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Ionians

The Ionians were one of the three main ancient Greek ethno-linguistic groups, linked by their use of the Ionic dialect of the Greek language. The other two groups were the Dorians and the Aeolians. They were known collectively as Hellenes. The Athenians, in the peninsula of Attica, were the only Ionians on the Greek mainland. The Greeks of the Aegean islands, however, were almost entirely Ionian, the main exception being the Aeolians of Lesbos and the Dorians of Rhodes.

Ionia was the best located territory in Asia Minor, in the middle of all important civilisations from that period: Egypt, Phoenicia, Persia, Lydia, Thrace, Macedonia and the other Greeks around the Aegean Sea: Aeolians, Athenians, people from Sparta, Dorians, etc.

According to semi-historical Greek legend, Ionia was colonised by refugees from mainland Greece expelled by the invading people from north in about 1200 BC, leaving Attica as the only European outpost of the Ionian race. Ionia was formed by 12 cities: Miletus, Myus, Priene, Ephesos, Colophon, Lebedus, Teos, Erythrae, Clazomenae, Phocaea, Samos and Chios. Their inhabitants are considered the most prosperous and innovative people in Asia Minor. Most of them were merchants and artisans. It is believed that the coin was invented here. Mainly they where using pieces of silver as an exchange currency, but with gold there was a problem: it was hard to tell how pure it was, and the electrum, found in large quantities in the nearby territory Lydia, actually had only about 50% gold, the rest was silver (and also copper in very small proportions). People needed to weigh every piece of gold and electrum created more problems because it was lighter than gold. They needed a standard that could guarantee the value for a piece of electrum. Stamps were already used in Egypt or Babylon for a long time, so they placed a "sign" on a piece of electrum of a certain weight. Here are two examples:
Electrum hecte, 2.3g, 10mm
Electrum hemihecte, 1.15g, 8mm

There were different standardized weights for these pieces of electrum, most of them had ~2.3g (1/6 starter or hectum) and ~1.15g (1/12 starter or hemihectum). A little later these signs were to be replaced so they represented something. Ephesos was well known for apiculture, so placing a bee on these pieces of metal would have been a good advertising for their honey. The coin below is one of the first coins they made, they improved that bee image in time as you may see in the second example that was made about 200 years later than the first one.
Electrum hemihecte, 1.15g, 8mm, Ephesus mint
Silver drachm, 3.20g, 12.3mm, Ephesus mint

But the first true coin was minted in about the same period by their neighbours, the Lydians, as they had great quantities of electrum in the sand of some regions and made a large number of such coins. They were to be used in the whole Lydia. It is quite hard to answer 'what was the first coin?'. There's no evidence that the geometrical type was issued before the Lydian coin, it's based only on logical assumption. Also, we have to think about what the word "coin" means? An exchange currency that is widely used, that has certain picture on one or both faces? The geometrical type was not widely used and you can't determine who issued the coin (like most of ancient coins) because that geometrical sign has no meaning. The Lydian's symbol was a lion head and they used the coin in the whole kingdom.

Electrum 1/3 stater, 4.722g, 13.6mm, Lydian mint

Interesting is that they also used silver for their coins as you can see here. At that time there was no need to use a mark on a silver piece to guarantee its value.
Silver siglos (half-stater), 5.36g, 16.2mm, Sardis? mint
Silver 1/12 stater, 1.195g, 9.2mm, Miletos mint

King Kroisos of Lydia is the one who minted these first coins. He was famous for his extraordinary wealth, but with his defeat by Kyros in 546 BC Lydia became a Persian satrapy.

Ionians and Lydians were very different but their commercial relations were very strong, they travelled between these two regions quite a lot, so one could state that a good idea from Ionians could easily be spread and implemented by Lydians. But how different are they?

People of Ionia where a mix of people that sailed from Attica and the native population, which already was a mix of the nearby civilisations. They rejected any political unity for a long time (however Polycrates, a tyrant from Samos, 535 - 515 BC, took power by force over some cities of Ionia). They had different cultures, different religions, different ideas about life and coexisting was achieved by having an unprejudiced thinking. This is why the philosophy and science were born here. One other reason is that they were not interested in a political unity or expanding their frontier, so their effort was focused on something far better, something that we did achieve only after two millennia. Lydians were somehow opposite. They were conquerors. About the language: Lydians spoke an Indo-European language, while Ionians - a Greek dialect.

Ionian history is somehow connected with the Lydians. Lydians formed a big empire in Anatolia (from Black Sea to Mediterranean Sea and from Aegean Sea to the river Halys). Their kingdom was first called Maionia and the capital was Hyde but when the Heraclids dynasty was replaced by Mermnads in about 687 BC, the name Hyde changed to Sardis and the empire to Lydia. Gyges the first king of the Mermnads dynasty launched military campaigns against the Ionian cities. Most of them served the Lydian benefits, but not for long as the Cimmerians were a big problem for Lydians and had to concentrate their forces on defense. Gyges was killed in a battle against Cimmerians. Alyattes, the fourth of the Mermnad kings, reasserted Lydia's sway over some Ionian cities and down, over Carian cities. His son, Kroisos (Croesus) continued the expansion over Ephesus and other Ionian cities and also went up inside Aeolis. He imposed heavy taxation on the cities at the Aegean shore, including Ionian cities. In fact these cities became the main source of income for Lydians. However he's also responsible for the rebuilding of Ephesus, reconstruction of the Artemis Temple (one of the Seven Wonders) which were destroyed by Cimmerians. In the mean time at the right side, their neighbours, the Medes dynasty, were defeated by Persians and soon the Lydian empire was about to fall, as Sardis was conquered by Persians in 546 BC. After that, Ionians obtained great victories against the Persian empire. After the peace of Antalcidas in 387 BC all the Greek cities from Asia were placed under the nominal dominion of Persia. However they still had great amount of freedom until the Alexander The Great's invasion. After the battle of the Granicus most of the Ionian cities submitted to Alexander. Miletus, which alone held out, was reduced after a long siege (334 BC). From this time they passed under the dominion of the successive Macedonian rulers of Asia.

Ionians had an impressive knowledge of nature, they knew about the existence of atoms, the existance of air, they knew the earth is round and that we, humans, evolved from simpler life forms which lived in water. Thales (635 - 543 BC), the first scientist and philosopher, was born in Miletus. Pythagoras (569 - 475 BC), "the father of numbers", was an Ionian too, from the isle of Samoa. They both came from rich families and travelled to Egypt and Babylonia, so it's thought that some of their knowledge came from these regions. Other Ionian philosophers: Anaximander, Anaximenes, Heraclitus, Anaxagoras, Xenophanes. Theodorus from Samos was credited with a lot of inventions like: the carpenter's square, the lock and key, the turning lathe, the water level, the ore smelting, the craft of casting. Everyone dreamed, but they didn't dream about a great Rome, they dreamed about stars, about life and God, about how this nature works.