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Location of Caria within the classical regions of Asia Minor
Carian soldier of the Achaemenid army c. 480 BC. Tomb of Xerxes I.[1]
Ancient copy of the cult image of a local goddess hellenized as Aphrodite at Aphrodisias

The Carians (/ˈkɛəriənz/; Ancient Greek: Κᾶρες, Kares, plural of Κάρ, Kar[2]) were the ancient inhabitants of Caria in southwest Anatolia, who spoke the Carian language.

Historical accounts[edit]


It is not clear when the Carians enter into history. The definition is dependent on corresponding Caria and the Carians to the "Karkiya" or "Karkisa" mentioned in the Hittite records. Bronze Age Karkisa are first mentioned as having aided the Assuwa League against the Hittite King Tudhaliya I. Later in 1323 BC, King Arnuwandas II was able to write to Karkiya for them to provide asylum for the deposed Manapa-Tarhunta of "the land of the Seha River", one of the principalities within the Luwian Arzawa complex in western Anatolia. This they did, allowing Manapa-Tarhunta to take back his kingdom. In 1274 BC, Karkisa are also mentioned among those who fought on the Hittite Empire side against the Egyptians in the Battle of Kadesh. Taken as a whole, Hittite records seem to point at a Luwian ancestry for the Carians and, as such, they would have lost their literacy through the Dark Age of Anatolia.[citation needed]

The relationship between the Bronze Age "Karkiya" or "Karkisa" and the Iron Age Caria and the Carians is complicated, despite having western Anatolia as common ground, by the uncertainties regarding the exact location of the former on the map within Hittite geography.[3] Yet, the supposition is suitable from a linguistic point-of-view given that the Phoenicians were calling them "KRK" in their abjad script and they were referred to as krka in Old Persian.


The Carians next appear in records of the early centuries of the first millennium BC; Homer's writing about the golden armour or ornaments of the Carian captain Nastes, the brother of Amphimachus and son of Nomion,[4] reflects the reputation of Carian wealth that may have preceded the Greek Dark Ages and thus recalled in oral tradition.

Old Testament[edit]

In some translations of Biblical texts, the Carians are mentioned in 2 Kings 11:4, 11:19 (/kɑˈɽi/; כָּרִי, in Hebrew literally "like fat sheep/goat", contextually "noble" or "honored") and perhaps alluded to in 2 Samuel 8:18, 15:18, and 20:23 (/kɽɛˈti/; כְּרֵתִי, probably unrelated due to the "t", may be Cretans). They are also named as mercenaries in inscriptions found in ancient Egypt and Nubia, dated to the reigns of Psammetichus I and II. They are sometimes referred to as the "Cari" or "Khari". Carian remnants have been found in the ancient city of Persepolis or modern Takht-e-Jamshid in Iran.

Greek and Roman Antiquity[edit]

The Greek historian Herodotus recorded that Carians themselves believed to be aborigines of Caria but they were also, by general consensus of ancient sources, a maritime people before being gradually pushed inland.[5] Plutarch mentions the Carians as being referred to as "cocks" by the Persians on account of their wearing crests on their helmets; the epithet was expressed in the form of a Persian privilege when a Carian soldier responsible for killing Cyrus the Younger was rewarded by Artaxerxes II (r. 405/404–359/358 BC) with the honor of leading the Persian army with a golden cock on the point of his spear.[6]

According to Thucydides, it was largely the Carians who settled the Cyclades prior to the Minoans. The Middle Bronze Age (MMI–MMII) expansion of the Minoans into this region seems to have come at their expense. Intending to secure revenue in the Cyclades, Minos of Knossos established a navy with which he established his first colonies by taking control of the Hellenic sea and ruling over the Cyclades. In doing so, Minos expelled the Carians, many of which had turned to piracy as a way of life. During the Athenian purification of Delos,[clarification needed] all graves were exhumed and it was found that more than half were Carians (identified by the style of arms and the method of interment).[7]

According to Strabo, Carians, of all the "barbarians", had a particular tendency to intermingle with the Greeks,

"This was particularly the case with the Carians, for, although the other peoples were not yet having very much intercourse with the Greeks nor even trying to live in Hellenic fashion or to learn our language ... yet the Carians roamed throughout the whole of Greece serving on expeditions for pay. ... and when they were driven thence [from the islands] into Asia, even here they were unable to live apart from the Greeks, I mean when the Ionians and Dorians later crossed over to Asia." (Strabo 14.2.28)

Indeed, the term barbarian was coined by Homer in reference to the Carians speaking an unintelligible language.[8]

Greek mythology[edit]

According to Herodotus, the Carians were named after an eponymous Car, a legendary early king and a brother of Lydus and Mysus, also eponymous founders respectively of Lydians and Mysians and all sons of Atys.[9]

Homer records that Miletus (later an Ionian city), together with the mountain of Phthries, the river Maeander and the crests of Mount Mycale were held by the Carians at the time of the Trojan War and that the Carians, qualified by the poet as being of incomprehensible speech, joined the Trojans against the Achaeans under the leadership of Nastes, brother of Amphimachos ("he who fights both ways") and son of Nomion. These figures appear only in the Iliad and in a list in Dares of Phrygia's epitome of the Trojan War.

Classical Greeks would often claim that part of Caria to the north was originally colonized by Ionian Greeks before the Dorians.

The Greek goddess Hecate possibly originated among the Carians.[10] Indeed, most theophoric names invoking Hecate, such as Hecataeus or Hecatomnus, the father of Mausolus, are attested in Caria.[11]

Carians and Leleges[edit]

The Carians were often linked by Greek writers to the Leleges, but the exact nature of the relationship between Carians and Leleges remains mysterious. The two groups seem to have been distinct, but later intermingled with each other. Strabo wrote that they were so intermingled that they were often confounded with each other.[12] However, Athenaeus stated that the Leleges stood in relation to the Carians as the Helots stood to the Lacedaemonians.[13] This confusion of the two peoples is found also in Herodotus, who wrote that the Carians, when they were allegedly living amid the Cyclades, were known as Leleges.[9]

Archaeologists studying a Carian tomb in Milas, Beçin.


The Carian language belongs to the Luwic group of the Anatolian family of languages. Other Luwic languages besides Luwian proper are Lycian and Milyan (Lycian B). Although the ancestors of Carian and Lycian must have been very close to Luwian, it is probably incorrect to claim that they are linear descendants of Luwian.[14] It is possible that the speakers of Proto-Carian, or the common ancestor of Carian and Lycian, supplied the elites of the Bronze Age kingdom of Arzawa, the population of which partly consisted of Lydians.[15]

An important evidence of the Carians' own belief in their blood ties and cultural affinity with the Lydians and Mysians is the admittance, apart from theirs, exclusively of Lydians and Mysians to the temple of the "Carian Zeus" in their first capital that was Mylasa.


One of the Carian ritual centers was Mylasa, where they worshipped their supreme god, called "the Carian Zeus" by Herodotus. Unlike Zeus, this was a warrior god.

It is possible that the goddess Hecate, the patron of pathways and crossroads, originated among the Carians.[16] Herodotus calls her Athena and says that her priestess would grow a beard when disaster pended.[17]

On Mount Latmos near Miletus, the Carians worshipped Endymion, who was the lover of the Moon and fathered fifty children. Endymion slept eternally, in the sanctuary devoted to him, which lasted into Roman times.

There is at least one named priestess known to us from this region, Carminia Ammia who was priestess of Thea Maeter Adrastos and of Aphrodite.


Throughout the 1950s, J.M. Cook and G.E. Bean conducted exhaustive archaeological surveys in Caria.[18] Cook ultimately concluded that Caria was virtually devoid of any prehistoric remains. According to his reports, third millennium finds were mostly confined to a few areas on or near the Aegean coast. No finds from the second millennium were known aside from the Submycenean remains at Asarlik and the Mycenaean remains at Miletus and near Mylasa. Archaeologically, there was nothing distinguishing about the Carians since the material evidence so far only indicated that their culture was merely a reflection of Greek culture.[19]

During the 1970s, further archaeological excavations in Caria revealed Mycenean buildings at Iasus (with two "Minoan" levels underneath them),[20] as well as Protogeometric and Geometric material remains (i.e. cemeteries and pottery).[21] Archaeologists also confirmed the presence of Carians in Sardis, Rhodes, and in Egypt where they served as mercenaries of the Pharaoh. In Rhodes, specifically, a type of Carian chamber-tomb known as a Ptolemaion may be attributed to a period of Carian hegemony on the island.[22] Despite this period of increased archaeological activity, the Carians still appear not to have been an autochthonous group of Anatolia since both the coastal and interior regions of Caria were virtually unoccupied throughout prehistoric times.[23]

As for the assumption that the Carians descended from Neolithic settlers, this is contradicted by the fact that Neolithic Caria was essentially desolate.[24][failed verification] Though a very small Neolithic population may have existed in Caria,[25] the people known as "Carians" may in fact have been of Aegean origin that settled in southwestern Anatolia during the second millennium BC.[26]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Achaemenid soldiers
  2. ^ Κάρ. Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert; A Greek–English Lexicon at the Perseus Project
  3. ^ Lajara 2007, p. 1.
  4. ^ Homer. Iliad, 2.858–2.875.
  5. ^ Boardman 1991, p. 663.
  6. ^ Plutarch. Parallel Lives, "Artaxerxes".
  7. ^ Thucydides. History of the Peloponnesian War, 1.4–1.8.
  8. ^ Tuplin, C, Greek Racism? Observations on the Character and Limits of Greek Ethnic Prejudice' in G.R. Tsetskhladze (ed.), 'Ancient Greeks East and West' ' (Leiden-Boston-Cologne) 1999, 47-75
  9. ^ a b Herodotus. Histories, 1.171.
  10. ^ Walter Burkert, (1987) Greek Religion: Archaic and Classical, p. 171. Oxford, Blackwell. ISBN 0-631-15624-0.
  11. ^ Theodor Kraus, Hekate: Studien zu Wesen u. Bilde der Göttin in Kleinasien u. Griechenland (Heidelberg) 1960
  12. ^ Strabo. Geographica, 7.321 and 13.611.
  13. ^ Athenaeus. The Deipnosophists, 6.271.
  14. ^ Melchert 2003, pp. 175–177.
  15. ^ Yakubovich 2010, pp. 86–96.
  16. ^ Burkert & Raffan 1987, p. 171.
  17. ^ Herodotus. Histories, 8.104.
  18. ^ Bass 1963, p. 356 [Footnote]: "G. E. Bean and J. M. Cook, BSA 47 (1952) 171ff; BSA 50 (1955) 85ff; BSA 52 (1957) 58ff."
  19. ^ Cook 1959–1960, p. 50 under Caria: "Except in the extreme east, where it is approached from the Maeander valley, Caria seems to be almost totally barren of prehistoric remains; considering the archaeological reconnaissances that have recently been carried out here, this lacuna is noteworthy. Finds of third-millennium date are confined to a very few points on or near the Aegean coast, with the curious exception of one find-spot which seems to be near Yatağan at the head of the Marsyas valley. No second-millennium remains are known apart from the Mycenaean at Miletus, the Submycenaean at Asarlik (Termera) opposite Cos, and the reports of Mycenaean from the vicinity of Mylasa. It is now asserted by some scholars that the Carians were a people, perhaps Indo-European, who inhabited the interior of Anatolia and only descended to Caria and the Aegean at the end of the Bronze Age; but this is far from harmonising with the Greek tradition about them, and the writer for one finds it difficult to explain the Mycenaean in Caria (and perhaps adjacent islands) as being anything other than Carian. Our difficulty with early Caria is that we have no means as yet of distinguishing Carians; archaeologically their culture appears as little more than a reflection of contemporary Greek culture. Excavation of early Carian settlements is urgently needed."
  20. ^ Mitchell & McNicoll 1978–1979, p. 63 under Mycenaeans in Asia Minor: "At Iasus Mycenaean buildings, approximately dated by the presence of LH IIIa ware, have been found below the protogeometric cemetery. Below this again two 'Minoan' levels are reported, the earlier containing local imitations of MM II-LM I ware, the later imported pieces of the Second Palace Period (AJA [1973], 177-8). Middle and Late Minoan ware has also occurred at Cnidus (AJA [1978], 321)."
  21. ^ Mitchell & McNicoll 1978–1979, p. 79 under Caria: "There has been much archaeological activity in Caria, and there is little doubt that the discoveries made in the last decade, when fully published, will provoke a reappraisal of Carian history at all periods. Mycenaean discoveries at Iasus and elsewhere have already been mentioned (p. 63). Protogeometric and geometric finds have also been abundant. On the coast a tomb at Dirmil produced eighth century B.C. pottery (C. Özgünel, Belleten 40 [1976], 3 ff.) and there is geometric pottery from the settlement at Iasus, as well as protogeometric ware of a distinct Carian style from the cemetery beneath the Roman agora (ASAA [1969/70], 464 ff.). Inland, at Beçin, the fortified site which was presumably the precursor of Mylasa, a geometric cemetery has been excavated by A. Akarca (Belleten xxxv [1971], 1-52). These finds and the Carian geometric style are discussed by J. N. Coldstream, Geometric Greece (1977), 258-60. Since then a group of geometric kotylai from Euromus has been published by C. Özgünel, AA (1977), 8-13."
  22. ^ Mitchell & McNicoll 1978–1979, p. 79 under Caria: "Carians also made their mark abroad, and recent work sheds light on their presence in Sardis (J. G. Pedley, JHS [1974], 96-9), Rhodes (P. M. Fraser, Rhodian Funerary Monuments [1977], 5, a chamber-tomb of Carian type known as the Ptolemaion, probably belonging to the period of Carian hegemony in the island for which see id., BSA [1972], 122-3), and above all in Egypt as mercenaries in the Pharaonic armies (O. Masson, Bull. Soc. Fr. d'Egyptologie lvi [1969], 25-36; A. B. Lloyd, JEA [1978], 107-10)."
  23. ^ Bass 1963, p. 356: "J. M. Cook, after his thorough and exhaustive survey of the area with G. Bean, doubts that the Carians occupied Caria during the second millennium B.C. for, with the exception of Miletus, and Mylasa with its scanty Mycenaean remains, "the coast appears a blank on the map...and the interior of Caria seems to have been virtually uninhabited throughout prehistoric times. Paton and Myres had previously suggested that the lack of Mycenaean remains in Caria, within sight of so many islands which were occupied by Mycenaeans, must have been due to some unknown mainland opposition."
  24. ^ Drews 2001, p. 260: "That Neolithic Caria was uninhabited is quite incredible. Hacilar directly east of Caria, was a Neolithic settlement already in 8000 B.C."
  25. ^ Drews 2001, p. 260: "In short, the population of Neolithic Caria may have been very small..."
  26. ^ Bienkowski & Millard 2000, pp. 65–66: "Caria, Carians A region of south-west Turkey, south of *Lydia, Caria was first settled in the *Neolithic but became a distinctive culture only in the first millennium BC. Carians may originally have been of *Aegean origin and settled in the area in the second millennium BC. The earlier first-millennium BC communities seem to have been independent, mainly *temple centres for native deities, and Caria came under Lydian control. There was considerable *Hellenistic influence, and already the *pottery of the eighth and seventh centuries BC had a geometric tradition similar to that of east Greece. In 546 BC, Caria was brought under *Persian rule and placed under the Lydian satrapy. By the fourth century BC, its culture was similar to that of a *Greek city-state. The Carian *language is related to Luwian (*Hittite) and is known from inscriptions written in a local form of the Greek *alphabet discovered in Caria and others in Egypt by Carian mercenaries."


Further reading[edit]

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