The Ionic Order

The Ionic style of ancient Greek architecture was named after the Ionians, a people of Mukenaian-Greek origin that settled along the south west coast of Anatolia towards the close of the second millennium BCE, shortly after the legendary Trojan War. Late in the seventeenth century BCE, the southwest coast Anatolia was devastated by the catastrophic eruption of Thera (Santorini), as it choked under a relentless cloud of toxic volcanic ash. In the centuries that followed, southwest Anatolia was further wracked by earthquakes, landslides and tsunamis, as Thera continued to erupt and experienced the partial collapse of its massive caldera, and as other volcanoes in the region may have also erupted. During this unstable period, the southwest corner of Anatolia fell to the legendary Kreten king Minos ("Anger"), whence this region became known as Asie Minos ("Asia Minor"). But as most of Krete was ruled by Mukenaian-Greeks from the fifteenth century BCE onwards, it would appear the Ionians were settling land already under or only recently lost to their control.

Map Aegean Ionic
Ionic sites 6th-5th centuries BCE

The impetus for the Ionian migration may have been a re-awakening of the Methana volcano complex, which lies about sixty kilometres south of Athens and on the same volcanic arc as Thera and Aitna (Etna) in Sicily. (see also Proto-Aeolic) As most of the Ionian immigrants originated from the surrounding districts of Argos, Axaia, Attika and Phokis, these peoples, who may have remembered the Theran eruption, stood to lose the most from a major eruption in their own backyard. Indeed, the thick red soil covering large tracts of these districts, which was later turned into prized Attikan and Corinthian ceramics, as well as terracota roof tiles, pipes and diverse other objects, probably hailed from the Methana complex. Upon settling in their new land, the Ionians regularly celebrated a Panionia ("All-Ionia") festival upon Mukale, the towering mountainous promontory that extends west beside the island of Samos. Deemed sacred to Poseidon, Mukale would have provided an ideal platform to watch for mushroom (mukes) clouds rising over the salty (alis) Aegean. With Methana said to have finally given way to salty hot springs late in the third century BCE, the peninsula is currently host to many, and some grand, hot bathing establishments.

However, the record of Ionic architecture extends only as far back as the sixth century BCE, when the Ionians were ruled by king Kroisos of Sardis (561-546 BCE), whose Ludian empire controlled the western half of Anatolia. Famous for his golden wealth and generosity, Kroisos is credited with having funded numerous columns in the colossal fourth temple of Artemis at Ephesus, the construction of which was commenced in around 570 BCE. But while the earliest temple at Ephesos is thought to date from the eighth century BCE, no evidence has surfaced of the earlier temples having also been built in the Ionic style. Upon the fall of Kroisos and his empire to the Medean king Kuros (Cyrus, 559-529 BCE), the Ionians rallied behind Polukrates of Samos (ca.538-522 BCE), who raised the Ionians to a major Mediterranean naval power and oversaw the construction on Samos of the massive fourth temple of Hera, also built in the Ionic style. But while the earliest temple of Hera on Samos is also thought to date from the eighth century BCE, no evidence has surfaced of the earlier temples having also been built in the Ionic style. By the end of the sixth century BCE, the Ionic style had been installed on Delos, Naxos and many other Aegean islands, at Delphi in Phokis and possibly at Athens on the Greek mainland, and in the Ionian Greek entrepot of Navkratis along the Nile in Egypt. In recovering from the Persian sack of Greece in 479 BCE, Athens, the original although reluctant Ionian homeland, adopted the architectural style, alphabet, and many other attributes of the Ionians. On the Athenian Akropolis, the gateway Propulaion ("Before the Pileus"), Erextheon ("House of the Red Earth God"), and temple of Nike ("Victory", celebrating a major victory over the Persians on land and sea at Mukale in 479 BCE) were all built in the Ionic style. During the fifth century BCE, the Ionic style also penetrated the Peloponnese, where it was mostly used to line the naos of Doric temples.

Ionic Epistulion
Typical Ionic epistulion with side view of capital.
Ionic Column - Temple of Artemis Sardis
Ionic column from Temple of Artemis,
Sardis (ca 325 BCE).

The Ionic column consists of a capital, shaft and base. The capitals were carved from a single block of stone as a co-joined pair of horizontally-opposed hanging spirals or volutes, not unlike a twin scroll, but whose leaf thickness decreases towards the eye of the spirals. When viewed from directly in front, the inner portions of the opposing volutes may appear couched within the column shaft, but when viewed from underneath, the volutes are seen to completely clear the column shaft. Supporting the volutes are ornate cushion mouldings usually adorned with the repeating egg-and-dart and bead-and-reel patterns, but which are obscured in the side views by the volutes. The sides of the volutes were often curved inwards as though pinched, with the curvature often interrupted by a series of raised spiralling ribs. Various floral elements were used to fill corner and other transition areas, as well as decorate the sides of the volutes. Originally rectangular in plan, Ionic capitals were later made square with the sides carved the same as the fronts. This allowed the volutes to be turned along the diagonals, not unlike the corner spirals of Corinthian capitals. The diagonally arranged capitals were predominately used at corners.

The shafts were usually built up of tapering cylindrical drums to an overall height-diameter ratio of 8-10:1, and were adorned all round with vertical grooves or flutes, usually twenty-four in number but occasionally as many as forty-eight. The individual flutes were semi-circular in section and separated by slender fillets representing the circumference of the shaft. The top and bottom ends of the flutes usually terminated in an apsidal arrangement just short of the ends of the shaft. While the bottoms of the shafts were usually flared in transition to the column base, the tops of the shafts usually merged directly into the capital, often via a flat necking band.

The circular bases were turned from a single block of stone and configured as a vertical stack of alternating concave-, convex-, and flat-edged tiles of various thickness. The thicker convex elements were often carved with a repeating pattern, such as entwined-rope or lotus-and-palmette. While the height of the base was usually set at half the shaft diameter, the greatest diameter of the base seldom exceeded the shaft diameter by more than three-eighths. Following the introduction of the style to Athens, the base was rationalised as the Attic base, that resulted in a re-arrangement of the tile stack, a re-distribution of the tile diameters and thicknesses, the addition of a thick square plinth, and a slight reduction in overall diameter.

The inspiration for the Ionic column may have been an adolescent Amanita mushroom, one of the few species of mushroom to spring from an egg-like volva, but whose unopened pileus was trimmed front and rear almost back to the line of the stipe. This trimming of the pileus allowed the capital to be aligned flush with the overlying architrave, while leaving the shaft and volva fully in the round. The trimming of the pileus also exposes the spore sacks lining the long and short gills that alternate all round the underside of the pileus, hence the egg-and-dart and bead-and-reel cushion mouldings. As the pileus was trimmed slightly forward of the stipe, so the volutes appear partly couched within the column shaft. The colour scheme given to the columns also suggests an Amanita muscaria mushroom, where the spiral and side ribs of the white marble capital were usually depicted in red, while the cushion mouldings were trimmed in yellow or a golden foil, and the shaft and base were left as white marble.

Temple of Artemis - Ephesos
Ionic Temple of Artemis, Ephesos
Statue of Artemis - Ephesos
Statue of Artemis, Ephesos.

Ionian temples were constructed similar to the Doric temples on the Greek mainland, as both were founded upon a multi-stepped platform, while their pitched roofs were supported by a rectangular array of columns surrounding a central walled enclosure. However, the Ionic epistulion ("that above the columns") comprised an upwards-expanding three-stepped architrave, upon which was laid a sculpted cornice consisting of a row of closely-packed rectangular protrusions or dentils ("teeth") between horizontal mouldings. As with the egg-and-dart moulding of Ionic capitals, and the trigluphs of Doric temples, the position and density of the dentils corresponds directly with that of the gills in the mushroom. Upon the cornice lay the roof and gutter. In later temples, a plain or painted frieze, or sculpted zo(o)phoron ("animal-carrier"), was inserted between the architrave and the cornice. But as the height of the Ionic epistulion was to remain less than its Doric counterpart, the inclusion of the frieze or zophoron was countenanced by a reduction in the height of the cornice, or the elimination of several cornice elements. Originally, the roofs of Ionic temples may have been pitched or hipped on all four sides, not unlike a pyramid but leading to a central longitudinal ridge, however the majority of surviving roofs appear gable-ended or framed similar to the triangular pediments of Doric temples. Ionic pediments seldom carried free-standing sculptures, but rather its back wall was either clad with tiles carved in relief or painted to a scene. Hence, in front elevation, the shape of Ionic temples also compares to that of an Amanita mother mushroom surrounded and supported by her offspring, as is also suggested by the numerous depictions of Artemis with a multitude of breasts (mazoi). Indeed, with many Ionian cities, including Ephesos, Smurna, Kumai and Murina, said to have been founded by the mythical Amazons ("Unbreasted"), the name Amazon may play upon the breast-shaped pileus exhibited by many species of mushroom, including the amanitas. But with the platform, walls, and epistulion predominately constructed of white marble beneath a red tiled roof and terracotta gutter, the overall material colour scheme of Ionic temples also compares directly with that of the Amanita muscaria.

A peculiar Ionian embellishment was the facial treatment of the individual blocks forming the steps to the temple platform, whose exposed edges were reduced to a relatively wide and smooth border, while the raised interior was finished smooth or given a rough or stippled texture. This practice was widely adopted on the Greek mainland from the fourth century BCE onwards, where hitherto the exposed faces of the platform steps were rendered smooth and borderless. A corresponding arrangement occurs on the volva of Amanita muscaria mushrooms, where the raised annuli ringing the volva often appear as rows of rectangular yet angled protrusions, not unlike the knobby tread of an off-road tyre.

As fungi are often amongst the first life-forms to colonise fresh deposits of volcanic ash, whose fruit tends to grow much larger and in greater abundance than in unashed areas, so mushroom imagery was fleshed into Ionian legend. In his fifth century BCE play titled Ion, Evripides depicts the eponymous ancestor of the Ionians at his first eruption of facial hair (ionthos), while weaving Thrakian volcanoes, serpent poison (ios) and doves (iontas) into the mix. Said to have been born under a cloud, orphaned Ion is later declared the son of Apollon by Kreusa ("Flesh"), daughter of king Erextheos ("Red Earth God") of Athens. This descent of Ion compares with the legendary founding in Minoan times of the major Ionian city of Ephesos by Kresos ("Flesh") and Ephesos ("Appetite") both from Krete, and that of the southernmost Ionian city of Miletos by Miletos also of Krete, but whose name may play upon its red volcanic soil (miltos). At Ephesos and elsewhere, the goddess Artemis had a major appetite for flesh (kreas), and her quiver usually contained poison-bearing (iophoros) arrows. However, the name Ion may derive as a mascularisation of Io ("Output"), legendary priestess of Era at Argos, who had saved her people many centuries earlier from the catastrophic eruption of Thera by leading them around the volcano-riddled Aegean and onwards into Egypt. But while the iota and omega of Io may symbolise the stipe and pileus of a mushroom, so too the poisonous arrows and bow of Artemis. In between Io and Ion, Artemis and her brother Apollon are said to have slain the dozen or so children of Niobe, sister of Pelops, whose family hailed from the district of Ludia along the central west coast of Anatolia (modern Manisa), but which was later absorbed into Ionia. With the Peloponnesos supposedly named after Pelops, a crag and waterfall high upon volcanic Mt Sipulos, that separates the cities of Smurna and Sardis, was named "weeping Niobe" in testimony of her tearful grief. But with the volutes of Ionic capitals often compared to the spiralling horns of a ram (krios), the name of Kroisos ("luxuriant flesh?"), king of Sardis ("orange-red"), may signify a flesh more valuable than gold (xrusos). Similar to the naming of Ippokrates ("horse-ruler") and Sokrates ("pig-ruler" - nothing leads a pig quite like the scent of a truffle), the Samian admiral Polukrates ("polyp-ruler") may have been named after a submarine species of mushroom.

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