The Dorians (Ancient Greek: Δωριεῖς, Dōrieis, singular Δωριεύς, Dōrieus) were one of the four major Greek ethnē into which the Ancient Greeks, or Hellenes, of the Classical period considered themselves divided (along with the Aeolians, Achaeans and Ionians). Ethnos has the sense of ethnic group. Herodotus uses the word with regard to them. They are almost always referenced as just "the Dorians", as they are in the earliest literary mention of them in Odyssey, where they already can be found inhabiting the island of Crete.
They were diverse in way of life and social organization, varying from the populous trade center of the city of Corinth, known for its ornate style in art and architecture, to the isolationist, military state of Sparta. And yet, all Hellenes knew which localities were Dorian, and which were not. Dorian states at war could more likely, but not always, count on the assistance of other Dorian states. Dorians were distinguished by the Doric Greek dialect and by characteristic social and historical traditions.
In the 5th century BC, Dorians and Ionians were the two most politically important Greek ethne, whose ultimate clash resulted in the Peloponnesian War. The degree to which fifth-century Hellenes self-identified as "Ionian" or "Dorian" has itself been disputed. At one extreme Édouard Will concludes that there was no true ethnic component in fifth-century Greek culture, in spite of anti-Dorian elements in Athenian propaganda. At the other extreme John Alty reinterprets the sources to conclude that ethnicity did motivate fifth-century actions. Moderns viewing these ethnic identifications through the fifth- and fourth-century BC literary tradition have been profoundly influenced by their own social politics. Also, according to E.N. Tigerstedt, nineteenth-century European admirers of virtues they considered "Dorian" identified themselves as "Laconophile" and found responsive parallels in the culture of their day as well; their biases contribute to the traditional modern interpretation of "Dorians".