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The Carians (Greek: Κάρες; Kares) were the inhabitants of Caria.

Greek mythology

According to Greek tradition, the Carians were named after an eponymous Car, one of their legendary early kings. Classical Greeks would often claim that Caria was originally colonized by Ionian Greeks. Homer records that Miletus (later an Ionian city) was a Carian city at the time of the Trojan War and that the Carians, 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:
"Nastes led the Carians, men of a strange speech. These held Miletus and the wooded mountain of Phthires, with the water of the river Maeander and the lofty crests of Mount Mycale. These were commanded by Nastes and Amphimachus, the brave sons of Nomion. He came into the fight with gold about him, like a girl; fool that he was, his gold was of no avail to save him, for he fell in the river by the hand of the fleet descendant of Aeacus, and Achilles bore away his gold."

Historical accounts

Herodotus recorded that Carians believed themselves to be aborigines of Caria. In his time, the Phoenicians were calling them "KRK" in their alphabetic script. This corresponds to the Karkiya or Karkisa mentioned in the Hittite records. Modern linguistics supports a supposition that the Carian language was a descendant of the Luwian language, a member of the Anatolian family of languages. Other Luwian offshoots include Lycian and Lydian. Bronze Age Karkiya aided the confederacy of Assuwa against Tudhaliya I. But later, in 1323 BC, Arnuwandas II was able to write to Karkiya for them to provide asylum for the deposed Manapa-Tarhunta of Seha River. The Karkiyans did so, and allowed Manapa-Tarhunta to take back his kingdom. Unlike the Luwiyans in the Near East, the Karkiyans did not retain their literacy through the Dark Age. They next appear in records of the eighth century BC. The golden armour of Amphimachos mentioned by Homer clearly reflects a reputation of Carian wealth that may precede the Greek Dark Age and be recalled in oral tradition or be contemporaneous with late eighth-century Homer. The Carians are clearly mentioned at 2 Kings 11:4 and possibly at Samuel 8:18, 15:18, and 20:23. Carians 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.

Carians and Leleges

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. However, Athenaeus stated that the Leleges stood in relation to the Carians as the Helots stood to the Lacedaemonians. 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.


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. One of the Carian goddesses was Hecate, who was later adopted by the Greeks in the sixth century BC. She was the patron of road crossings. Herodotus calls her Athena and says that her priestess would grow a beard when disaster pended (Histories 8.104). 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.

Archaeological evidence

Throughout the 1950s, J.M. Cook and G.E. Bean conducted exhaustive archaeological surveys in Caria. 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 Mycenean 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.

During the 1970s, further archaeological excavations in Caria revealed Mycenean buildings at Iasus (with two "Minoan" levels underneath them) as well as Protogeometric and Geometric material remains (i.e. cemeteries and pottery). Interestingly, archaeologists 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. 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 uninhabited throughout prehistoric times.

Of course, the assumption that the Carians descended from Neolithic settlers is contradicted by the fact that Neolithic Caria was essentially uninhabited. Though a very small Neolithic population did exist in Caria, the people known as "Carians" may in fact have been of Aegean origin that settled in southwestern Anatolia during the second millennium BC.


See also


  • Bass, George F. "Mycenaean and Protogeometric Tombs in the Halicarnassus Peninsula". American Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 67, No. 4 (Oct., 1963), pp. 353-361.
  • Bienkowski, Piotr and Millard, Alan Ralph. Dictionary of the Ancient Near East. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000. ISBN 0812235576
  • Cook, J.M. "Greek Archaeology in Western Asia Minor". Archaeological Reports, No. 6 (1959 - 1960), pp. 27-57.
  • Drews, Robert. Greater Anatolia and the Indo-Hittite Language Family: Papers Presented at a Colloquium Hosted by the University of Richmond, March 18-19, 2000. Institute for the Study of Man, 2001 (Original from the University of Michigan). ISBN 0941694771
  • Mitchell, S. and McNicoll, A.W. "Archaeology in Western and Southern Asia Minor 1971-78". Archaeological Reports, No. 25 (1978 - 1979), pp. 59-90.

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