Messapia, the ancient Greek name of the peninsula forming the S. E. extremity of Italy, called by the Romans Calabria, a name applied in modern times to the opposite peninsula. (See Calabria.) The boundary separating it from Apulia on the N. W. was not well defined, but Messapia consisted of what is popularly called the "heel of the boot." The peninsula was probably first known to the Greeks by the name of Japygia, which was afterward applied by them to all S. E. Italy, Herodotus speaking of Apulia as a part of Japygia, while Messapia indicated the peninsula only. Later writers make Japygia and Messapia synonymous, and confine them to the peninsula. The inhabitants were of two tribes, the Salentini along the S. W. coast near Tarentum, and the Calabri, whom the Greeks called Messapians, along the N. E. part. The latter were the more powerful, and the whole district came to be called after them by their Greek and Latin names respectively. It terminated at the S. E. in the rocky Japygian promontory (now Cape Leuca), standing boldly out into the sea. It was celebrated for its fertility, abounding in wine, olives, and other fruits. (See Otranto, Terra d'.) The Calabrian horses were famous, and the Tarentine cavalry was long celebrated.
Virgil says that the region was infested by peculiarly venomous serpents. The inhabitants were of Pelasgic origin, had attained a considerable culture, and possessed the cities of Hyria or Una and Brundusium in the latter part of the 8th century B. C, when the Greek colony of Tarentum was founded. They fought against the Greek colonists for many years, defeating the Tarentines in a great battle about 473, but were gradually overcome by the Greek civilization and corrupted by its luxury. They made a short resistance to the Romans, uniting with neighboring tribes under the command of Pyrrhus, but were overcome in a single campaign after his fall. They revolted to Hannibal in the second Punic Avar, but were soon subdued. Under the empire Messapia was united for administrative purposes with the province of Apulia. The Byzantine emperors retained a footing here during the invasion by the Goths; and Lombards, and were not finally expelled till the 11th century.