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The Dorians ( , Dōrieis, singular , Dōrieus) were one of the three major tribes into which the ancient Greeks divided themselves. Herodotus gave the earliest historical expression of a three-fold division: "... those who dwell in our land are called Ionians, Aeolians and Dorians." General names inherited from earlier times were considered to be in one of these three groups, from the earliest literature; for example, the Achaeans (also known as Danaans, Δαναοί, and Argives, Ἀργεῖοι) were primarily Ionians and Aeolians.

The Dorians are almost always simply referenced as just "the Dorians", as they are in the earliest literary mention of them in Odyssey, where they already can be found inhabiting the island of Cretemarker. Herodotus does use the word ethnos with regard to them, from which the English word ethnic derives, which appears in the modern concept of ethnic group. It has to be clarified though, that in the ancient Greek language ethnos by no means can be translated as 'nation' alone, but rather as 'tribe', 'race' or 'people'. The Dorians are clearly among the peoples regarded as Hellenes. They were diverse in way of life and social organization, varying from the populous trade center of the city of Corinth, known for its ornate style in art and architecture, to the isolationist, military state of Lacedaemon or Spartamarker. However, peoples belonging to the same tribe, the Dorians, as well as the Aeolians and the Ionians, were further subdivided in independent groups often hostile to each other, usually named after the location of their state.

And yet all Hellenes knew what localities were Dorian and what not. Dorian states at war could more likely than not (but not always) count on the assistance of other Dorian states. Dorians were distinguished by the Doric Greek dialect and by characteristic social and historical traditions. Accounts vary as to their place of origin. One theory widely believed in ancient times, but never proven beyond doubt, is that they originated in the north, north-eastern mountainous regions of Greecemarker, ancient Macedonia and Epirus, whence obscure circumstances brought them south into the Peloponnesemarker, to certain Aegean islandsmarker, Magna Graecia and Crete. Another theory is that they originated from Asia Minormarker, and that they either immigrated through the northeast of Greece and settled in southern Greece or immigrated from the coast of western Asian Minor into the Aegean islands and into southern Greece. Either way, mythology gave them a Greek origin and eponymous founder, Dorus son of Hellen, the mythological patriarch of the Hellenes.

In the 5th century BC, Dorians and Ionians were the two most politically important Greek ethne, whose ultimate clash resulted in the Peloponnesian War. The degree to which fifth-century Hellenes self-identified as "Ionian" or "Dorian" has itself been disputed. The fifth- and fourth-century literary tradition through which moderns view these ethnic identifications was profoundly influenced by the social politics of the time. Also, according to E.N. Tigerstedt, nineteenth-century European admirers of virtues they considered "Dorian" identified themselves as "Laconophile" and found responsive parallels in the culture of their day as well; their biases contribute to the traditional modern interpretation of "Dorians".

Dorian identity

In Classical Greece, "Dorian" applied to a fairly consistent group of peoples.

Name of the Dorians

A man's name, Dōrieus, occurs in the Linear B tablets at Pylosmarker, one of the regions invaded and subjected by the Dorians. Pylos tablet Fn867 records it in the dative case as do-ri-je-we, *Dōriēwei, a third or consonant declension noun with stem ending in w. An unattested plural, *Dōriēwes, would have become Dōrieis by loss of the w and contraction, but in the tablet, which is concerned with contribution of grain to a temple, it is simply a man's name. Whether it had the ethnic meaning of "the Dorian" is unknown. In the Linear B tablets the word "do-e-ro" is also found, meaning "slave"[916].
Greek spearman with the long upland spear.
Julius Pokorny derives Dorian from dōris, "woodland" (which can also mean upland). The dōri- segment is from the o-grade (either ō or o) of Proto-Indo-European *deru-, "tree". Dorian might be translated as "the country people", "the mountain people", "the uplanders", "the people of the woods" or some such appellation.

A second popular derivation was given by the French linguist, Émile Boisacq, from the same root, but from Greek doru, "spear" (which was wood); i.e., "the people of the spear" or "spearmen", emphasizing the warrior ferocity of the Dorians.

Distinctions of language

People who spoke the Doric dialect lived along the coast of the Peloponnesemarker, in Cretemarker, southwest Asia Minormarker, various cities of Southern Italy and Sicily, all of which adds weight to the theory of Asia Minor as the origin of the Dorians. Numerous historians link Doric, North-Western Greek and Ancient Macedonian. In later periods other dialects predominated, most notably the Attic, upon which the Koine or common Greek language of the Hellenistic period was based. The main characteristic of Doric was the preservation of Indo-European [aː], long <α>, which in Attic-Ionic became [ɛː], <η>.</η></α> <α><η>Tsakonian Greek, a descendant of Doric Greek and source of great interest to linguists, is extraordinarily still spoken in some regions of the Southern Argolid coast of the Peloponnese, on the coast of the modern prefecture of Arcadiamarker.</η></α>

Other cultural distinctions

Culturally, in addition to their Doric dialect of Greek, Doric colonies retained their characteristic Doric calendar revolving round a cycle of festivals of which the Hyacinthia and the Carneia were especially important..

The Dorian mode in music also was attributed to Doric societies and was associated by classical writers with martial qualities.

The Doric order of architecture in the tradition inherited by Vitruvius included the Doric column, noted for its simplicity and strength.

Ancient traditions


At first sight, the Homeric reference to Dorians has been regarded as an anachronism between the supposed 8th century BC writer of the poems and the supposed Dorian Invasion, two generations after the end of the Trojan War (1150 or 1100 BC), widely accepted chronologization in antiquity. The trichaikes Dorians are mentioned in Odyssey 19. 177. The epithet trichaikes, an hapax legomenon, has been translated either as of threefold race (e.g. denoting the three Dorian sub-tribes Hylleis,Dymanes, Pamphyloi) or long-haired from the noun θρίξ (see Spartan hairstyle) .

Strabo , who depends of course on the books available to him, goes on to elaborate:

Beside this sole reference to Dorians in Crete, the mention of the Iliad] on the Heraclid Tlepolemus, a warrior on the side of Achaeans and colonist of three important Dorian cities in Rhodesmarker has been also regarded as a later interpolation


In Greek historiography, the Dorians are mentioned by many authors. The chief classical authors to relate their origins are Herodotus, Thucydides and Pausanias. The customs of the Spartanmarker state and its illustrious individuals are detailed at great length in such authors as Plutarch.

Herodotus himself was from Halicarnassus, a Dorian colony on the southwest coast of Asia Minormarker (in modern Turkeymarker); following the literary tradition of the times he wrote in Ionic Greek, being one of the last authors to do so. He described the Persian Wars, giving a thumbnail account of the histories of the antagonists, Greeks and Persians.

Herodotus mentions that the "people now called the Dorians" were neighbors of the Pelasgians. The women had a distinctive dress, he said, a tunic (plain dress) not needing to be pinned with brooches.

Thus, according to Herodotus, the Dorians did not acquire their name until they had reached Peloponnesus.

The people they displaced gathered at Athens under a leader Ion and became identified as "Ionians". Most conspicuous among the Dorians as related by Herodotus were the people later known as Lacedaemonians, or Spartans, one of whose archaic legendary kings was named Dōrieus. The military Spartansmarker, under another of their kings, Leonidas, included the famous band of 300 soldiers who sacrificed themselves nearly to a man to delay the Persian army at the Battle of Thermopylaemarker.

Herodotus' list of Dorian states is as follows. From northeastern Greece were Phthiamarker, Histiaeamarker and Macedon. In central Greece were Dorismarker (the former Dryopia) and in the south Peloponnesusmarker, specifically the states of Lacedaemonmarker, Corinthmarker, Sicyonmarker, Epidaurusmarker, Troezenmarker and Hermione. Overseas were the islands of Rhodesmarker, Cosmarker, Nisyrusmarker and the Anatolianmarker cities of Cnidusmarker, Halicarnassus, Phaselismarker and Calydna. Dorians also colonised Cretemarker including founding of such towns as Latomarker, Dreros and Olous. The Cynurians were originally Ionians but had become Dorian under the influence of their Argivemarker masters.


Thucydides professes little of Greece before the Trojan War except to say that it was full of barbarians and that there was no distinction between barbarians and Greeks. The Hellenes came from Phthiotismarker. The whole country indulged in and suffered from piracy and was not settled. After the Trojan War, "Hellas was still engaged in removing and settling."Book I chapter 12.

Some 60 years after the Trojan War the Boeotians were driven out of Arne by the Thessalians into Boeotia and 20 years later "the Dorians and the Heraclids became masters of the Peloponnese." So the lines were drawn between the Dorians and the Aeolians (here Boeotians) with the Ionians (former Peloponnesians).

Other than these few brief observations Thucydides names but few Dorians. He does make it clear that some Dorian states aligned or were forced to align with the Athenians while some Ionians went with the Lacedaemonians and that the motives for alignment were not always ethnic but were diverse. Among the Dorians was Lacedaemonmarker of course, Corcyramarker, Corinthmarker and Epidamnus, Leucadiamarker, Ambraciamarker, Potidaeamarker, Rhodesmarker, Cythera, Argosmarker, Carystus, Syracusemarker, Gelamarker, Acragasmarker (later Agrigentum), Acraemarker, Casmenae.

He does explain with considerable dismay what happened to incite ethnic war after the unity during the Battle of Thermopylaemarker. The Congress of Corinth formed prior to it "split into two sections." Athens headed one and Lacedaemon the other.

He adds: "the real cause I consider to be ... the growth of the power of Athens and the alarm which this inspired in Lacedaemon...."


The Description of Greece by Pausanias relates that the Achaeans of the Peloponnesusmarker were driven from their lands by Dorians coming from Oetamarker, a mountainous region bordering on Thessaly. They were led by Hyllus, a son of Heracles, but were defeated by the Achaeans. Under other leadership they managed to be victorious over the Achaeans and remain in the Peloponnesus, a mythic theme called "the return of the Heracleidae." They had built ships at Naupactusmarker in which to cross the Gulf of Corinthmarker. This invasion is viewed by the tradition of Pausanias as a return of the Dorians to the Peloponnesus, apparently meaning a return of families ruling in Aetolia and northern Greece to a land in which they had once had a share. The return is described in detail: there were "disturbances" throughout the Peloponnesus except in Arcadiamarker, and new Dorian settlers. Pausanias goes on to describe the conquest and resettlement of Laconiamarker, Messeniamarker, Argosmarker and elsewhere, and the emigration from there to Cretemarker and the coast of Asia Minormarker.

Diodorus Siculus

Scholarly concept of Dorian invasion

The Dorian invasion is a modern historical concept attempting to account for:
  • at least the replacement of dialects and traditions in southern Greece in pre-classical times
  • more generally, the distribution of the Dorians in Classical Greece
  • the presence of the Dorians in Greece at all

On the whole, none of the objectives were met, but the investigations served to rule out various speculative hypotheses.

Post-migrational distribution of the Dorians

Though most of the Doric invaders settled in the Peloponnese, they also settled on Rhodesmarker and Sicily, in what is now southern Italy. In Asia Minor existed the Dorian Hexapolis (the six great Dorian cities): Halikarnassos (Halicarnassus) and Knidosmarker (Cnidus) in Asia Minormarker, Kosmarker, and Lindosmarker, Kameirosmarker, and Ialyssosmarker on the island of Rhodes. These six cities would later become rivals with the Ionian cities of Asia Minor. The Dorians also invaded Cretemarker. These origin traditions remained strong into classical times: Thucydides saw the Peloponnesian War in part as "Ionians fighting against Dorians" and reported the tradition that the Syracusansmarker in Sicily were of Dorian descent. Other such "Dorian" colonies, originally from Corinth, Megara, and the Dorian islands, dotted the southern coasts of Sicily from Syracuse to Selinus. (EB 1911).

Use of "Doric" in reference to Scotlandmarker

The term "Doric" came to be used in reference to Lowland Scottish dialects. The Oxford Companion to English Literature explains this phenomenon:

The term "Doric" was used to refer to all dialects of Lowland Scots as a jocular reference to the Doric dialect of the Ancient Greek language. Greek Dorians lived in Spartamarker amongst other places, a more rural area, and were supposed by the ancient Greeks to have spoken laconically and in a language that was thought harsher in tone and more phonetically conservative than the Attic spoken in Athensmarker.

Use of the term "Doric" in this context may also arise out of a contrast with the anglicised speech of the Scottish capital, because at one point, Edinburghmarker was nicknamed 'Athens of the North'. The upper/middle class speech of Edinburgh would thus be 'Attic', making the rural areas' speech 'Doric'.


Additional Bibliography

  • Müller, Karl Otfried, Die Dorier (1824) was translated by Henry Tufnel and Sir George Cornewall Lewis and published as The History and Antiquities of the Doric Race, (London: John Murray), 1830, in two vols.
  • Five editions between 1993 and 1995.

See also

External links

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