Major mints: Klazomenae, Kolophon, Ephesos, Erythrae, Magnesia, Miletus, Smyrna.
Comprising the central portion of the western part of Asia Minor, this district was settled by Greeks from mainland Greece, who fled from the disruption of the Doric invasions. In legend these founders were led by one Ion, son of Xuthus, second son of Hellen. The Athenians clamed close kinship based on this legend. The original inhabitants are described by Strabo as belonging to various tribes of Carians and Leleges.
Ionia was the most highly cultured part of the Greek regions of Asia Minor. The Ionians issued electrum coinage before 600 BC. Miletos and Phokaia were busy founding colonies in that century. Another legacy of Ionia in the seventh and sixth centuries was the development of philosophy; the earliest center of the Pre-Socratics was at Miletus. The Ionians were considered to be technically a monarchy with the descendants of Androclus, from the Athenian royal house, invested as kings. By Strabos time the kingship was purely nominal, with certain privileges at the public games and similar honors.
The Ionians had been free up to the time of Croesus of Lydia, who brought the country into subjection. When the Lydian kingdom fell to the Persians Ionia went along with it. The Ionians did not much care for the Persian yoke, and in 499 BC the major cities revolted. The Persians finally crushed them at the great naval battle of Lade in 495: Miletus itself held out under siege until 494, but it too fell, and it never fully recovered.
The Persian rule faded away after 479, when the Greeks won at Mycale, and the cities joined the Athenian League. On the defeat of Athens by the Spartans the Persians took control again. When Alexander invaded all the cities except Miletus supported him; Miletus was captured by storm. Eventually the district passed into the hands of the kings of Pergamon, then to the Romans under the terms of the will of the last king. Absorbed into the Roman province of Asia the cities prospered until the empires defenses broke down in the third century.
The city of Miletus was at one time the largest city in Ionia. It is best known for its numerous fractional silver coins of the last quarter of the sixth century BC. These coins have as types a lion on the obverse and a stellate pattern in an incuse square on the reverse. Later coins show the head of Apollo of Didyma from the fourth century; the shrine of this manifestation of Apollo was situated ten miles south of the city. Like other such cults this one sponsors an important series of games. St. Paul visited the city, and wrote an Epistle to the Christians there.
Ephesos was somewhat smaller, but perhaps more important. It was a great trading-center from early times, but its greatest asset was its temple of what was originally an Anatolian mother-goddess, Hellenized as Artemis of the Ephesians. The temple contained a figure of the goddess, as a colossal female with twenty-four breasts. The cult was administered, like that of Cybele, by eunuch-priests. The statue, and the temple, can be seen on numerous coins. The other common Ephesian coin-symbol is the bee.
Erythrae was the home of the Erythraean Sybil. An oracular prophetess, this one was regarded as second in importance only the the Sybil of Cumae.
Smyrna claimed to be the birthplace of Homer. According to Strabo the coin with a figure of the poet seated on the reverse was called a Homereium.
Magnesia, an Aeolian city, was founded by a Thessalian tribe, the Magnetes; hence was not a member of the Ionian League. According to legend the founder was the hero Leukippos, who is represented as a cavalry soldier on the coins. In the seventh century it was destroyed several times, so that the sufferings of the Magnesians became a proverbial phrase.