The word sybaritic describes a person who is a hedonist, self-indulgent and a lover of sensuous luxury and pleasure.

The ancient Romain city of Sybaris, in the Gulf of Taranto, tucked in the instep of the boot of Italy, was founded by Greek settlers. It was eventually overrun and disappeared off the map until the 1960s when the ruins were rediscovered.

They were rediscovered by a team from the University of Pennsylvania led by Froehlich Gladstone Rainey working in collaboration with the Lerice Foundation of Rome. It wasn’t chance that they found it, their objective was specifically to locate ancient Sybaris.

Rainey was an American anthropologist and Director of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology from 1947 to 1977. Under his leadership, the museum announced a decision to no longer buy antiquities and artefacts. The reason they took that stance was that buying artefacts encouraged looting from historical sites.

As a side-note, in the early 1950s Rainey also devised and hosted a television gameshow, which highlighted the museum’s collections.

In its day, Sybaris was a busy port surrounded by fertile land, and the citizens of Sybaris amassed great wealth and were famous among the Greeks for their conspicuous consumption. Their readiness to indulge their hedonism was so famous that the word sybaritic has come down to us through the ages. So is it a cautionary tale because they were overrun and disappeared?