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The Ionians ( , Íōnes, singular , Íōn) were one of the three populations into which the ancient Greeks considered the population of Hellenes to have been divided.

"Ionian" with reference to populations had two senses in Classical Greece. In a narrow sense they were linked by their use of the Ionic dialect spoken in settlements that were located principally on some of the Islands between Greece and Anatoliamarker, but who resided on the coast of Anatolia as well, giving rise to the eponymously named region of Ionia there. All the Greeks understood that the population of Ionia were descendants of migrants from the Peloponnesus and had ceded their native land to the Dorians. After a residence in Athensmarker they and some Athenians emigrated to Anatolia and the islands. In a broader sense Ionian meant all the speakers of Ionian, Attic (the language spoken at Athens) and any other dialects of the group called East Greek today.

The other two language/cultural groups of the classical period were the Dorians and the Aeolians. All three groups were known collectively as Hellenes. The Ionians were located around the shores of the Aegean Seamarker and in most of the Aegean islands. The Aeolians resided in Boeotia, Lesbosmarker with a few other islands and the coast of Anatolia. Dorians were to be found in Macedon, Peloponnesusmarker, Cretemarker, Rhodesmarker and the islands of the Dorian Hexapolis, as well as on the coast of Anatolia. Thrace was home to Greek colonists of Ionian descent and the French city of Marseillemarker was founded by Ionians from Phocaeamarker in Ionia.

According to semi-historical Greek legend, Ionia was colonised by refugees from mainland Greece expelled by the invading Dorians in the Heroic Age. According to myth, the Ionians were descended from the hero Ion, son of Xuthus, son of Hellen (the mythical progenitor of all the Hellenes, whose other two sons were Aeolus and Dorus).

Name of the Ionians

Unlike "Aeolians" and "Dorians", "Ionians" appears in the languages of different civilizations around the eastern Mediterranean and as far east as the Indian subcontinent. They are not the earliest Greeks to appear in the records; that distinction belongs to the Danaans and the Achaeans. The trail of the Ionians begins in the Mycenaean Greek records of Crete.


A fragmentary Linear B tablet from Knossosmarker (tablet Xd 146) bears the name i-ja-wo-ne, interpreted by Ventris and Chadwick as possibly the dative or nominative plural case of *Iāwones, an ethnic name. The Knossos tablets are dated to 1400 or 1200 B.C. They were then prior to Dorian dominance in Cretemarker, if the name refers to Cretans.

The Homeric name, Iaones, used of some long-robed Greeks attacked by Hector, appears to be the same name without the *-w-.


In the Book of Genesis of the English Bible Javan is a son of Japheth. With regard to the tribal country-naming scheme of the Old Testament, in which the name of the country becomes an eponymous family founder, Javan is believed nearly universally by Bible scholars to represent the Ionians; that is, Javan is Ion. The Hebrew is Yāwān, plural Yəwānīm.

Additionally but less surely Japheth may be related linguistically to the Greek mythological figure Iapetus.

The locations of Biblical tribal countries have been the subjects of centuries of scholarship and yet remain to various degrees open questions. The Book of Isaiah gives what may be a hint by listing "the nations ... that have not heard my fame" (God's) including Javan and immediately after "the isles afar off." Are the isles in apposition to Javan or the last item in the series? If the former, the expression is typically used of the population of the islands in the Aegean Seamarker.

The date of the Book of Isaiah cannot precede the date of the man Isaiah, which was the 8th century BC.


Some letters of the Assyrian Empire in the 8th century BC record attacks by what appear to be Ionians on the cities of Phoeniciamarker:
For example, a raid by the Ionians (ia-u-na-a-a) on the Phoenician coast is reported to Tiglath-Pileser III in a letter of the 730's find at Nimrudmarker.

The Assyrian word, which is preceded by the country determinative, has been reconstructed as *Iaunaia. More common is ia-a-ma-nu, ia-ma-nu and ia-am-na-a-a with the country determinative, reconstructed as Iamānu. Sargon II related that he took the latter from the sea like fish and that they were from "the sea of the setting sun." If the identification of Assyrian names is correct, at least some of the Ionian marauders came from Cyprusmarker:
Sargon's Annals for 709, claiming that tribute was sent to him by 'seven kings of Ya (ya-a'), a district of Yadnana whose distant abodes are situated a seven-days' journey in the sea of the setting sun', is confirmed by a stele set up at Citiummarker in Cyprus 'at the base of a mountain ravine ... of Yadnana.'


Ionians appear in Indic literature and documents as Yavana and Yona. In documents these names refer to the Indo-Greek Kingdoms; that is, the states formed by the Macedonians, either Alexander the Great or his successors on the Indian subcontinent. The earliest such documentation is the Edicts of Ashoka, dated to 250 BC, within 10 or 20 years.

Prior to then the Yavanas appear in the Vedas with reference to the Vedic period, which could be as early as the 2nd millennium BC. The Vedas are to be distinguished from the Vedic period, which is much older than they. If there were any hope of finding aboriginal Indo-European Ionians under that name it would be there, but in the Vedas the Yavanas are a kingdom of Mlechhas, or barbarians, to the far west, out of the line of descent of Indic culture, in the same category as the Sakas, or Skythians (who spoke Iranian), and thus probably already were Greek. They had expanded from west to east, not vice versa. The Ionians of the Aegean are the identity customarily assigned to them.


Ionians appear in a number of Old Persian inscriptions of the Achaemenid Empire as Yaunā, a nominative plural masculine, singular Yauna; for example, in inscription of Darius on the south wall of the palace at Persepolismarker includes in the provinces of the empire "Ionians who are of the mainland and (those) who are by the sea, and countries which are across the sea; ...." At that time the empire probably extended around the Aegean to northern Greece.


Modern eastern languages use the term "Ionian" to refer to all Greeks - this is true of Hebrew, Egyptian, Hunastan/Huyn in Armenian, and Yūnān/Yūnāniyy in Persian and Arabic.


The etymology of the word is uncertain of proof. Both Frisk and Beekes isolate an unknown root, *Ia-, pronounced *ya-. There are, however, some theories:

  • From an unknown early name of an eastern Mediterranean island population represented by Ha-nebu, an ancient Egyptian name for the people living there.
  • From ancient Egyptian 'iwn "pillar, tree trunk" extended into 'iwnt "bow" (of wood?) and 'Iwntyw "bowmen, barbarians." This derivation is analogous on the one hand to the possible derivation of Dorians and on the other fits the Egyptian concept of "nine bows" with reference to the Sea Peoples.
  • From an Indo-European onomatopoeic root *wi- or *woi- expressing a shout uttered by persons running to the assistance of others; according to Pokorny, *Iawones would mean "Verehren des Apollo", "devotees of Apollo", based on the cry iē paiōn uttered in his worship.

Ionian language

In a landmark article of 1964 Vladimir Georgiev summarized the relationship of the three main historical dialects and gave an estimate of their chronology as follows. Prior to the 20th century BC existed three dialects of Greek: Iawonic, Iawolic and Doric (Georgiev's names). Iawonic was spoken in Atticamarker, Euboeamarker, East Boeotia and the Peloponnesusmarker.

In the 16th century BC a new koinē was formed from Iawonic and Iawolic: the Mycenaean Greek language. It persisted until about 1200 when it became the major source of Arcado-Cyprian, with some Doric influence. The Ionians taking up the tradition of epic poetry created Homeric Greek. Ionian descends from Iawonic.

Pre-Ionic Ionians

The literary evidence of the Ionians leads back to mainland Greece in Mycenaean times before there was an Ionia. The classical sources seem determined that they were to be called Ionians along with other names even then. This view cannot be documented with inscriptional evidence and yet the literary evidence, which is manifestly at least partially legendary, seems to reflect a general verbal tradition.


Herodotus of Halicarnassus asserts:
all are Ionians who are of Athenianmarker descent and keep the feast Apaturia.
He further explains:
The whole Hellenic stock was then small, and the last of all its branches and the least regarded was the Ionian; for it had no considerable city except Athensmarker.
The Ionians spread from Athens to other places in the Aegean Seamarker: Sifnosmarker and Serifosmarker, Naxosmarker, Keamarker, Chalcidicemarker, Eretriamarker and Samosmarker. But they were not just from Athens:
These Ionians, as long as they were in the Peloponnesusmarker, dwelt in what is now called Achaeamarker, and before Danaus and Xuthus came to the Peloponnesus, as the Greeks say, they were called Aegialian Pelasgians.
They were named Ionians after Ion the son of Xuthus.
Achaea was divided into 12 communities originally Ionian: Pellenemarker, Aegiramarker, Aegae, Bura, Helicemarker, Aegionmarker, Rhype, Patraemarker, Phareae, Olenus, Dyme and Tritaeae. The most aboriginal Ionians were of Cynuria:
The Cynurians are aboriginal and seem to be the only Ionians, but they have been Dorianized by time and by Argive rule.


In Strabo's account of the origin of the Ionians, Hellen, son of Deucalion, ancestor of the Hellenes, king of Phthiamarker, arranged a marriage between his son Xuthus and the daughter of king Erechtheus of Athensmarker. Xuthus then founded the Tetrapolis ("Four Cities") of Atticamarker, a rural district. His son, Achaeus, went into exile in a land subsequently called Achaea after him. Another son of Xuthus, Ion, conquered Thrace, after which the Athenians made him king of Athens. Attica was called Ionia after his death. Those Ionians colonized Aigialia changing its name to Ionia also. When the Heracleidae returned the Achaeans drove the Ionians back to Athens. Under the Codridae they set forth for Anatoliamarker and founded 12 cities in Caria and Lydia following the model of the 12 cities of Achaea, formerly Ionian.

Classical Ionia

Iona can be dated back to Vedic period & Yavana .During the 6th century BC, Ionian coastal towns such as Miletusmarker and Ephesusmarker became the focus of a revolution in approaches to traditional thinking about Nature. Instead of explaining natural phenomena by recourse to traditional religion/myth, the cultural climate was such that men began to form hypotheses about the natural world based on ideas gained from both personal experience and deep reflection. These men - Thales and his successors - were called physiologoi, those who discoursed on Nature. They were sceptical of religious explanations for natural phenomena and instead sought purely mechanical and physical explanations. They are credited as being of critical importance to the development of the 'scientific attitude' towards the study of Nature. (see Ionian school)

See also


  1. Homer. Iliad, Book XIII, Line 685.
  2. Book of Genesis, 10.2.
  3. Book of Isaiah66.19.
  4. See pages 120-121.
  5. See page 17 for the quote.
  6. Kent, p. 136.
  7. To find the full presentation in H.J. Frisk's Grieschisches Woeterbuch search on page 1,748, being sure to include the comma. For a similar presentation in Beekes' A Greek Etymological Dictionary search on Ionian in Etymology. Both linguists state a full panoply of "Ionian" words with sources.
  8. In Pokorny's Indogermanisches Etymologisches Woerterbuch, p. 1176.
  9. .
  10. Herodotus. Histories. Book I, Chapter 147.
  11. Herodotus. Histories. Book I, Chapter 143.
  12. Herodotus. Histories. Book 8, Section 48.1.
  13. Herodotus. Histories. Book 8, Section 46.3.
  14. Herodotus. Histories. Book 8, Section 46.2.
  15. Herodotus. Histories. Book 6, Section 22.3.
  16. Herodotus. Histories. Book 7, Chapter 94.
  17. Herodotus. Histories. Book 1, Section 145.1.
  18. Herodotus. Histories. Book 8, Section 73.3.
  19. Strabo. Geography. Book 8, Section 7.1.

Further reading

  • J.A.R Munro. "Pelasgians and Ionians". The Journal of Hellenic Studies, 1934 (JSTOR).
  • R.M. Cook. "Ionia and Greece in the Eighth and Seventh Centuries B.C." The Journal of Hellenic Studies, 1946 (JSTOR).

External links

  • Note that the online edition omits the critical bibliography and runs paragraphs and section headings together. The paragraph division is not the one of the article. The reader should be aware that although useful the article necessarily omits all of modern scholarship.

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