The Dorians were one of two distinct groups of ancient Greeks and the dominant people of the powerful military state of Sparta. The Dorians spoke a distinct dialect* of Greek and had other cultural characteristics that set them apart from the Ionians, the other main group.
The Dorians probably migrated to southern Greece from the northwest in several waves beginning in the 1100s B.C. They overran the declining Mycenaean civilization, which had existed on mainland Greece for about four centuries. The society of these early Dorians was less developed than that of the Mycenaean Greeks, and their arrival plunged Greece into a cultural dark age for several centuries.
The Dorians settled throughout the Peloponnese* and spread across the southern islands of the Aegean Sea to Crete and the coast of Asia Minor. Eventually, they also colonized Sicily and southern Italy. In addition to Sparta, important Dorian cities included Corinth, Argos, and Rhodes. In most places, the Dorians gradually blended with the local population, but in Sparta, as well as on Crete, the Dorians became a military ruling class.
Greek legends claimed that the Dorians were descendants of the hero Heracles and had invaded the Peloponnese to regain their homeland. During the period of Greek history when Dorian Sparta and Ionian Athens competed for power, such legends helped to emphasize the differences between the severe Spartan and less austere Athenian cultures.
Dorian artistic values had a great influence on classical Greek art. The Doric order (style) of architecture, marked by the simple and muscular Doric columns, was the earliest of the three Greek orders. (See also Art, Greek; Columns; Greece, History of; Languages and Dialects; Mycenae.)
* dialect form of speech characteristic of a region that differs from the standard language in pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar
* Peloponnese peninsula forming the southern part of the mainland of Greece