers to the coastal regions of Southern Italy, including the present-day regions of Campania, Apulia, Basilicata, Calabria, and Sicily. The term was used by the Romans to describe these territories extensively colonized by Greek settlers starting in the 8th century BC. This Greek settlement had a profound impact on Italy's culture and heavily influenced the ancient Romans and local populations, including the Sicilian Sicels, who adopted Greek culture.
The term Magna Graecia first appeared in the writings of historian Polybius, and it was also referred to as such by the Roman poet Ovid. According to Strabo's Geographica, Greek colonization of these areas had begun by the Trojan War era and lasted for several centuries, spurred by a combination of demographic crises, the need for new commercial outlets, and the aftermath of wars.
In the process of colonization, the Greeks brought their language, religious rites, and traditions of the independent polis, creating a Hellenic civilization in Southern Italy that interacted with the native Italic cultures. Notably, the Greek alphabet was adopted by the Etruscans, eventually evolving into the Latin alphabet used worldwide today. Many of the colonies grew into rich and powerful cities, some of which still exist today, like Naples, Syracuse, Agrigento, Taranto, Reggio Calabria, and Crotone.
By the 3rd century BC, Greek cities started being absorbed into the Roman Republic. Sicily was conquered by Rome during the First Punic War, with only Syracuse remaining independent until 212 BC due to its king's alliance with Rome.
During the Early Middle Ages, after the Gothic War, there might have been further migration of Byzantine Christian Greeks to Southern Italy, although archaeological evidence is unclear. The Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire continued to govern the area into the Middle Ages. By the time of the Normans' conquest in the late 12th century, parts of Southern Italy and Sicily were still Greek-speaking. The Greek-speaking areas eventually evolved into the medieval Greek dialect known as Griko, influenced by Byzantine Greek, ancient Doric, and local Romance languages.
In modern Italy, the presence of the Greeks still persists. Despite most Greek inhabitants in Southern Italy being Latinized during the Middle Ages, some Greek culture and language remained. This is particularly true for the Griko people in Apulia who maintain their Greek language and customs. Additionally, following the Fall of Constantinople in 1453 and the subsequent Ottoman conquest of the Peloponnese, many Greek nobles and people sought refuge in Italy, bringing with them their traditions and cultural heritage.