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The Ionian Renaissance

During the Archaic period western Asia Minor experienced a magnificent flourishing of art and culture. In poetry and writing, sculpture and philosophy great works were created and in architecture the greatest temples of the Greek world were constructed in Ephesos, Samos and in Miletos (Didyma). It is often said that the pre-socratic philosophers, most of whom belonged to this cultural sphere, laid the foundation for later natural science, as they tried to explain the phenomena of the physical world not by mythology but by rational thought. This Archaic, “Ionian Enlighthenment” no doubt contributed substantially to the development of Classical civilization.

This flourishing paradoxically happened at a time, when most of these Greek cities were to some extent dependent on the empires of Lydia and Persia. Following the Persian wars 499-479 BC western Asia Minor was liberated from Persian supremacy for about a century and instead came under the influence of Athens. In most parts of western Asia Minor this seems to have been a time with far less economical activity and almost no monumental architecture of Ionia can be dated to the 5th century, - the time when democratic Athens experienced its greatest flowering.

Economy apparently improved when Western Asia Minor again came under Persian control after the “King’s Peace” in 386/87 BC. A new cultural revival immediately began which in many respects was a revival of the slumbering Ionian Enlightenment and it is therefore often called “The Ionian Renaissance”.

As pointed out by Anton Bammer (1972, pp 34ff) the first major project of the Ionian Renaissance seem to have been the construction of the Maussolleion at Halikarnassos. This tomb was clearly an integrated part of the overall plans for a re-foundation of Halikarnassos by the Persian governor or satrap Maussollos, who had decided to make Halikarnassos the capital of his newly established Persian satrapy of Karia. Maussollos wanted to make his new capital a well-fortified and secure place, where he could live comfortably and organize his political ambitions for interfering in the Greek world on behalf of the Persian Great King. To embellish the city with monumental buildings and art he invited leading artist, architects and philosophers from the Greek world to his court.

Although Halikarnassos may have been the first really big project of the Ionian Renaissance, this was nevertheless a general flourishing that spread quickly to entire western Asia Minor and not only the tomb of Maussollos in Halikarnassos, but also the newly re-built temple of Artemis at Ephesos became famous and numbered among the Seven Wonders of the World.

While the Ionian Renaissance may be said to have begun about 386 BC it is not possible to say when it ended. The ideas and styles of the Ionian Renaissance developed and continued into the Hellenistic period and were not particularly influenced by Alexander’s conquest of Western Asia Minor in 334 BC and then of the entire Persian Empire. Hellenistic Alexandria no doubt drew substantially from the culture of 4th century BC Asia Minor in art and architecture, and it was for instance people from this area that constituted important sources of inspiration for Kallimachos and Euclid.

Poul Pedersen


F. NoackDie Baukunst des Altertums (1910).

A. BammerDie Architektur des jüngeren Artemisions (1972).

J. Isager (ed); Hekatomnid Karia and the Ionian Renaissance. Halicarnassian Studies vol. I. Odense 1994.

P. Pedersen, “The Ionian Renaissance and some aspects of its origin within the field of architecture and planning” in: J. Isager (ed); "Hekatomnid Karia and the Ionian Renaissance". Halicar­nassian Studies vol. I Odense 1994 p. 11-35.

P. Pedersen, “Reflections on the Ionian Renaissance in Greek Architecture and its Historical Background” in: Hephaistos 19/20, 2001/2002 97-130.

U. Muss & A. BammerDer Altar des Artemisions von Ephesos. Forschungen in Ephesos XII/2 (Wien 2001) p. 160-163.

P. Pedersen, ”Pergamon and the Ionian Renaissance”.  Istanbuler Mitteilungen 54 (2004) S. 409-434.

I. JenkinsGreek Architecture and its Sculpture in the British Museum. London 2006 (p. 14-25: Chapter One, “Enlightenment and Renaissance”).

P. Pedersen, “The Ionian Renaissance and Alexandria – seen from the Perspective of a Karian-Ionian lewis hole” in: Karlsson, L. & Carlsson, S. (eds), Labraunda and Karia, Proceedings of the International Symposium commemorating Sixty Years of Swedish Archaeological work in Labraunda. The Royal Swedish Academy of Letters, History and Antiquities Stockholm, November 20-21, 2008. Uppsala Universitet (2011) p. 364-388.

P. Pedersen, “Lagina and the Ionian Renaissance” in: B. Söğüt (ed.), “Festschrift in Honour of Ahmet Adil Tırpan” Istanbul 2012, 513-525.

P. Pedersen, “The 4th century BC ‘Ionian Renaissance’and Karian Identity” in: O. Henry (ed), 4th century Karia. Defining a Karian Identity under the Hekatomnids. Paris 2013, 33-64.

P. Pedersen, “Skopas the Architect: Architectural Relations between the 4th Century BC Ionian Renaissance and Mainland Greece” in: D. Katsonopoulou & A. Stewart (eds), “Skopas of Paros”, Paros III. 269-286 (forthcoming).

P. Pedersen, “Architectural Relations between Karia and Lykia at the time of the Ionian Renaissance” in: Colloque Euploia. Carie et Lycie Mediterraneennes: Échanges et IdentitésBordeaux 5 ,6 et 7 Novembre 2009 (forthcoming).

M. Livadiotti, 2. L’olivella Cario-Ionica e il Legame di Kos con la ”Rinascenza Ionica” in: G. Rocco, Monumenti di Kos I. La Stoà Meridionale dell’Agorà. Thiasos Monografie 3. (in print).

P. Pedersen, “The Ionian Renaissance and the Hellenistic Architecture of Kos”. In: J. des Courtils (ed.), L’Architecture monumentale grecque au IIIe siècle .a.C. Ausonius Éditions, Mémoires 40 (Bordeaux 2015) 147-174. 

P. Pedersen, “The Ionian Renaissance in the Architecture of Western Asia Minor.” In: O.C. Henry & A. Belgin-Henry (eds), Karialılar. Denizcilerden Kent Kuruculara. The Carians. From Seafarers to City Builders. Istanbul 2020, 220-239.

P. Pedersen, “From Classical to Hellenistic: The Maussolleion and the Ionian Renaissance”. In: Pedersen, P., B. Poulsen and J. Lund (eds), Karia and the Dodekanese. Cultural Interrelations in the Southeast Aegean. I. Late Classical to Early Hellenistic. Oxford and Philadelphia 2021, 25-40.

In Danish language

P. Pedersen, ”Olympia og Den ioniske Renæssance”. Kronik i; Beretning 2007-2008. Det Danske Institut i Athen (2009) s. 75-95.

P. Pedersen, ”Den ioniske Renaissance.” LOGOS – Tema Ionien. Klassikerforeningens medlemsblad. No. 2. 2020, 8-20.

Last Updated 28.02.2024