TARENTUM, one of the most powerful and celebrated cities of Southern Italy, situated on the N. shore of the extensive bay, which derived from it, both in ancient and modern times, the name of the gulf of Tarentum. It was included within the limits of the province of Calabria, as that term was used by the Romans; but the Greeks would generally have reckoned it a city of Magna Graecia. Tarentum was a Greek city, a colony of Sparta, founded within a few years after the two Achaean colonies of Sybaris and Crotona. The history of Tarentum, for the first two centuries of its existence, is, like that of most other cities of Magna Graecia, almost wholly unknown.
Though its territory was not so fertile, or so well adapted for the growth of grain as those of Metapontum and Siris, it was admirably suited for the growth of olives, and its pastures produced wool of the finest quality, while its port, or inner sea as it was called, abounded in shell-fish of all descriptions, among which the Murex, which produced the celebrated purple dye, was the most important and valuable. But it was especially the excellence of its port to which Tarentum owed its rapid rise to opulence and power.