Cradle of Civilization

A Blog about the Birth of Our Civilisation and Development

The history of the Greeks

Posted by Fredsvenn on July 27, 2015


The Bronze Age in mainland Greece is generally termed as the “Helladic period” by modern archaeologists, after Hellas, the Greek name for Greece. This period is divided into three subperiods: The Early Helladic (EH) period (c. 2900–2000 BC) was a time of prosperity with the use of metals and a growth in technology, economy and social organization. The Middle Helladic (MH) period (ca. 2000–1650 BC) faced a slower pace of development, as well as the evolution of megaron-type cist graves. Finally, the Late Helladic (LH) period (c. 1650–1050 BC) roughly coincides with Mycenaean Greece.

The Late Helladic period is further divided into LHI, LHII, both of which coincide with the early period of Mycenaean Greece (c. 1650–1425 BC), and LHIII (c. 1425–1050 BC), the period of expansion, decline and collapse of the Mycenaean civilization. The transition period from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age in Greece is known as Sub-Mycenaean (c. 1050–1000 BC).

The Greeks or Hellenes are an ethnic group native to Greece, Cyprus, Albania, Anatolia, Southern Italy, and other regions. They also form a significant diaspora, with Greek communities established around the world.

The Greeks speak the Greek language, which forms its own unique branch within the Indo-European family of languages, the Hellenic. They are part of a group of pre-modern ethnicities, described by Anthony D. Smith as an “archetypal diaspora people”.

Greek colonies and communities have been historically established on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea and Black Sea, but the Greek people have always been centered around the Aegean and Ionian seas, where the Greek language has been spoken since the Bronze Age.

There were four major tribes that the Greeks considered themselves divided into, during the ancient period; alongside Ionians, Dorians, Aeolians and Achaeans. There were three major linguistic divisions of the Hellenic world; Ionic, Dorian and Aeolian.

The Dorian invasion was followed by a poorly attested period of migrations, appropriately called the Greek Dark Ages, but by 800 BC the landscape of Archaic and Classical Greece was discernible.

In the Homeric epics, the Greeks of prehistory are viewed as the ancestors of the early classical civilization of Homer’s own time, while the Mycenaean pantheon included many of the divinities (e.g. Zeus, Poseidon and Hades) attested in later Greek religion.

The ethnogenesis of the Greek nation is marked, according to some scholars, by the first Olympic Games in 776 BC, when the idea of a common Hellenism among the Greek-speaking tribes was first translated into a shared cultural experience and Hellenism was primarily a matter of common culture.

The classical period of Greek civilization covers a time spanning from the early 5th century BC to the death of Alexander the Great, in 323 BC (some authors prefer to split this period into ‘Classical’, from the end of the Persian wars to the end of the Peloponnesian War, and ‘Fourth Century’, up to the death of Alexander). It is so named because it set the standards by which Greek civilization would be judged in later eras.

While the Greeks of the classical era understood themselves to belong to a common Greek genos their first loyalty was to their city and they saw nothing incongruous about warring, often brutally, with other Greek city-states. The Peloponnesian War, the large scale Greek civil war between Athens and Sparta and their allies, is a case in point.

Most of the feuding Greek city-states were, in some scholars’ opinions, united under the banner of Philip’s and Alexander the Great’s pan-Hellenic ideals, though others might generally opt, rather, for an explanation of “Macedonian conquest for the sake of conquest” or at least conquest for the sake of riches, glory and power and view the “ideal” as useful propaganda directed towards the city-states.


The Proto-Greeks probably arrived at the area now called Greece, in the southern tip of the Balkan peninsula, at the end of the 3rd millennium BC, though a later migration by sea from Anatolia has also been suggested. The sequence of migrations into the Greek mainland during the 2nd millennium BC has to be reconstructed on the basis of the ancient Greek dialects, as they presented themselves centuries later and are therefore subject to some uncertainties.

There were at least two migrations, the first being the Ionians and Aeolians, which resulted in Mycenaean Greece by the 16th century BC, and the second, the Dorian invasion, around the 11th century BC, displacing the Arcadocypriot dialects, which descended from the Mycenaean period. Both migrations occur at incisive periods, the Mycenaean at the transition to the Late Bronze Age and the Doric at the Bronze Age collapse.

The Aeolic dialect (also Aeolian, Lesbian or Lesbic dialect), the set of dialects of Ancient Greek spoken mainly in Boeotia (a region in Central Greece); Thessaly, in the Aegean island of Lesbos; and the Greek colonies of Asia Minor (Aeolis), shows many archaisms in comparison to the other Ancient Greek dialects (Attic/Ionic, Doric, Northwestern and Arcadocypriot), as well as many innovations.

Aeolis or Aeolia was an area that comprised the west and northwestern region of Asia Minor, mostly along the coast, and also several offshore islands (particularly Lesbos), where the Aeolian Greek city-states were located.

There were some suggestions of three waves of migration indicating a Proto-Ionian one, either contemporary or even earlier than the Mycenaean. This possibility appears to have been first suggested by Ernst Curtius in the 1880s. In current scholarship, the standard assumption is to group the Ionic together with the Arcadocypriot group as the successors of a single Middle Bronze Age migration in dual opposition to the “western” group of Doric.

Eric P. Hamp, in his 2012 Indo-European linguistic family tree, groups the Greek language and Ancient Macedonian (“Helleno-Macedonian”) along with Armenian in the Pontic Indo-European (also called Helleno-Armenian) subgroup.

In Hamp’s view, the homeland of this subgroup is the northeast coast of the Black Sea and its hinterlands. From there, they migrated southeast into the Caucasus with the Armenians remaining near Batumi, while the pre-Greeks proceeded westwards along the southern coast of the Black Sea to enter the Aegean and Peloponnesus from Asia Minor and Cyprus via Pamphylia.

In this migration, Troy was a barrier to further migration directly west or to the northwest, so first the pre-Cypriots and then other groups of pre-Hellenics turned south with the pre-Cypriots continuing south to Pamphyllia and ultimately Cyprus, while the other groups crossed the Aegean. The Mycenean Greeks arrived in Thebes and Thessaly before the Aeolians and were the first Greeks on Crete.

The Mycenaeans were ultimately the first Greek-speaking people attested through historical sources, written records in the Linear B script, and through their literary echoes in the works of Homer, a few centuries later.

Mycenaean Greece

Mycenaean Greece refers to the last phase of the Bronze Age in Ancient Greece (c. 1600–1100 BC). It represents the first advanced civilization in mainland Greece, with its palatial states, urban organization, works of art and writing system. The most prominent site was Mycenae, in Argolid, to which the culture of this era owes its name. Mycenaean and Mycenaean influenced settlements also appeared in Epirus, Macedonia, on islands in the Aegean Sea, on the coast of Asia Minor, the Levant, Cyprus and Italy.

Excavations at Miletus, southwest Asia Minor, suggest that Mycenaeans settled there already from c. 1450 BC, replacing the previous Minoan installations. This site became a sizable and prosperous Mycenaean centre for most of the Late Bronze Age until the 12th century BC.

Apart from the archaeological evidence, this is also attested in Hittite records, which indicate that Miletos (Milawata in Hittite) was the most important base for Mycenaean activity in Asia Minor. Mycenaean presence also reached the adjacent sites of Iasus and Ephesus.

Meanwhile, imposing palaces were built in the main Mycenaean centres of the mainland. The earliest palace structures were megaron-type buildings, such as the Menelaion in Sparta, Lakonia. Palaces proper are datable from c. 1400 BC, when Cyclopean fortifications were erected at Mycenae and nearby Tiryns.

Additional palaces were built in Midea and Pylos in Peloponnese, Athens, Eleusis, Thebes and Orchomenos in Central Greece and Iolcos, in Thessaly, the latter being the northernmost Mycenaean center.

Knossos in Crete became also a Mycenaean center, where the former Minoan complex intervened a number of adjustments, including the addition of a throne room. These centres were based on a rigid network of bureaucracy while administrative competences, were classified in various sections and offices, according to specialization of work and trades.

At the head of this society was the king, known as wanax (Linear B: wa-na-ka) in Mycenaean Greek terms. All powers were centred on him, who was the main landlord, the spiritual and military leader. At the same time he was an entrepreneur and trader and was aided by a network of high officials. The activities of the wanax covered virtually all aspects of palatial life, as the Linear B records indicate.

The usual form of burial during this period was inhumation. The earliest Mycenaean burials were mostly in individual graves in the form of a pit or a stone lined cist and offerings were limited to pottery and occasional items of jewellery. Groups of pit or cist graves containing elite members of the community were sometimes covered by a tumulus (mound) in the manner established since the Middle Helladic.

These Bronze Age people were equipped with horses, surrounded themselves with luxury goods, and constructed elaborate shaft graves. The Shaft Graves found in Mycenae signified the elevation of a new Greek-speaking royal dynasty whose economic power depended on long-distance sea trade.

Beginning also in the Late Helladic period are to be seen communal tombs of rectangular form. Nevertheless, it is difficult to establish whether the different forms of burial represent a social hierarchization, as was formerly thought, with the “tholos” being the tombs of the elite rulers, the individual tombs those of the leisure class, and the communal tombs those of the people.

Cremations increased in number over the course of the period, becoming quite numerous in last phase of the Mycenaean era. The tholos was introduced during the early 15th century as the new and more imposing form of elite.

The most impressive tombs of the Mycenaean era are the monumental royal tombs of Mycenae, undoubtedly intended for the royal family of the city. The most famous is the Treasury of Atreus, a tholos.

A total of nine of such tholos tombs are found in the vicinity of Mycenae, while six of them belong to a single period (Late Helladic IIa, c. 1400-1300 BC). It has been argued that different dynasties or factions may have competed through conspicuous burial.

Mycenaean Greece perished with the collapse of Bronze-Age culture in the eastern Mediterranean. Various theories have been proposed for the end of this civilization, among them the Dorian invasion or activities connected to the “Sea People”. Additional theories such as natural disasters and climatic changes have been also suggested. The Mycenaean period became the historical setting of much ancient Greek literature and mythology, including the Trojan Epic Cycle.

The Mycenaeans quickly penetrated the Aegean Sea and, by the 15th century BC, had reached Rhodes, Crete, Cyprus, where Teucer is said to have founded the first colony, and the shores of Asia Minor. Around 1200 BC the Dorians, another Greek-speaking people, followed from Epirus.

Mycenaean civilization originated and evolved from the society and culture of the Early and Middle Helladic period in mainland Greece under influences from Minoan Crete. Towards the end of the Middle Bronze Age (c. 1600 BC) a significant increase in the population and the number of settlements occurred.

A number of centres of power emerged in southern mainland Greece dominated by a warrior elite society, while the typical dwellings of that era were an early type of megaron buildings. Some more complex structures are classified as forerunners of the later palaces. In a number of sites, defensive walls were also erected.

Meanwhile, new types of burials and more imposing ones have been unearthed, which display a great variety of luxurious objects. Among the various burials types, the shaft grave became the most common form of elite burial, a feature that gave the name to the early period of Mycenaean Greece. Among the Mycenaean elite, deceased males were usually laid in gold masks and funerary armor, while females in gold crowns and clothes gleaming with gold ornaments.

The royal shaft graves next to the acropolis of Mycenae, in particular the Grave Circles A and B signified the elevation of a native Greek-speaking royal dynasty whose economic power depended on long-distance sea trade.

During this period, the Mycenaean centers witnessed increased contacts with the outside world and especially with the Cyclades and the Minoan centers in the island of Crete.

Mycenaean presence appears to be also depicted in a fresco at Akrotiri, on Thera island, which possibly displays many warriors in Boar’s tusk helmets, a feature typical of Mycenaean warfare.

In the early 15th century, commerce intensified with Mycenaean pottery reaching the western coast of Asia Minor, including Miletus and Troy, Cyprus, Lebanon, Palestine and Egypt.

At the end of the Shaft Grave era, a new and more imposing type of elite burial emerged, the Tholos: large circular burial chambers with high vaulted roofs and a straight entry passage lined with stone.

The eruption of Thera, which according to archaeological data occurred in c. 1500 BC, resulted in the decline of the Minoan civilization of Crete. This turn of events gave the opportunity to the Mycenaeans to spread their influence throughout the Aegean. Around c. 1450 BC, they were in control of Crete itself, including Knossos, and colonized several other Aegean islands, reaching as far as Rhodes.

Thus the Mycenaeans became the dominant power of the region, marking the beginning of the Mycenaean ‘Koine’ era (from Greek: Κοινή, common), a highly uniform culture that spread in mainland Greece and the Aegean.

From the early 14th century BC, Mycenaean trade began to take advantage of the new trading opportunities in the Mediterranean after the Minoan collapse. The trade routes were expanded further reaching Cyprus, Amman in the Near East, Apulia in Italy and Spain. At that time (c. 1400 BC), the palace of Knossos yielded the earliest records of the Greek Linear B script, based on the previous Linear A of the Minoans.

The use of the new script spread in mainland Greece and offers valuable insight of the administrative network of the palatial centres. However, the unearthed records are of limited value for the reconstruction of the political landscape in Bronze Age Greece.

Grave Circle A

Grave Circle A in Mycenae is a 16th-century BC royal cemetery situated to the south of the Lion Gate, the main entrance of the Bronze Age citadel of Mycenae, southern Greece. This burial complex was initially constructed outside the fortification walls of Mycenae, but was ultimately enclosed in the acropolis when the fortifications were extended during the 13th century BC.

Grave Circle A and Grave Circle B, the latter found outside the walls of Mycenae, represent one of the major characteristics of the early phase of the Mycenaean civilization. The circle has a diameter of 27.5 m (90 ft) and contains six shaft graves, where a total of nineteen bodies were buried. It has been suggested that a mound was constructed over each grave, and funeral stelae were erected.

Among the objects found were a series of gold death masks, additionally beside the deceased were full sets of weapons, ornate staffs as well as gold and silver cups. The site was excavated by the archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann in 1876, following the descriptions of Homer and Pausanias.

One of the gold masks he unearthed became known as the “The Death Mask of Agamemnon”, ruler of Mycenae according to Greek mythology. However, it has been proved that the burials date circa three centuries earlier, before Agamemnon is supposed to have lived.

The shaft graves at Mycenae within Grave Circles A and B belong to the same period represent an alternative manner of grouping elite burials. Next to the deceased were found full sets of weapons, ornate staffs as well as gold and silver cups and other valuable objects which point to their social rank.

Linear B

Mycenaean Greek is the most ancient attested form of the written Greek language, used on the Greek mainland, Crete and Cyprus in the 16th to 12th centuries BC, before the hypothesised Dorian invasion which was often cited as the terminus post quem for the coming of the Greek language to Greece. The language is preserved in inscriptions in Linear B, a script first attested on Crete before the 14th century BC.

Most instances of these inscriptions are on clay tablets found in Knossos in central Crete, and in Pylos in the southwest of the Peloponnese. Other tablets have been found at Mycenae itself, Tiryns and Thebes and at Chania in Western Crete. The language is named after Mycenae, one of the major centres of Mycenaean Greece.

The tablets remained long undeciphered, and every conceivable language was suggested for them, until Michael Ventris deciphered the script in 1952 and by a preponderance of evidence demonstrated the language to be an early form of Greek.

The texts on the tablets are mostly lists and inventories. No prose narrative survives, much less myth or poetry. Still, much may be glimpsed from these records about the people who produced them and about Mycenaean Greece, the period before the so-called Greek Dark Ages.

The Mycenaean language is preserved in Linear B writing, which consists of about 200 syllabic signs and logograms. Since Linear B was derived from Linear A, the script of an undeciphered Minoan language probably unrelated to Greek, it does not reflect fully the phonetics of Mycenaean.

Linear B is a syllabic script that was used for writing Mycenaean Greek, the earliest attested language form of Greek. The script predates the Greek alphabet by several centuries. The oldest Mycenaean writing dates to about 1450 BC. It is descended from the older Linear A, an undeciphered earlier script used for writing the Minoan language, as is the later Cypriot syllabary, which also recorded Greek.

Linear B, found mainly in the palace archives at Knossos, Cydonia, Pylos, Thebes and Mycenae, disappeared with the fall of Mycenaean civilization during the Bronze Age Collapse. The succeeding period, known as the Greek Dark Ages, provides no evidence of the use of writing.

It is also the only one of the three “Linears” (the third being Linear C, aka Cypro-Minoan 1) to be deciphered, by English architect and self-taught linguist, Michael Ventris.

The decipherment of the Mycenaean Linear B script, a writing system adapted for the use of the Greek language of the Late Bronze Age, demonstrated the continuity of Greek speech from the 2nd millennium BC into the 8th century BC when a new script emerged. Moreover, it pointed out that the bearers of Mycenaean culture were ethnically connected with the populations that resided in the Greek peninsula after the end of this cultural period.

Kurgan culture

The acropolis of Mycenae, one of the main centers of Mycenaean culture, located in Argolis, northeast Peloponnese, was built on a defensive hill at an elevation of 128 m (420 ft) and covers an area of 30,000 m2 (320,000 sq ft). It has been argued that this form dates back to the Kurgan culture. Pit and cist graves remained in use for single burials throughout the Mycenaean period alongside more elaborate family graves.

The Catacomb culture (ca. 2800–2200 BC) refers to a group of related cultures in the early Bronze Age occupying essentially what is present-day Ukraine. It was preceded by the Yamna culture and was succeeded by the Srubna culture (18th–12th centuries BC) in the Pontic steppe from ca. the 17th century BC.

The Srubna culture, in English known as Timber-grave culture, was a successor to the Yamna culture (Pit Grave culture) and the Poltavka culture. The historical Cimmerians have been suggested as descended from this culture.

It occupied the area along and above the north shore of the Black Sea from the Dnieper eastwards along the northern base of the Caucasus to the area abutting the north shore of the Caspian Sea, west of the Ural Mountains to come up against the domain of the approximately contemporaneous and somewhat related Andronovo culture.

The name Catacomb culture comes from its burial practices. These are similar to those of the Yamna culture, but with a hollowed-out space off the main shaft, creating the “catacomb”. Animal remains were incorporated into a small minority of graves.

In certain graves there was the distinctive practice of what amounts to modelling a clay mask over the deceased’s face, creating an obvious if not necessarily correct association to the famous gold funeral mask of Agamemnon.

The economy was essentially stock-breeding, although traces of grain have been found. There seem to have been skilled specialists, particularly metal-workers.

The origin of the Catacomb culture is disputed. Jan Lichardus enumerates three possibilities: a local development departing from the previous Yamna Culture only, a migration from Central Europe, or an oriental origin.

The culture was the first to introduce corded pottery decorations into the steppes and shows a profuse use of the polished battle axe, providing a link to the West. Parallels with the Afanasevo culture, including provoked cranial deformations, provide a link to the East.

The linguistic composition of the Catacomb culture is unclear. Within the context of the Kurgan hypothesis expounded by Marija Gimbutas, an Indo-European component is hard to deny, particularly in the later stages. Placing the ancestors of the Greek, Armenian and Paleo-Balkan dialects here is tempting, as it would neatly explain certain shared features.

More recently, the Ukrainian archaeologist V. Kulbaka has argued that the Late Yamna cultures of ca. 3200–2800 BC, esp. the Budzhak, Starosilsk, and Novotitarovka groups, might represent the Greek-Armenian-“Aryan”(=Indo-Iranian) ancestors (Graeco-Aryan, Graeco-Armenian), and the Catacomb culture that of the “unified” (to ca. 2500 BC) and then “differentiated” Indo-Iranians.

The Yamna culture was preceded by the Sredny Stog culture, Khvalynsk culture and Dnieper-Donets culture, while succeeded by the Catacomb culture and the Srubna culture. Significantly, animal grave offerings were made (cattle, sheep, goats and horse), a feature associated with Proto-Indo-Europeans.

The earliest remains in Eastern Europe of a wheeled cart were found in the “Storozhova mohyla” kurgan (Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine, excavated by Trenozhkin A.I.) associated with the Yamna culture.

The Yamna culture is identified with the late Proto-Indo-Europeans (PIE) in the Kurgan hypothesis of Marija Gimbutas. It is the strongest candidate for the Urheimat (homeland) of the Proto-Indo-European language, along with the preceding Sredny Stog culture, now that archaeological evidence of the culture and its migrations has been closely tied to the evidence from linguistics and genetics.

DNA from the remains of nine individuals associated with the Yamna culture from the border between Samara Oblast and Orenburg Oblast has been analyzed. The remains have been dated to 3339-2700 BCE. Y-chromosome sequencing revealed that one of the individuals belonged to haplogroup R1b1-P25 (the subclade could not be determined), one individual belonged to haplogroup R1b1a2a-L23 (and to neither the Z2103 nor the L51 subclades), and five individuals belonged to R1b1a2a2-Z2103. The individuals belonged to mtDNA haplogroups U4a1, W6, H13a1a1a, T2c1a2, U5a1a1, H2b, W3a1a and H6a1b.

A 2015 genome wide study of 94 ancient skeletons from Europe and Russia concluded that Yamnaya autosomal characteristics are very close to the Corded Ware culture people with an estimated a 73% ancestral contribution from the Yamnaya DNA in the DNA of Corded Ware skeletons from Germany. The same study estimated a 40–54% ancestral contribution of the Yamnaya in the DNA of modern Central & Northern Europeans, and a 20–32% contribution in modern Southern Europeans, excluding Sardinians (7.1% or less) and to a lesser extent Sicilians (11.6% or less).

Pavel Dolukhanov argues that the emergence of the Pit-Grave culture represents a social development of various local Bronze Age cultures, representing “an expression of social stratification and the emergence of chiefdom-type nomadic social structures”, which in turn intensified inter-group contacts between essentially heterogeneous social groups.

The Bronze Age Indo-European invasion of Europe

Last summer, I was eagerly awaiting the publication of the genome of the Tyrolean Iceman. It is quite remarkable that only a year later, there is now autosomal DNA from half a dozen prehistoric Europeans. By comparing their DNA to that of modern populations, we are beginning to understand how the current mosaic of European peoples was formed.

The ancient samples vary greatly in the number of SNPs tested, and we cannot be sure how well they map to the restricted range of modern populations. Nonetheless, a crystal clear general pattern seems to emerge, at least in its broadest outlines.

We can plainly see that European hunter-gatherers best map to the modern Atlantic Baltic population component. This is well represented in the remotest areas of Europe, the ones most distant from the Near Eastern womb of nations.

It can be reasonably supposed that the modern Atlantic Baltic component partially captures alleles present in the ancient European hunter-gatherers, the mtDNA haplogroup U population that seems to stretch from Iberia to Siberia. However, this does not mean that the Atlantic Baltic component represents hunter-gatherer ancestry only.

Conversely, ancient European farmers also possess a large chunk of the Southern component which is absent in the hunter-gatherers. This occurs at high frequencies today around the Mediterranean and reaches its maximum in the Near East. It is clear that there is direct evidence that farming came to Europe not as an idea, but as a people, just as archaeology and physical anthropology had always indicated — until the rather modern distaste for migration set in.

But there is another component present in modern Europe, the West Asian which is conspicuous in its absence in all the ancient samples so far. This component reaches its highest occurrence in the highlands of West Asia, from Anatolia and the Caucasus all the way to the Indian subcontinent. It is well represented in modern Europeans, reaching its minima in the Iberian peninsula, Sardinia, and Finland. A sampling of populations, including those closest geographically to the ancient samples:

The West Asian component has a pan-European distribution: it must have been involved in a pan-European process rather than a more localized historical phenomenon. Its absence from prehistoric individuals down to ~5ky ago suggests that it may have been added to the European population at a later date, although it may already have been present in currently unsampled areas (e.g., the Balkans) prior to 5kya. It reaches its lowest occurrence in areas where non-Indo-European languages have been spoken (Basques and Iberia in general, Sardinia, and Finland)

The post-5kya timeframe is also conventionally accepted by linguists for either the dispersal of Indo-European languages, or at least of a significant subset thereof. In that respect, it is important to note the correspondence between the West Asian autosomal component and the k5 component of Metspalu et al. (2011): the latter is the major West Eurasian element in the Indian subcontinent. If a major episode of West Eurasian admixture took place in India 1,200-4,000 years ago, and keeping in mind uncertainties about dating, it may very well be that this corresponds, at least in part, to the eastern manifestation of the same phenomenon.

The Bronze Age is an important transitional phase in European archaeology: distinctive archaeological cultures with distinctive physical types make their appearance across the continent. There appears to be substantial innovation in metallurgy, weapons and transportation, increase in raiding, abandonment of settlements, and formation of broad-range confederacies with distinctive archaeological markers.

A quantum leap in social complexity occurred during this period. Remarkably, after ~4,000YBP, there are no longer farmers and hunter-gatherers as distinct cultures anywhere in Europe, and their mtDNA gene pools begin to expand in synch with each other. It may very well be that climatic upheavals framing this period may have triggered population movements, both Indo-European and Semitic.

Perhaps, through a combination of better technology and social organization, the Indo-European speaking nucleus, originally one among many linguistic groups of the prehistoric Near East were able to transmit their language, culture, and ideology to much larger populations, by alternatively subjugating or incorporating them. We can thus view the Indo-European bearers as “creative destructors”, upsetting the balance of established societies and re-creating them in their own image.

Both the wide differences in genetic composition among present-day Indo-European speakers, and their early-attested physical contrasts testify to the fact that the original IE nucleus did not maintain itself apart –at least not for long!– from the populations they encountered; in this they appear different from the earlier farmers who apparently kept their Mediterranean affinity even in the northernmost edge of their expansion, thousands of years after their entry into Europe.

Nonetheless, some of the legacy of the earliest Indo-European speakers does appear to persist down to the present day in the genomes of their linguistic descendants, and I predict that when we sample later (post 5-4kya) individuals we will finally find the West Asian piece that is missing from the European puzzle.

India has one of the genetical most diverse populations in the world. The history of this genetic diversity is the topic of continued research and debate. A recent series of research papers, by Reich et al. (2009), Metspalu et al. (2011), and Moorjani et al. (2013), make clear that India was peopled by two distinct groups ca. 50,000 years ago, which form the basis for the present population of India. These two groups mixed between 4,200 to 1,900 years ago (2200 BCE-100 CE), whereafter a shift to endogamy took place.

Several studies show significant differences between northern and southern India, and higher and lower castes, with northern India and the higher castes showing stronger relatedness to West Eurasian DNA. Several studies rule out the possibility of a large-scale “invasion” by Indo-Aryans, but do show traces of later influxes of genetic material, while others have argued for the possibility of genetic influx by Aryan migrations. Genetic studies also show that language shift is possible without a change in genetics.

One group is more common in the south, and amongst lower castes, and the other more common amongst upper caste Indians, Indians speaking Indo-European languages, and also Indians living in the northwest. This northwest component is shared with populations from the Middle East, Europe and Central Asia, and is thought to represent at least one ancient influx of people from the northwest. Research by Reich et al. indicates that there has been a low influx of female genetic material since 50,000 years ago, but a “male gene flow from groups with more ANI relatedness into ones with less.”

According to Saraswathy et al. (2010), there is “a major genetic contribution from Eurasia to North Indian upper castes” and a “greater genetic inflow among North Indian caste populations than is observed among South Indian caste and tribal populations.” According to Basu et al. (2003) and Saraswathy et al. (2010) certain sample populations of upper caste North Indians show a stronger affinity to Central Asian caucasians, whereas southern Indian Brahmins show a less stronger affinity.

Metspalu et al. (2011) concluded that the Indian populations are characterized by two major ancestry components, one of which is spread at comparable frequency and haplotype diversity in populations of South and West Asia and the Caucasus. The second component is more restricted to South Asia and accounts for more than 50% of the ancestry in Indian populations. Haplotype diversity associated with these South Asian ancestry components is significantly higher than that of the components dominating the West Eurasian ancestry palette.

According to Moorjani et al. (2013), the two groups mixed between 1,900 to 4,200 years ago (2200 BCE-100 CE), where-after “mixture even between closely related groups became rare because of a shift to endogamy.”

To the east

The Tashtyk culture was an archaeological culture that flourished in the Yenisei valley in Siberia from the first to the fourth century CE. Located in the Minusinsk Depression, environs of modern Krasnoyarsk, eastern part of Kemerovo Oblast, it was preceded by the Tagar culture, one of the largest centres of bronze-smelting in ancient Eurasia.

The Tagar culture was a Bronze Age archeological culture which flourished between the 8th and 2nd centuries BC in South Siberia (Republic of Khakassia, southern part of Krasnoyarsk Territory, eastern part of Kemerovo Province). The culture was named after an island in the Yenisey River opposite Minusinsk.

The Tagars have been described by archaeologists as exhibiting pronounced Europoid features. They are believed to have belonged to the Scythian circle. Perhaps the most striking feature of the culture are huge royal kurgans fenced by stone plaques, with four vertical stelae marking the corners. The Tagar culture was preceded by the Karasuk culture.

The Karasuk culture describes a group of Bronze Age societies who ranged from the Aral Sea to the upper Yenisei in the east and south to the Altai Mountains and the Tian Shan, a large system of mountain ranges located in Central Asia, in ca. 1500–800 BC.

The distribution of the Karasuk culture covers the eastern parts of the Andronovo culture, a collection of similar local Bronze Age cultures that flourished ca. 2000–900 BCE in western Siberia and the west Asiatic steppe, which it appears to replace. Vital trade contact is traced from northern China and the Baikal region to the Black Sea and the Urals, influencing the uniformity of the culture.

The Karasuk were farmes who practiced metallurgy on a large scale. Arsenical bronze artefacts are present. Industrially, they were skilled metalworkers, the diagnostic artifacts of the culture being a bronze knife with curving profiles and a decorated handle and horse bridles.

The pottery has been compared to that discovered in Inner Mongolia and the interior of China, with burials bronze knives similar to those from northeastern China. Their realitic animal art probably contributed to the development of the Scytho-Siberian animal art style. Their settlements were of pit houses and they buried their dead in stone cists covered by kurgans and surrounded by square stone enclosures.

The origins of the Karasuk culture are complex, but it is generally accepted that its origins lie both with the Andronovo culture and local cultures of the Yenisei. The ethnic identity of the Karasuk is problematic, as the Andronovo culture has been associated with the Indo-Iranians while the local cultures have been considered as unconnected to the steppe.

Nevertheless, a specifically Proto-Iranian identity has been proposed for the Karasuk culture. George van Driem has suggested a connection with the Yeniseian and Burushaski people, proposing a Karasuk languages group, a language family proposed by George van Driem of the University of Leiden that links the Yeniseian languages of central Siberia with the Burushaski language of northern Pakistan.

Van Driem postulates the Burusho people took part in the Indo-Aryan migration out of Central Asia that resulted in the Indo-European conquest of the Indian sub-continent, while other Karasuk peoples migrated northwards to become the Yeniseians. These claims have recently been picked up by anthropologist and linguist Roger Blench.

The evidence for Karasuk is mostly in the verbal and nominal morphology. For example, the second-person singular prefixes on intransitive verbs are [ɡu-, ɡó-] in Burushaski and [ku-, ɡu-] in Ket.

Ket has two verbal declensions, one prefixed with d- and one with b-, and Bushaski likewise has two, one prefixed with d- and one without such a marker. However, neither the Bushushaski nor the Yeniseian verbal morphology has been rigorously analysed, and reviewers have found the evidence to be weak.

While Yeniseian has been proposed to be related to the Na-Dene languages of North America, as part of a newly named Dene–Yeniseian family, the relevant morphological correspondences between Na-Dene and Yeniseian have not been found in Burushaski.

Today, Burushaski, a language isolate spoken in northern Gilgit–Baltistan, Pakistan, contains numerous loanwords from Urdu (including English and Persian words received via Urdu), and from the neighbouring Dardic languages such as Shina and Khowar, as well as a few from Turkic languages, from the neighboring Sino-Tibetan language Balti, and from the neighboring Eastern Iranian Wakhi and Pashto. However, the original vocabulary remains largely intact. The Dardic languages also contain large numbers of loanwords from Burushaski.

The Hunzakuts or Hunza people, are an ethnically Burusho people indigenous to the Hunza Valley, in the Karakorum Mountains of northern Pakistan. They are descended from inhabitants of the former principality of Hunza.

DNA research groups the people of Hunza with Sinti Romani (Gypsies) and the speakers of Bartangi or Pamir language, an areal group of the Eastern Iranian languages, spoken by numerous people in the Pamir Mountains, primarily along the Panj River and its tributaries, due primarily to the M124 marker (defining Y-DNA haplogroup R2a), which is present at high frequency in all three populations. However, they have also an East Asian genetic contribution, suggesting that at least some of their ancestry originates north of the Himalayas.

A variety of NRY haplogroups are seen among the Burusho. Most frequent among these are R1a1 – a lineage associated with Indoeuropean and likely related to the Bronze Age migration into South Asia c. 3000 BCE; and R2a, probably originating in South/Central Asia during the Upper Paleolithic. The subcontinental lineages of haplogroup H1 and haplogroup L3 are also present, although haplogroup L, defined by SNP mutation M20, reaches a maximum of diversity in Pakistan.

Other Y-DNA haplogroups reaching considerable frequency are haplogroup J2, associated with the spread of agriculture in, and from, the neolithic Near East, and haplogroup C3, of Siberian origin and possibly representing the patrilineage of Alexander the Great. Also present at lower frequency are haplogroups O3, an East Eurasian lineage, and Q, P, F, and G.


The older Sintashta culture, also known as the Sintashta-Petrovka culture or Sintashta-Arkaim culture (2100–1800), is a Bronze Age archaeological culture of the northern Eurasian steppe on the borders of Eastern Europe and Central Asia formerly included within the Andronovo culture, but which is now considered separately, but regarded as its predecessor, and accepted as part of the wider Andronovo horizon.

Most researchers associate the Andronovo horizon with early Indo-Iranian languages, though it may have overlapped the early Uralic-speaking area at its northern fringe.

The earliest known chariots have been found in Sintashta burials, and the culture is considered a strong candidate for the origin of the technology, which spread throughout the Old World and played an important role in ancient warfare. Sintashta settlements are also remarkable for the intensity of copper mining and bronze metallurgy carried out there, which is unusual for a steppe culture.

The people of the Sintashta culture are thought to have spoken Proto-Indo-Iranian, the ancestor of the Indo-Iranian language family. This identification is based primarily on similarities between sections of the Rig Veda, an Indian religious text which includes ancient Indo-Iranian hymns recorded in Vedic Sanskrit, with the funerary rituals of the Sintashta culture as revealed by archaeology.

There is however linguistic evidence of a list of common vocabulary between Finno-Ugric and Indo-Iranian languages. While its origin as a creole of different tribes in the Ural region may make it inaccurate to ascribe the Sintashta culture exclusively to Indo-Iranian ethnicity, interpreting this culture as a blend of two cultures with two distinct languages is a reasonable hypothesis based on the evidence.

The Sintashta culture emerged from the interaction of two antecedent cultures. Its immediate predecessor in the Ural-Tobol steppe was the Poltavka culture (2700—2100 BC), an offshoot of the cattle-herding Yamnaya horizon (3600–2300 BC), in English known as Pit Grave Culture or Ochre Grave Culture, that moved east into the region between 2800 and 2600 BCE.

Several Sintashta towns were built over older Poltovka settlements or close to Poltovka cemeteries, and Poltovka motifs are common on Sintashta pottery. Sintashta material culture also shows the influence of the late Abashevo culture, a collection of settlements in the forest steppe zone north of the Sintashta region that were also predominantly pastoralist.

The first Sintashta settlements appeared around 2100 BCE, during a period of climatic change that saw the already arid Kazakh steppe region become even more cold and dry. The marshy lowlands around the Ural and upper Tobol rivers, previously favoured as winter refuges, became increasingly important for survival. Under these pressures both Poltovka and Abashevo herders settled permanently in river valley strongholds, eschewing more defensible hill-top locations.

The Abashevo culture was already marked by endemic intertribal warfare; intensified by ecological stress and competition for resources in the Sintashta period, this drove the construction of fortifications on an unprecedented scale and innovations in military technique such as the invention of the war chariot.

Increased competition between tribal groups may also explain the extravagant sacrifices seen in Sintashta burials, as rivals sought to outdo one another in acts of conspicuous consumption analogous to the North American potlatch tradition.

The Sintashta economy came to revolve around copper metallurgy. Copper ores from nearby mines (such as Vorovskaya Yama) were taken to Sintashta settlements to be processed into copper and arsenical bronze. This occurred on an industrial scale: all the excavated buildings at the Sintashta sites of Sintashta, Arkaim and Ust’e contained the remains of smelting ovens and slag. Much of this metal was destined for export to the cities of the Bactria–Margiana Archaeological Complex (BMAC) in Central Asia.


The metal trade between Sintashta and the BMAC for the first time connected the steppe region to the ancient urban civilisations of the Near East: the empires and city-states of Iran and Mesopotamia provided an almost bottomless market for metals. These trade routes later became the vehicle through which horses, chariots and ultimately Indo-Iranian-speaking people entered the Near East from the steppe.

There is archaeological evidence of settlement in the well-watered northern foothills of the Kopet Dag during the Neolithic period. This region is dotted with the multi-period hallmarks characteristic of the ancient Near East, similar to those southwest of the Kopet Dag in the Gorgan Plain in Iran. At Jeitun (or Djeitun), mud brick houses were first occupied c. 6000 BCE. The inhabitants were farmers who kept herds of goats and sheep and grew wheat and barley, with origins in southwest Asia.

Jeitun has given its name to the whole Neolithic period in the northern foothills of the Kopet Dag. At the late Neolithic site of Chagylly Depe, farmers increasingly grew the kinds of crops that are typically associated with irrigation in an arid environment, such as hexaploid bread wheat, which became predominant during the Chalcolithic period.

In the Early Bronze Age the culture of the Kopet Dag oases and Altyn-Depe developed a proto-urban society. This corresponds to level IV at Namazga-Depe. Altyn-Depe was a major centre even then. Pottery was wheel-turned. Grapes were grown. The height of this urban development was reached in the Middle Bronze Age c. 2300 BCE, corresponding to level V at Namazga-Depe. It is this Bronze Age culture which has been given the BMAC name.

The Bactria–Margiana Archaeological Complex (or BMAC, also known as the Oxus civilization) is the modern archaeological designation for a Bronze Age civilisation of Central Asia, dated to ca. 2300–1700 BCE, located in present day northern Afghanistan, eastern Turkmenistan, southern Uzbekistan and western Tajikistan, centered on the upper Amu Darya (Oxus River).

BMAC materials have been found in the Indus civilisation, on the Iranian plateau, and in the Persian Gulf. Finds within BMAC sites provide further evidence of trade and cultural contacts. They include an Elamite-type cylinder seal and a Harappan seal stamped with an elephant and Indus script found at Gonur-depe.

The relationship between Altyn-Depe and the Indus Valley seems to have been particularly strong. Among the finds there were two Harappan seals and ivory objects. The Harappan settlement of Shortugai in Northern Afghanistan on the banks of the Amu Darya probably served as a trading station.

There is evidence of sustained contact between the BMAC and the Eurasian steppes to the north, intensifying c. 2000 BCE. In the delta of the Amu Darya where it reaches the Aral Sea, its waters were channeled for irrigation agriculture by people whose remains resemble those of the nomads of the Andronovo Culture. This is interpreted as nomads settling down to agriculture, after contact with the BMAC. The culture they created is known as Tazabag’yab.

About 1800 BCE, the walled BMAC centres decreased sharply in size. Each oasis developed its own types of pottery and other objects. Also pottery of the Andronovo-Tazabag’yab culture to the north appeared widely in the Bactrian and Margian countryside.

Many BMAC strongholds continued to be occupied and Andronovo-Tazabagyab coarse incised pottery occurs within them (along with the previous BMAC pottery) as well as in pastoral camps outside the mudbrick walls. In the highlands above the Bactrian oases in Tajikistan, kurgan cemeteries of the Vaksh and Bishkent type appeared with pottery that mixed elements of the late BMAC and Andronovo-Tazabagyab traditions.

As argued by Michael Witzel and Alexander Lubotsky, there is a proposed substratum in Proto-Indo-Iranian which can be plausibly identified with the original language of the BMAC.

Moreover, Lubotsky points out a larger number of words apparently borrowed from the same language, which are only attested in Indo-Aryan and therefore evidence of a substratum in Vedic Sanskrit. Some BMAC words have now also been found in Tocharian.

Michael Witzel points out that the borrowed vocabulary includes words from agriculture, village and town life, flora and fauna, ritual and religion, so providing evidence for the acculturation of Indo-Iranian speakers into the world of urban civilization.

Archaeological cultures associated with Indo-Iranian migrations (after EIEC). The Andronovo, BMAC and Yaz cultures have often been associated with Indo-Iranian migrations. The GGC, Cemetery H, Copper Hoard and PGW cultures are candidates for cultures associated with Indo-Aryan migrations.

The Bactria-Margiana complex has attracted attention as a candidate for those looking for the material counterparts to the Indo-Iranians (Aryans), a major linguistic branch that split off from the Proto-Indo-Europeans.

Bactria–Margiana material has been found at Susa, Shahdad, and Tepe Yahya in Iran, but Lamberg-Karlovsky does not see this as evidence that the complex originated in southeastern Iran. “The limited materials of this complex are intrusive in each of the sites on the Iranian Plateau as they are in sites of the Arabian peninsula.”

A significant section of the archaeologists are more inclined to see the culture as begun by farmers in the Near Eastern Neolithic tradition, but infiltrated by Indo-Iranian speakers from the Andronovo culture in its late phase, creating a hybrid. In this perspective, Proto-Indo-Aryan developed within the composite culture before moving south into the Indian subcontinent. As James P. Mallory phrased it

It has become increasingly clear that if one wishes to argue for Indo-Iranian migrations from the steppe lands south into the historical seats of the Iranians and Indo-Aryans that these steppe cultures were transformed as they passed through a membrane of Central Asian urbanism. The fact that typical steppe wares are found on BMAC sites and that intrusive BMAC material is subsequently found further to the south in Iran, Afghanistan, Nepal, India and Pakistan, may suggest then the subsequent movement of Indo-Iranian-speakers after they had adopted the culture of the BMAC.

The Indian archaeologist B. B. Lal has seriously questioned the BMAC and Indo-Iranian connection, and disputed the proclaimed relations. Others maintain there is insufficient evidence for any ethnic or linguistic identification of the BMAC solely based on material remains, in the absence of written records.

Models of two-wheeled carts from c. 3000 BCE found at Altyn-Depe are the earliest complete evidence of wheeled transport in Central Asia, though model wheels have come from contexts possibly somewhat earlier. Judging by the type of harness, carts were initially pulled by oxen, or a bull. However camels were domesticated within the BMAC. A model of a cart drawn by a camel of c. 2200 BCE was found at Altyn-Depe.

Eastern Iranian

Eastern Iranian is thought to have separated from Western Iranian in the course of the later 2nd millennium BC, and was possibly located at the Yaz culture, an early Iron Age culture of Bactria and Margiana (ca. 1500-1100 BC).

It has been regarded as a likely archaeological reflection of early East Iranian culture as described in the Avesta. So far, no burials related to the culture have been found, and this was taken as evidence of the Zoroastrian practice of exposure or so-called sky burial.

The Scythians migrated from Central Asia toward Eastern Europe in the 8th and 7th century BC, occupying today’s Southern Russia and Ukraine and the Carpathian Basin and parts of Moldova and Dobruja. They disappeared from history after the Hunnish invasion of Europe in the 5th century AD, and Turkic (Avar, Batsange, etc.) and Slavic peoples probably assimilated most people speaking Scythian.

However, in the Caucasus, the Ossetian language belonging to the Scythian linguistic continuum remains in use today, while in Central Asia, some languages belonging to Eastern Iranian group are still spoken, namely Pashto, Pamir languages and Yaghnobi.

The Scythian languages are a group of Eastern Iranian languages of the classical and late antiquity (Middle Iranian) period, spoken in a vast region of Eurasia named Scythia. Except for modern Ossetian, which descends from the Alanian variety, these languages are all considered to be extinct.

Modern Eastern Iranian languages such as Wakhi, however, are related to the eastern Scytho-Khotanese dialects attested from the kingdoms of Khotan and Tumshuq in the ancient Tarim Basin, in present-day southern Xinjiang, China.

The location and extent of Scythia varied by time, but generally it encompassed the part of Eastern Europe east of the Vistula river and much of Central Asia up to the Tarim Basin. The dominant ethnic groups among the Scythians were nomadic pastoralists of Central Asia and the Pontic-Caspian steppe. Fragments of their speech known from inscriptions and words quoted in ancient authors as well as analysis of their names indicate that it was an Indo-European language, more specifically from the Iranian group of Indo-Iranian languages.

The vast majority of Scythological scholars agree in considering the Scythian languages (and Ossetian) as a part of the Eastern Iranian group of languages. This Iranian hypothesis relies principally on the fact that the Greek inscriptions of the Northern Black Sea Coast contain several hundreds of Sarmatian names showing a close affinity to the Ossetian language.

The classification of the Iranian languages is in general not however fully resolved, and the Eastern Iranian languages are not shown to form an actual genetic subgroup. Scythian may instead by classified as part of a Northern Iranian group, together with Ossetian, but separate from Eastern Iranian.

Some scholars detect a division of Scythian into two dialects: a western, more conservative dialect, and an eastern, more innovative one. The Scythian languages may have formed a dialect continuum with Alanian languages or Scytho-Sarmatian in the west and Saka languages or Scytho-Khotanese in the east.

The Eastern Iranian languages are a subgroup of the Iranian languages emerging in Middle Iranian times (from c. the 4th century BC). The Avestan language is often classified as early Eastern Iranian. The largest living Eastern Iranian language is Pashto, with some 50 million speakers between the Hindu Kush mountains in Afghanistan and the Indus River in Pakistan. As opposed to the Middle Western Iranian dialects, the Middle Eastern Iranian preserves word-final syllables.

The living Eastern Iranian languages are spoken in a contiguous area, in eastern Afghanistan as well as the adjacent parts of western Pakistan, Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Province of eastern Tajikistan, and the far west of Xinjiang region of China, while it also has two other living members in widely separated areas, the Yaghnobi language of northwestern Tajikistan (descended from Sogdian) and the Ossetic language of the Caucasus (descended from Scytho-Sarmatian). These are remnants of a vast ethno-linguistic continuum that stretched over most of Central Asia in the 1st millennium BC.

With Greek presence in Central Asia, some of the easternmost of these languages were recorded in their Middle Iranian stage (hence the “Eastern” classification), while almost no records of the Scytho-Sarmatian continuum stretching from Kazakhstan west across the Pontic steppe to Ukraine have survived.

Eastern Iranian remains a single dialect continuum subject to common innovation. Traditional branches, such as “Northeastern”, as well as Eastern Iranian itself, are better considered language areas rather than genetic groups.

The Tashtyk culture was first surveyed by the Russian archaeologist Sergei Teploukhov, who suggested that it had been initially Indo-European dominated, only to become overcome by the Yenisei Kirghiz around the 3rd century AD. The Yenisei Kirghiz are often associted with the Tashtyk culture.

Tashtyk settlements and hill-forts have been unearthed throughout the Yenisei region, particularly the Sayan canyon area. Their most imposing monuments were immense barrows-crypt structures; these have yielded large quantities of clay and metal vessels and ornaments. In addition, numerous petrographic carvings have been found. Some of the graves contained leather models of human bodies with their heads wrapped in tissue and brightly painted.

Inside the models there were small leather bags probably symbolising the stomach and containing burned human bones. Scaled-down replicas of swords, arrows and quivers were placed nearby. The animal motis of the Tashtyk belonged to the Scytho-Altaic style, while they were also under significant Chinese influence.

During his excavations of the Oglahty cemetery south of Minusinsk, Leonid Kyzlasov discovered a number of mummies with richly decorated plaster funerary masks showing Western Eurasian features, though this would not rule out some East Asian admixture, as revealed by ancient DNA (see below). There were also intact fur hats, silk clothes, and footwear (now in the Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg).

In 2009, a genetic study of ancient Siberian cultures, the Andronovo culture, tha Karasuk culture, the Tagar culture and the Tashtyk culture, was published in Human Genetics. Six Tashtyk remains of 100–400 AD from Bogratsky region, Abakano-Pérévoz I, Khakassia were surveyed. Extractions of mtDNA from four individuals was determined to belong to the Western Eurasian HV, H, N9a, and T1, while the other carried the East Asian haplogroup C.

Extractions of Y-DNA from the remains of one individual were determined to be of Y-chromosome haplogroup Western Eurasian R1a1, which is thought to mark the eastward migration of the early Indo-Europeans. All individuals surveyed were determined to be Europoid, and were except from one individual exclusively light-eyed and light-haired.

Armenian hypothesis

Grigoryev’s (1998) version of the Armenian hypothesis connects Catacomb culture with Indo-Aryans, because catacomb burial ritual had roots in South-Western Turkmenistan from the early 4th millennium (Parkhai cemetery). The same opinion is supported by Leo Klejn in his various publications.

The Armenian hypothesis of the Proto-Indo-European Urheimat, based on the Glottalic theory, suggests that the Proto-Indo-European language was spoken during the 4th millennium BC in the Armenian Highland.

It is an Indo-Hittite model and does not include the Anatolian languages in its scenario. The phonological peculiarities proposed in the Glottalic theory would be best preserved in the Armenian language and the Germanic languages, the former assuming the role of the dialect which remained in situ, implied to be particularly archaic in spite of its late attestation.

The Proto-Greek language would be practically equivalent to Mycenaean Greek and date to the 17th century BC, closely associating Greek migration to Greece with the Indo-Aryan migration to India at about the same time (viz., Indo-European expansion at the transition to the Late Bronze Age, including the possibility of Indo-European Kassites).

The Armenian hypothesis was proposed by Russian linguists T. V. Gamkrelidze and V. V. Ivanov in 1985, presenting it first in two articles in Vestnik drevnej istorii and then in a much larger work. Gamkrelidze and Ivanov argue that IE spread out from Armenia into the Pontic steppe, from which it expanded – as per the Kurgan hypothesis – into Western Europe. The Hittite, Indo-Iranian, Greek and Armenian branches split from the Armenian homeland.

The Armenian hypothesis argues for the latest possible date of Proto-Indo-European (sans Anatolian), roughly a millennium later than the mainstream Kurgan hypothesis. In this, it figures as an opposite to the Anatolian hypothesis, in spite of the geographical proximity of the respective suggested Urheimaten, diverging from the timeframe suggested there by as much as three millennia.

Robert Drews, commenting on the hypothesis, says that “most of the chronological and historical arguments seem fragile at best, and of those that I am able to judge, some are evidently wrong”. However, he argues that it is far more powerful as a linguistic model, providing insights into the relationship between Indo-European and the Semitic and Kartvelian languages.

He continues to say “It is certain that the inhabitants of the forested areas of Armenia very early became accomplished woodworkers, and it now appears that in the second millennium they produced spoked-wheel vehicles that served as models as far away as China. And we have long known that from the second millennium onward, Armenia was important for the breeding of horses. It is thus not surprising to find that what clues we have suggest that chariot warfare was pioneered in eastern Anatolia. Finally, our picture of what the PIE speakers did, and when, owes much to the recently proposed hypothesis that the homeland of the PIE speakers was Armenia.”

I. Grepin, reviewing Gamkrelidze and Ivanov’s book, wrote that their model of linguistic relationships is “the most complex, far reaching and fully supported of this century.”


Graeco-Aryan (or Graeco-Armeno-Aryan) is a hypothetical clade within the Indo-European family, ancestral to the Greek language, the Armenian language, and the Indo-Iranian languages. Graeco-Aryan unity would have become divided into Proto-Greek and Proto-Indo-Iranian by the mid 3rd millennium BC.

Conceivably, Proto-Armenian would have been located between Proto-Greek and Proto-Indo-Iranian, consistent with the fact that Armenian shares certain features only with Indo-Iranian (the satem change) but others only with Greek (s > h).

Graeco-Aryan has comparatively wide support among Indo-Europeanists for the Indo-European Homeland to be located in the Armenian Highland. Early and strong evidence was given by Euler’s 1979 examination on shared features in Greek and Sanskrit nominal flection.

Used in tandem with the Graeco-Armenian hypothesis, the Armenian language would also be included under the label Aryano-Greco-Armenic, splitting into proto-Greek/Phrygian and “Armeno-Aryan” (ancestor of Armenian and Indo-Iranian).

In the context of the Kurgan hypothesis, Greco-Aryan is also known as “Late PIE” or “Late Indo-European” (LIE), suggesting that Greco-Aryan forms a dialect group which corresponds to the latest stage of linguistic unity in the Indo-European homeland in the early part of the 3rd millennium BC. By 2500 BC, Proto-Greek and Proto-Indo-Iranian had separated, moving westward and eastward from the Pontic Steppe, respectively.

If Graeco-Aryan is a valid group, Grassmann’s law may have a common origin in Greek and Sanskrit. Note, however, that Grassmann’s law in Greek postdates certain sound changes that happened only in Greek and not Sanskrit, which suggests that it cannot strictly be an inheritance from a common Graeco-Aryan stage.

Rather, it is more likely an areal feature that spread across a then-contiguous Graeco-Aryan-speaking area after early Proto-Greek and Proto-Indo-Iranian had developed into separate dialects but before they ceased being in geographic contact.

The fall of the Mycanean civilization

In. c. 1250 BC, the first wave of destruction has been witnessed in various centers of mainland Greece for reasons that cannot be identified by archaeologists. In Boeotia, Thebes was burnt to the ground, around that year or slightly later. Nearby Orchomenos shared the same fate, while the Boeotian fortifications of Gla were deserted. In the Peloponnese, a number of buildings surrounding the citadel of Mycenae were attacked and burnt.

These incidents appear to have prompted the massive strengthening and expansion of the fortifications in various sites. In some cases, arrangements were also made for the creation of subterranean passages which lead to underground cisterns. Tiryns, Midea and Athens expanded their defences with new cyclopean style walls.

The extension program in Mycenae almost doubled the fortified area of the citadel. To this phase of extension belongs the impressive Lion Gate, the main entrance into the Mycenaean acropolis.

It appears that after this first wave of destruction a short lived revival of Mycenaean culture followed. Mycenaean Greece continues to be mentioned in international affairs, particularly in Hittite records. In c. 1220 BC, the king of Ahhiyawa is again reported of being involved in an anti-Hittite uprising in western Anatolia.

Another contemporary Hittite text reveals that Ahhiyawan ships need to be prohibited from reaching Assyrian-controlled harbors, as part of a trade embargo imposed on Assyria. In general, in the second half of 13th century BC, trade was in decline in the Eastern Mediterranean, most probably due to the unstable political environment there.

None of the defence measures appear to have prevented the final destruction and collapse of the Mycenaean states. A second destruction struck Mycenae in ca. 1190 BC or shortly thereafter. This event marked the end of Mycenae as a major power. The site was then reoccupied, but on a smaller scale.

The palace of Pylos, in southwestern Peloponesse, faced destruction in c. 1180 BC. The Linear B archives found there, preserved by the heat of the fire that destroyed the palace, mention hastily defence preparations due to an imminent attack without giving any detail about the attacking force.

As a result of this turmoil, specific regions in mainland Greece witnessed dramatic population decreases, especially Boetia, Argolis and Messenia. Mycenaean refugees migrated to Cyprus and the Levantine coast.

Nevertheless, other regions on the edge of the Mycenaean world prospered, such as the Ionian islands, northwestern Peloponnese, parts of Attica and a number of Aegean islands. The acropolis of Athens paradoxically appears to have avoided destruction.

The reasons that lead to the collapse of the Mycenaean culture have been hotly debated among scholars. At present, there is no satisfactory explanation for the collapse of the Mycenaean palace systems. The two most common theories are population movement and internal conflict. The first attributes the destruction of Mycenaean sites to invaders.

The hypothesis of a Dorian invasion, known as such in Ancient Greek tradition, that led to the end of Mycenaean Greece, is supported by sporadic archaeological evidence such as new types of burials, in particular cist graves, and the use of a new dialect of Greek, the Doric one.

It appears that the Dorians moved southward gradually over a number of years and devastated the territory, until they managed to establish themselves in the Mycenaean centres. A new type of ceramic also appeared, called “Barbarian Ware” because it was attributed to invaders from the north.

On the other hand, the collapse of Mycenaean Greece coincides with the activity of the Sea Peoples in the Eastern Mediterranean. They caused widespread destruction in Anatolia and the Levant and were finally defeated by Pharaoh Ramesses III in c. 1175 BC. One of the ethnic groups that consisted these people were the Eqwesh, a name that appears to be linked with the Ahhiyawa of the Hittite inscriptions.

Alternative scenarios propose that the fall of the Mycenaean Greece was a result of internal disturbances which lead to internecine warfare among the Mycenaean states or civil unrest in a number of states, as a result of the strict hierarchical social system and the ideology of the wanax.

In general, due to the obscure archaeological picture in 12th-11th century BC Greece, there is a continuing controversy among scholars over whether the impoverished societies that succeeded the Mycenaean palatial states were newcomers or populations that already resided in Mycenaean Greece. Recent archaeological findings tend to favor the latter scenario.

Additional theories, concerning natural factors, such as climate change, droughts or earthquakes have been also proposed. The period following the end of Mycenaean Greece, c. 1100-800 BC, is generally termed the “Greek Dark Ages”.

Traditionally, historians have believed that the Dorian invasion caused the collapse of the Mycenaean civilization, but it is likely the main attack was made by seafaring raiders (sea peoples) who sailed into the eastern Mediterranean around 1180 BC.


Various collective terms for the inhabitants of Mycenaean Greece were used by Homer in his 8th century BC epic, the Iliad, in reference to the Trojan War. The latter was supposed to happen in the late 13th–early 12th century BC, where a coalition of small Greek states under the king of Mycenae, besieged the walled city of Troy.

Homer used the ethnonyms: Achaeans, Danaans and Argives, to refer to the besiegers. These names appear to have passed down from the time they were in use to the time when Homer applied them as collective terms in his Iliad. There is an isolated reference to a-ka-wi-ja-de in the Linear B records in Knossos, Crete dated to c. 1400 BC, which most probably refers to a Mycenaean (Achaean) state on the Greek mainland.

Egyptian records mention a T(D)-n-j or Danaya (Tanaju) land for the first time in ca. 1437 BC, during the reign Pharaoh Thutmoses III. This land is geographically defined in an inscription from the reign of Amenhotep III (c. 1388–1351 BC), where a number of Danaya cities are mentioned, which cover the largest part of southern mainland Greece.

Among them, cities such as Mycenae, Nauplion and Thebes, have been identified with certainty. Danaya has been equated with the ethnonym Danaoi, the name of the mythical dynasty that ruled in the region of Argos, also used as an ethnonym for the Greek people by Homer.

In the official records of another Bronze Age empire, that of the Hittites in Anatolia various references, from c. 1400 BC to 1220 BC, mention a country named Ahhiyawa.

Recent scholarship, based on textual evidence, new interpretations of the Hittite inscriptions, as well as on recent surveys about the archaeological evidence about Mycenaean-Anatolian contacts during this period, concludes that the term Ahhiyawa must have been used in reference to the Mycenaean world (land of the Achaeans), or at least to a part of it.

This term may have also had broader connotations in some texts, possibly referring to all regions settled by Mycenaeans or regions under direct Mycenaean political control.

Another similar ethnonym Ekwesh in 12th century BC Egyptian inscriptions, has been commonly identified with the Ahhiyawans. These Ekwesh were mentioned as a group of the Sea People.

The Assuwa league was a confederation of states in western Anatolia, defeated by the Hittites under an earlier Tudhaliya I around 1400 BC. Assuwa has been suggested as the origin for the name of the continent Asia.

Contemporary Hittite texts indicate the presence of Ahhiyawa which strengthens its position in western Anatolia from c. 1400 to c. 1220 BC. Ahhiyawa is generally accepted as a Hittite translation of Mycenaean Greece (Achaeans in Homeric Greek), but a precise geographical definition of the term cannot be drawn from the texts. During this period, the kings of Ahhiyawa were clearly able to deal with the Hittite kings both in a military and diplomatic way.

Moreover, Ahhiyawan activity was to interfere in Anatolian affairs, with the support of anti-Hittite uprisings or through local vassal rulers, which the Ahhiyawan king used as agents for the extension of his influence. The Ahhiyawan presence in western Anatolia inevitably caused tensions and in some cases conflicts with the Hittites, whose sphere of influence extended in the same region.

In c. 1400 BC, Hittite records mention the military activities of an Ahhiyawan warlord, Attarsiya, a possible Hittite way of writing the Greek name Atreus, who attacked Hittite vassals in western Anatolia. Later, in c. 1315 BC, Hittite interests in the region were again threatened by an anti-Hittite rebellion headed by Arzawa, a Hittite vassal state, with the support of the king of Ahhiyawa. Around the same time, Ahhiyawa is reported to have seized various islands, presumably in the Aegean, an impression also supported by archaeological evidence.

During the reign of the Hittite king Hattusili III (c. 1267–1237 BC), the king of Ahhiyawa is recognized as a “Great King” and of equal status with the other contemporary great Bronze Age rulers: the kings of Egypt, Babylonia and Assyria. At that time, another anti-Hittite movement, led by Piyama-Radu, broke out and was supported by the king of Ahhiyawa. Piyama-Radu had been ravaging the land of Wilusa and latter led the armed takeover of the island of Lesbos, which was subsequently handed over to Ahhiyawa.

The Hittite-Ahhiyawan confrontation in Wilusa, the Hittite name for Troy, may provide the historical foundation for the Trojan War tradition. As a result of this instability, the Hittite king initiated correspondence in order to convince his Ahhiyawan counterpart to restore peace in the region. The Hittite record mentions a certain Tawagalawa, a possible Hittite translation for Greek Eteocles, as brother of the king of Ahhiyawa.

The list of the members of the league formed to oppose the Hittite empire contains 22 names, including […]uqqa, Warsiya, Taruisa, Wilusiya and Karkija (Caria). Some of the identifications of these names are disputed. Wilusiya is commonly identified with Ilion (Troy), and Taruisa with the surrounding Troad, and Warsiya may be associated with Lukka (Lycia).

However, identification of [..]uqqa with later-attested Lukka (Lycia) is problematic, because that would put the Assuwa league both north and south of Arzawa, roughly from late 15th century BCE until the beginning of the 12th century BCE the name of a region and a political entity in southwestern Anatolia. Assuwa appears to lie north of Arzawa, covering the northwestern corner of Anatolia.

Homer in the Iliad seems to refer to two Lycias; in 2.876-77, 5.479 Sarpedon is a leader of “distant Lycia” while in 2.824ff. 5.105 Pandarus is another leader of Lycians from around Mount Ida near Troy, so that Lukka vs. […]uqqa may find its explanation in these terms.

However, the Assuwa League included Karkija (Caria), in southwest Anatolia, south of even the proposed Lukka (Lycia). So, since also Assuwa was only a confederate league, it could easily have included a wide-ranging array of anti-Hittite minor powers, across the region.

This confederacy is mentioned only in the fragmentary tablets making up Laroche’s CTH 142/85. Since the later Tudhaliya IV was known to have had frontier trouble between 1250 and 1200 BC, and since the text lists rebel nations in much the way Ramesses II does, the first consensus dated this text – and so Assuwa – to Tudhaliyas IV.

This dating appears in all older literature on the fall of the Hatti, and crops up every now and then to this day. However the consensus has since then come around to dating Assuwa to an earlier Tudhaliyas, which means prior to Suppiluliumas and so prior to 1350 BC.

Arzawa was the successor state of the Assuwa league, which also included parts of western Anatolia, but was conquered by the Hittites in c. 1400. It was the western neighbour and rival of the Middle and New Hittite Kingdoms.

On the other hand it was in close contact with the Ahhiyawa of the Hittite texts, which corresponds to the Achaeans of Mycenaean Greece. Moreover, Achaeans and Arzawa formed a coalition against the Hittites, in various periods.

Ahhiya(wa) has been identified with the Achaeans of the Trojan War and the city of Wilusa with the legendary city of Troy (note the similarity with early Greek Wilion, later Ilion, the name of the acropolis of Troy).

The exact relationship of the term Ahhiyawa to the Achaeans, one of the collective names for the Greeks in Homer’s Iliad (used 598 times) and Odyssey, beyond a similarity in pronunciation was hotly debated by scholars, even following the discovery that Mycenaean Linear B is an early form of Greek.

More recent research based on new readings and interpretations of the Hittite texts, as well as of the material evidence for Mycenaean contacts with the Anatolian mainland, came to the conclusion that Ahhiyawa referred to the Mycenaean world, or at least to a part of it.

The other common names are Danaans (used 138 times in the Iliad) and Argives (used 182 times in the Iliad) while Panhellenes and Hellenes both appear only once; all of the aforementioned terms were used synonymously to denote a common Greek civilizational identity.

In the historical period, the Achaeans were the inhabitants of the region of Achaea, a region in the north-central part of the Peloponnese. The city-states of this region later formed a confederation known as the Achaean League, which was influential during the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC.

The Homeric “long-haired Achaeans” would have been a part of the Mycenaean civilization that dominated Greece from circa 1600 BC until 1100 BC. However, by the Archaic and Classical periods, the term “Achaeans” referred to inhabitants of the much smaller region of Achaea.

Herodotus identified the Achaeans of the northern Peloponnese as descendants of the earlier, Homeric Achaeans. According to Pausanias, writing in the 2nd century CE, the term “Achaean” was originally given to those Greeks inhabiting the Argolis and Laconia. However, this clearly is not the manner in which Homer uses the term.


According to Homer’s description, Odysseus, after his stay with the Cyclopes, a member of a primordial race of giants, each with a single eye in the middle of his forehead, reached the island of Aeolia, who provided him with the west wind Zephyr.

Various ancient Greek and Roman authors wrote about cyclopes. Hesiod described them as three brothers who were primordial giants. All the other sources of literature about the cyclopes describe the cyclops Polyphemus, who lived upon an island (often identified by ancient authors with Sicily) populated by the creatures.

According to a hymn of Callimachus, they were Hephaestus’ helpers at the forge. The Cyclopes were said to have built the “cyclopean” fortifications at Tiryns and Mycenae in the Peloponnese. The noises proceeding from the heart of volcanoes were attributed to their operations.

Uranus, fearing their strength, locked them in Tartarus. Cronus, another son of Uranus and Gaia, later freed the Cyclopes, along with the Hecatonchires, after he had overthrown Uranus. Cronus then placed them back in Tartarus, where they remained, guarded by the female monster Campe, until freed by Zeus. They fashioned thunderbolts for Zeus to use as weapons, and helped him overthrow Cronus and the other Titans.

The lightning bolts, which became Zeus’ main weapons, were forged by all three Cyclopes, in that Arges added brightness, Brontes added thunder, and Steropes added lightning.

These Cyclopes also created Poseidon’s trident, Artemis’ bow and arrows of moonlight, Apollo’s bow and arrows of sun rays, and Hades’ helmet of darkness that was given to Perseus on his quest to kill Medusa.

Hesiod described three one-eyed Cyclopes, Brontes, Steropes and Arges the sons of Uranus and Gaia, brothers of the Titans, builders and craftsmen, while the epic poet Homer described another group of mortal herdsmen Cyclopes the sons of Poseidon.

In Hesiod’s Theogony, Zeus releases three Cyclopes from the dark pit of Tartarus. They provide Zeus’ thunderbolt, Hades’ helmet of invisibility, and Poseidon’s trident, and the gods use these weapons to defeat the Titans.

In the Theogony by Hesiod, the Cyclopes – Brontes (“thunderer”), Steropes (“lightning”) and the Arges (“bright”) – were the primordial sons of Uranus (Sky) and Gaia (Earth) and brothers of the Hekatonkheires and the Titans. As such, they were blood-related to the Titan and Olympian gods and goddesses.

According to Hesiod, they were strong and stubborn. Collectively they eventually became synonyms for brute strength and power, and their name was invoked in connection with massive masonry. They were often pictured at their forge.

According to Euripides’ play Alcestis, Apollo killed the Cyclopes, in retaliation for Asclepius’ murder at the hands of Zeus. For this crime, Apollo was then forced into the servitude of Admetus for one year. Other stories after Euripides tell that Zeus later revived Asclepius and the Cyclopes. This was after the year of Apollo’s servitude had passed.

Zeus pardoned the Cyclopes and Asclepius from the underworld, despite them being dead, even though Hades is lord of the dead and they are his prisoners. Hades as well does not ever allow any of his souls to leave the Underworld.

Zeus could not bear the loss of the cyclopes, for they were the biggest reason the Olympians assumed power. Also, Zeus resurrected Asclepius at the request of Apollo so that their feud would end. Some versions of this myth have it that after Apollo killed the Cyclopes, their ghosts dwelt in the caverns of the volcano Aetna.

Virgil, the Roman epic poet, wrote, in book three of The Aeneid, of how Aeneas and his crew landed on the island of the cyclops after escaping from Troy at the end of the Trojan War. Aeneas and his crew land on the island, when they are approached by a desperate Greek man from Ithaca, Achaemenides, who was stranded on the island a few years previously with Odysseus’ expedition (as depicted in The Odyssey).

Virgil’s account acts as a sequel to Homer’s, with the fate of Polyphemus as a blind cyclops after the escape of Odysseus and his crew where some cases have Polyphemus regaining his eyesight.

After the “Dark Age”, when Hellenes looked with awe at the vast dressed blocks, known as Cyclopean structures, which had been used in Mycenaean masonry (at sites such as Mycenae and Tiryns or on Cyprus), they concluded that only the Cyclopes had the combination of skill and strength to build in such a monumental manner.


When referring to populations, “Ionian” defines several groups in Classical Greece. In the narrowest sense, it referred to the region of Ionia in Asia Minor. In a broader sense, it could be used to describe all speakers of the Ionic dialect, which in addition to those in Ionia proper also included the populations of Euboea, the Cyclades and many colonies founded by Ionian colonists. Finally, in the broadest sense, it could be used to describe all those who spoke languages of the East Greek group, which included Attic.

Unlike the austere and militaristic Dorians, the Ionians are renowned for their love of philosophy, art, democracy, and pleasure – Ionian traits that were most famously expressed by the Athenians. Unlike “Aeolians” and “Dorians”, “Ionians” appears in the languages of different civilizations around the eastern Mediterranean and as far east as the Indian subcontinent.

The Ionians are not the earliest Greeks to appear in the records; that distinction belongs to the Danaans and the Achaeans. The trail of the Ionians begins in the Mycenaean Greek records of Crete. A fragmentary Linear B tablet from Knossos (tablet Xd 146) bears the name i-ja-wo-ne, interpreted by Ventris and Chadwick as possibly the dative or nominative plural case of *Iāwones, an ethnic name. The Knossos tablets are dated to 1400 or 1200 BC. and thus pre-date the Dorian dominance in Crete, if the name refers to Cretans.

The name first appears in Greek literature in Homer as iāones, used on a single occasion of some long-robed Greeks attacked by Hector and apparently identified with Athenians, and this Homeric form appears to be identical with the Mycenaean form but without the *-w-. This name also appears in a fragment of the other early poet, Hesiod, in the singular iāōn.

Some letters of the Assyrian Empire in the 8th century BC record attacks by what appear to be Ionians on the cities of Phoenicia: For example, a raid by the Ionians (ia-u-na-a-a) on the Phoenician coast is reported to Tiglath-Pileser III in a letter of the 730’s find at Nimrud.

The Assyrian word, which is preceded by the country determinative, has been reconstructed as *Iaunaia. More common is ia-a-ma-nu, ia-ma-nu and ia-am-na-a-a with the country determinative, reconstructed as Iamānu. Sargon II related that he took the latter from the sea like fish and that they were from “the sea of the setting sun.”

If the identification of Assyrian names is correct, at least some of the Ionian marauders came from Cyprus: Sargon’s Annals for 709, claiming that tribute was sent to him by ‘seven kings of Ya (ya-a’), a district of Yadnana whose distant abodes are situated a seven-days’ journey in the sea of the setting sun’, is confirmed by a stele set up at Citium in Cyprus ‘at the base of a mountain ravine … of Yadnana.’

Ionians appear in Indic literature and documents as Yavana and Yona. In documents, these names refer to the Indo-Greek Kingdoms; that is, the states formed by the Macedonians, either Alexander the Great or his successors on the Indian subcontinent. The earliest such documentation is the Edicts of Ashoka, dated to 250 BC, within 10 or 20 years.

Before then, the Yavanas appear in the Vedas with reference to the Vedic period, which could be as early as the 2nd millennium BC. The Vedas are to be distinguished from the much earlier Vedic period.

In the Vedas, the Yavanas are a kingdom of Mlechhas, or barbarians, to the far west, out of the line of descent of Indic culture, in the same category as the Sakas, or Skythians (who spoke Iranian), and thus probably were already Greek. The Ionians of the Aegean are the identity customarily assigned to them.

Ionians appear in a number of Old Persian inscriptions of the Achaemenid Empire as Yaunā, a nominative plural masculine, singular Yauna; for example, an inscription of Darius on the south wall of the palace at Persepolis includes in the provinces of the empire “Ionians who are of the mainland and (those) who are by the sea, and countries which are across the sea; ….” At that time the empire probably extended around the Aegean to northern Greece.

Most modern Middle Eastern languages use the terms “Ionia” and “Ionian” to refer to Greece and Greeks. This is true of Hebrew (Yavan ‘Greece’ / Yevani fem. Yevania ‘a Greek’), Armenian (Hunastan ‘Greece’ / Huyn ‘a Greek’), while the classical Arabic words (al-Yūnān ‘Greece’ / Yūnānī fem. Yūnāniyya pl. Yūnān ‘a Greek’, probably from Aramaic Yawnānā) are used in most modern Arabic dialects including Egyptian and Palestinian as well as being used in modern Persian (Yūnānestān ‘Greece’ / Yūnānī pl. Yūnānīhā/Yūnānīyān ‘Greek’) and Turkish too via Persian (Yunanistan ‘Greece’ / Yunan pl. Yunanlar ‘Greek’).

The etymology of the word is uncertain. Both Frisk and Beekes isolate an unknown root, *Ia-, pronounced *ya-. There are, however, according to some theories it is from an unknown early name of an eastern Mediterranean island population represented by Ha-nebu, an ancient Egyptian name for the people living there.

From ancient Egyptian ‘iwn “pillar, tree trunk” extended into iwnt “bow” (of wood?) and ‘Iwntyw “bowmen, archers.” This derivation is analogous on the one hand to the possible derivation of Dorians and on the other fits the Egyptian concept of “nine bows” with reference to the Sea Peoples.

The Proto-Indo-European onomatopoeic root *wi- or *woi- express a shout uttered by persons running to the assistance of others; according to Pokorny, *Iawones would mean “devotees of Apollo”, based on the cry iē paiōn uttered in his worship. It is from a Proto-Indo-European root *uiH-, meaning “power.”

In a landmark article of 1964 Vladimir Georgiev summarized the relationship of the three main historical dialects and gave an estimate of their chronology as follows. Prior to the 20th century BC, three dialects of Greek existed: Iawonic, Iawolic and Doric (Georgiev’s names). Iawonic was spoken in Attica, Euboea, East Boeotia and the Peloponnesus.

In the 16th century BC, a new koinē was formed from Iawonic and Iawolic: the Mycenaean Greek language. It persisted until about 1200, when it became the major source of Arcado-Cyprian, with some Doric influence. The Ionians taking up the tradition of epic poetry created Homeric Greek. Ionian descends from Iawonic.

The literary evidence of the Ionians leads back to mainland Greece in Mycenaean times before there was an Ionia. The classical sources seem determined that they were to be called Ionians along with other names even then. This cannot be documented with inscriptional evidence, and yet the literary evidence, which is manifestly at least partially legendary, seems to reflect a general verbal tradition.

Foundation myth

The Foundation myth which was current in the Classical period suggested that the Ionians were named after Ion, son of Xuthus, who lived in the north Peloponnesian region of Aegilaus. When the Dorians invaded the Peloponnese and expelled the Achaeans from the Argolid and Lacedaemonia, the Achaeans moved into Aegilaus (henceforth known as Achaea) and the Ionians were in turn expelled. The Ionians moved to Attica and mingled with the local population. Later, many people emigrated to the coast of Asia Minor founding the historical region of Ionia.

Herodotus of Halicarnassus asserts: all are Ionians who are of Athenian descent and keep the feast Apaturia. He further explains: The whole Hellenic stock was then small, and the last of all its branches and the least regarded was the Ionian; for it had no considerable city except Athens.

The Ionians spread from Athens to other places in the Aegean Sea: Sifnos and Serifos, Naxos, Kea and Samos. But they were not just from Athens: These Ionians, as long as they were in the Peloponnesus, dwelt in what is now called Achaea, and before Danaus and Xuthus came to the Peloponnesus, as the Greeks say, they were called Aegialian Pelasgians. They were named Ionians after Ion the son of Xuthus.

Achaea was divided into 12 communities originally Ionian: Pellene, Aegira, Aegae, Bura, Helice, Aegion, Rhype, Patrae, Phareae, Olenus, Dyme and Tritaeae. The most aboriginal Ionians were of Cynuria: The Cynurians are aboriginal and seem to be the only Ionians, but they have been Dorianized by time and by Argive rule.

In Strabo’s account of the origin of the Ionians Hellen, the son of Deucalion, ancestor of the Hellenes, king of Phthia, arranged a marriage between his son Xuthus and the daughter of king Erechtheus of Athens.

Xuthus then founded the Tetrapolis (“Four Cities”) of Attica, a rural district. His son, Achaeus, went into exile in a land subsequently called Achaea after him. Another son of Xuthus, Ion, conquered Thrace, after which the Athenians made him king of Athens.

Attica was called Ionia after his death. Those Ionians colonized Aigialia changing its name to Ionia also. When the Heracleidae returned the Achaeans drove the Ionians back to Athens. Under the Codridae they set forth for Anatolia and founded 12 cities in Caria and Lydia following the model of the 12 cities of Achaea, formerly Ionian.

Japetus and Javan

In the Book of Genesis of the English Bible, Javan is a son of Japheth. Javan is believed nearly universally by Bible scholars to represent the Ionians; that is, Javan is Ion. The Hebrew is Yāwān, plural Yəwānīm.

Additionally, but less surely, Japheth may be related linguistically to the Greek mythological figure Iapetus (“the Piercer”) or Japetus, a Titan, the son of Uranus and Gaia, and father (by an Oceanid named Clymene or Asia) of Atlas, Prometheus, Epimetheus and Menoetius.

Iapetus has (for example, by Robert Graves) been equated with Japheth, the son of Noah, based on the similarity of their names and on old Jewish traditions, that held Japheth as the ancestor of the Greeks, the Slavs, the Italics, the Teutons, the Dravidians etc.

Iapetus (“the Piercer”) is the one Titan mentioned by Homer in the Iliad (8.478–81) as being in Tartarus with Cronus. He is a brother of Cronus, who ruled the world during the Golden Age.

His name derives from the word iapto (“wound, pierce”) and usually refers to a spear, implying that Iapetus may have been regarded as a god of craftsmanship, though scholars mostly describe him as the god of mortality. Iapetus’s wife is normally a daughter of Oceanus and Tethys named Clymene or Asia.

In Hesiod’s Works and Days Prometheus is addressed as “son of Iapetus”, and no mother is named. However, in Hesiod’s Theogony, Clymene is listed as Iapetus’ wife and the mother of Prometheus.

In Aeschylus’s play Prometheus Bound, Prometheus is son of the goddess Themis with no father named (but still with at least Atlas as a brother). However, in Horace’s Odes, in Ode 1.3 Horace describes how “audax Iapeti genus/ Ignem fraude mala gentibus intulit”; “The bold offspring of Iapetus [i.e. Prometheus]/ brought fire to peoples by wicked deceit”.

The sons of Iapetus were sometimes regarded as mankind’s ancestors, and as such some of humanity’s worst qualities were said to have been inherited from these four gods, each of whom were described with a particular moral fault that often led to their own downfall. For instance, sly and clever Prometheus could perhaps represent crafty scheming; the inept and guileless Epimetheus, foolish stupidity; enduring Atlas, excessive daring; and arrogant Menoetius, rash violence.


Jericho’s name in Hebrew, Yeriẖo, is thought to derive from Canaanite word Reaẖ (“fragrant”), though an alternative theory holds that it is derived from the word meaning “moon” (Yareaẖ) in Canaanite, or the name of the lunar deity Yarikh (also written as Jerah, Jarah, or Jorah, Hebrew spelling), a moon god in Canaanite religion whose epithets are “illuminator of the heavens”‘, “illuminator of the myriads of stars” and “lord of the sickle” for whom since the city was an early centre of worship.

The latter epithet may come from the appearance of the crescent moon. Yarikh was recognized as the provider of nightly dew, and married to the goddess Nikkal (nkl, full name Nikkal-wa-Ib), a goddess of Ugarit/Canaan and later of Phoenicia, his moisture causing her orchards to bloom in the desert.

She is a goddess of orchards, whose name means “Great Lady and Fruitful” and derives from Akkadian/West Semitic “´Ilat ´Inbi” meaning “Goddess of Fruit”. De Moor translates Ugaritic “ib” as “blossom” which survives in biblical Hebrew and cites Canticles 6:11 as a survival of this usage.

She is daughter of Khirkhibi, the Summer’s King, and is married to the moon god Yarikh, who gave her necklaces of lapis-lazuli. Their marriage is lyrically described in the Ugaritic text “Nikkal and the Kathirat”. She may have been feted in late summer when tree fruits had been finally harvested. Her Sumerian equivalent is the goddess Ningal, the mother of Inanna and Ereshkigal.

Yarhibol is an Aramean god who was worshiped mainly in ancient Palmyra, a city in central Syria. He was depicted with a solar nimbus and styled “lord of the spring”. He normally appears alongside Bel, who was a co-supreme god of Palmyra, and Aglibol, one of the other top Palmyrene gods.


Hellen was the mythological progenitor of the Hellenes, the son of Deucalion (or sometimes Zeus) and Pyrrha, brother of Amphictyon and father of Aeolus, Xuthus, and Dorus. His name is also another name for Greek, meaning a person of Greek descent or pertaining to Greek culture, and the source of the adjective “Hellenic”.


In Greek mythology, Pandora (derived from pān, i.e. “all” and dōron, i.e. “gift”, thus “the all-endowed”, “the all-gifted” or “the all-giving”) was the first human woman created by the gods, specifically by Hephaestus and Athena on the instructions of Zeus. Her other name—inscribed against her figure on a white-ground kylix in the British Museum—is Anesidora, “she who sends up gifts” (up implying “from below” within the earth).

As Hesiod related it, each god helped create her by giving her unique gifts. Zeus ordered Hephaestus to mold her out of earth as part of the punishment of humanity for Prometheus’ theft of the secret of fire, and all the gods joined in offering her “seductive gifts”.

According to the myth, Pandora opened a jar (pithos), in modern accounts sometimes mistranslated as “Pandora’s box”, releasing all the evils of humanity—although the particular evils, aside from plagues and diseases, are not specified in detail by Hesiod—leaving only Hope inside once she had closed it again. She opened the jar out of simple curiosity and not as a malicious act.

Hesiod, both in his Theogony (briefly, without naming Pandora outright, line 570) and in Works and Days, gives the earliest version of the Pandora story. The Pandora myth is a kind of theodicy, addressing the question of why there is evil in the world.

Deucalion and Pyrrha

Pyrrha is the daughter of Epimetheus and Pandora and wife of Deucalion. When Zeus decided to end the Bronze Age with the great deluge, Deucalion and his wife, Pyrrha, were the only survivors. Even though he was imprisoned, Prometheus who could see the future and had foreseen the coming of this flood told his son, Deucalion, to build an ark and, thus, they survived. During the flood, they landed on Mount Parnassus, the only place spared by the flood.

Deucalion, with the aid of his father Prometheus, was saved from this deluge by building a chest. Like the Biblical Noah and the Mesopotamian counterpart Utnapishtim, he uses his device to survive the deluge with his wife, Pyrrha.

According to folk etymology, Deucalion’s name comes from deukos, a variant of gleucos, i.e. “sweet new wine, must, sweetness” and haliéus, i.e. “sailor, seaman, fisher”. His wife Pyrrha’s name is derived from the adjective pyrrhós, -á, -ón, i.e. “flame-colored, orange”. Deucalion is parallel to Utnapishtim, the survivor of the Sumerian flood that is told in the Epic of Gilgamesh, and to the Biblical Noah.

Once the deluge was over and the couple was on land again, Deucalion consulted an oracle of Themis about how to repopulate the earth. He was told to throw the bones of his mother behind his shoulder. Deucalion and Pyrrha understood the “mother” to be Gaia, the mother of all living things, and the “bones” to be rocks.

They threw the rocks behind their shoulders, which soon began to lose their hardness and change form. Their mass grew greater, and the beginnings of human form emerged. The parts that were soft and moist became skin, the veins of the rock became people’s veins, and the hardest parts of the rocks became bones.

The stones thrown by Pyrrha became women; those thrown by Deucalion became men. Deucalion and Pyrrha had three sons, Hellen, Amphictyon, Orestheus and three daughters Protogeneia, Pandora II and Thyia.

The story of Deucalion and Pyrrha is also retold in the Roman poet Ovid’s famous collection Metamorphoses. In this retelling, Jove (the Roman equivalent of Zeus) takes pity on the couple, recognizing them to be devout worshipers. He parts the clouds and ends the deluge specifically to save Deucalion and Pyrrha, who are floating aimlessly on a raft.

When the storm has cleared and the waters have subsided, Deucalion and Pyrrha are taken aback by the desolate wreckage of the land, and understand that they are now responsible for repopulating the earth. Confused on how to carry out their destiny, they go to see the goddess Themis.

Themis tells Pyrrha that she must cast the bones of her mother to successfully reproduce. Pyrrha is distraught at the idea of desecrating her mother’s honor by digging up her bones, but Deucalion correctly reasons that Themis is referring to great mother earth, as Themis would never advise someone to commit a crime. Both Pyrrha and Deucalion throw a stone over their shoulder – Pyrrha’s turning into a woman, Deucalion’s turning into a man.

Once the land has been repopulated with humans, mother earth follows suit and begins to produce all other forms of life. Ovid uses this opportunity to inform his audience that heat and water are the sources of all life – “because when heat and moisture blend in due balance, they conceive: these two, these are the origin of everything. Though fire and water fight, humidity and warmth create all things; that harmony” (Ovid – pg 15).

In Latin the word pyrrhus means red from the Greek adjective purrhos, i.e. “flame coloured”, “the colour of fire” or simply “red” or “reddish”. Pyrrha was evidently named after her red hair. Horace (Ode, i. 5) and Ovid describe her as red haired.

According to the Hesiodic Catalogue of Women, their sons were themselves progenitors of primary tribes of Greece: Aeolus the Aeolians, Dorus the Dorians, and Xuthus the Achaeans and Ionians through his sons Achaeus and Ion.

According to Thucydides, they conquered the Greek area of Phthia and subsequently spread their rule to other Greek cities. The people of those areas came to be called Hellenes, after the name of their ancestor. The ethnonym Hellenes dates back to the time of Homer. In the Iliad, “Hellas” and “Hellenes” were names of the tribe (also called “Myrmidones”) settled in Phthia, led by Achilles.


In Greek mythology, Deucalion was the son of Prometheus (“forethought”); a Titan in Greek mythology, best known as the deity in Greek mythology who was the creator of mankind and its greatest benefactor, who gifted mankind with fire stolen from Mount Olympus.

Prometheus sided with Zeus and the ascending Olympian gods in the vast cosmological struggle against Cronus (Kronos) and the other Titans. Prometheus was therefore on the conquering side of the cataclysmic war of the Greek gods, the Titanomachy, where Zeus and the Olympian gods ultimately defeated Cronus and the other Titans.

Ancient myths and legends relate at least four versions of the narratives describing Prometheus, his exploits with Zeus, and his eternal punishment as also inflicted by Zeus. There is a single somewhat comprehensive version of the birth of Prometheus and several variant versions of his subjection to eternal suffering at the will of Zeus.

The most significant narratives of his origin appear in the Theogony of Hesiod which relates Prometheus as being the son of the Titan Iapetus by Clymene, one of the Oceanids. Hesiod then presents Prometheus as subsequently being a lowly challenger to Zeus’s omnipotence.

In the trick at Mecone, Prometheus tricks Zeus into eternally claiming the inedible parts of cows and bulls for the sacrificial ceremonies of the gods, while conceding the nourishing parts to humans for the eternal benefit of humankind.

The two remaining central episodes regarding Prometheus as written by Hesiod include his theft of fir from Olympus for the benefit of humanity against the will of Zeus, and the eternal punishment which Prometheus would endure for these acts as inflicted upon him by the judgment of Zeus.

For the greater part, the pre-Athenian ancient sources are selective in which of these narrative elements they chose by their own preferences to honor and support, and which ones they chose to exclude.

The specific combinations of these relatively independent narrative elements by individual ancient authors (Hesiod, Homer, Pindar, Pythagoras), and specific exclusions among them, are often influenced by the particular needs and purposes of the larger myths and legends which they are depicting. Each individual ancient author selectively preferred certain crucial stories depicting Prometheus over others.

The etymology of the theonym prometheus is debated. The classical view is that it signifies “forethought,” as that of his brother Epimetheus denotes “afterthought”. It has been theorized that it derives from the Proto-Indo-European root that also produces the Vedic pra math, “to steal,” hence pramathyu-s, “thief”, cognate with “Prometheus”, the thief of fire. The Vedic myth of fire’s theft by Mātariśvan is an analog to the Greek account. Pramantha was the tool used to create fire.

Ancient sources name his mother as Clymene, Hesione, or Pronoia. Clymene, an Oceanid (sometimes described as a Titaness), wife of the Titan Iapetus, and mother of Atlas, Epimetheus, Prometheus, and Menoetius; other authors relate the same of her sister Asia. A less common genealogy makes Clymene the mother of Deucalion by Prometheus.

Hesiod gives the name of another Oceanid, Clymene, in his Theogony but the Bibliotheca gives instead the name Asia as does Lycophron. It is possible that the name Asia became preferred over Hesiod’s Clymene to avoid confusion with the Clymene who was mother of Phaethon by Helios in some accounts and must have been perceived as a distinct figure.

Herodotus records the tradition that the continent Asia was named after Asia whom he calls wife of Prometheus rather than mother of Prometheus, perhaps here a simple error rather than genuine variant tradition. Both Acusilaus and Aeschylus in his Prometheus Bound call Prometheus’ wife Hesione.

Herodotus relates also the Lydian tradition: “yet the Lydians claim a share in the latter name, saying that Asia was not named after Prometheus’ wife Asia, but after Asies, the son of Cotys, who was the son of Manes, and that from him the Asiad clan at Sardis also takes its name”.

In ancient Roman religion, the Manes or Di Manes are chthonic deities sometimes thought to represent souls of deceased loved ones. They were associated with the Lares, Lemures, Genii, and Di Penates as deities (di) that pertained to domestic, local, and personal cult. They belonged broadly to the category of di inferi, “those who dwell below,” the undifferentiated collective of divine dead.

The Oceanid Clymene

The Oceanid Clymene is also given as the wife to King Merops of Ethiopia and, by Helios, mother of Phaëton and the Heliades (“children of the sun”), the daughters of Helios and Clymene the Oceanid.

Phaethon was the son of the Oceanid Clymene and the solar deity Apollo or Helios. In the prevailing account, Phaethon, challenged by his playmates, sought assurance from his mother that his father was the sun god. She gave him the requested assurance and told him to turn to his father for confirmation. He asked his father for some proof that would demonstrate his relationship with the sun.

When the god promised to grant him whatever he wanted, he insisted on being allowed to drive the sun chariot for a day. Placed in charge of the chariot, he was unable to control the horses. The earth was in danger of being burnt up and, to prevent this disaster, Zeus killed him with a thunderbolt.

The name “Phaethon”, which means “Shining One”, was given also to Phaethon (son of Eos), to one of the horses of Eos (the Dawn), the Sun, the constellation Auriga, and the planet Jupiter, while as an adjective it was used to describe the sun and the moon. In some accounts the planet referred to by this name is not Jupiter but Saturn.

The Heliades grieved for four months and the gods turned them into poplar trees and their tears into amber. According to some sources, their tears (amber) fell into the river Eridanos, in which Phaethon had fallen. According to Hyginus, the Heliades were turned to poplar trees because they yoked the chariot for their brother without their father Helios’ permission.


The name Pelasgians was used by some ancient Greek writers to refer to populations that either were the ancestors of the Greeks or preceded the Greeks in Greece, “a hold-all term for any ancient, primitive and presumably indigenous people in the Greek world”.

In general, “Pelasgian” has come to mean more broadly all the indigenous inhabitants of the Aegean Sea region and their cultures before the advent of the Greek language.

During the classical period, enclaves under that name survived in several locations of mainland Greece, Crete, and other regions of the Aegean. Populations identified as “Pelasgian” spoke a language or languages that at the time Greeks identified as “barbaric”, even though some ancient writers described the Pelasgians as Greeks.

A tradition also survived that large parts of Greece had once been Pelasgian before being Hellenized. These parts generally fell within the ethnic domain that by the 5th century BC was attributed to those speakers of ancient Greek who were identified as Ionians.

The ancient Greek word for “sea”, pelagos, comes from the same root, *plāk-, as the Doric word plagos, “side” (which is flat), appearing in *pelag-skoi. Ernest Klein therefore simply interprets the same reconstructed form as “the sea men”, where the sea is the flat.

Klein’s interpretation does not require the Indo-Europeans to have had a word for “sea”, which living on the inland plains (if they did) they are likely to have lacked. On encountering the sea they simply used the word for plain, “the flat”. The flatlanders also could acquire what must have been to the Hellenes a homonym, “the sea men”. Best of all, if the Egyptians of the Late Bronze Age encountered maritime marauders under this name they would have translated as Sea People.

The anger of Zeus was ignited by the hubris of the Pelasgians, so he decided to put an end to the Bronze Age. Lycaon, the king of Arcadia, had sacrificed a boy to Zeus, who was appalled by this savage offering. Zeus unleashed a deluge, so that the rivers ran in torrents and the sea flooded the coastal plain, engulfed the foothills with spray, and washed everything clean.

Parian Chronicle

For some time during the Middle Ages, many European Christian scholars continued to accept Greek mythical history at face value, thus asserting that Deucalion’s flood was a regional flood, that occurred a few centuries later than the global one survived by Noah’s family.

On the basis of the archaeological stele known as the Parian Chronicle, a Greek chronology, covering the years from 1582 BC to 299 BC, inscribed on a stele found on the island of Paros in two sections, and sold in Smyrna in the early 17th century to an agent for Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel, Deucalion’s Flood was usually fixed as occurring sometime around c. 1528 BC. Deucalion’s flood may be dated in the chronology of Saint Jerome to c. 1460 BC.

The Parian Chronicle or Parian Marble combines dates for events we would consider mythic, such as the Flood of Deucalion (equivalent to 1529/28 BC) with dates we would categorize as historic. For the Greeks, the events of their distant past, such as the Trojan War (dated from 1217 to 1208 BC in the Parian inscription) and the Voyage of the Argonauts were historic: their myths were understood as legends to the Greeks.

In fact the Parian inscriptions spend more detail on the Heroic Age than on certifiably historic events closer to the date the stele was inscribed and erected, apparently during 264/263 BC.

According to Augustine of Hippo (City of God XVIII,8,10,&11), Deucalion and his father Prometheus were contemporaries of Moses. According to Clement of Alexandria in his Stromata, “…in the time of Crotopus occurred the burning of Phaethon, and the deluges of Deucalion.”

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