Ionian Confederacy Forms

The Ionian confederacy brought together large settlements of Ionian Greeks who were responsible for the birth of Greek epic poetry, history writing, and natural philosophy.

Summary of Event

The central portion of the west coast of Anatolia has had a long and varied history. In the first half of the second millennium b.c.e., Minoan merchants from Crete established trading posts throughout the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean. Archaeologists have found Minoan-type pottery on the west central coast of Anatolia in an area that would later be called Ionia. Moreover, Minoan settlements have also been found at Miletus. Neleus

The preclassical mainland Greeks, known as Mycenaeans, also colonized the west coast of Anatolia, as evidenced by the beehive-shaped tholos tombs (dated from the fourteenth to the twelfth centuries b.c.e.) found at Colophon along the central coast. Hittite cuneiform records found in central Anatolia and dating to about 1300 b.c.e. mention a city named Milawata, probably the later Ionian city of Miletus. The records imply that Milawata was under the control of a polity known as Ahhiyawa, possibly the Hittite name for the Achaeans of mainland Greece during the Mycenaean period. It is not clear, however, who composed the indigenous population of the area during the second millennium b.c.e., although later tradition claims that they were a local Anatolian people called the Carians. By the twelfth century b.c.e., the Mycenaean and Hittite kingdoms were either destroyed or had become decentralized. Archaeological research has shown that the Mycenaean levels of Miletus were destroyed at this time, and Greek tradition claims that this period coincided with the sack of Troy.

At about this time, the Greek mainland was overrun by the Dorians, a group that had originated north of Greece. Greek historical tradition holds that migrations of Greeks from the mainland to Ionia began in response to the destruction of their cities at the end of the Bronze Age around 1200 b.c.e. Aeolian Greeks sailed to some of the Aegean islands, including Lesbos, and to the northwest Anatolian coast. Some Dorians evidently settled in the southern regions, and Greeks known as Ionians settled on the central coast. Their presence is evidenced by archaeological finds at Miletus, where the Mycenaean civilization settlement was succeeded by a group using pottery akin to that found in Attica on the mainland of Greece. This pottery type, called Protogeometric, has been found throughout Ionia.

The material remains concerning the Ionian migration can be complemented by a series of fragmented literary accounts in Greek. The memory of Ionians living in the mainland of Greece is recounted in Greek poet Homer’s Iliad (c. 750 b.c.e.; English translation, 1611), which mentions them once in association with the Boeotians. A fragment written by Athenian lawgiver Solon (c. 630-c. 560 b.c.e.) implies that the Ionians had come from Attica. The Greek historian Herodotus noted in his Historiai Herodotou (c. 424 b.c.e.; The History, 1709) that there had been Ionians in Boeotia, Attica, and the Peloponnesus. The earliest extant account of the Ionian migration was written by the Athenian historian Pherecydes (c. 500 b.c.e.) and was paraphrased by the Roman geographer Strabo as well as by Pausanias the Traveler (with slight variations). These accounts tell that the sons of Codrus, the Ionian king of Athens, and others migrated from there sometime around 1100 b.c.e. Miletus was founded by Neleus, a son of Codrus. The Ionians led by him killed the local male inhabitants and married the local women. Androclus, another son of Codrus, was the founder of the city of Ephesus. According to these accounts, Androclus drove out the Lydians but, unlike Neleus, was friendly with the local inhabitants. Tradition holds that others founded the remaining Ionian cities on the islands of Chios, Samos, and Mycale, as well as the mainland sites of Colophon, Priene, Lebedos, Phocaea, and Teos, among others.

The Ionian city-states forged a defensive confederacy that fostered a sense of community among them. The Greek writers state, however, that the Ionians fought among themselves and against the Carians, the local Anatolian inhabitants. In the eighth century b.c.e., the Ionians were successful in sending out colonies in the Aegean, the western Mediterranean (notably Sicily and southern Italy), inland Anatolia, and even the Egyptian Delta region. By the early seventh century b.c.e., the Ionians were attacked by the Lydian king Gyges, who threatened their existence. Even more dangerous was the threat posed by the Cimmerians and the Scythians later in the century who, according to Herodotus, plundered Ionia but did not destroy the cities. The Ionian confederacy was later forced to pay tribute to Lydia and soon thereafter was conquered by Persia late in the sixth century b.c.e. In the beginning of the fifth century b.c.e., with the support of Athens and other mainland Greek cities, Ionia staged an unsuccessful revolt against Persian rule. According to Herodotus, this revolt sparked the beginning of the great Persian Wars of the period.


Notwithstanding their importance to eastern Mediterranean political history, the Ionians were at the forefront of Greek civilization in the first half of the first millennium b.c.e. The great epic poetry of Greece, exemplified by Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey (c. 725 b.c.e.; English translation, 1614), originated on the Asiatic Greek coast during the eighth century b.c.e. Moreover, the Ionians appear to have been the first to promote a rational view of the world, thus founding the study of natural philosophy. Many of the greatest thinkers of the ancient world came from Ionia, including Thales of Miletus, Anaximander, Heraclitus of Ephesus, Anaximenes of Miletus, and Pythagoras, who was from Samos. Furthermore, critical history writing originated from the Ionian coast with Hecataeus of Miletus, a forerunner of Herodotus. Finally, the Ionians made great innovations in art and architecture, creating a distinct style of sculpture known as Ionia. Thus, the Ionian impact on European poetry, philosophy, historiography, and sculpture is incalculable.

Further Reading

  • Bouzek, J. The Aegean, Anatolia and Europe: Cultural Interaction in the Second Millennium b.c.
    Göteburg, Sweden: Paul Astroms, 1985. This work surveys the cultural and artistic interconnections in the Aegean world during the Late Bronze and Early Iron ages, the periods of the Ionian migration to Anatolia.
  • Drews, R. The Coming of the Greeks: Indo-European Conquests in the Aegean and the Near East. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1988. A look at the entry of Greeks into Anatolia and other regions.
  • Drews, R. The End of the Bronze Age: Changes in Warfare and the Catastrophe ca. 1200 b.c.
    Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1993. Drews provides the background for understanding the major cultural and political changes that occurred in the eastern Mediterranean from the Bronze to Iron Ages, leading to the Ionian settlement of the Anatolian coast.
  • Emlyn-Jones, C. J. The Ionians and Hellenism: A Study of the Cultural Achievement of the Early Greek Inhabitants of Asia Minor. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1980. Surveys the cultural attributes of Ionia in the first half of the first millennium b.c.e. and the interaction of the Ionians with the local Anatolian populations.
  • Huxley, G. L. The Early Ionians. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1972. A general survey of Ionia from the beginning of the first millennium b.c.e. to the revolt against Persia five centuries later. Huxley studies both the literary traditions concerning early Ionia and the existing material remains.
  • Souyoudzoglou-Haywood, Christina. The Ionian Islands in the Bronze Age and Early Iron Age, 3000-800 b.c.
    Liverpool, England: Liverpool University Press, 1999. An examination of the Ionian Islands before and during the confederacy.

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