Origin of Yavanas - Greek Myth

Yavanas are thought to have been Greeks by Western scholars tracing to Ionians . Is that so, Let us see the facts.

References to Yavanas in India
In Indian sources, the usage of the words "Yona", "Yauna", "Yonaka", "Yavana" or "Javana" etc. appears repeatedly, Let us see them in Detail

Edicts of Ashoka

Experts say in the Edicts of Ashoka (c. 250 BCE) especially In the Gandhari Rock XIII : Antiochus is referred as "Amtiyoko nama Yona-raja" (lit. "The Greek king by the name of Antiochus"), beyond whom live the four other kings: "param ca tena Atiyokena cature 4 rajani Turamaye nama Amtikini nama Maka nama Alikasudaro nama" (lit. "And beyond Antiochus, four kings by the name of Ptolemy, the name of Antigonos, the name of Magas, the name Alexander").

Dipavamsa , Mahavamsa and Sasanvamsa
Buddhist texts such as the Dipavamsa, Mahavamsa and the Sasanavamsa reveal that after the Third Buddhist Council, the elder (thera) Mahárakkhita was sent to the Yona country and he preached Dharma among the Yonas and the Kambojas.


Another example is that of the Milinda Panha , where "Yonaka" is used to refer to king Menanders (160–135 BCE ) guards.


The Vanaparava of Mahabharata contains verses in the form of prophecy complaining that "......Mlechha (barbaric) kings of the Shakas, Yavanas, Kambojas, Bahlikas etc. shall rule the earth (i.e India) un-righteously in Kaliyuga..." . This reference apparently alludes to chaotic political scenario following the collapse of dharmic dynasties in northern India and its subsequent occupation by non-dharmic hordes of the Yavanas, Kambojas, Sakas and Pahlavas etc.

other Indian records describe the Yavana attacks on Saketa, Panchala, Mathura and Pataliputra, probably against the Sunga empire, and possibly in defense of Buddhism. The main mentions of the invasion are those by Patanjali around 150 BCE, and of the Yuga Purana, which, like the Mahabharata, also describes Indian historical events in the form of a prophecy:

Yavana in other cultures.
  • Egyptians used the word j-w-n(-n)-’
  • Assyrians used the word Iawanu
  • Persians used the word Yauna or Yavanu
  • Sri Lankans - used the word Yona in Mahawamsa and other historic texts.
  • In Biblical writings, the word was Yāvān (and still is, in modern Israeli Hebrew - יוון)
  • In Arabic and Turkish it is Yunan See Also Sanskrit Yoni
So what is the problem in telling Yavana are Greek, Let us analyze.

Not Greeks
Greeks coming to Yavana Janapada (republic) in NorthWest(Not Bactria perhaps Khandahar) became Yavanas. There is never a Greek Ionia in the east , which is neither stated in Persian inscriptions, nor by Herodotus.

Yavanas of King Bhagadatta in the Mahabharata are placed in south/south west(present Karnataka / Maharastra) India before the Yadu migration scene to Dvaraka. It would not make sense for Yadus to migrate to the west if Yavanas at attacked Mathura from the same west.

During Panini dated 600BC , there is no Greeks in India Neibhourhood , so the question of Panini referring to Greeks as Yavanas does not arise.

The date for Krishna are 3100BC. So, it is less likely to be that Yavanas are the Greeks. Because Greeks or Ionians were not there before 300BC.

There are three words distinct used Yuana before 400BC , Yavana between 400BC to 200BC and After 200BC as Yona in Pali texts. Sometimes both Yavana and Yona are mentioned.

Antigonos, Magas, Alexander are more Greek than Antiochus(Syria), but only Antiochous is mentioned as yona raja ,which shows yona does not mean Greek.

Kala-yavana, the "Dark Yavana" of the Mahabharata, who fought with Duryodhana. While in India dark always refer to evil mentality, it is possible this Dark-Yavana is of dark complexion, and perhaps pertaining to south India.

And when Greek were in India, they were based out of Egypt rather than Greece.

Yavanas are Indians
Literature shows them Indians.

The first (attested) Greek to be connected with the word Yon a is Antioch us in ca. 250 BCE. He is called Yona-raja = king over Yona people and their Janapada. His 4 Greek collegues are simply called Raja.

Indo-Greek Menander in the Milindapanha. In that work he is simply called Raja, king of Yona country (Yonanam). But his 500 elite soldiers, mercenaries from Yonanam, are called Yonakas.

Indo-Greek Antialcidas. He is called simply Maharaja, but it is Heliodora, son of Diya, who is the Vaishnavite Yona and ambassador to king Bhagabhadra.

Also contrast the clear Greek names of Greeks and Indo-Greek kings and those of the Yonas: Yavanaraja Tushaspha. Heliodorus’ may have adopted a Greek name under influence of the powerful status of the Indo-Greeks ruling over Yona country up to Taxila. The Mili ndapanha has these names for Yonas: Anantakâya (Yonako), Devamantiya (Yonako), Mankura (Yonako) and Sabbadinna or Dinna (Yonako).

It knows the Yonakâ as tribe., and Saka-yavana as the countries (Seistan-Arachosia/Quetta. Compare with Shaka-yavana of Patanjali. Shakas are attested before the Scythian invasion of the 1st century BCE in the NW).

“A vast body of Kharoshthl inscriptions found at several sites in the north-western region of the sub-continent are not much help either The term Yavana seldom occurs in these records, dated to the first few centuries of the Christian era, but the names of the donors are undoubtedly of Greek origin.” Ray adds: “The Swat relic vase inscription of the first century B.C. records the establishment of the relics of the Sakyamunl by Theodoros, … An engraved stone from Bajaur, south-east of Jalalabad, reads "of king Theodamas". .. The Kaldarra inscription records the laying of a tank by Thaidora or Theodoros, the Datiaputra”. But when Yavana is applied, see what Ray says: “ …Karle 314 and date from the first century A.D , the donors have Indian names such as Dhamadhaya, Chulayakha, Sihadhaya and Yasavadhana.

At Nasik cave XVII (dated after 110 A.D ), Indragnidatta, son of Dhammadeva the Yavana..” Indo-Greeks seem to retain their Greek names, but it is the Yonas who adopt names from other
cultures, the vaste majority being Indic (or some persian, and a few Greek, like the name Heliodorus).
The Puranas make them decendants of the Turvashas, peoples of South- Western India (karnataka / maharastra).

Literature shows Yavanas are becoming degraded Kshatriyas speaking in a dialect form (Mleccha), once having a better position and not at all being treated as foreigners.

Yavanas of King Bhagadatta in the Mahabharata are placed in south/southwest India before the Yadu migration scene to Dvaraka.

Panini refers to the Yavanas around 600BC, or perhaps earlier. They appear to be related to the Kambojas, since he mentions they both were condemned to shave their heads. This shows that the Yavanas were people that shaved their heads.

Famed Yavanacharya, the great Yavana-astrologer who studied Vedic astrology. In Takshashila, in North Western India, which had existed from 700BC , also attracted students from all over the world, so the scholar tells us. But again 700BC, No greeks in India.

Here however, we see that Yavana is a term that began in India itself, for the Vedic Aryans themselves - not foreigners! But, they do appear as peoples related to ancient Indians, or Vedic Indians - which predates the Greeks.

Gautama Dharmasutra , which refers to Yavanas as a mixture of Kshatriya father and Shudra mother

The Yavana kings in the Mahabharata are called: Yavana (ancient great kings), Chanura Devarata (mentioned with a Bhoja and Kirata king, showing that these were ruling in the east, south and of course Chanura in the west), Sumitra (rules in Sauvira country in the west. Battle with Pandu), Bhagadatta (rules in the west. Old friend of Pandu), Kasherumat (Battle with

Krshna. Probable direct predecessor of Kalayavana), Kalayavana Garg ya (mentioned as king of western India. Battle with Krshna). These names are Indian, not Foreign.

Dharma of Yavanas
yavanâH kirâtâ gândhârâśh cînâH śhabarabarbarâH | śhakâs tuSHârâH kahvâśh ca pahlavâśh cândhramadrakâH oDrâH pulindā ramaTHâH kâcā mlecchâśh ca sarvaśhaH | brahmakSHatraprasûtâśh ca vaiśhyâH śhûdrâśh ca mânavâH

ie.'What duties should be performed collectively by the Yavana, Kirata, Gandhara, Cina (ishwa: Shina), Shabara, Barbara, Shaka, Tushara (ishwa: high mountaineer), Kahvas (var. Kanka), Pahlava, Andhra, Madraka, Odra (var. Paundra), Pulinda, Ramatha and Mleccha (var. Kamboja) Vaishyas and Shudras and offshoots of Brahma-Kshatras, (all these) Manavas?

The Duties to be performed by Kshatriayas are
  1. serve their mothers and fathers, their preceptors and other seniors, and recluses living in the woods.
  2. serve their kings.
  3. follow duties and rites inculcated in the Vedas.
  4. perform sacrifices in honour of the Pitris, dig wells, give water to thirsty travellers, give away beds and make other seasonable presents unto Brahmanas.
  5. Abstention from injury, truth, suppression of wrath, supporting Brahmanas and kinsmen by giving them their dues, maintenance of wives and children, purity, peacefulness,
  6. making presents to Brahmanas at sacrifices of every kind, are duties that should be practised by every person of this class who desire his own prosperity. Such a person should also perform all kinds of Paka-yajnas with costly presents of food and wealth.

And it means t hat those who fail to follow the above dharma is Yuana So Yavanas are the Kshatriyas(Warrior Clans) who dont follow the law or dharma.

Yavana Indian Etymology
The word Yavana, if it is assumed to be Indian, can be derived in three ways. Firstly, from yu = 'keeping away', 'averting' (dveSHo yavana), signifying one who is disliked. Secon dly, from yu
'mixing, mingling',(i.e. Yauti mishrayati vaa mishriibhavati sarvattra jaatibhedaabhaavaat iti yavanah), implying a mixed people. Thirdly, from the meaning, 'quick', 'swift'; a swift horse, (i.e. Yavena gacchatiiti yavanah), denoting those who have a quick mode of conveyance. These derivations taken together may indicate that the Yavanas were thought of as a mixed
people, who had a quick mode of conveyance and who were disliked. However these derivations are recent. But Experts disagree on this meanings already.

“Firstly, from the yu = 'keeping away', 'averting' (dveSHo yavana), signifying one who is disliked.” The word doesn’t signify one who is disliked, but rather Yavana is the one who keeps away, he keeps a way the Dvesha or the enemy. Yavana here rather denotes a protector, a Kshatriya, thus someone who is liked and needed! This word Dvesho yavana is from the Vedic (!) Krshnayajurveda. Thus not a recent word, as it conjectures. More ancient, Vedic words from this root: dveSHo-yávana (MaitrS.) and mfn. removing hostility. dveSHo-yút (RV.), mfn. removing hostility. pra-yotR' m. a remover, expeller . Or Yaavan.

“Secondly, from yu 'mixing, mingling', (i.e. Yauti mishrayati vaa mishriibhavati sarvattra jaatibhedaabhaavaat iti yavanah), implying a mixed people.” , but these are the true meanings given to the root he has in mind: yu does not mean mixing, but “to unite, attach, harness, yoke, bind, fasten RV.(=yuj); to draw towards one's self, take hold or gain possession of, hold fast AV. TS. ShBr.; to push on towards (acc.) AV.; to confer or bestow upon (dat.), procure RV.; (yauti), to worship, honour Naigh. Iii,” (It is from this root that the Vedic Yaavan and A-yaavan are derived from for the halves of the moon..).

Thirdlyfrom an ancient root yu = to move quickly. There are more Vedic words from this root denoting to move (quickly): yaávan m. a rider horseman, invader, aggressor, foe R. (ifc.) going, driving, riding (cf. akSNa-, agra-, eka-y &c.) akSNa-yaávan mfn. going across agra-yaávan mfn. going before eka-yaávan m. of a king TBr. ii TâNDyaBr; RNa-yaávan mfn. relieving fro m debt or obligations praatar-yaaan “who moves at early morning” puro-yaavan “who moves foremost” sa-yaavan -"going along with, associated with,accompanying Thus, the words yáva speed, velocity (prob. w.r. for java); a double convex lens ib. [yava; {Gk.}; Lith. javaí.], yavana mfn. quick, swift; m. a swift horse L. (prob.w.r. for javana) and yavaana mfn. quick, swift L. (prob. w.r. for javaana), have all ancient Vedic roots.

Yavanas are Indigenous Tribe
The Yavanas are enumerated together with Pârashavas, Yavanas, Caranas, and Shûdras. None of the Varnas mentioned in IV.16-21 do refer to any foreigner, but rather of a mixture of indigenous Varnas and Jatis. Parashavas or connected with parashu or the axe of a woodcutter. As frontier people (paccantima) they became degenerated in the eyes of the immediately adjoining main land (majjhima). The pre-Alexandrian Ganapatha remembers Yavanas as Munda, unlike the hairdress of (Indo-)Greeks. The Majjhima Nikaya mentions that the Yonas call their varna Arya! Did the Greeks consider themselves as such? No refere nce to this with the Greaco-Roman historians

Compared to the doubtful etymologies for Ionian, the etymology of yavana is much better and logical. In Yavana we have a normal indigenous development of fusion of ideas and meanings which we can observe in many other words or ideas (aspects of Indra absorbed in Vishnu- Krshna, etc.etc.) Besides, all the different Indian works point to the indigenous character of Yavanas.

In short, Ionian as Yauna doesn't seem to have been known to Indians at all before Alexander. After Alexander, it does seem that the Indo-Greeks were rather known through the central country they were ruling over, which was Yona Janapada. And Yona Janapada can not be equated with Bactria, it is always within the subcontinent, close to the Indus area.

Yona-Kamboja- Gandhara is the frontier line of India from south to the north of the (western bank of the) Indus Valley: Yona -Baluchistan, Kamboja - Gomal/Bannu Valley, Ghandra - Kabul/Swat Valley.

Rodney Lingham


Related Posts
Who are Kambojas
Myth of Alexander Victory in India
Dating Ancient Greek Civilization
Date of Buddha


  1. What about the possibility that Yavanas were indeed indigenous to India and a branch of them migrated to Ionia / Greece from south western India by sea / land as part of trade?

  2. Have you heard the theory Indian race is the mother of All races in the world except Africa(Excluding Ethiopia).

    Means all the races in the world (excluding Africa) and Ethiopia have Indian Genes. The theory is called out of India theory.

  3. Yavanas are Indigenous to India. No questions about this.

    The Neighbors of Ionian in Greece across the sea are Hittites(Indians who migrated after Saraswathi dried up). The Ionian and Greek literature speak more about Africa, Middle east and some extend India rather than Europe. Ionian and entire Greek can be another Indian race which went before Hittites. So where are Ionian from? India? Big Question. But rather a wishful thinking.

    1. 1st Greek Mythology speaks of every continent except America(at least by this name). Especially for Europe, we have the Hypervoreans who are the Scandinavians(pressumably) from where God Apollo came during the spring. The we have Celts and Gauls who were sons of the Sons of Hercules. 2nd Ionians were sons of Apollo(or perhaps Ksouthos - the son of Hellinas, who was brother of Greek) and Creousa. There is nowhere in the Greek mythology a part that suggests a migration from. Instead in the whole mythology it is suggested indigenity(out of rocks or earth).

      3rd I did not see in this interesting article a commentary or reference to the Dhionysika. The epic of Dionysus Zagreas, that later became God. Son of Dionysus was Orfeas, who is suggested that he lived about 1000 bc. The problem with that is ofcourse that Dhionysiaka is an epic that suggests it happened during 4.000-3.000 bc. Defkalions cataclysm happened pressumambly in 9.500 to 9.000 bc, and the events of Greek Mythology are not far more recent than this cataclysm.

  4. It seems that much of this is rather subjective and coming from a narrow nationalistic India-centric bias rather than from an objectively critical assessment of the evidence.

    As a matter of fact the Ionians migrated from mainland Greece to the coast of Asia Minor around about 1000-800 BCE, Ionian Greek is particularly close to the Attic Greek of Athens.

    What is quite clear is that following the Alexander the Great's conquest, Greeks, Macedonians and no doubt other Greek speaking Hellenised (but ethnically non-Greek)peoples became settled in parts of what is now Afghanistan and Pakistan and added to the rich cultural mix and contributed either directly or indirectly to the thriving Buddhist culture that developed there. By the time of Kanishka I, Indo Greek art - Gandharan was under way, although it is not certain how much of the Geek element came from local culture and how much from the Greek east of the Roman empire.

  5. So Nationalistic India centric bias is bad , but White Racial Euro centric views are good. Is that what you mean?

    Your "As a matter of fact the Ionians migrated from mainland Greece to the coast of Asia Minor around about 1000-800 BCE, Ionian Greek is particularly close to the Attic Greek of Athens"
    your matter of fact is just a theory, No way you can prove that.

    Check the Alexander Invasion Article. Alexander got defeated.

    Coming back to main subject, Name "Yavana" has been found throughout the history of India, Even when concept of Ionian has not been developed in Greece. So Yavanas are not Greeks or specifically Ionians.

    Ask yourself how much of Greek culture is Indian Culture too. if people come to a particular place. They also get influenced.

    For a good Perspective go through Black Athena article. Then Comeback.

  6. Two wrongs don't make a right, pride in one's cultural heritage is one thing but excessive nationalism is a decidedly bad thing, particularly if it blinds one to a critical assessment of the facts.

    Black Athena is a good example of bad methodology based on blind ideological convictions.

  7. Neither one wrong is right!

    Pride of Euro centric views is right then? Excessive Euro centric views are not bad? Especially as it blinds all the other points of view, even if it true?

    Whatever not agreeable to your point of view is bad right?

    I am Waiting for your facts still. State your facts before criticizing others.

  8. Euro-centric, Indo-centric, Sino-centric, Islamo-centric etc. are all partial points of view.

    Personally I am interested in any links between Buddhism and Hellenic culture in what is now Afghanistan and Pakistan. That some Greeks and Hellenised peoples in this region might have embraced Buddhism is interesting. I am not personally interested in asserting the superiority of European culture over any other, but I am interested in reassembling what happened in that place before the Arab invasions put an end to it. Greek culture is one of several ingredients in the mix.

  9. In that case the Origin of Buddha Image article might be interesting to you

  10. The Indian wars are described in "Nonnus" there are the facts in Greek mythology! To try to prove that Yavanas where not Greeks, is to go a bit to far! is that ignorance or what! Dos Dionysus name ring any bell?

    1. You mean Nonnus the fifth century AD Greek work, which talks about Dionysus conquests. you did not get anything later to support claim.

  11. The yavanas were indeed an Indian tribe from south India, Kerela region. They were dark skinned n very skilled in navigation n astronomy. These guys migrated to crete long ago before 2000 BC, but kept cultural link ups with the native kerelian race called Thaiyyars, These people still have lots of stories to tell about there glorious past. The Modern greek race is the result of cross breeding of yavans of south India n the vedic tribes of Anu(Elina) which migrated out of India after loosing the Great battle of ten kings of Rig vedic fame. Recent genetic studies show that Greeks are indeed of Indian origin, But white christain man couldnt stand it n put it other way round, that Dravidians are of meditteranean origin, which is all Bul.

    I hope this solves all the confusion as to why greeks have dravidian origin but are fair n speak a vedic tounge at the same time.

    1. Well You seem to miss the woods. If there is no Aryan, then there is no Dravidian as well. All are same, called Indians Today.

      What is the proof!, what you are saying is true.

      You seem to have vivid imagination!

    2. As per early tamil literature, Yavnas are people who came to Malabar coast for spice trade. They are mostly doing spice trade with Cheras and traveling back to Red sea via Arabian sea.

    3. Go to Who are sangam cheras and their extend of territories
      Sangam Cheras are in Tamil nadu not in kerala

  12. Very interesting points of views ! Greeks where of Indian decent , why not sounds good to me . But it puts different perspective in Greek history I know . Thank you for that.

    1. Devamantiya (Yona), Demitria (Greek) Yona/Yavana had Greek names that are only slightly mis-pronounced. Easy to spot if you actually speak Greek but if you depend on English version of Greek names then good luck, Greeks don't pronounce vowels the same way and they didn't write with Latin letters =P

    2. What are the Greek Names. How are they mispronounced. Kindly Enlighten. As long as that they are Sanskrit names mispronounced by Greeks

    3. Greeks are the ones who mispronounced names for example The emperor Chandragupta maurya(Maurya dynasty) the Indian king who defeated Alexander's successor Seleucus I Nicator was known as Sandrokottos and Androcottus in Greek and Latin.

  13. Something for sure, Yavana is a great terminology in Veda n Sanskrit.

    Why not trying to know from the word Yava + na ?
    Yava is Yahwah/Yahweh/Yehova/Yahuwah.

    It's near to the word Brahmana but the same notion.

    Please consider Java (=Yava) in Indonesia.
    Dig it and hopefully you're gonna get the clue.

  14. lets see what words were and some still using for the Greeks
    Egyptians used the word j-w-n(-n)-’.
    Assyrians used the word Iawanu.
    Persians used the word Yauna.
    Babylonians used the word Yaman and Yamanaya.
    In modern Turkish, Persian, and Arabic it is Yūnān, derived from the same Old Persian word for designating the Greeks, namely "Yauna" (literally 'Ionians', as they were the first of the Greeks the Persians had firstly the most extensive encounters with) so yavanas and yonas were not Greeks right?? these "controversies" of yours are for many lolz

    1. If you see the Many pronunciations are completely different from English. Alphabets of English is not equipped to handle such pronunciations, so many differently pronounced words are written with same spelling. That is one of the point.
      How did these works survive, it has been passed down the generations both in India and Western World. So errors and misunderstandings creep in.
      The Third where are the people present at the time of writing. That exposes that they do not refer to Greeks. So just don't looks for words and what they mean in that context.


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