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Δωριεῖς, Dōrieis, singular Δωριεύς, Dōrieus) were one of the principal ancient Greek tribes, the other three being the Achaeans, the Ionians and the Aeolians. They were distinguished by language, society and historical tradition. Traditional accounts place their origins in the north, north-eastern regions of Greece, ancient Macedonia and Epirus, whence obscure circumstances drove them south into the Peloponnese, to certain Aegean islands, and to the coast of Asia Minor. Late mythology gave them an eponymous founder, Dorus son of Hellen, the mythological patriarch of the Hellenes.

The Dorian identity

Name of the Dorians

The man's name. Dōrieus, receives brief mention in the Linear B tablets at Pylos, one of the regions invaded and subjected 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 plural, *Dōriēwes, would have become Dōrieis by loss of the w and contraction, but in the tablet it is only a man's name. Fn867 concerns itself with contribution of grain to a temple.[1] Whether it means "the Dorian" or had the original meaning of Dorian is unknown.

Julius Pokorny derives Dorian from Doris, "woodland" (which can also mean upland).[2] The Dori- segment would be from the o-grade of Indo-European *deru-, "tree". The original forest must have comprised a much larger area than just Doris. Dorian might be translated as "the country people", "the mountain people", "the uplanders", "the people of the woods" or some such appelation, which is eminently suitable to their reputed origin.

The tradition of Herodotus

The Dorians are mentioned in passing by many authors and inscriptions but the two chief classical authors to relate their origins are Herodotus and Pausanias. The customs of the Spartan state and its illustrious individuals are detailed at great length in such authors as Plutarch.

Herodotus himself was from Halicarnassus, a Dorian colony on the southwest coast of Turkey, who followed the literary tradition of the times and 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 protagonists, Greeks and Persians.

Herodotus mentions that the "people now called the Dorians" were neighbors of the Pelasgians of Thessaly.[3] The women had a distinctive dress, he said, a tunic (plain dress) not needing to be pinned with brooches.[4] They were immigrants to the Peloponnesus.[5] Among them were the people later known as Lacedaemonians, one of whose kings was named Dōrieus.

Most conspicuous among the Dorians of Herodotus are the band of 300 Spartan soldiers under the leadership of king Leonidas, who sacrificed themselves nearly to a man to delay the Persian army in the pass between the mountains and the sea at the Battle of Thermopylae. The one survivor, a messenger, committed suicide.[6] With the time bought by these soldiers the Athenians were able to engineer a Persian defeat at the naval Battle of Salamis. This was the last time that the states of Athens (Ionian ethnicity) and Sparta (Doric ethnicity) respected and admired each other.

The tradition of Pausanias

Another major source on the Dorian identity is the Description of Greece by Pausanias. He relates that the Achaeans of the Peloponnesus were driven from their lands by Dorians coming from Oeta, a mountainous region bordering on Thessaly.[7] They were led by Hyllus, a son of Hercules[8], but were defeated by the Achaeans. Under other leadership they managed to defeat the Achaeans and remain in the Peloponnesus, an event called "the return of the Heracleidae."[9] They had built ships at Naupactus in which to cross the Gulf of Corinth.[10] 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 Greece to a land in which they had once had a share. The return is described in detail: there were "disturbances" throughout the Peloponnesus except in Arcadia, and new Dorian settlers.[11] Pausanias goes on to describe the conquest and resettlement of Laconia, Messenia, Argos and elsewhere, and the emigration from there to Crete and the coast of Asia Minor.

Distinctions of language

Main article: Doric Greek

The Doric dialect was spoken along the coast of the Peloponnese, in Crete and southwest Asia Minor. A close relationship between Doric, North-Western Greek and ancient Macedonian has been postulated. In later periods other dialects predominated, most notably the Attic, upon which the Koine or common Greek language of the Hellenistic period was based. The main characteristic of Doric was the preservation of Indoeuropean [aː], long <α>, which in Attic-Ionic became [ɛː], <η>. Tsakonian Greek, a descendant of Doric Greek and source of great interest to linguists, is extraordinarily still spoken in some regions of the Southern Argolid coast of the Peloponnese, on the coast of the modern prefecture of Arcadia.

Other cultural distinctions

The Dorians are also credited with the introduction of formalized pederasty into the Greek arena. Some have postulated this to have taken place at the time of their original migration, others much later, around 630 BC, starting in Crete and spreading to Sparta and the rest of the Greek city states. According to Erich Bethe,

What the Dorians brought was boy-love as a publicly recognized and honorable institution. The Dorians strictly regulated the love relationship between man and boy and treated it as a very important arrangement very publicly with honorable earnestness under the protection of the family, society, the state, and religion. . . . In Sparta, Crete, and Thebes. . . . the education of the ruling class, resting on pederasty, [was directed towards] arete and manly virtue, which principally manifested itself in war.[12]

The Doric order of architecture and a Dorian mode in music (see also guitar chord roots). The column was noted for its simplicity and strength, the music for its martial qualities. The Doric column is still widely used today, particularly in government buildings and other large edifices. See the Doric order.

Culturally, in addition to their Doric dialect of Greek, these colonies retained their characteristic Doric calendar revolving round a cycle of festivals of which the Hyacinthia and the Carneia were especially important (EB 1911).

The scholarly concept of Dorian invasion

That a Doric-speaking population entered the Peloponnesus from outside of it and displaced some of the previous population there, changing the main dialect from Mycenaean to Doric, is unquestioned. That Mycenaean civilization perished in a series of fiery destructions also is certain. The ancients referred to these events as "the return of the Heracleidae"; that is, ruling families distantly related to those of Mycenaean Greece were returning to claim a share of the land of their ancestors, using a Dorian army to do it.

Kretschmer's external Greeks

"Dorian invasion" is an entirely modern term deriving from the linguistics of Paul Kretschmer. It explains in part the presence of substrate elements in ancient Greek as well as a tradition of non-Greek-speaking Pelasgians existing in pockets among the Greek speakers. Kretschmer proposed that Greek evolved outside of Greece and that the main dialect groups also evolved outside of Greece and were brought in by invasions, which pocketed the Pelasgian speakers. The Dorian invasion was the last of these waves of people. The handbooks of Greek history from then on spoke of Greeks entering Greece. As late as 1956 J.B. Bury's History of Greece (3rd edition) wrote of an

"...invasion which brought the Greek language into Greece."

The weakness in this theory is that it requires an invaded Greece and its mirror image where Greek evolved and continued to evolve into dialects contemporaneously with the invaded Greece. However, although the invaded Greece was amply represented by evidence of all sorts, there was no evidence at all of its hidden mirror.

Greek origin in Greece

The decipherment of Linear B brought a closer study of the evolution of the Greek language and the theory that it actually came into existence in Greece. Bands of warriors entered Greece, it is true, but not as Greeks. When they came to predominate, Proto-Greek evolved in Greece from their language, which took elements from the pre-Greek there. For example, the word for cypress is pre-Greek, and yet it evolved into dialectical forms. The proto-Greeks could only have encountered it in Greece.[13] Wherever the Dorians were coming from, it was not outside Greece.

Destruction at the end of IIIB

Meanwhile the archaeologists were encountering what appeared to be a wave of destruction of Mycenaean palaces. Indeed, the Pylos tablets recorded the dispatch of "coast-watchers", to be followed not long after by the burning of the palace, presumably by invaders from the sea. Carl Blegen wrote

"the telltale track of the Dorians must be recognized in the fire-scarred ruins of all the great palaces and the more important towns which ... were blotted out at the end of Mycenaean IIIB."[14]

Blegen follows Furumark in dating IIIB to 1300-1230 BC. Blegen himself dated the Dorian invasion to 1200 BC. One may also note, that Hittite power in Anatolia collapsed with the destruction of their capital Hattusa and that the late 19th and the 20th dynasties of Egypt also suffered invasions of the Sea Peoples at this time.

Invasion or migration?

Blegen admitted that in the sub-Mycenaean period following 1200

"the whole area seems to have been sparsely populated ..."

Chadwick later went so far as to write:

"...where were all the Dorians during the Mycenaean period? And why were they content to wait in the wings until the time was right for their intervention?"

The very question answers itself: the Dorians were waiting in the wings, archaeologically out of sight in northwest Greece. The problem is that there are no traces of any Dorians anywhere until the start of the Protogeometric period about 1050 BC. Changes in material culture, such as iron, new weapons, and changes in burial practices from Mycenaean group burials in tholos tombs to individual burials and cremation, are associated with the culture of the Dorians.

It is more likely that the Mycenaean civilization went into decline, and the Dorians moved south more gradually into the power vacuum this created. This was a time of great upheaval in the eastern Mediterranean (see Sea Peoples), and the disruption of long-distance trade, as well as civil war and natural disaster, are possible explanations for the destruction of the Mycenaeans. At the same time, there were other population movements such as the colonization of islands in the Aegean sea and the west coast of Asia Minor.

Putting all the evidence together obtains the following view. While the Mycenaeans were rising to power and speaking the initial East Greek, the hill people were speaking the initial West Greek in relative isolation, ruled by families distantly related to the dynasties of the south. When these dynasties destroyed each other through incessant warfare chaos ruled the Aegean for a few generations. Finally the families of the north decided to expand southward, subjugating or subordinating some people and displacing others. They spread Doric into its classical distribution, where it evolved even further into subdialects.

Because of the evidence that they did invade Greece, they now saw that their military service was a very big influence on Greece.

Post-migrational distribution of the Dorians

Though most of the Doric invaders settled in the Peloponnese, they also settled on Rhodes and in Asia Minor, where in later times the Dorian Hexapolis (the six Dorian cities) would arise: Halikarnassos (Halicarnassus) and Knidos (Cnidus) in Asia Minor, Kos, and Lindos, Kameiros, and Ialyssos on the island of Rhodes. These six cities would later become rivals with the Ionian cities of Asia Minor. The Dorians also invaded Crete. These 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 Syracusans in Sicily were of Dorian descent.[15] Other such "Dorian" colonies, originally from Corinth, Megara, and the Dorian islands, dotted the southern coasts of Sicily from Syracuse to Selinus. (EB 1911).

Legendary origins

According to legend, the Dorians were named for the minor district of Doris in northern Greece. Their leaders were mythologized as the Heracleidae, the sons of the hero Heracles, and the Dorian incursion into Greece in the distant past was justified in the mythic theme of the "Return of the Heracleidae".


The Doric column is still widely used today, particularly in government buildings and other large edifices. See the Doric order.


  1. ^ The ultimate authority on most Linear B topics, except for the specialized journals, is Ventris and Chadwick, Documents in Mycenaean Greek. This specialized work is generally found only the classics libraries of universities. However, an article by Killen (a Mycenaean linguist) is available on the Internet, RELIGION AT PYLOS: THE EVIDENCE OF THE Fn TABLETS, which concerns itself with Fn867, but does not mention the name of interest here.
  2. ^ To find this derivation, search Doris in Pokorny's section of the INDO-EUROPEAN ETYMOLOGICAL DICTIONARY at Leiden University whenever the server is available. Some knowledge of German is required.
  3. ^ 1.57, online at Perseus.
  4. ^ 5.87, online at Perseus.
  5. ^ 8.73, online at Perseus.
  6. ^ Book 7
  7. ^ 5.1.2, online at Perseus.
  8. ^ 4.30.1, online at Perseus; 8.5.1, online at Perseus.
  9. ^ 3.1.6 online, 5.3.5ff online, 7.1.6 online, 7.3.9 online, 8.5.6 online
  10. ^ 10.38.10
  11. ^ 2.13.1
  12. ^ Erich Bethe, "Die dorische Knabenliebe: ihre Ethik une ihre Idee," Rheinisches Museum für Philologie, 62; 1907 pp441, 444
  13. ^ John Chadwick, The Mycenaean World, Chapter 1.
  14. ^ The Mycenaean Age, in Lectures in Memory of Louise Taft Semple, First Series, 1961–1965, Princeton University press, 1967.
  15. ^ 7.57


  • Die Dorier (The Dorians), Karl Otfried Müller (1824).
  • The History and Antiquities of the Doric Race, Karl Otfried Müller, Eng. trans., Oxford, 1830. 2 vols.
  • The End of the Bronze Age: Changes in Warfare and the Catastrophe CA. 1200 B.C., Robert Drews, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, 1993.
  • Ancient Greece: A Political, Social, and Cultural History, Sarah B. Pomeroy et al., Oxford University Press, 1999.


  • Meriam-Webster Online Dictionary
  • The Dorians, University of Minnesota Ancient Greek Civilizations site
  • Encyclopaedia Britannica 1911: "Dorians"
  • George Hinge, Scythian and Spartan Analogies in Herodotos’ Representation
  • The Dorians, Pan-Macedonian site
  • Efi Pandermali-Poulaki, Olympus, Pan-Macedonian site
    Retrieved from "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dorian"

See also

Greek Dark Ages



  • Die Dorier (The Dorians), Karl Otfried Müller (1824).
  • The History and Antiquities of the Doric Race, Karl Otfried Müller, Eng. trans., Oxford, 1830. 2 vols.
  • The End of the Bronze Age: Changes in Warfare and the Catastrophe CA. 1200 B.C., Robert Drews, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, l993.





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