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IO´NIUM MARE (Ἰόνιον πέλαγος, Ptol.), was the name given by geographers to the sea which bathed the western shores of Greece, and separated them from those of Sicily and Southern Italy. The appellation would seem to date from a very early period, when the lonians still inhabited the shores of the Corinthian gulf, and the part of the Peloponness subsequently known as Achaia; but we have no evidence of its employment, in early times. The legends invented by later writers, which derived it from a hero of the name of Ionius or Ion, or from the wanderings of Io (Aeseh. Prom. 840; Tzetz. ad Lycophr. Alex. 630; Steph. B. sub voce Eustath. ad Dionys. [p. 2.62]Per. 92), are obviously mere etymological fancies. No trace of the name is found in the Homeric poems; and it occurs for the first time in Aeschylus, though, from the poetic diction of that writer, it is not clear in what precise sense he employs the term πόντιος μυχὸς Ἰόνιος. (Aesch. l.c.) Herodotus evidently employs the name Ἰόνιος κόλπος, the Ionian gulf, as synonymous with the Adriatic; and Thucydides likewise uses the term in the same sense, as is evident from his expression, that “Epidamnus is a city on the right hand as you sail into the Ionian gulf” (1.24). He also repeatedly uses the term Ἰόνιος (with κόλπος understood) in speaking of the passage from Corcyra to the lapygian promontory (6.30, 34, 7.33); but in all these cases he refers only to the narrow sea, which might be considered as part of the same gulf or inlet with the entrance of the Adriatic. Scylax also, and even Scymnus Chius, employ the name of the Ionian gulf in the same sense, as synonymous with the Adriatic, or at least with the southern part of it (Scyl. §§ 14, 27; Scymn. Ch. 133, 361) [ADRIATICUM MARE]; while the name of the Ionian sea, in the more extended sense given to it by later geographers, as indicated at the commencement of this article, is not found in any early Greek writer. Polybius is the first extant author who uses the term in this sense, and gives the name of Ἰόνιος πόρος to the sea which extended from the entrance of the Adriatic along the coast of Italy as far as the promontory of Corinthus, which he considers as its southern limit. (Pol. 2.14, 5.110.) Even here the peculiar expression of the Ionian strait sufficiently shows that this was a mere extension of the name from the narrow sea or strait at the entrance of the Adriatic to the more open sea to the S. of it. Hence we have no proof that the name was ever one in common use among the Greeks until it came to be established by the geographers; and even Strabo, who on these points often follows earlier authors, gives the name only of the Ionian gulf to the part of the sea near the entrance of the Adriatic, while he extends the appellation of the Sicilian sea (Σικελικὸν πέλαγος) from the eastern shores of Sicily to those of the Peloponnese. He, as well as Polybius and Scymnus Chius, fixes the Acroceraunian promontory as the limit between the Ionian and the Adriatic seas. (Strab. ii. p.123, vii. pp. 316, 317.) Pliny uses the name of Ionium Mare very widely, or rather very vaguely; including under that appellation the Mare Siculum and Creticum of the Greeks, as well as apparently the lower part of the Adriatic (Plin. Nat. 3.8. s. 14, 26. s. 29, 30, 4.11. s. 18), and this appears to have been the usage common in his day, and which is followed by the Latin poets. (Verg. A. 3.211, 671; Ovid, Ov. Fast. 4.565, &c.) Mela distinguishes the Ionian sea from the Sicilian, and applies the former name, in the sense now generally adopted by geographers, as that portion of the broad sea between the shores of Greece and those of Sicily, which lay nearest to the former. (Mel. 2.4.1.) But all these names, given merely to portions of the Mediterranean which had no natural limits, were evidently used very vaguely and indefinitely; and the great extension given at a later period to the name of the Adriatic swallowed up altogether those of the Ionian and Sicilian seas [ADRIATICUM MARE], or led to the employment of the former name in a vague and general sense, wholly different from that in which it was originally applied. Thus Servius, commenting on the expression of Virgil, “Insulae Ionio in magno,” where the true Ionium Mare is meant by the poet, says:--“Sciendum, Ionium sinum esse immensum, ab lonia usque ad Siciliam, et hujus partes esse Adriaticum, Achaicum et Epiroticum.” (Serv. ad Aen. 3.211.) On the other hand, the name of the Ionian gulf ( Ἰόνιος κόλπος) was still given in late times (at least by geographers), in a very limited sense, to that portion of the Adriatic immediately within the strait at its entrance. (Eustath. ad Dionys. Per. 92, 389.) Ptolemy even applies the name of the Ionian sea (Ἰώνιον πέλαγος, 3.1. §§ 14, 15) in the same restricted manner.

From the name of the Ionian sea has been derived that of the Ionian islands, now given to the group of seven principal islands (besides several smaller ones) which constitute an independent republic under the protectorate of Great Britain; but there is no ancient authority for this appellation.


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