Greek settlers established colonies in western Asia Minor before 1000 BC. These colonists were called Ionians, and tradition says that they fled to Asia Minor from the mainland of Greece to escape the invading Dorians. Athens claimed to be the mother city of all the Ionian colonists, but modern scholars believe that the Ionians were actually a mixed group (mainly from Attica and Boeotia) and that after migrating they were further mixed by intermarriage with native groups, such as the Carians. Nevertheless, they spoke the same distinctive form of Greek that was spoken in Attica and Euboea, and their culture was always distinguished from that of the Dorians and Aeolians. There came to be 12 major cities : Miletus, Myus, Priene, Samos, Ephesus, Colophon, Lebedos, Teos, Erythrae, Khios, Clazomenae and Phocaea. A religious league (which reached its full power in the 8th cent. B.C.) was formed, with its center at the temple of Poseidon near Mycale. Smyrna, originally an Aeolian colony, later joined the league. The fertility of the region and its excellent harbors brought prosperity to the cities. Traders and colonists traveled the Mediterranean as far west as Spain and up to the shores of the Black Sea.
In the 7th cent. B.C. the Ionian cities were invaded by the Cimmerians, but they survived. In the same century Gyges, king of Lydia, invaded, but it was not until the time of Kroisos (Croesus) that their subjugation was completed. When Kroisos was conquered (before 546 B.C.) by Cyrus the Great of Persia, the Greek cities came under Persian rule.
The Ionians are mentioned in the
catalogue of subject people in the Behistun inscription of the Persian king Darios I the Great. This confirms what we know from the Histories of the Greek researcher Herodotos of Halikarnassos: the Ionians had been subjected by the Persian king Cyrus the Great in the middle of the sixth century. Another confirmation is the precense of Ionian stonemasons at Pasargadae, the capital of Persia. According to Herodotos, the Ionian Greeks were grouped together in one tax district with the Pamphylians, Lykians, Magnesians, Aeolians, Milesians and Karians. The Persian rule was not very exacting, but it was despotic in nature, and at the beginning of the 5th cent. BC the cities rose in revolt against Darios I.
The Ionian Revolt. Around BC 500, Artaphrenes, ruler of the western capital of Persia (Sardis) met with other leaders of Ionia and made them agree not to attack each other. In BC 499, Aristagoras, the ruler of the Ionian city Miletos, yearned to control the city of Naxos. He tried to gain help from surrounding cities but failed. Fearing punishment from Darios I (Persian Emperor from BC 521-486) or Artaphrenes, for breaking the agreement, he incited a rebellion. Aristagoras encouraged the Ionians to remove their leaders. In response, many cities in the area rebelled and ousted their Persian rulers. Knowing that it would not be long until Darios retaliated, Aristagoras traveled to Sparta and appealed to King Kleomenes for aid. When the Spartan leader learned of the distance his army would travel to reinforce the Ionians, he declined the request for aid. Aristagoras, now desperate for support, went to Athens for help. The Athenians, fearing an inevitable attack by the Persians, decided to support Aristagoras and sent ships. The Ionian fleet, bolstered by Athenian and Eretrian ships, sailed to Ephesos in BC 498. The ships were moored at the port of Coressus and the soldiers followed the river Kayster to Sardis, where the Allied Greek force marched into the city meeting little resistance. As they marched deeper, they finally engaged Artaphrenes (ruler of Sardis) who was defending the citadel. Not able to capture the citadel, the Ionians set the city ablaze and retreated to Ephesos. Persians troops in the area met the Greeks at Ephesos and massacred most of them. The remaining Ionians scattered to the surrounding cities.
Despite the great setback of losing so many men, Aristagoras continued his fight against Persia. He encouraged more revolts in Western Asia Minor, Thrace and Cyprus. Aristagoras sent part of his fleet to aid the Cyprians, but the Persians thoroughly defeated the Cyprian army. Darios I decided to attack Karia, a region with close ties to Miletos. When the Karians learned of this plan, they ambushed the Persian army at night and annihilated it, killing four Persian generals in the battle. Although their deaths were a great loss, Persia continued to reclaim cities. Seeing his rebellion collapse and fearing for his life, Aristagoras fled to Mycrinus. He gave command of Miletos over to Pythagoras, a mathematician. Aristagoras, frustrated with his failed rebellion, attacked the Thracians, but in time, he and his army were cut off and destroyed. After Aristagoras left Miletos, the Persian fleet sailed to Lade and destroyed the Greek fleet defending the city. Darios and his army captured Miletos in BC 494. After the city-state fell, the revolts in the Persian Empire crumbled, due to a lack of leadership. The revolt was easily put down, and the Persians set out to punish the allies (Athens and Eretria) of the cities.
The Persian Wars resulted.
In 480, Darios' son and successor Xerxes tried to conquer the Greek mainland and invaded Thessaly. The Ionian army that guarded the Tempe ravine, evacuated the road before the enemy arrived. Not much later, Thessaly surrendered. The Greek navy was defeated at Artemisium and an elite army consisting of Spartans was annihilated at Thermopylae after a three days' fight. Boeotia and Delphi were added to the Achaemenid empire, and in September, Athens fell. There was one setback, however: the Persian navy was attacked and suffered heavily. In spite of the losses at Salamis, Xerxes could truthfully state in the Daiva inscription that, by the favor of Ahuramazda, he ruled "all the Yaunâ (Ionians), those who dwell on this side of the sea and those who dwell across the sea." Whatever the reason, the Persian forces in Europe were not strong enough and the Persian general Mardonius was defeated in the summer of 479 (battle of Plataea). A Greek naval expedition to the east liberated the Ionian towns in Asia Minor.
Although there was to be more fighting in the fifth century, the spheres
of influence were clear. Greek pirates sometimes looted ports in the Achaemenid empire and the Athenians on several occasions attacked Cyprus and Egypt, but these attacks never really changed the balance. The status quo was recognized by the Athenians and the Persian king Artaxerxes I Makrocheir (465-424) in a formal peace treaty (449/448, Peace of Callias). The details of this treaty, however, are obscure. During the Peloponnesian war (431-404), the Athenians and Spartans were at each others throats. In 421, the Athenians seemed to have won the war, and they felt strong enough to interfere in the Persian zone of influence again. When a certain Amorges, son of Pissuthnes, revolted, he received Athenian support (414). The Persian king Darios II Nothus retaliated by supporting Sparta. In the treaty that his satrap Tissaphernes concluded with the Spartans, the latter allowed the Persians to reoccupy Ionia. However, when Sparta had won the war, its king Agesilaos invaded the Achaemenid empire (396-394). He was recalled when the Persian king Artaxerxes II Mnemon started to support Athens and gave it a new navy. When Athens became too powerful, the Persians started to pay the Spartans again. Finally, in 387, the Persian king dictated peace conditions to all the Greeks. Those 'who dwelt on this side of the sea' remained Persian subjects, and 'those who dwelt across the sea' were to be controlled by Sparta. This treaty regulated the relations between the Persians and Greeks for half a century.
During various Greek uprisings, most of the Ionian cities gained a brief freedom, but their fate continued to be subject to treaties with the Persians and changed as Persian fortunes waxed and waned. Alexander the Great easily took (ca. 335 BC) all the Ionian cities in his power, and the Diadochi quarreled over them for years to come. The cities continued to be rich and important through the time of the Roman empire (where they became part of the Roman province of Asia) and later in the Byzantine empire. It was only after the Turkish conquest in the 15th cent. AD that their culture was destroyed.