In ancient times the coast and the hinterland of Asia Minor were divided into provinces that owed their origins to the indigenous population or to peoples who colonized it from other areas. In many cases it is difficult to determine whether an area was so named from the indigenous population or colonists, or as is often the case, a mixture of the two. Caria is one of those regions whose origins are unsure with conflicting evidence and ancient commentaries giving no definitive answer. Herodotus (484-425 BC) tells us that the Carians had close ties with the Greek islands, subjects of King Minos of Crete, that they were great seafarers and fighters who manned the Minoan fleets. They were then called Leiagians and when the Dorian and Ionian Greeks spread from mainland Greece down through the islands, the Leiagians were forced across to the coast of Asia Minor. Thucydides, the Athenian historian (460-396 BC), gives a variation of Herodotus' story. He claims the Carians were pirates throughout the Greek islands and that King Minos expelled them when their piracy got out of hand. Pausanias, that intrepid travel writer of the 2nd century AD, says that the Carians were a native race of Anatolia and that colonists from Crete had mixed with them and adopted their name.
Todays archaeological evidence tends to the opinion that the Carians were an indigenous race with a long history of their own, most probabily dating back to 3rd or 4th millenia BC. They moved to Crete and to other Greek islands during the immigrations in western Anatolia, then came back to the main land as colonists from across the water and were absorbed into the local population along with new ideas and skills that were adopted by the native Carians. The brief mention Homer makes of the Carians in the 8th century BC is that they were 'barbarous of speech' and it is interesting that today in Turkish language the harshest dialect in western Turkey is still found in this region.
Right through the Greek and Roman periods the Carians preserved their own identity. Greek and Roman architectural ideas were adopted and presumably so were matters of dress, diet, and religion. One thing the Carians were long famous for was their seafaring skill. As far back as the 8th Century BC the Carian fighting fleet was a feared and respected force, though there is a curious tale told by Herodotus that rather confounds this apparent fame. When Xerxes was preparing his fleet for the invasion of Greece in 480 BC, Artemisia, queen of Caria, not only contributed ships to the expedition but also joined the fleet in person. At the Battle of Salamis when the Persian fleet was routed by the numerically inferior Greek fleet, Artemisia managed to escape in an unusual way. While her own ship was being pursued by an Athenian ship, by design or accident, she turned and bore down on a ship from her own side, a Calyndian vessel, and ramming it amidships sank it with all hands. The Athenian ship then left her alone, presuming she must be fighting on the Greek side; Xerxes watching from a distant hill-side assumed the Calyndian ship to be one of the enemy and was full of praise for Artemisia's bravery. Apparently none of the luckless Calyndians survived to tell the real story.
At it's greatest Carian territory extended from what is now Lake Bafa in the north to Lake Köycegiz east of Marmaris, in the province of Mugla. In the north were the ancient cities of Heracleia, Alinda and Alabanda. In the south Caunos represented the most southerly Carian territory and overlapped into Lycia. The area corresponds almost exactly to the modern administrative province (vilayet) of Mugla. Caria remained intact through the great invasions that swept through Asia Minor without losing it's identity although that identity took a few battering along the way. When the Persians dominated Asia Minor under Darius and Xerxes, Caria was part of the greater Persian Empire. However with Xerxes' defeat by the Athenians and the formation of the Delian Confederacy, the Carian cities came under Athenians way. With the Spartan victory over Athens in 405 BC the Carian cities were under Spartan rule, though only for a brief ten years until the Spartans were removed from power. The Persians now moved in again and divided their empire into satrapies, provinces ruled by a local governor who owed allegiance to Persia. In 377 BC Mausolus became satrap of Caria in Halicarnassos (today Bodrum) and he craftily developed Caria into an independent power without upsetting his Persian masters. Alexander the Great stormed through the region in 334 BC and with the aid of Queen Ada, an exiled Carian queen, soon had the region firmly under his control. Queen Ada was installed as ruler and appears to have become something of a mother figure to the eccentrically talented Alexander. The death of Alexander in 323 BC left a power vacuum and like much of the then civilized world, Caria was fought over by various groups though none gained any lasting control.
The Romans finally sorted things out and with the defeat of the Macedonian King Phillip V in 197 BC, order finally returned to the region. There were political hiccups with the arrival of Mithriadates in 88 BC and Anthony's orgiastic rule a little later, but the defeat of Anthony by Octavius marked the beginning of an era of stable government and prosperity for Caria. Towards the end of the Roman Empire and the birth of Byzantine, Caria began to decline, the population moved away, and the once great coastal cities lost their former power and some of their splendor. What happened in the interior is difficult to know, certainly Caria could no longer be considered a region but rather a collection of coastal towns. On the whole antiquity had been kind to Caria. The centuries that followed were to be less so as Caria became more and more a remote and forgotten region.