I'm studying Greek History and reading about the end of the Bronze Age. And after reading about the Dorians several times now, I'm confused about where the Dorians actually came from, the closest I can find is Wikipedia saying they were from Northern Greece. But if they were from there why would they come southward to the Greek Peninsula? Also, if they came from Northern Greece, were they of the same lineage as the Minoans and Mycenaeans? Or were they a completely separate ethnic group?

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    Sources would improve this question. And it's inconclusive according to Wikipedia: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dorian_invasion Aug 26, 2017 at 20:57
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    I suspect that the wikipedia article is biased against the theory. "Migrationism is dismissed in a high-handed manner by modern academics" Kristen Kristiansen said something like that. Read some classic works. The decipherment of linear B briefly discusses the Dorian invasion, for instance. J B Bury, maybe...
    – John Dee
    Aug 27, 2017 at 0:35
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    You know, adding comments in addition to close votes would be helpful; close votes separate from constructive criticism is not constructive. As far as I can tell this question is on-topic according to the help center, so an understanding as to why it is not on-topic would be helpful.
    – tox123
    Aug 27, 2017 at 15:06
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    Why close this question? This issue who exactly were the Dorians has been, and still is, debated among scholars. To my understanding, no historian has come even close to resolving the collapse of LBA in the Med with involvement of Dorians. This is a valid question.
    – J Asia
    Aug 27, 2017 at 18:35

6 Answers 6


There is much we can only guess at when it comes to when and how the Dorians first appeared in the Peloponnese. Most historians accept that the Dorians moved into southern Greece during the early part of a period known as the Greek Dark Ages (c1100 or 1050 BC to c800 BC), but it has been argued (by Chadwick in 1976, then Hooker in 1977) that the Dorians were in southern Greece before 1200 BC, or may even have been there all the time, and that it was they who overthrew the Mycenaeans (as opposed to the Dorians moving into territory 'vacated' after the fall of Mycenae). Paul Cartledge, currently considered the leading authority on Sparta, is one of the many historians who do not subscribe to these theories. He argues that, after the destruction of the principal Mycenaean centres around 1200 BC,

the civilization of which they had been the focus melted away....Some of the previous inhabitants remained in place, though scattered and diminished, but they seem to have been eventually dominated by a group or groups of incomers from further to the north and northwest, people who came to call themselves Dorians...

Also, note Tom Holland in 'Persian Fire':

Gradually, the void left by the collapse of Menelaus' Kingdom [i.e. Mycenae] had been filled by newcomers from the north, wandering tribes who would be known much later as the Dorians, in proud contra-distinction to the vanquished native Greeks.

Assuming the Dorians did come south, where did they come from? The consensus seems to be from the mountainous areas of northern Greece. Tom Holland writes:

The Spartans, despite their attempts to present themselves as the heirs of Menelaus, were Dorians after all. The mountainous country north of the Isthmus [of Corinth] was their ancestral homeland.

From encyclopedia.com:

Originating in the northwestern mountainous region of Epirus and SW Macedonia, they migrated through central Greece and into the Peloponnesus probably between 1100 and 950 BC

The fact that large parts of the Peloponnese were very fertile explains why they came. Whether it was a gradual migration or an invasion remains a topic of some debate.

As we don't know what caused the collapse of Mycenaean civilization and as there are no written records between the time of this collapse and the emergence of the Greek city states around 800 BC, it is impossible to be certain of the relationship / interaction between Mycenaeans and Dorians. However, this did not stop Sparta and other city states from adopting heroes from the Mycenaean age and claiming them as their own (but this should be seen for what it was - propaganda).

With specific reference to Sparta, W.G. Forrest concludes:

Mycenaean Lakedaimon vanished around 1200, Dorian Sparta was created somewhere in the tenth century.....Of what happened in between we have no knowledge.

I have not seen any evidence of a relationship between the Minoans and the Dorians (perhaps someone else can throw more light on this).

You might want to check the following for further information:

W.G.Forrest, 'A History of Sparta 950-192 BC'

Paul Cartledge, 'The Spartans'

Paul Cartledge, 'Sparta and Lakonia' (2nd ed.) Presents and assesses various hypotheses which relate to the Dorians in southern Greece.

A. Andrews, 'The Greek Tyrants'


Historical Linquistics can perhaps help here. While the existence, timing, and nature of any "Dorian Invasion" is controversial, we can gather a lot from looking at ancient Greek dialects and their known distribution. Due to that, where the Dorian dialects came from is not controversial at all.

To quote from today's Wikipedia:

It is widely accepted that Doric originated in the mountains of Epirus and Macedonia, northwestern Greece, the original seat of the Dorians.

The timing down to the exact century is still a bit controversial but proto-Greek seems to have developed roughly as follows:

Proto-Greek -> Western vs. non-western Greek

Western -> Doric vs. Northwest

non-Western -> Achaean (Mycenaean), misc. others -> Central vs. Eastern Greek

Central -> Attic vs. Ionic

Now its a general (but not foolproof) principle that you can find a language family's homeland on a later language distribution map by finding the location of its oldest offshoot. So what we are looking for here is the border between Doric and Northwest Greek, and particularly where the rest of Northwest Greek is.

So with that in mind, here's roughly what the picture looked like when the smoke cleared from the Greek Dark Ages (as per Roger D. Woodard's The Ancient Languages of Europe):

enter image description here

Notice the Northwest Greek area is in the, well, northwest of Greece. The areas south of there are all former Mycenaean-speaking areas. While the timing and method may not be known as of now, it is accepted that the Dorian speakers moved from out of that area to effectively take over all of southern coastal and insular Greece, bar inland Ionia and Cyprus. The rest of Greece continued to house everybody else, who developed into their separate dialects as outlined above.


In the context of Mycenaean palace societies and their collapse, i.e. Late Bronze Age, c. 1200 BCE, I believe a very good recent source is:

In Chapter 5, Cline writes (emphasis mine):

Rather than the Sea Peoples, the ancient Greeks—ranging from historians like Herodotus and Thucydides in fifth-century BC Athens to the much-later traveler Pausanias—believed that a group known as the Dorians had invaded from the north at the end of the Bronze Age, thereby initiating the Iron Age. f.n.45 This concept was once much discussed by archaeologists and ancient historians of the Bronze Age Aegean; among their considerations was a new type of pottery called “Handmade Burnished Ware” or “Barbarian Ware.” However, in recent decades it has become clear that there was no such invasion from the north at this time and no reason to accept the idea of a “Dorian Invasion” bringing the Mycenaean civilization to an end. Despite the traditions of the later classical Greeks, it is clear that the Dorians had nothing to do with the collapse at the end of the Late Bronze Age and entered Greece only long after those events had transpired.

So, according to Cline, the Dorians had no role in the collapse of Late Mycenaean society.

That f.n. 45 refers to Middleton, G. D. 2010. The Collapse of Palatial Society in LBA Greece and the Postpalatial Period. BAR International Series 2110. Oxford: Archaeopress.

I don't have this, so I got the next best thing, his Ph.D thesis:

Starting at p. 138, under The Dorian hypothesis, Middleton walks through 3 different theories of origin:

  • "the Dorians entered the Peloponnese and Crete from the mountains of Thessaly in a fairly peaceful fashion" (p.138)
  • "they were from Epirus .. This Epirote origin theory may relate to the speculation that the Dorians were a pastoral people, and that this way of life was preserved in north-western Greece, which would arguably render the Dorians archaeologically invisible." (p.139)
  • "the Dorians were in fact a submerged class already present in Mycenaean Greece who revolted against their Mycenaean masters, but this has not been widely supported and does not seem to be indicated by the archaeological or linguistic evidence." (p. 151)

Middleton's conclusion is (p.152):

The Dorian identity may have only been formed much later than c.1200 and none of the significant Dorian centres were prominent in postpalatial times. The mixed origins of what became Dorian populations also seems indicated by one of the three standard tribal names, Pamphyloi, or 'people of all tribes' although in some Dorian areas some or all of these standard names were not present (e.g. Corinth) and in others extra tribal names appear.


In other words, it was an origin myth - the Dorians were created after the collapse. By the way, Cline does not bring up the Dorians again (i.e. after dismissing their role in the collapse - as per quote above).

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    I've just reviewed my answer and this has to be the 1st time my answer talks about a group and ends with: it doesn't matter ... they're just made up people!.
    – J Asia
    Aug 27, 2017 at 17:51
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    After taking a MOOC on Greek history, I'm personally inclined to believe that the Dorians were made up people, so +1. However, I'm taking the JACL's Hellenistic History test which does subscribe to the Dorian invasion. And I've tried challenging it, but they won't listen.
    – tox123
    Aug 27, 2017 at 22:20
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    @tox123 - I hope your school is not the last one to figure this out because Prof Cline did a AMA and, redditors brought up this exact same point, his reply was that he learnt the myth of Dorians back in 1982 ... that's quite a bit of time. Good luck! :-)
    – J Asia
    Aug 27, 2017 at 22:31

The Dorians, were a primitive Greek tribe who originally came from the Northwest of Greece-(the region called, "Epirus"). This was and is still the most mountainous and pastoral region within Greece proper-(specifically, the Hellenic mainland. This is the region where Hades and The Elysian fields were located, as well as the homeland of Alexander The Great's Mother, Olympias).

For most of ancient history, the Dorians lived in relative obscurity throughout the mountainous valleys of Northwest Greece. However, by the 1100's BC/BCE-(about 100 years after The Trojan War, as well as 500 years after a prosperous Mycenaean civilization in the Peloponnese), the Dorians began to invade much of the Hellenic mainland and settled into the Peloponnese in big numbers until 800 BC/BCE, essentially destroying or supplanting the centuries old Mycenaean civilization.

The Dorian invasion of mainland Greece is often (somewhat disparagingly and sarcastically) referred to as, "The Greek Dark Ages" and from the Mycenaean perspective,it would have appeared to have been an ensuing Dark Age. Comparatively speaking, the Dorians, were culturally unsophisticated and primitive, though they were known, perhaps even notorious for their warlike temperament.

Were the Dorians ethnically related to the Mycenaeans? Yes, in all likelihood, the Dorians were Hellenic compatriots, though the Mycenaeans would probably have viewed the Dorians as having been barely Hellenic or semi-Hellenic at best. Keep in mind that the Dorians came from a region of Greece that literally neighbors the larger region of Illyria-(which, at the time, was comprised of the majority of present-day Albania, the nearby region of Kosovo and much of the Yugoslav interior) to its North. The Dorians, though of Greek ethno-linguistic extraction, may have had Illyrian linguistic and cultural influences which would have appeared to have been somewhat foreign to the more culturally refined and cosmopolitan Mycenaeans.


According to my research, the Dorians who invaded Greece in the twelfth century BC originated from Northern Europe. Some of them inhabited the island Rügen in present-day Germany. This island was densely populated in the Bronze Age. In the beginning of the 1800s (AD), you could still see 1239 tumuli from the Early Bronze Age there (NBA terminology). The present name Rügen is due to the people who inhabited the island after the Dorians and other tribes had left. One reason for leaving southwards for people in Northern Europe could be an Icelandic volcanic eruption 1190 BC (cfr GISP2 data from the Greenland ice). According to the Odyssey (19:177) the Dorians and some other tribes inhabited Crete, which was probably the ancient name of Rügen. They later invaded the island we now call Crete (in addition to other areas) and brought the name with them (as Englishmen brought with them their names to the US, e.g. «New England»). As far as I know, the name Crete (Κρητη) has not been found in any writings prior to the Dorian invasion; the Egyptians called the island «Keftiu». The migration was chaotic and took a long time. My hypothesis needs to be verified by new techniques such as aDNA and/or strontium isotope analysis. Reference to the number of Early Bronze Age tumuli at Rügen: "Archäologische Entdeckungen in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, page 69: Article by Lars Saalow and Jens-Peter Schmidt. Schwerin, 2009. ISBN 9783935770248."

My hypothesis, that Rügen is «Kreta» in the Homeric epics, builds on the Ship catalogue (Iliad 2:484-760), describing 180 sites where the 1058-ship Danaan fleet originated. I have identified most of these sites along the shores of the Baltic Sea. In particular, I strongly believe, from the overall picture and details in the Iliad's description, that the 80 ships of Idomenes (Iliad 2:645-52) were supplied from the island Rügen. A possible connection between the name «Kreta» and Rügen is «Karenza», the old name of the historic city and religious centre Garz on Rügen, with its famous «Burgwall» (ancient city wall) (ref J.W. Barthold, «Geschichte von Rügen und Pommern», Hamburg, 1839) [2]. There are evident similarities between «Karenza» and «Kreta». (According to my theory, the war to capture the city of Ilion in Troía did not take place in the Mediterranean but close to the hamlet Weltzin in the Tollense valley [3] in Germany.)

[2] https://books.google.no/books?id=BdkAAAAAcAAJ&pg=PA558&lpg=PA558&dq=karenza+r%C3%BCgen&source=bl&ots=YFhvu2w4IY&sig=mru1X_-P_bUx7xr6uwmIk8wUiQc&hl=no&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwifz-7b__7eAhWL1ywKHcGTCSAQ6AEwAXoECAUQAQ#v=onepage&q=karenza%20r%C3%BCgen&f=false [3] https://www.semdoc.de/regionalliteratur-neubrandenburg_7/tod-im-tollensetal_1583726.htm

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    Welcome to History.SE. This seems to be your own,highly original research? Some of your findings might need backup from other sources that you should link here. Eg.: an article that counts the tumuli on Rügen? That "Rügen was formerly called Crete" does follow from what? Please edit to include references. Nov 29, 2018 at 13:09
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    OK. Rügen was substantially bigger 3,5K yrs ago than the almost tiny 926 km² today, but still. Such evidence (btw Hirt also on archive.org) only supports pop density in that area, not the connection to Greeks/Dorians. Compared to the other answers and the currently dominating views about mythical origin stories ('return of Heracleids') you still have to expand form the "it is so" to "and here's why". I am not saying this is complete bull or sth, just I am far from convinced and would require quite a bit more evidence. (Is ref online directly?) Nov 29, 2018 at 16:35
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    @LangLangC I did find one, but behind a paywall. The authors don't make any claim about a link to the Dorians (or any Aegean culture), and - as far as I can see (it is just a brief report, only 12 pages in total) - there doesn't appear to be a close similarity between the material cultures either. Nov 29, 2018 at 19:29

What I see here,because of ignorance or bad intentions, nobody says that in highlands of northwestern Greece,they were the illyrian tribes, warlike people called the barbarians ,from where came heroes of anticity, like Achilles, the ancestor of Olympia,Alexander the Greta's mother.Can somebody explain me,what the names Illyrian, Doris,Aegimius, Hyllius Achilles and Helios mean in Greek language. Those names are still used in today's Albania in the form of human names,like Doris,Agim, Ilir ,Ylli,Arqilea, And Diell, who respectively mean Dora-hand,Agim-dawn,Ylli-star,Diell- sun,kind of pagan-barbarian names,and there is not a chance Albanians still nowadays are called half believers. Go check dorian tribe of Sfakia,tall,blueeyed warlike people.Kalash people of Pakistan,left behind from Alexander the Great or the mountain people in Albanian Alps and in Pindi and Suli mountains.They fit the profile.This is History, not alternative history,

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    Welcome to History:SE Sources to support your assertions would greatly improve your answer. Jan 20, 2018 at 18:50
  • I don't quite see how this is prevalent, are you trying to say the dorians came from the northern highlands of Greece? And my impression was always that the "heros" of antiquity were more legend than fact. Perhaps there was a man named Achilles, however we have no evidence of such and his deeds were likely hyperbolized. Also, I may be wrong but I also thought the Trojan war preceded the Dorian Invasion. If you have sources to the contrary, please provide them.
    – tox123
    Jan 20, 2018 at 22:51

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