The Hellenic identity of Southern Italy is one that most Southern Italians or ‘ethnic Italiotes’ fail to embrace or realize. In recent times some ethnic Italiotes have begun to advance the concept of a Southern Italian identity, however, they have failed to capitalize on their Hellenic origins. These Hellenes, italianized or not, can not be past over solely because they are no longer Hellenic speaking or Orthodox Christian in faith. To deny them their own place inside Hellenism against all the cultural and historical connections between Southern Italy and Hellas, would be a crime against Hellenism. The region, whose true name is ‘Magna Graecia’ or ‘Megali Ellada’, has been an important part of Hellenic civilization since the eighth century BC.
In Antiquity, Italiotes partook in all aspects of the ancient Hellenic Civilization, with representatives from their many city-states participating in the Pan-Hellenic Olympic Games. These rich and powerful Italiote cities would rule the countryside, most important where such places as Neapolis (Naples), Syracuse, Capua, Acragas, Tarentum, Croton, Elea, and Bari. Until the rise of the Roman Empire, Magna Graecia was nothing more then an extension of the cities states of Central and Southern Hellas.
During the middle Ages, Magna Graecia became a favorite destination for Byzantine Christian Hellenes fleeing the east, whether during the Gothic War or the fall of Constantinople. As the Western Roman Empire fell and was divided between Barbarian tribes, part of Magna Graecia maintained its allegiance to Constantinople and Christian Hellenism. This Eastern Roman province known as the Catepanate of Italy was ruled by a local governor, with his residence in Bari, an ancient Hellenic city from antiquity. Unfortunately this small hope for Hellenism in Italy would disappear and be replaced by the Kingdom of Two Sicilies, which would help begin the ‘italianization’ of the region. Although not a Hellenic kingdom, it did maintain a sense of southern Italian identity across the ancient region of Magna Graecia, even if it wasn’t Hellenistic in orientation.
It has been the legacy of this Kingdom of Two Sicilies that has been able to maintain a southern Italian identity even against the wishes of today’s central government in Rome. However, if Southern Italy is to truly find itself again and become a free and independent nation, it must embrace its Italiote identity. An identity that can not be denied any longer, with plenty of evidence proving the Ancient Hellenic character of most Southern Italians and Sicilians. Researchers have found using autosomal DNA a strong affinity between Southern Italians and Hellenes. Ethnic Italiotes must de-Italianize themselves so that they may taste true freedom once more. This can and will only happen once Italianized Italiotes reawaken their Hellenic roots and identity and rejoin Hellenism as equals and defenders of Western Hellenism or specifically Italiote Hellenism.