Around 720 B.C. a group of Greeks immigrated to Lucania, a region in southern Italy, and founded a city that they named Sybaris. Its inhabitants followed such a liberal policy of admitting people from all lands that the city flourished and was soon noted for its wealth and luxury. In fact, no other Hellenic city could compare with Sybaris in prosperity and splendor.
According to legend, a war arose between Sybaris and its neighbor, Crotona. Although the Crotonian forces were inferior, they leveled Sybaris to the ground. The Crotonians were victorious because they exploited a weakness in the opposing army: The horses of the Sybarites had been trained to dance to the pipes. The Crotonians marched in to battle playing pipes. The horses of the Sybarites began to dance, the Sybarites themselves became confused, and the Crotonians vanquished their enemy.
The Sybarites were given to such wanton luxury and sensual pleasures that they became effeminate. Seneca told a tale of a Sybarite who com
plained he had not rested comfortably at night. Asked why, he replied that a rose leaf had been doubled under him, and it hurt him.
The conspicuous consumption, the love of luxury and pleasure displayed by the citizens of Sybaris, led to the English word sybarite, a person devoted to opulence and sumptuousness; in brief, a voluptuary.