Ionic Greek
Ἰωνικὴ διάλεκτος
RegionCircum-Aegean, Magna Graecia
Erac. 1000–300 BC
Early form
Greek alphabet
Language codes
ISO 639-3
Distribution of Greek dialects in Greece in the classical period.[1]
Distribution of Greek dialects in Magna Graecia (Southern Italy and Sicily) in the classical period.

Ionic or Ionian Greek (Ancient Greek: Ἰωνική, romanizedIōnikḗ) was a subdialect of the Eastern or Attic–Ionic dialect group of Ancient Greek. The Ionic group traditionally comprises three dialectal varieties that were spoken in Euboea (West Ionic), the northern Cyclades (Central Ionic), and from c. 1000 BC onward in Asiatic Ionia (East Ionic), where Ionian colonists from Athens founded their cities.[2] Ionic was the base of several literary language forms of the Archaic and Classical periods, both in poetry and prose.[3] The works of Homer and Hesiod are among the most popular poetic works that were written in a literary form of the Ionic dialect, known as Epic or Homeric Greek. The oldest Greek prose, including that of Heraclitus, Herodotus, Democritus, and Hippocrates, was also written in Ionic. By the end of the 5th century BC, Ionic was supplanted by Attic, which had become the dominant dialect of the Greek world.[2]


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The Ionic dialect appears to have originally spread from the Greek mainland across the Aegean at the time of the Dorian invasions, around the 11th century BC, during the early Greek Dark Ages. According to tradition, the ancestors of Ionians first set out from Athens, in a series of migrations, to establish their colonies on the coast of Asia Minor and the islands of the Cyclades, around the beginning of the Protogeometric period (1075/1050 BC).[4] Between the 11th and 9th century BC, the Ionians continued to spread around those areas. The linguistic affinity of Attic and Ionic is evident in several unique features, like the early loss of /w/, or the merger of /ā/ and /ē/, as seen in both dialects.[4]

By the end of Archaic Greece and early Classical Greece in the 5th century BC, the central west coast of Asia Minor, along with the islands of Chios and Samos, formed the heartland of Ionia proper. The Ionic dialect was also spoken on islands across the central Aegean and on the large island of Euboea north of Athens. The dialect was soon spread by Ionian colonization to areas in the northern Aegean, the Black Sea, and the western Mediterranean, including Magna Graecia in Sicily and Italy.

The Ionic dialect is generally divided into two major time periods, Old Ionic (or Old Ionian) and New Ionic (or New Ionian). The transition between the two is not clearly defined, but 600 BC is a good approximation.

The works of Homer (The Iliad, The Odyssey, and the Homeric Hymns) and of Hesiod were written in a literary dialect called Homeric Greek or Epic Greek, which largely comprises Old Ionic, but with some admixture from the neighboring Aeolic dialect to the north,[5] as well as with some Mycenean elements as a result of a long pre-Homeric epic tradition.[2] This Epic Ionic was used in all later hexametric and elegiac poetry, not only by Ionians, but also by foreigners such as the Boeotian Hesiod.[2] Ionic would become the conventional dialect used for specific poetical and literary genres. Ιt was used by many authors, regardless of their origin; like the Dorian Tyrtaeus, composing elegies in a form of Ionic.[6] This ability of poets to switch between dialects would eventually temper regional differences, while contributing to the awareness of the Greekness that all dialects had in common.[6] The poet Archilochus wrote in late Old Ionic.

The most famous New Ionic authors are Anacreon, Theognis, Herodotus, Hippocrates, and, in Roman times, Aretaeus, Arrian, and the Lucianic or Pseudo-Lucianic On the Syrian Goddess.

Ionic acquired prestige among Greek speakers because of its association with the language used by both Homer and Herodotus and the close linguistic relationship with the Attic dialect as spoken in Athens. This was further enhanced by the writing reform implemented in Athens in 403 BC, whereby the old Attic alphabet was replaced by the Ionic alphabet, as used by the city of Miletus. This alphabet eventually became the standard Greek alphabet, its use becoming uniform during the Koine era. It was also the alphabet used in the Christian Gospels and the book of Acts.

Ionic subdialects

Map of the Ionian Greek dialects

On the basis of inscriptions, three subdialects of Ionic may be discerned:[7]

1. Western Ionic, the dialect of Euboea and parts of Attica, like Oropos;

2. Central or Cycladic Ionic, the dialect of the Cycladic Islands;

3. Eastern Ionic, the dialect of Samos, Chios, and the west coast of Asia Minor.[8]

Eastern Ionic stands apart from both other dialects because it lost at a very early time the /h/ sound (psilosis) (Herodotos should therefore properly be called Erodotos). The /w/ sound (digamma) is also completely absent from Eastern Ionic, but was sometimes retained in Western and Cycladic Ionic. Also pronouns that begin with /hop-/ in Western and Cycladic Ionic (ὅπου where, ὅπως how), begin with ok- (conventionally written hok-) in Eastern Ionic (ὅκου/ὄκου, ὅκως/ὄκως).

Western Ionic differs from Cycladic and Eastern Ionic by the sounds -tt- and -rr- where the other two have -ss- and -rs- (τέτταρες vs. τέσσαρες, four; θάρρος vs. θάρσος, bravery). Western Ionic also stands apart by using the form ξένος (xenos, foreigner, guest), where the other two use ξεῖνος (xeinos).[9]

Cycladic Ionic may be further subdivided: Keos, Naxos, and Amorgos retained a difference between two /æ/ sounds, namely original /æ/ (written as Ε), and /æ/ evolved from /ā/ (written as Η); for example ΜΗΤΕΡ = μήτηρ < μάτηρ, mother. On the other Cycladic Islands this distinction was not made, Η and Ε were used there interchangeably.[10]

Within Eastern Ionic, Herodotus recognized four subgroups (Histories, I.142), three of them apparently influenced by a neighbouring language:

a. The dialect of Miletus, Myus, and Priene, and their colonies, influenced by Carian;

b. The Ionic of Ephesos, Kolophon, Lebedos, Teos, Klazomenai, and Phokaia, and their colonies, influenced by Lydian;

c. The dialect of Chios and Erythrai and their colonies, influenced by Aeolic Greek;

d. The dialect of Samos and its colonies.

Differences between these four groups are not clearly visible from inscriptions, probably because inscriptions were usually ordered by a high social group that everywhere spoke the same kind of "civilized Ionic". However, local speech by the "man in the street" must have shown differences. An inkling of this may be witnessed in the language of Ephesian "beggar poet" Hipponax, who often used local slang (νικύρτας, σάβαυνις: terms of abuse; χλούνης, thief; κασωρικός, whorish) and Lydian loanwords (πάλμυς, king).[11]



Proto-Greek ā > Ionic ē; in Doric, Aeolic, ā remains; in Attic, ā after e, i, r, but ē elsewhere.[12]

Proto-Greek e, o > East/Central Ionic ei, ou:[note 1] compensatory lengthening after loss of w in the sequences enw-, erw-, onw-, orw-. In Attic and West Ionic, e, o are not lengthened.[13]

East Ionic generally removes initial aspiration (Proto-Greek hV- > Ionic V-).[15]

Ionic contracts less often than Attic.[16]


Proto-Greek *kʷ before o > Attic, West/Central Ionic p, some East Ionic k.

Proto-Greek *ťť > East/Central Ionic ss, West Ionic, Attic tt.[17] This feature of East and Central Ionic made it into Koine Greek.


See also


  1. ^ Among Greek dialects, Ionic was the fondest of long vowels and was thus considered especially suited to solo singing; the more austere, broad-sounding Doric was preferred in choral singing.


  1. ^ Roger D. Woodard (2008), "Greek dialects", in: The Ancient Languages of Europe, ed. R. D. Woodard, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 51.
  2. ^ a b c d "Ionic dialect | Britannica". Retrieved 2023-11-29.
  3. ^ Barrio, María Luisa del (2013-09-24), "Ionic", Encyclopedia of Ancient Greek Language and Linguistics, Brill, retrieved 2023-11-29
  4. ^ a b Miller 2013, p. 139.
  5. ^ Horrocks 2009, p. 44.
  6. ^ a b Derks & Roymans 2009, p. 45.
  7. ^ Thumb, Albert; Scherer, A. (1959). Handbuch der griechischen Dialekte (2 ed.). Heidelberg: Carl Winter. p. II, 247.
  8. ^ Derks & Roymans 2009, p. 44.
  9. ^ Thumb & Scherer (1959), pp. 247, 264-265.
  10. ^ Thumb & Scherer (1959), pp. 251-252.
  11. ^ Hoffmann, O.; Scherer, A. (1969). Geschichte der griechischen Sprache. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter & Co. p. I, 55.
  12. ^ Smyth, par. 30 and note, 31: long a in Attic and other dialects
  13. ^ Smyth, par. 37 note: Ionic compensatory lengthening after loss of w
  14. ^ κόρη. Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert; A Greek–English Lexicon at the Perseus Project.
  15. ^ Smyth, par. 9 note: early loss of rough breathing in Ionic of Asia Minor
  16. ^ Smyth, par. 59 note: contraction in dialects
  17. ^ Smyth, par. 112, 78: ky, khy > tt; = ss in non-Attic dialects
  18. ^ Athenaeus Deipnosophists 10 425c


Further reading