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This page is part of the "tools" section of a site, Plato and his dialogues, dedicated to developing a new interpretation of Plato's dialogues. The "tools" section provides historical and geographical context (chronology, maps, entries on characters and locations) for Socrates, Plato and their time. By clicking on the minimap at the beginning of the entry, you can go to a full size map in which the city or location appears. For more information on the structure of entries and links available from them, read the notice at the beginning of the index of persons and locations.
Region along the coast of Asia Minor (area 6).
Ionia was the name collectively given to a set of Greek cities of the coast of Asia Minor and nearby islands that were settled initially by Ionians. These cities spread over the provinces of Caria and Lydia and included, from south to north, the Carian cities of Miletus (the leading city of Ionia), Myous and Priene, the Lydian cities of Ephesus, Colophon, Lebedus, Teos, Clazomenæ and Phocæa, plus Samos and Chios on the islands of the same names, and Erythræus on the mainland facing Chios (Herodotus' Histories, I, 142-148). Together they formed a confederacy called the Paniones (etymologically, "all the Ionians pan Iônes"), and had erected on cape Mycale, a promontory between Miletus and Ephesus, a sanctuary to Poseidon called the Panionion where they celebrated a yearly festival called Panionia. But originally, Ionians lived in mainland Greece, especially in Attica where many of them were still living in historical times. Indeed, both Herodotus (see Histories, I, 56) and Thucydides (see for instance, at Histories, I, 124, the speech of the Corinthians calling for war against Athens in the affair of Potidæa) viewed the history of Greece in their time as dominated by the relationship between Ionians led by Athens and Dorians led by Sparta (allied against the Persians in Herodotus, at war with one another in Thucydides). For Herodotus, as can be seen in the above quoted section, Ionians were the descendants of the autochthonous Pelasgians while Dorians were migrating Hellenes who had eventually settled in Peloponnese (note that Herodotus himself was a Dorian from Halicarnassus).
The Ionians owed their name to the mythological hero Ion,
of the race of Deucalion who became king
of Athens after Erechtheus.
Ion and his brother Achæus (the eponym of the Achæans)
were the son of Xouthus, himself a son of Hellen (the eponym of the Greeks as
a whole) and brother of Dorus (eponym of the Dorians)
and Æolus (eponym of the Æolians). Ion's
mother was Creousa, a daughter of Erechtheus.
Various traditions about Ion have come down to us, attempting to explain in
different ways the history of the Ionian people. One of them, reported by Pausanias
(writing in the IInd century A. D.), shows Xouthus ousted from Thessalia
by his brothers Dorus and Æolus and seeking refuge in Attica where he
married Creousa, the daughter of the king of the place. But when his father-in-law
Erechtheus died, he was expelled from Athens and moved to the northern coast
of Peloponnese, in an area then called Ægialis
(after the name of Ægialeus, the ancestor of the people living there).
After Xouthus' death, his two sons, Ion and Achæus, parted. Achæus
returned to Thessalia while Ion remained in Ægialis, married the daughter
of the local king Selinus and succeeded him, founding there a city named after
his wife, Helice. Later, he was asked by the Athenians to lead them in a war
against the people of Eleusis, so he moved to Attica,
where he died. But his offspring remained in Ægialis until they were ousted
by the offspring of Achæus, back from Thessalia, who gave their name to
the region, hereafter called Achaia.
Strabo (writing toward the end of the Ist century B. C., beginning of the Ist century A. D.) has a somewhat different version : in it, Xouthus, after marrying Erechtheus' daughter Creousa, founded in Attica a tetrapolis (group of four cities) including the villages of Oenoe, Marathon, Probalinthus and Tricorynthus. One of his sons, Achæus, after having commited a murder, had to flee to Lacedæmon and gave the people there the name Achæans (a name indeed often used by Homer to designate the Greeks as a whole, whose leaders, in the Iliad, were coming from Peloponnese). His other son, Ion, fought the Thracians of Eumolpus and, in so doing, earned such a repute that the Athenians made him their king. Ion organized Attica in four tribes named after his four sons (see entry on Athens for more on this) and gave the country his name. Later, the Athenians sent settlers in Ægialis and gave that region too the name Ionia, before they were ousted, in the time of the Heraclidæ, by Achæans who, in turn, gave the area their name.
Still another version of Ion's story is provided by Euripides in his drama Ion. In it, Ion has become the son of Apollo and Creousa, born before she married Xouthus, exposed soon after his birth and raised by the priestess of Apollo in Delphi, and adopted later by Xouthus, when it turned out he couldn't get children of his own.
In all these stories, Ionians are found in Attica and on the northern coast of Peloponnese, and are ousted from this later area by Achæans, which agrees with what Herodotus tells us at Histories, I, 145 of the origin of the Ionians who settled the coast of Asia Minor in the area that was called in his time Ionia. From a historical standpoint, Ionians may have been the first Indo-European Greek-speaking tribes to move into Greece toward the beginning of the second millenium B. C., followed by Achæans and Æolians, and eventually, toward 1300 B. C., by Dorians. Ionian settlements on the coast of Asia Minor (as well as Æolian further north and Dorian further south) took place toward the XIth and Xth centuries B. C. and Thucydides (Histories, I, 2, 6) attributes them to the need for more land to feed the population.
Ionia was the birthplace of philosophy, giving the world many of the most famous so-called Presocratic philosophers : Thales, Anaximander and Anaximenes, collectively called the Milesians (Miletus) ; Heraclitus (Ephesus) ; Pythagoras (Samos) ; Xenophanes (Colophon) ; Anaxagoras (Clazomenæ). Indeed, Presocratic philosophy is usually presented as opposing the so-called Ionian philosopher on the one hand, more concerned with physics and natural sciences, and the Italic schools on the other hand, dominated by Parmenides and the Eleans, followed by the first Sicilian masters of rhetoric (Tisias of Syracuses, Gorgias of Leontini), more concerned with logic, language and the art of speech.