Dorians (/ˈdɔːriənz/; Greek: Δωριεῖς, Dōrieis,
singular Δωριεύς, Dōrieus) were one of the four major ethnic
groups among which the
Hellenes (or Greeks) of Classical Greece
considered themselves divided (along with the Aeolians, Achaeans, and
Ionians). They are almost always referred to as just "the Dorians",
as they are called in the earliest literary mention of them in the
Odyssey, where they already can be found inhabiting the island of
They were diverse in way of life and social organization, varying from
the populous trade center of the city of Corinth, known for its ornate
style in art and architecture, to the isolationist, military state of
Sparta. And yet, all
Hellenes knew which localities were Dorian, and
which were not. Dorian states at war could more likely, but not
always, count on the assistance of other Dorian states.
distinguished by the
Doric Greek dialect and by characteristic social
and historical traditions.
In the 5th century BC,
Ionians were the two most
politically important Greek ethne, whose ultimate clash resulted in
the Peloponnesian War. The degree to which fifth-century Hellenes
self-identified as "Ionian" or "Dorian" has itself been disputed. At
one extreme Édouard Will concludes that there was no true ethnic
component in fifth-century Greek culture, in spite of anti-Dorian
elements in Athenian propaganda. At the other extreme John Alty
reinterprets the sources to conclude that ethnicity did motivate
fifth-century actions. Moderns viewing these ethnic identifications
through the fifth- and fourth-century BC literary tradition have been
profoundly influenced by their own social politics. Also, according to
E.N. Tigerstedt, nineteenth-century European admirers of virtues they
considered "Dorian" identified themselves as "Laconophile" and found
responsive parallels in the culture of their day as well; their biases
contribute to the traditional modern interpretation of "Dorians".
1.1 Peloponnesian dialect replacement
1.2 Dorian invasion
1.3 Post-migrational distribution of the Dorians
2.1.1 Dorian of
Bronze Age Pylos
Dorians of upland Doris
2.1.4 Chosen Greeks
2.2 Distinctions of language
2.3 Other cultural distinctions
3 Ancient traditions
3.7 Diodorus Siculus
4 See also
7 External links
Accounts vary as to the Dorians' place of origin. One theory, widely
believed in ancient times, is that they originated in the northern
mountainous regions of Greece, ancient Macedonia and Epirus, and
obscure circumstances brought them south into the Peloponnese, to
certain Aegean islands, Magna Graecia,
Lapithos and Crete. Mythology
gave them a Greek origin and eponymous founder,
Dorus son of Hellen,
the mythological patriarch of the Hellenes.
Peloponnesian dialect replacement
The origin of the
Dorians is a multifaceted concept. In modern
scholarship, the term has often meant the location of the population
Doric Greek dialect within a hypothetical
Proto-Greek speaking population. The dialect is known from records of
classical northwestern Greece, the
Crete and some of
the islands. The geographic and ethnic information found in the west's
earliest known literary work, the Iliad, combined with the
administrative records of the former Mycenaean states, prove to
universal satisfaction that East Greek speakers were once dominant in
Peloponnesus but suffered a setback there and were replaced at
least in official circles by West Greek speakers. A historical event
is associated with the overthrow, called anciently the Return of the
Heracleidai and by moderns the Dorian Invasion.
This theory of a return or invasion presupposes that West Greek
speakers resided in northwest
Greece but overran the Peloponnesus
replacing the East Greek there with their own dialect. No records
other than Mycenaean ones are known to have existed in the Bronze Age
so a West Greek of that time and place can be neither proved nor
disproved. West Greek speakers were in western
Greece in classical
times. Unlike the East Greeks, they are not associated with any
evidence of displacement events. That provides circumstantial evidence
that the Doric dialect disseminated among the
Hellenes of northwest
Greece, a highly-mountainous and somewhat-isolated region.
Dorian invasion is a modern historical concept attempting to
at least the replacement of dialects and traditions in southern Greece
in pre-classical times
more generally, the distribution of the
Dorians in Classical Greece
the presence of the
Greece at all
On the whole, none of the objectives has been met, but the
investigations served to rule out various speculative hypotheses. Most
scholars doubt that the
Dorian invasion was the main cause of the
collapse of the Mycenean civilization. The source of the West Greek
speakers in the
Peloponnesus remains unattested by any solid evidence.
Post-migrational distribution of the Dorians
Dorian site of
Lato on the island of Crete
Though most of the Doric invaders settled in the Peloponnese, they
also settled on
Rhodes and Sicily, in what is now Southern Italy. In
Asia Minor existed the Dorian Hexapolis (the six great Dorian cities):
Halikarnassos (Halicarnassus) and
Knidos (Cnidus) in Asia Minor, Kos,
and Lindos, Kameiros, and
Ialyssos on the island of Rhodes. The six
cities would later become rivals with the Ionian cities of Asia Minor.
Dorians also invaded Crete. The origin traditions remained strong
into classical times:
Thucydides saw the
Peloponnesian War in part as
Ionians fighting against Dorians" and reported the tradition that the
Sicily were of Dorian descent. Other such "Dorian"
colonies, originally from Corinth, Megara, and the Dorian islands,
dotted the southern coasts of
Sicily from Syracuse to Selinus. (EB
Greece - the Pindus Mountains
Bronze Age Pylos
A man's name, Dōrieus, occurs in the
Linear B tablets at Pylos, one
of the regions later invaded and subjugated by the Dorians. Pylos
tablet Fn867 records it in the dative case as do-ri-je-we,
*Dōriēwei, a third or consonant declension noun with stem ending in
w. An unattested nominative plural, *Dōriēwes, would have become
Dōrieis by loss of the w and contraction. The tablet records the
grain rations issued to the servants of "religious dignitaries"
celebrating a religious festival of Potnia, the mother goddess.
The nominative singular, Dōrieus, remained the same in the classical
Linear B names of servants were formed from their
home territory or the places where they came into Mycenaean ownership.
According to Carl Darling Buck, the -eus suffix was very productive.
One of its uses was to convert a toponym to an anthroponym; for
example, Megareus, "Megarian," from Megara. A Dōrieus would be
from Dōris, the only classical Greek state to serve as the basis for
the name of the Dorians. The state is a small one in the mountains of
west central Greece. However, classical Doris may not have been the
same as Mycenaean Doris.
Dorians of upland Doris
A number of credible etymologies by noted scholars have been proposed.
Julius Pokorny derives Δωριεύς, Dōrieus from δωρίς,
dōris, "woodland" (which can also mean upland). The dōri-
segment is from the o-grade (either ō or o) of Proto-Indo-European
*deru-, "tree", which also gives the Homeric Δούρειος
Ἵππος (Doureios Hippos, "Wooden Horse"). This derivation has
the advantage of naming the people after their wooded, mountainous
A second popular derivation was given by the French linguist, Émile
Boisacq, from the same root, but from Greek δόρυ (doru)
'spear-shaft' (which was made of wood); i.e., "the people of the
spear" or "spearmen." In this case the country would be named
after the people, as in Saxony from the Saxons. However, R. S. P.
Beekes doubted the validity of this derivation and asserted that no
good etymology exists.
It sometimes happens that different derivations of an Indo-European
word exploit similar-sounding Indo-European roots. Greek doru,
"lance," is from the o-grade of Indo-European *deru, "solid," in the
sense of wood. It is similar to an extended form, *dō-ro-, of *dō-,
(give), as can be seen in the modern Greek imperative δώσε (dose,
"give [sing.]!") appearing in Greek as δῶρον (dōron, "gift").
This is the path taken by Jonathan Hall, relying on elements taken
from the myth of the Return of the Herakeidai.
Hall cites the tradition, based on a fragment of the poet, Tyrtaeus,
Sparta is a divine gift granted by Zeus and Hera" to the
Heracleidae. In another version,
Tyndareus gives his kingdom to
Heracles in gratitude for restoring him to the throne, but Heracles
"asks the Spartan king to safeguard the gift until his descendants
might claim it."
Hall, therefore, proposes that the
Dorians are the people of the gift.
They assumed the name on taking possession of Lacedaemon. Doris was
subsequently named after them. Hall makes comparisons of Spartans to
Hebrews as a chosen people maintaining a covenant with God and being
assigned a Holy Land. To arrive at this conclusion, Hall relies on
Herodotus' version of the myth (see below) that the
Dorus did not take his name until reaching the Peloponnesus. In other
Heracleidae enlisted the help of their Dorian neighbors.
Hall does not address the problem of the
Dorians not calling
Lacedaemon Doris, but assigning that name to some less holy and
remoter land. Similarly, he does not mention the Dorian servant at
Pylos, whose sacred gift, if such it was, was still being ruled by the
Achaean Atreid family at Lacedaemon.
A minor, and perhaps regrettably forgotten, episode in the history of
scholarship was the attempt to emphasize the etymology of Doron with
the meaning of 'hand'. This in turn was connected to an interpretation
of the famous lambda on Spartan shields, which was to rather stand for
a hand with outstanding thumb than the initial letter of
Lacedaimon. Given the origin of the Spartan shield lambda legend,
however, in a fragment by Eupolis, an Athenian comic poet, there has
been a recent attempt to suggest that a comic confusion between the
letter and the hand image may yet have been intended.
Distinctions of language
Main article: Doric Greek
The Doric dialect was spoken in northwest Greece, the Peloponnese,
Crete, southwest Asia Minor, the southernmost islands of the Aegean
Sea, and the various Dorian colonies of
Magna Graecia in Southern
Italy and Sicily. After the classical period, it was mainly replaced
by the Attic dialect upon which the Koine or "common" Greek language
Hellenistic period was based. The main characteristic of Doric
was the preservation of
Proto-Indo-European [aː], long ⟨α⟩,
which in Attic-Ionic became [ɛː], ⟨η⟩. A famous example is the
valedictory phrase uttered by Spartan mothers to their sons before
sending them off to war: ἢ τὰν ἢ ἐπὶ τᾶς (ḕ tàn
ḕ epì tâs, literally "either with it or on it": return alive with
your shield or dead upon it) would have been ἢ τὴν ἢ ἐπὶ
τῆς (ḕ tḕn ḕ epì tês) in the Attic-Ionic dialect of an
Athenian mother. Tsakonian, a descendant of Doric Greek, is still
spoken in some parts of the southern Argolid coast of the Peloponnese,
in the modern prefecture of Arcadia.
Other cultural distinctions
Culturally, in addition to their Doric dialect of Greek, Doric
colonies retained their characteristic Doric calendar that revolved
round a cycle of festivals, the
Hyacinthia and the
Dorian mode in music also was attributed to Doric societies and
was associated by classical writers with martial qualities.
Doric order of architecture in the tradition inherited by
Vitruvius included the Doric column, noted for its simplicity and
Dorian women had a distinctive dress, a tunic (plain dress) that did
not need to be pinned with brooches; it was once common to all
Hellenes. The Ionian women adopted a new dress with a brooch.
Dorians seem to have offered the central mainland cultus for
Helios. The scattering of cults of the sun god in Sicyon, Argos,
Epidaurus and Laconia, and his holy livestock flocks at
Taenarum, seem to suggest that the deity was considerably important in
Dorian religion, compared to other parts of ancient Greece.
Additionally, it may have been the
Dorians to import his worship to
In Greek historiography, the
Dorians are mentioned by many authors.
The chief classical authors to relate their origins are Herodotus,
Thucydides and Pausanias. The most copious authors, however, lived in
Hellenistic and Roman times, long after the main events. This apparent
paradox does not necessarily discredit the later writers, who were
relying on earlier works that did not survive. The customs of the
Spartan state and its illustrious individuals are detailed at great
length in such authors as
Plutarch and Diodorus Siculus.
Odyssey has one reference to the Dorians:
"There is a land called Crete, in the midst of the wine-dark sea, a
fair, rich land, begirt with water, and therein are many men, past
counting, and ninety cities. They have not all the same speech, but
their tongues are mixed. There dwell Achaeans, there great-hearted
native Cretans, there Cydonians, and
Dorians of waving plumes, and
The reference is not compatible with a
Dorian invasion that brought
Crete only after the fall of the Mycenaean states. In the
Odyssey, Odysseus and his relatives visit those states. Two solutions
are possible, either the
Odyssey is anachronistic or
Dorians were on
Crete in Mycenaean times. The uncertain nature of the Dorian invasion
defers a definitive answer until more is known about it.
Tyrtaeus, a lame Athenian warrior-poet, became advisor of the
Lacedaemonians in their mid-7th-century war to suppress a rebellion of
the Messenians. The latter were a remnant of the Achaeans conquered
"two generations before," which suggests a rise to supremacy at the
end of the Dark Age rather than during and after the fall of Mycenae.
The Messenian population was reduced to serfdom.
Only a few fragments of Tyrtaeus' five books of martial verse survive.
His is the earliest mention of the three Dorian tribes: Pamphyli,
Hylleis, Dymanes. He also says:
"For Cronus' Son Himself, Zeus the husband of fair-crowned Hera, hath
given this city to the children of Heracles, with whom we came into
the wide isle of
Pelops from windy Erineus."
Erineus was a village of Doris. He helped to establish the Spartan
constitution, giving the kings and elders, among other powers, the
power to dismiss the assembly. He established a rigorous military
training program for the young including songs and poems he wrote
himself, such as the "Embateria or Songs of the Battle-Charge which
are also called Enoplia or Songs-under-Arms." These were chants used
to establish the timing of standard drills under arms. He stressed
"For 'tis a fair thing for a good man to fall and die fighting in the
van for his native land, ... let us fight with a will for this land,
and die for our children and never spare our lives."
Fifth century BC hoplite, or "heavy-armed soldier", possibly the
Spartan king Leonidas, a Dorian, who died holding the pass at the
Battle of Thermopylae.
Herodotus was from Halicarnassus, a Dorian colony on the southwest
coast of Asia Minor; following the literary tradition of the times he
wrote in Ionic Greek, being one of the last authors to do so. He
described the Persian Wars, giving a thumbnail account of the
histories of the antagonists,
Greeks and Persians.
Sparta was in the valley of the lowermost bay.
Herodotus gives a general account of the events termed "the Dorian
Invasion," presenting them as transfers of population. Their original
home was in Thessaly, central Greece. He goes on to expand in
mythological terms, giving some of the geographic details of the
1.56.2-3 He found by inquiry that the chief peoples were the
Lacedaemonians among those of Doric, and the Athenians among those of
Ionic stock. These races, Ionian and Dorian, were the foremost in
ancient time, the first a Pelasgian and the second a Hellenic people.
The Pelasgian race has never yet left its home; the Hellenic has
wandered often and far. For in the days of king Deucalion it inhabited
the land of Phthia, then the country called Histiaean, under Ossa and
Olympus, in the time of
Dorus son of Hellen; driven from this
Histiaean country by the Cadmeans, it settled about Pindus in the
territory called Macedonian; from there again it migrated to Dryopia,
and at last came from Dryopia into the Peloponnese, where it took the
name of Dorian.
1.57.1-3 What language the
Pelasgians spoke I cannot say definitely.
But if one may judge by those that still remain of the
live above the Tyrrheni1 in the city of Creston—who were once
neighbors of the people now called Dorians, and at that time inhabited
the country which now is called Thessalian and of the
inhabited Placia and Scylace on the Hellespont, who came to live among
the Athenians, and by other towns too which were once Pelasgian and
afterwards took a different name: if, as I said, one may judge by
Pelasgians spoke a language which was not Greek. If, then,
all the Pelasgian stock spoke so, then the Attic nation, being of
Pelasgian blood, must have changed its language too at the time when
it became part of the Hellenes. For the people of Creston and Placia
have a language of their own in common, which is not the language of
their neighbors; and it is plain that they still preserve the manner
of speech which they brought with them in their migration into the
places where they live.
1.58 But the Hellenic stock, it seems clear to me, has always had the
same language since its beginning; yet being, when separated from the
Pelasgians, few in number, they have grown from a small beginning to
comprise a multitude of nations, chiefly because the
many other foreign peoples united themselves with them. Before that, I
think, the Pelasgic stock nowhere increased much in number while it
was of foreign speech.
Thus, according to Herodotus, the
Dorians did not name themselves
Dorus until they had reached Peloponnesus.
Herodotus does not
explain the contradictions of the myth; for example, how Doris,
located outside the Peloponnesus, acquired its name. However, his
goal, as he relates in the beginning of the first book, is only to
report what he had heard from his sources without judgement. In the
myth, the Achaeans displaced from the
Peloponnesus gathered at Athens
under a leader Ion and became identified as "Ionians".
Herodotus' list of Dorian states is as follows. From northeastern
Greece were Phthia,
Histiaea and Macedon. In central
Greece were Doris
(the former Dryopia) and in the south Peloponnesus, specifically the
states of Lacedaemon, Corinth, Sicyon,
Epidaurus and Troezen. Hermione
was not Dorian but had joined the Dorians. Overseas were the
islands of Rhodes, Cos, Nisyrus and the Anatolian cities of Cnidus,
Phaselis and Calydna.
Dorians also colonised Crete
including founding of such towns as Lato,
Dreros and Olous. The
Cynurians were originally
Ionians but had become Dorian under the
influence of their Argive masters.
Thucydides professes little of
Greece before the
Trojan War except to
say that it was full of barbarians and that there was no distinction
between barbarians and Greeks. The
Hellenes came from Phthiotis.
The whole country indulged in and suffered from piracy and was not
settled. After the Trojan War, "Hellas was still engaged in removing
Some 60 years after the
Trojan War the Boeotians were driven out of
Arne by the Thessalians into
Boeotia and 20 years later "the Dorians
and the Heraclids became masters of the Peloponnese." So the lines
were drawn between the
Dorians and the
Aeolians (here Boeotians) with
Ionians (former Peloponnesians).
Other than these few brief observations
Thucydides names but few
Dorians. He does make it clear that some Dorian states aligned or were
forced to align with the Athenians while some
Ionians went with the
Lacedaemonians and that the motives for alignment were not always
ethnic but were diverse. Among the
Dorians was Lacedaemon,
Corinth and Epidamnus, Leucadia, Ambracia,
Potidaea, Rhodes, Cythera, Argos, Carystus, Syracuse, Gela,
Acragas (later Agrigentum), Acrae, Casmenae.
He does explain with considerable dismay what happened to incite
ethnic war after the unity between the Greek states during the Battle
of Thermopylae. The Congress of Corinth, formed prior to it, "split
into two sections." Athens headed one and
Lacedaemon the other:
"For a short time the league held together, till the Lacedaemonians
and Athenians quarreled, and made war upon each other with their
allies, a duel into which all the
Hellenes sooner or later were
He adds: "the real cause I consider to be ... the growth of the power
of Athens and the alarm which this inspired in Lacedaemon...."
In the Platonic work Laws is mentioned that the Achaeans who fought in
the Trojan War, on their return from Troy were driven out from their
homes and cities by the young residents, so they migrated under a
leader named Dorieus and hence they were renamed "Dorians".
Now during this period of ten years, while the siege lasted, the
affairs of each of the besiegers at home suffered much owing to the
seditious conduct of the young men. For when the soldiers returned to
their own cities and homes, these young people did not receive them
fittingly and justly, but in such a way that there ensued a vast
number of cases of death, slaughter, and exile. So they, being again
driven out, migrated by sea; and because Dorieus was the man who then
banded together the exiles, they got the new name of “Dorians,”
instead of “Achaeans.” But as to all the events that follow this,
you Lacedaemonians relate them all fully in your traditions.
The Description of
Greece by Pausanias relates that the Achaeans were
driven from their lands by
Dorians coming from Oeta, a mountainous
region bordering on Thessaly. They were led by Hyllus, a son of
Heracles, but were defeated by the Achaeans. Under other
leadership they managed to be victorious over the Achaeans and remain
in the Peloponnesus, a mythic theme called "the return of the
Heracleidae." They had built ships at
Naupactus in which to cross
the Gulf of Corinth. This invasion is viewed by the tradition of
Pausanias as a return of the
Dorians to the Peloponnesus, apparently
meaning a return of families ruling in
Aetolia and northern
a land in which they had once had a share. The return is described in
detail: there were "disturbances" throughout the
in Arcadia, and new Dorian settlers. Pausanias goes on to describe
the conquest and resettlement of Laconia, Messenia,
elsewhere, and the emigration from there to
Crete and the coast of
Diodorus is a rich source of traditional information concerning the
mythology and history of the Dorians, especially the Library of
History. He does not make any such distinction but the fantastic
nature of the earliest material marks it as mythical or legendary. The
myths do attempt to justify some Dorian operations, suggesting that
they were in part political.
Heracles was a Perseid, a member of the ruling family of Greece. His
Alcmene had both Perseids and Pelopids in her ancestry. A
princess of the realm, she received Zeus thinking he was Amphitryon.
Zeus intended his son to rule
Greece but according to the rules of
succession Eurystheus, born slightly earlier, preempted the right.
Attempts to kill
Heracles as a child failed. On adulthood he was
forced into the service of Eurystheus, who commanded him to perform 12
Heracles became a warrior without a home, wandering from place to
place assisting the local rulers with various problems. He took a
retinue of Arcadians with him acquiring also over time a family of
grown sons, the Heraclidae. He continued this mode of life even after
completing the 12 labors. The legend has it that he became involved
Sparta when the family of king
Tyndareus was unseated and
driven into exile by Hippocoön and his family, who in the process
happened to kill the son of a friend of Heracles. The latter and his
retinue assaulted Sparta, taking it back from Hippocoön. He recalled
Tyndareus, set him up as a guardian regent, and instructed him to turn
the kingdom over to any descendants of his that should claim it.
Heracles went on with the way of life to which he had become
accustomed, which was by today's standards that of a mercenary, as he
was being paid for his assistance. Subsequently, he founded a colony
in Aetolia, then in Trachis.
After displacing the Dryopes, he went to the assistance of the
Dorians, who lived in a land called Hestiaeotis under king Aegimius
and were campaigning against the numerically superior Lapithae. The
Dorians promised him 1/3 of Doris (which they did not yet possess). He
Aegimius to keep his share of the land "in trust" until it
should be claimed by a descendant. He went on to further adventures
but was poisoned by his jealous wife, Deianeira. He immolated himself
in full armor dressed for combat and "passed from among men into the
company of the gods."
Strabo, who depends of course on the books available to him, goes
on to elaborate:
Of these peoples, according to Staphylus, the
Dorians occupy the part
toward the east, the Cydonians the western part, the Eteo-Cretans the
southern; and to these last belongs the town Praisos, where is the
temple of the Dictaean Zeus; whereas the other peoples, since they
were more powerful, dwelt in the plains. Now it is reasonable to
suppose that the Eteo-Cretans and the Cydonians were autochthonous,
and that the others were foreigners ...
Beside this sole reference to
Dorians in Crete, the mention of the
Iliad of the Heraclid Tlepolemus, a warrior on the side of Achaeans
and colonist of three important Dorian cities in
Rhodes has been also
regarded as a later interpolation
Ancient Greek dialects
Dorus, the eponymous founder
Greek Dark Ages
List of Dorian states
Crete various cities
Doris (Asia Minor)
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Peloponnesian War 6.4.
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Greek Dark Ages
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List of ancient Greeks
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