The Ionians were a Greek people who lived on the west coast of Asia Minor (present-day Turkey). They had emigrated from the Greek mainland before 1000 B.C., probably fleeing from the Dorians and other invading tribes from northwestern Greece. Although Athens claimed to be the origin of the Ionians, the historian Herodotus, himself an Ionian, disputed this claim. Athens may have organized some of the expeditions that colonized the area that became known as Ionia.
By the 700s B.C., the Ionians developed a highly advanced culture. The poet Homer is believed to have been Ionian, and his epic* works, the Iliad and the Odyssey, are composed in the Ionian dialect*. Most of the early Greek philosophers* and scientists, such as Thales of Miletus and Pythagoras, were also Ionian. Ionians were seen as intelligent and imaginative as distinguished from the Dorians, who were considered more reliable and stable. In the lands to the east of Greece, the term Ionian was used to refer to Greeks in general.
By the late 500s B.C., Ionia was ruled by the Persian Empire. The Ionians rebelled against Persian rule for five years before they were crushed in 495 B.C. After that time, Ionia was controlled by many different people, including the Athenians, the Persians again, and Alexander the Great. In 133 B.C., King Attalus III left Ionia to the Romans in his will. Under Roman rule, Ionia became part of the province* of Asia, and the Ionian cities of Ephesus, Miletus, Samos, and Smyrna became some of the most prosperous and important cities in the entire Roman Empire. (See also Colonies, Greek; Migrations, Early Greek; Peoples of Ancient Greece and Rome; Philosophy, Greek and Hellenistic; Science.)
* epic long poem about legendary or historical heroes, written in a grand style
* dialect form of speech characteristic of a region that differs from the standard language in pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar
* philosopher scholar or thinker concerned with the study of ideas, including science
* province overseas area controlled by Rome