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Ancient Region of Anatolia
Ionia (Ἰωνία)
Location Western Anatoliamarker
State existed: 7-6th c. BC (as Ionian League)
Language Ionic Greek
Biggest city Delosmarker
Persian satrapy Yauna
Roman province Asia

Ionia (Ancient Greek Ἰωνία or Ἰωνίη) is an ancient region of central coastal Anatoliamarker in present-day Turkeymarker, the region nearest İzmirmarker, which was historically Smyrnamarker. It consisted of the northernmost territories of the Ionian League of Greek settlements. Never a unified state, it was eponymously named after the Ionian tribe who in the Archaic Period occupied mainly the shores and islands of the Aegean Seamarker. Ionian states were identified by tradition and by their use of Eastern Greek.Ionia proper comprised a narrow coastal strip from Phocaeamarker in the north near the mouth of the river Hermus (now the Gediz), to Miletusmarker in the south near the mouth of the river Maeander, and included the islands of Chiosmarker and Samosmarker. It was bounded by Aeolia to the north, Lydia to the east and Caria to the south. The cities within the region figured large in the strife between the Persian Empire and the Greeks.

According to Greek tradition, the cities of Ionia were founded by colonists from the other side of the Aegean. Their settlement was connected with the legendary history of the Ionic people in Atticamarker, which asserts that the colonists were led by Neleus and Androclus, sons of Codrus, the last king of Athens. In accordance with this view the "Ionic migration", as it was called by later chronologers, was dated by them one hundred and forty years after the Trojan war, or sixty years after the return of the Heracleidae into the Peloponnesemarker.



Ionia was of small extent, not exceeding 90 geographical miles in length from north to south, with a breadth varying from 40 to 55 miles, but to this must be added the peninsula of Mimasmarker, together with the two islands. So intricate is the coastline that the voyage along its shores was estimated at nearly four times the direct distance. A great part of this area was, moreover, occupied by mountains. Of these the most lofty and striking were Mimas and Corycus, in the peninsula which stands out to the west, facing the island of Chios; Sipylus, to the north of Smyrna, Corax, extending to the south-west from the Gulf of Smyrna, and descending to the sea between Lebedus and Teos; and the strongly marked range of Mycale, a continuation of Messogisin the interior, which forms the bold headland of Trogilium or Mycale, opposite Samos. None of these mountains attains a height of more than 4,000 feet The district comprised three extremely fertile valleys formed by the outflow of three rivers, among the most considerable in Asia Minor: the Hermus in the north, flowing into the Gulf of Smyrnamarker, though at some distance from the city of that name; the Caster, which flowed under the walls of Ephesus; and the Maeander, which in ancient times discharged its waters into the deep gulf that once bathed the walls of Miletus, but which has been gradually filled up by this river's deposits. With the advantage of a peculiarly fine climate, for which this part of Asia Minormarker has been famous in all ages, Ionia enjoyed the reputation in ancient times of being the most fertile of all the rich provinces of Asia Minor; and even , though very imperfectly cultivated, it produces abundance of fruit of all kinds, and the raisins and figs of Smyrna supply almost all the markets of Europe. (Needs citation. The above description reads to be a verbatum quote from an Englishman's travelogue.)

Northern Ionia, view from space.


The geography of Ionia placed it in a strategic position that was both advantageous and disadvantageous. Ionia was always a maritime power founded by a people who made their living by trade in peaceful times and marauding in unsettled times. The coast was rocky and the arable land slight. The native Luwians for the most part kept their fields further inland and used the rift valleys for wooded pasture. The coastal cities were placed in defensible positions on islands or headlands situated so as to control inland routes up the rift valleys. The people of those valleys were of different ethnicity. The populations of the cities were multi-cultural and received cultural stimuli from many civilizations in the eastern Mediterraneanmarker, which resulted in a brilliant society able to make contributions of worldwide and millennial significance.

On the other hand Ionia was divided by the Aegean Sea from the mother country and could seldom be defended from there. Many imperial powers arose inland against which Ionia was forced to defend itself and to whom it was typically required finally to submit.


Ancient demographics are available only from literary sources. HerodotusHistories Book I sections 145-146. states that in Asia the Ionians kept the division into twelve cities that had prevailed in Ionia of north Peloponnesus, their former homeland, which became Achaeamarker after they left. These Asian cities were (from south to north) Miletusmarker, Myusmarker, Prienemarker, Ephesusmarker, Colophon, Lebedus, Teosmarker, Erythrae, Clazomenae and Phocaeamarker, together with Samosmarker and Chiosmarker. Smyrnamarker, originally an Aeolic colony, was afterwards occupied by Ionians from Colophon, and became an Ionian city — an event which had taken place before the time of Herodotus.

These cities do not match those of Achaeamarker. Moreover, the Achaea of Herodotus' time spoke Doric (Corinthian), but in Homer it is portrayed as being in the kingdom of Mycenaemarker, which most likely spoke Mycenaean Greek, which is not Doric. If the Ionians came from Achaea, they departed during or after the change from East Greek to West Greek there. Mycenaean continued to evolve in a pocket, Arcadiamarker.

There is no record of any people named Ionians in Late Bronze Age Anatolia but Hittite texts record the Achaeans of Ahhiyawa, of location not completely certain, but in touch with the Hittites of that time. Miletusmarker and some other cities founded earlier by non-Greeks received populations of Mycenaean Greeks probably under the name of Achaeans. The tradition of Ionian colonizers from Achaea suggests that they may have been known by both names even then. In the absence of archaeological evidence of discontinuity at Miletus the Achaean population whatever their name appears to have descended to archaic Ionia, which does not exclude the possibility of another colonizing and founding event from Athens.

Herodotus expresses some impatience at the ethnic views of his countrymen concerning Ionia: "for it is the height of folly to maintain that these Ionians are more Ionian than the rest, or in any respect better born, ...." He lists other ethnic populations among the settlers: Abantes from Euboeamarker, Minyans from Orchomenusmarker, Cadmeians, Dryopians, Phociansmarker, Molossians, Arcadian Pelasgians, Dorians of Epidaurusmarker, and others. The presence of Doric Ionians is somewhat contradictory, but Herodotus himself, a major author of the Ionic dialect, was from a Doric city, Halicarnassus. Even "the purest Ionians of all", the Athenians, married girls from Caria. "But since these Ionians set more store by the name than any of the others, let them pass for the pure-bred Ionians."


Anatoliamarker before the Greeks was the home of Anatolian language speakers who occupied the peninsula from the Aegeanmarker coast to the mountains of the west where resided the various constituent peoples of the later Armeniamarker. The Anatolians created various semi-autonomous states which eventually came under the dominion of a central authority, the Hittite Empire. That precarious state was continually threatened by civilizations speaking other languages on all three sides, the fourth being protected by the Black Seamarker. Eventually its neighbors combined to overwhelm it, which happened in the Late Bronze Age.

Ionia was settled in a window of opportunity between the collapse of the Hittite Empire, with the defeat of Troymarker, and the rise of the last Anatolian power from a neo-Hittite splinter state, Lydia. It formed a short-lived Lydian Empire before the region was again overwhelmed by Persians.


During the late 13th century BC the peoples of the Aegean Seamarker took to marauding and resettling as a way of life and were called by the Egyptians the Sea Peoples. Mycenaean Greeks must have been among them. They settled lightly on the shores of Luwian Anatolia often by invitation. In the background was the stabilizing influence of the Hittites, who monitored maritime movement and suppressed piracy. When that power was gone the Luwian people remained in the vacuum as a number of coastal splinter states that were scarcely able now to defend themselves. Ionian Greeks took advantage of opportunities for coastal raiding: an inscription of Sargon II (ca 709-07,recording a naval expedition of 715) boasts "in the midst of the sea" he had "caught the Ionians like fish and brought peace to the land of Que Cilicia and the city of Tyre". For a full generation earlier Assyrian inscriptions had recorded troubles with the Ionians, who escaped on their boats.

Caria and Lycia came to the attention of Athensmarker, most powerful state remaining in Greece, which also had lost its central government ruling from Mycenaemarker, now burned and nearly vacant. Ionians had been expelled from the Peloponnesusmarker by the Dorians and had sought refuge in Athens. The Athenian kings decided to relieve the crowding by resettling the coast of Caria with Ionians from the Peloponnesus under native Athenian leadership.

They were not the only Greeks to have such a perception and reach such a decision. The Aeolians of Boeotia contemporaneously settled the coast of Lydia and the newly settled Dorians of Cretemarker and the islands the coast of Lycia. The Greeks descended on the Luwians of the Anatolian coast in the 10th century BC. The descent was not peaceful and the Luwians were not willing.

Pausanias gives a thumbnail sketch of the resettlement. Miletusmarker was the first city attacked, where there had been some Mycenaean Greeks apparently under the rule of Cretansmarker. After overthrowing the Cretan government and settling there the Ionians widened their attack to Ephesusmarker, Samosmarker and Prienemarker. Combining with Aeolians from Thebesmarker they founded Myusmarker. Colophon was already in the hands of Aeolians who had arrived via Crete in Mycenaean times. The Ionians "swore a treaty of union" with them. They took Lebedos driving out the Carians and augmented the Aeolian population of Teosmarker. They settled on Chiosmarker, took Erythrae from the Carians, Pamphylians (both Luwian) and Cretans. Clazomenae and Phocaeamarker were settled from Colophon. Somewhat later they took Smyrnamarker from the Aeolians.

Brief autonomy

The Ionian cities formed a religious and cultural (as opposed to a political or military) confederacy, the Ionian League, of which participation in the Panionic festivalmarker was a distinguishing characteristic. This festival took place on the north slope of Mt.marker Mycalemarker in a shrine called the Panioniummarker. In addition to the Panionic festival at Mycale, which was celebrated mainly by the Asian Ionians, both European and Asian coast Ionians convened on Delosmarker Island each summer to worship at the temple of the Delian Apollo.

But like the Amphictyonic league in Greece, the Ionic was rather of a sacred than a political character; every city enjoyed absolute autonomy, and, though common interests often united them for a common political object, they never formed a real confederacy like that of the Achaeans or Boeotians. The advice of Thales of Miletus to combine in a political union was rejected.

The colonies naturally became prosperous. Miletusmarker especially was at an early period one of the most important commercial cities of Greece; and in its turn became the parent of numerous other colonies, which extended all around the shores of the Euxine Seamarker and the Propontis from Abydus and Cyzicus to Trapezusmarker and Panticapaeum. Phocaeamarker was one of the first Greek cities whose mariners explored the shores of the western Mediterranean. Ephesusmarker, though it did not send out any colonies of importance, from an early period became a flourishing city and attained to a position corresponding in some measure to that of Smyrna at the present day.

Under the last Anatolian empire

About 700 BC Gyges, first Mermnad king of Lydia, invaded the territories of Smyrna and Miletus, and is said to have taken Colophon as his son Ardys did Priene. The first event in the history of Ionia of which we have any trustworthy account is the inroad of the Cimmerii, who ravaged a great part of Asia Minor, including Lydia, and sacked Magnesia on the Maeander, but were foiled in their attack upon Ephesus. This event may be referred to the middle of the 7th century BC. It was not until the reign of Croesus (560545 BC) that the cities of Ionia fell completely under Lydian rule.

Satrapy of the Achaemenids

The defeat of Croesus by Cyrus was followed by the conquest of all the Ionian cities. These became subject to the Persian monarchy with the other Greek cities of Asia. In this position they enjoyed a considerable amount of autonomy, but were for the most part subject to local despots, most of whom were creatures of the Persian king. It was at the instigation of one of these despots, Histiaeus of Miletus, that in about 500 BC the principal cities ignited the Ionian Revolt against Persia. They were at first assisted by the Athenians and Eretriamarker, with whose aid they penetrated into the interior and burnt Sardis, an event which ultimately led to the Persian invasion of Greece. But the fleet of the Ionians was defeated off the island of Lade, and the destruction of Miletus after a protracted siege was followed by the reconquest of all the Asiatic Greeks, insular as well as continental.

Autonomy under the Athenian empire

The victories of the Greeks during the great Persian war had the effect of enfranchizing their kinsmen on the other side of the Aegean; and the battle of Mycale (479 BC), in which the defeat of the Persians was in great measure owing to the Ionians, secured their emancipation. They henceforth became the dependent allies of Athens (see Delian League), though still retaining their autonomy, which they preserved until the peace of Antalcidas in 387 BC once more placed them as well as the other Greek cities in Asia under the nominal dominion of Persia.

Satrapy again

Ionian cities appear to have retained a considerable amount of freedom until the invasion of Asia Minor by Alexander the Great.

Hellenistic period

After the battle of the Granicus most of the Ionian cities submitted to the rule of Alexander III of Macedon and his Diadochi. As such Ionia enjoyed a great prosperity during the Hellenistic times with the notable exception of Miletusmarker, which, being the only city of the Ionian League to deny to pay homage to Alexander, was finally leveled after a long siege at 334 BC, and never restored to its previous splendor.

Under Rome

Ionia became part of the Roman province of Asia.

Photo of a 15th Century map showing Ionia.


Ionia has laid the world under its debt not only by giving birth to a long roll of distinguished men of letters and science (notably the Ionian School of philosophy), but also by originating the distinct school of art which prepared the way for the brilliant artistic development of Athens in the 5th century BC. This school flourished between 700 and 500 BC, and is distinguished by the fineness of workmanship and minuteness of detail with which it treated subjects, inspired always to some extent by non-Greek models. Naturalism is progressively obvious in its treatment, e.g. of the human figure, but to the end it is still subservient to convention. It has been thought that the Ionian migration from Greece carried with it some part of a population which retained the artistic traditions of the Mycenaean civilization, and so caused the birth of the Ionic school; but whether this was so or not, it is certain that from the 8th century BC onwards we find the true spirit of Hellenic art, stimulated by commercial intercourse with eastern civilizations, working out its development chiefly in Ionia and its neighbouring isles. The great names of this school are Theodorus and Rhoecus of Samos; Bathycles of Magnesia on the Maeander; Glaucus of Chios, Melas, Micciades, Archermus, Bupalus and Athenis of Chiosmarker. Notable works of the school still extant are the famous archaic female statues found on the Athenian Acropolis in 1885–1887, the seated statues of Branchidae, the Nike of Archermus found at Delos, and the objects in ivory and electrum found by D.G. Hogarth in the lower strata of the Artemision at Ephesus.

The Arabic, Turkish, Persian and Urdu name for Greecemarker is Younan (یونان), a corruption of "Ionia." The same is true for the Hebrew word, "Yavan" (יוון) and the Sanskrit word "yavana". The Ionians were the first Greek-speaking people that Semitic, Turkic and Persian language speakers encountered, and the name spread throughout the Near East and Central Asia.

This entry was originally from the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica.


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