Thanks to its location connecting Europe and Asia, hence on the migration routes taken by early humans emerging out of Africa, Anatolia is home to some of the earliest settlements known to the date. The peninsula also had an important role during the agricultural revolution, with wild varieties of some of the common foodstuffs, such as that of wheat, first being domesticated and cultivated in the rolling Anatolian plateau, which later gave rise to the earliest sedentary communities. According to a hypothesis, the peninsula was the original homeland of the Indo-Europeans.
The prehistory of Asia Minor is marked by solitary sites of human habitation (or relics thereof). In the following Bronze and Iron Ages, the earliest organized societies emerged, often in the form of kingdoms. As the time progressed, the artefacts retrieved from the archaeological sites expectedly get more sophisticated, both in terms of external appearance and purpose, as beautifully put by the exhibition of the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations.
- 1 Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, Ankara. For travellers with even the slightest interest in the Anatolian history, no trip to Turkey is complete without a visit to the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in the capital city. It can be a great entree to the regional history at the start of your trip, as well as an equally great conclusion for it, but a visit is especially valuable if you don't have the resources to get to the often remote sites scattered far and wide over the land, as the museum, founded in an era when the current norm of displaying the archaeological findings as close to where they were dug out as possible wasn't in practice, displays much of the crème de la crème of ancient Anatolian (as well as ancient Near Eastern) art.
Few prehistoric sites in Turkey are relatively easy to access and have some sort of visitor office. The Yarımburgaz Cave in the suburbs of Istanbul, for example, is in the middle of a rough neighbourhood, and its opening is competely barred up, despite being an extremely important site in terms of prehistoric archaeology.
- 2 Karain Cave, north of Antalya. The cave had been the site of continuous human habitation since the early Paleolithic, 150–200,000 years ago.
- 3 Kula Geopark, near Kula, off the Izmir–Uşak highway. Known by the locals as Yanık Yöre and by the ancients as Katakekaumene (both roughly meaning "the burnt land"), the volcanic soils of the area are marked by footprints, found in 1954 during a road construction and thought to belong to three fellow travellers (along with their dog) 10–12,000 years old, who stepped on the lava before it fully solidified. Few footprints remain on the site, though, as most were removed to the 4 Natural History Museum in Ankara, where they are exhibited. Incidentally, the Gediz River, on the banks of which a quartz stone tool, the oldest human-made object found in Anatolia securely dated (to 1.2 million years ago), is nearby.
- 5 Göbeklitepe, northeast of Urfa. Started as a hilltop temple by fully nomadic hunter-gatherers at least 11,600 years ago — before any human society adopted a sedentary lifestyle — the ongoing excavations in Göbeklitepe continue to change the conventions modern history-writing is based on. Göbeklitepe is composed of sets of T-shaped pillars positioned in circles, with animal reliefs carved on the pillars — some archaeologists think these images are archetypes of any religion or belief system existed on earth.
- 6 Çatalhöyük, southeast of Konya. One of the earliest sedentary settlements that existed between 7500 BC and 5700 BC, during the Neolithic. The inhabitants were the earliest farmers of the Anatolian steppe.
Mostly exported to the Hittites article.
The Lycians were a bunch of people living in Lycia, a large peninsula extending into the Mediterranean in southwest Anatolia, speaking one of the indigenous Anatolian languages and writing it in their own alphabet. In their early history, they were probably allied with the Hittites; later on, the independent city states of Lycia formed the Lycian League, which is considered an early federal democracy.
Greeting any would-be invaders to their mountainous land fiercely, the Lycians were so proudly independent that they repeatedly burnt down their cities to the ground, along with the inhabitants themselves, rather than let them be occupied by strangers. It was out of the respect for this pride that the succesful invaders, rather few in number, including Alexander the Great and the Romans, granted autonomy for Lycia.
Nowadays the Lycians are mostly remembered for the impressive mausoleums they carved into the mountain sides and the sarcophagi scattered across their once remote and impassable territory, which in an irony of fate is now one of the backbones of Turkish tourism industry.
Almost everyone knows about the Gordian Knot, Midas "the Golden Touch", Phrygian cap, and Phrygian mode, but the Phrygians themselves remain a mystery.
Speaking a language similar to Greek and writing it in a script superficially resembling the Greek one, the Phrygians were probably immigrants from the Balkans, displacing the Hittites and settling in Western Anatolia in the 12th century BC.
Best known as the earliest civilization that minted coins in the form as we know today and for their legendary ruler Croesus, whose name is an ancient synonym for extreme wealth — who else but the inventors of "money" could have such a king, after all — the Lydians had an empire in Western Anatolia, inland from the Aegean Sea, between the 15th and 6th centuries BC, that sparkled after the Phrygians waned.
- Sardis. At the western terminus of the ancient Royal Road, which led from the Persian capital at Persepolis, Sardis was the Lycian capital, although most of the often lonely ruins seen today date back to the post-Lydian Roman and Byzantine eras.
- Uşak Museum, Uşak. Further inland from Sardis, this museum, one of the few reasons to visit Uşak, is home to a large Lydian treasure, known by the locals as the Croesus Treasure (Karun Hazinesi), although the historians are uncertain about this perception.
Inhabitants of the eastern highlands, the Urartians founded a distinctive Iron Age civilization between the 9th and 6th centuries BC based around the Lake Van and spoke a language that was unrelated to any other, except Hurrian which was spoken in neighbouring Mesopotamia.
- Mt. Nemrut.
- Wilusa. Wilusa was a major member of Assuwa, a confederation in Western Anatolia united against the Hittites in late Bronze age, and the name of which is probably the origin of "Asia". Wilusa was the earliest incarnation of Troy, before the war of the literally epic proportions and the Achaean take-over.
The Byzantine Empire, also known as the Eastern Roman Empire, existed between 395 CE and 1453 CE, was the eastern continuation of the Roman Empire based around the Eastern Mediterranean. In many ways, it was culturally different from its precedessor.
In 330, the Roman emperor Constantine I moved his seat east to Byzantium, renaming it Constantinople, "Constantin's city". In 395, Theodosius I officially divided the empire into two between his sons, and the Western Roman Empire, based in Rome and the Eastern Roman Empire, with its seat in Constantinople came into being.
The term "Byzantine" — derived from Byzantium, the oldest name of Constantinople/Istanbul — was coined after the fall of the empire, in 1557, by German scholar Hieronymus Wolf, to distinguish the mainly urban, Greek-speaking, and Orthodox Christian Byzantine culture from that of its less urban precedessor, which was Latin-speaking, and pagan in its earlier and Roman Catholic in its latter history. However, the inhabitants of the Byzantine Empire never saw themselves anything other than Romans proper, and called their country Rhomania ("Roman land"; not to be confused with modern Romania, which incidentally derives its name from the same connotation).
Sultanate of RumEdit
Started out its life in the 11th century as an extension of the Seljuk Empire based in Persia, the Sultanate of Rum (Anadolu Selçukluları, "the Seljuks of Anatolia", in Turkish) was the earliest Turkish state founded in Anatolia.
Turkish petty kingdomsEdit
The Turkish petty kingdoms (also known as the Anatolian principalities and Anatolian beyliks) were several states that existed between the 13th and 16th centuries all over Anatolia, in Turkey.
With the expansion of the Mongol Empire into their homeland in Central Asia and the following chaos, several tribes, mostly belonging to the Oghuz Turks, headed west. Most crossed the Caspian Sea along its southern rim, and after taking a brake for a while in Khorasan and elsewhere in Persia, they proceeded towards their final destination in Anatolia, which was by then ruled by the Seljuk Sultanate of Rum, founded by also their Oghuz kindred in the previous centuries.
The Seljuk policy towards the tribes fleeing the Mongol hordes was to settle them along the borderlands of the kingdom, both to keep these unruly nomads away from the Seljuk policy centres, and also to keep the borders secure from unwanted incursions by using them as a first line of defence. The new folk was also provided with autonomy in their tribal affairs, as long as they accepted sovereignty of the sultan in Konya over the lands they newly settled.
However, the Mongols soon showed up at the doorstep, and after the Battle of Kösedağ, which took place east of Sivas in 1243, the Sultanate of Rum collapsed. During the following disorder, the beys (roughly "lord") proclaimed their sovereignty one after another and the petty kingdoms emerged. The patchwork on the Anatolian maps persisted into the 16th century, when the last sovereign principality was annexed by the Ottomans, who also started as one of the petty kingdoms in northwestern Anatolia and came to grew and dominate all others in Anatolia (and beyond). Some families descended from the beys kept their influence in Turkey until the 1950s, well after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the foundation of the Republic.
Despite their limited resources and the short and tumultuous period in which they existed, most petty kingdoms championed development and art in the areas they ruled over, which is still evident especially in the communities away from the major centres of the consequent Ottoman era and present.
Since the beyliks were founded along the borders and coastlines of the Sultanate of Rum, which had its heartland in Central Anatolia, it's easy to group the major destinations of the period history geographically.
- 7 Ankara. During the era, the modern capital of Turkey was not part of a petty kingdom per se, but rather was the only major town to be ruled by the Ahis, a commercial fraternity widespread in medieval Anatolia, in a similar fashion with the mercantile republics of Europe of the same epoch. Their rule left behind a couple of "forest mosques" — typified by a "forest" of wooden pillars lining the main hall — clinging down the hill from the citadel.
- 8 Kastamonu.
- 9 Kütahya.
- 10 Söğüt.
- 11 Balıkesir. Balıkesir was founded on the ruins of the Byzantine Paleo Kastron (Greek for "old castle", also the origin of the Turkish name) by Karesi, the bey of the Karesi Kingdom, who has his tomb in the city.
- 12 Beçin. 5 km south from the modern town of Milas, the hilltop citadel of Beçin was the capital of the Menteşe kingdom. While some buildings of the medieval capital have recently been renovated, it remains as a total ghost town, as it has for long been.
- 13 Birgi. One of the prettiest old towns in the country, Birgi, the earlier capital of the Aydınids, is home of the Ulu Cami ("Grand Mosque"), which is rather small physically for this name, but it was regardless the central mosque of the local kingdom.
- 14 Manisa. The capital of the Saruhan Kingdom kept its prominency in the following Ottoman period.
- 15 Miletus. Originally a major ancient Greek harbour, Miletus, now in ruins, was still a living town when the Menteşe built the İlyas Bey Mosque in 1403.
- 16 Selçuk. The latter capital of the Aydınids features the İsa Bey Mosque, which, with its transitional architectural style, perfectly symbolizes the post-Seljuk, pre-Ottoman Beylik era.
Eastern Anatolia was the home of a number of petty kingdoms that, unlike the others elsewhere in Anatolia, flourished before the Mongol invasion, mainly in the 12th century.
- Hasankeyf. You have little time left to enjoy this medieval gem on the River Tigris, as it will be drowned under a lake after the ongoing construction of the Ilısu Dam is completed.
- Mardin. A smaller Jerusalem of yellow stone buildings, on a hillside dropping down to the Mesopotamian plains, thanks to the courtesy of the Artukids (Artukoğulları).