Blog Post #59: Mobility and the Making of Ancient Ionia with Jana Mokrišová

In 2021, Peopling the Past ran a month-long blog series in April on human-environment relations. This year, we’re dedicating April to the (related) area of human migration in the past, and its implications for understanding how we came to be who we are through migration, and how we balance our ever-evolving understanding of human movement with senses of place, rootedness, and identity.

Mobility is a powerful phenomenon, one which has waxed and waned throughout history. Certain times and certain places have experienced more human mobility than others, but mobility has never been absent from life in the Mediterranean (and elsewhere), as this month’s blogposts demonstrate. The coast of western Anatolia (modern western Turkey) is an area that experienced a lot of movement throughout its history. The movements that took place here – both in antiquity and the more recent past – range in character, for example: from large scale (relocation of people during the Hittite rule) to small scale (intermarriage, vocational and educational training of individuals); from voluntary (looking for better economic, social, educational opportunities) to forced (the 20th century Turkey–Greece population exchange); from long-distance (migrations caused by recent economic crises in southwestern Asia and war in Syria) to short-distance (local migration for work); and from permanent (residential relocation) to temporary (seasonal pastoralism, agricultural labor). You may have noticed that while some of these examples are historically specific, many others occur on a regular basis.   

The remains of the Temple of Artemis at Ephesos sit upon dry beige and green grasses, under a blue sky. There are two partial pillars remaining, and various other stacks of stone indicating where the building used to be
Fig. 1 The remains of the Temple of Artemis at Ephesos (photo by author)  

I am particularly interested in understanding what types of movement (and what accompanying processes) took place at a specific point in the past: the period following the collapse of Late Bronze Age palatial centers, such as of the Mycenaeans and the Hittites, and in a specific place: the region of Ionia located in central western Anatolia. According to ancient Greek tradition, which might have been captured as historical memories of these times in the legend of the Trojan War, this period was followed by a movement of Greek speakers from Attica, Euboea, and other areas on the Greek mainland, into western Anatolia. These traditions were subsumed under the name of the “Ionian Migration”, proclaiming Ionia as Greek rather than sharing Anatolian cultural heritage, as was the case in the neighboring regions of Lydia and Caria. Naoíse Mac Sweeney (2017; see also Rose 2008) and others have recently questioned aspects of the established interpretation of the Ionian Migration, as the ancient texts were far from uniform about how and when Greeks came to Anatolian shores.   

a map of Ionia showing the west coast of the land, islands, and the Aegean sea.
Fig. 2 Map of Ionia (author and Lorene Sterner) 

As an archaeologist, I was dissatisfied with the proposition that the upheavals after the fall of Bronze Age centers was followed by the arrival of the Greeks. Western Anatolia had its own political formations – a loose alliance of smaller centers known as the Arzawa Lands – which participated in the regional power politics among the Hittites and the Mycenaeans (known as the Ahhiyawa in Hittite records). Many of the Late Bronze Age power centers, such as Ephesos and Limantepe/Klazomenai did not “collapse”, but rather continued to be occupied into the following period – the Early Iron Age. These centers became prominent Ionian cities.  

In order to find some answers, I set to investigate whether changes in social relationships might have been connected to the mixing of people from different places. Studies of intercultural contact and mobility in more recent periods of history have shown that activities within the domestic sphere tend to remain more conservative and thus more indicative of one’s origins as the members of the incoming group can maintain their identity more effectively in the private sphere (Lightfoot, Martinez and Schiff 1998). I thus looked at a wide range of physical remains of the everyday, quotidian lives of non-elite and elite people, including pottery, architecture, and stratigraphy of settlements, supplemented by studies of structures in the countryside and cultic and funerary assemblages. I concluded that western Anatolia was already a rather heterogeneous region in the Late Bronze Age, with certain groups of people, such as traders and craftspeople, moving in and out of major settlements relatively regularly. Rather than migration at a particular point in time, this region could be characterized by protracted, relatively low-intensity movement of small groups between western Anatolia and the Aegean. This mobility enabled Anatolian communities to form and sustain close contacts across both local and regional networks even after the collapse of Bronze Age polities. Such dynamics were the status quo throughout the Early Iron Age, but then the rise of the Lydian Kingdom and the arrival of the Persians led to a conceptual transition from multiple community-based identities to larger ethnic (Ionian Greek, Lydian, etc.) identities in the Archaic period.  

Seeing individual contributions to this mobile world of the Bronze and Iron Ages is admittedly difficult, and my own interest focuses on community dynamics, changes in technologies, and diachronic approaches. However, Late Bronze Age correspondence between the Hittites and the Mycenaeans about affairs in the Arzawan Lands do provide us with a glimpse of individual and larger-scale mobilities. A good example is the information from the so-called Tawagalawa letter (mid-13th century BCE) written during the reign of the Hittite king Hattusili III. The letter was a complaint sent to the king of the Ahhiyawa (the Mycenaeans), who supported a certain Piyamaradu, a leader of an anti-Hittite resistance in the west.  

a fragment of a letter inscribed in stone
Fig. 3 A Hittite diplomatic letter mentioning Wilusa/Troy, written a generation earlier than the Tawagalawa letter 
a clay skyphos drinking vessel with two handles and a wide mouth sits on a white table with a white background. It is various shades of brown and is decorated with concentric circles
Fig. 4 An example of a Euboean skyphos, similar to those produced at Ephesos  

This letter is notable for a number of reasons, including an indication that Wilusa (Troy) might have been a subject of military dispute between the Hittites and the Mycenaeans (Beckman, Bryce and Cline 2011). It also mentioned frequent travels of Piyamaradu to avoid Hittite capture. In addition, it registered a complaint of the Hittite king that some 7,000 Hittite subjects from Lukka (ancient Lycia in southwestern Anatolia) had been moved to the Greek mainland. What’s more, the object itself is intriguing. The letter seems to have been made around Ephesos, then a capital of an Arzawan kingdom and a vassal to the Hittites, and was then carried to Hattusa, the capital of the Hittite Empire. The same clay recipe was used three to four hundred years later, in the Early Iron Age, to produce drinking vessels called skyphoi (Kerschner 2014). Does this suggest a continued memory of clay sources and mixing recipes? 

I currently investigate the relationship between mobility and the rise of Greek identity as part of a larger research project, Migration and the Making of the Ancient Greek World (directed by Prof Naoíse Mac Sweeney, the University of Vienna, and funded by the European Research Council Horizon 2020 research and innovation program, grant agreement No. 865644). The project combines two distinct datasets – archaeology and ancient texts – to understand what types of mobility contributed to the formation of collective Greek identity in the Mediterranean. Was this phenomenon caused by migration and colonization or smaller-scale forms of mobilities? What can regional dynamics tell us about changes in interaction from the Early Iron Age to the Hellenistic period? Can these changes be reflective of mixing of different cultural groups? In order to answer these questions and compare the varying tempo and character of regional developments, MIGMAG partnered up with active field survey projects in the central Mediterranean (Sardinia and Calabria) and in the eastern Mediterranean (Ionia and Rough Cilicia). You can learn more about the project and the team here:

the logo for the MIGMAG project is a dark blue coloured horizontal rectangle with a pale coloured ship graphic on the left, and MIGMAG in pale coloured block letters on the right
Fig. 5 MIGMAG logo @MIGMAG project  
Further Resources

Beckman, G., T. Bryce, and E. Cline. 2011. The Ahhiyawa Texts. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature. 

Kerschner, M. 2014. “Euboean Imports to the Eastern Aegean and Eastern Aegean Production of Pottery in the Euboean Style: New Evidence from Neutron Activation Analyses. Ergänzungshefte zu den Jahresheften des Österreichischen Archäologischen Institutes in Wien 15.” In Archaeometric Analyses of Euboean and Euboean Related Pottery: New Results and their Interpretations. Proceedings of the Round Table Conference held at the Austrian Archaeological Institute in Athens 15 and 16 April 2011, edited by M. Kerschner and I. S. Lemos, 109–149. Vienna: Phoibos. 

Kotsonas, A., and J. Mokrišová. 2020. “Mobility, Migration, and Colonization.” In A Companion to the Archaeology of Early Greece and the Mediterranean, edited by I. S. Lemos and A. Kotsonas, 217–246. Blackwell. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell. 

Lemos, I. 2007. “The Migrations to the West Coast of Asia Minor. Tradition and Archaeology.” In Frühes Ionien. Eine Bestandsaufnahme. Panionion-Symposion Güzelçamli, 26. September – 1. Oktober 1999, edited by J. Cobet, V. Von Graeve, W.-D. Niemeier, and K. Zimmermann, 713–728. Milesische Forschungen 5. Mainz am Rhein: Philipp von Zabern. 

Lightfoot, K., A. Martinez, and A. Schiff. 1998. “Daily Practice and Material Culture in Pluralistic Social Settings: An Archaeological Study of Culture Change and Persistence from Fort Ross, California.” American Antiquity 63 2: 199–222. 

Rose, C.B. 2008. “Separating Fact from Fiction in the Aiolian Migration.” Hesperia 77 3: 399–430. 

Sweeney, N. Mac. 2017. “Separating Fact from Fiction in the Ionian Migration.” Hesperia 86 3: 379–421. doi:10.2972/hesperia.86.3.0379. 

Vaessen, R. 2015. “The Ionian Migration and Ceramic Dynamics in Ionia at the End of the Second Millennium BC: Some Preliminary Thoughts.” In Nostoi: Indigenous Cultures, Migration and Integration in the Aegean Islands and Western Anatolia during the Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age., edited by N. Chr. Stampolidis, Ç. Maner, and K. Kopanias, 811–834. Istanbul: Koç University Press. 

Jana Mokrišová

Jana Mokrišová is a postdoctoral research associate in the Faculty of Classics, University of Cambridge. She is a part of the dynamic team of the Migration and the Making of the Ancient Greek World, an ERC-funded project directed by Prof. Naoíse Mac Sweeney of the University of Vienna, where she also acts as research director. Herself a migrant, Jana grew up in Slovakia, continued her studies in Italy, then Ontario, Canada (BA), and finally Michigan, USA (PhD) before moving to the UK. Her primary field research takes place in Turkey and Greece, but she has also worked in the Republic of Georgia, Italy, and Bulgaria.  

Published by Peopling the Past

A Digital Humanities initiative that hosts free, open-access resources for teaching and learning about real people in the ancient world and the people who study them.

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