Taranto (anc. Tarentum), a city of S. Italy, in the province of Leccc, in Apulia, 44 m. W. S. W. of Brindisi; pop. in 1872, 27,546. It stands on an island at the N. end of the gulf of Taranto, and is connected with the mainland by two bridges. The inner harbor (mare piccolo), 12 m. in circumference, is useless as a roadstead, and ships must anchor in the outer harbor (marc grande), which is much exposed. The castle and fortifications, built by Charles V., command both harbors. Taranto is the seat of an archbishop, and has a cathedral dedicated to St. Cataldus, an Irishman and the first bishop of Tarentum, about 166. . Linen and cotton stockings are made here, and gloves from the byssus of the mollusk 'pinna marina. - Tarentum was colonized by exiles from Sparta in 708 B. C. Its harbor was then the best on the coast. It became a large and powerful city, and 14 other towns were subject to it. It carried on long contests with the Messapians and Peucetians; and about 474 its army suffered a disastrous defeat from the former, in which so many of its nobles were killed that its government, previously an aristocracy, was thereafter democratic.
It was predominant in the league of the Greek cities of Italy against Dionysius of Syracuse and the Lucanians. Rome declared war against it in 281. The Tarentines called in Pyrrhus, king of Epirus, after whose defeat and withdrawal from Italy the city surrendered to the consul Papirius in 272, while a Carthaginian fleet was approaching to its relief, and thereafter continued subject to Rome. During the second Punic war the citizens betrayed it into the hands of Hannibal, who held it for more than two years, but was unable to dislodge the Roman garrison from the citadel. In 209 Fabius Maximus retook the city and gave it up to plunder, after putting the Carthaginians to the sword. It continued to be the chief town of S. Italy under the empire. The present town occupies only the site of the ancient citadel, which was originally a promontory, but was made an island by Ferdinand I. of Naples.