The Age of the Hittites
Although the origin of the Hittites remains obscure their impact of the cultural landscape of Anatolia is unmistakeable. Along with other Central Anatolian principalities, the rule of the Hatti declined over the first two centuries of the 2 nd millennium, with the power of the Hittite kingdom soon bringing most of the region under their control. The Hittite unique artistic style is believed come from a combination of the indigenous Hatti renderings and immigrant Indo-European influences.
Around 1750BCE, marking the beginning of their Kingdom, the Hittites relocated their capital from the old Hattian centre of Alacahöyük to Hattuşa ( Boğazkale ). It was here that the Hittites lay down one of the most impressive displays of military architecture to be found anywhere in the Middle East. Cyclopean masonry combines seamlessly with the rugged topography of the chosen site creating something of a masterpiece of defensive and offensive design. Enclosed within this mammoth defence system were palaces, dwellings, cult sites and no less than five magnificent temples, the remains of which continue to impress even today.
Strangely, no objects or statues that could be identified as directly related to the Hittite beliefs have been unearthed during archaeological investigation to date. Sadly, no free-standing stone sculpture has yet been found that can be connected to the Hittite Empire at Hattuşa . However, less than 2km to the north-east from the ancient capital, in a series of unusual rock formations and passageways, well preserved stone- cut reliefs display the entire pantheon of the Hittite gods. The site of Yazilikaya forms an outdoor gallery of male and female deities to whom a temple, recently found nearby, was likely dedicated.
During the 15 th and 14 th centuries BCE the Hittites held the position of one of the three most important states in the Near East, sharing the control of the eastern world with the Egyptian kingdom. At around the same time the ancient cityof Troy had become a regional ‘heavyweight’ with its strategic position pushing it ever upwards and unfortunately into economic contention and competition. Homer’s Odyssey and the famous Trojan War winning strategy of the wooden horse provide something of the historical truth to this particular era. Certainly the poet’s imagination contributed to his recording of the episode but it highlights the toppling of another ‘giant’.
The final chapters in the tale of the Hittite Empire elude any accurate reconstruction but it appears the empire came under increasing pressure from their subject principalities as well as probable attacks on their capital Hattuşa by the Thracians and other groups. Written evidence from the Hittite capital disappears somewhere around 1180 BCE, with contemporary Egyptian sources indicating mass migrations of South-East European tribes taking place at about this time. There are references also made to the incursions of the Sea and Island Peoples. It can be reasonably assumed such upheavals and aggressive population movement shattered the Hittite’s control propelling Anatolia in to its ‘Dark Age’ (c. 1180-750BCE).
Although it is certain smaller units of Hittite descendants maintained elements of their culture, belligerent migratory groups operating along the southern coast of Anatolia continued to cause major disruption. Following the ancient and long-established trade routes between the Greek sphere and the Middle East they found a perfect connection, a bridge between the west and the east. They came to understand the advantages Anatolia had to offer and rather than move through settled with new political and regional divisions soon in place.
By the 8 th century BCE the Phrygians , originally from Thrace , had arrived to occupy most of western and central Anatolia. Their famed capital of Gordion reached it apogee under the well-known King Midas . To the east another group, the Urartians , had carved out their own space not far from Lake Van. Yet another well-known group, the Lycians , created a network of settlements stretching from Antalya to Fethiye . Also around this time, as Greek influence continued to take hold in Anatolia a number of the still well-known Greek city-states were founded along the western Aegean coast, among these Ephesus , Miletus and Priene . The southern part of that area became known as Ionia , the northern part as Aeolis .
Inland from the coast another new people, the Lydians came to western Anatolia. Their first settlement and capital was at Sardis , near Smyrna , the modern-day city of Izmir . Ancient writers attribute the first use of coins to this group. The last king of Lydia was Croesus . Most renown for his wealth, he contributed much to support Greek culture within Anatolia. We are told he made great offerings to sanctuaries, including Delphi (Greece) , Miletus , and Ephesus . Some of the decorated pillars found in the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus are a result of his devotion and generosity. The archeoelogical and ancient history importance of the Temple of Artemis, which is a UNESCO world heritage site is not lost on your tour guide or your tour itinerary as part of your escorted small group tour of Turkey. These particular attributes, especially generosity led by Croesus, have filtered through into the Turkish culture of today’s Turkey. Archaeologists studying the ancient ruins and cities have revealed an array of what they believe to be installations for the refining of gold adding credence to the stories of this Kings great wealth. There is also the possibility of the tale from this ancient world of the mythical ‘Golden Fleece’ having an origin in Sardis where a sheep’s fresh fleece was one method used to capture alluvial gold flecks from flowing water.
Herodotus, an ancient writer born in Anatolia, speaks of Croesus controlling much of Western Anatolia although he was sure to have allowed the Greek cities considerable autonomy. Nevertheless, he worried over what he saw as the growing threat from the Persians who had become well established in central Anatolia. Rather than wait, Croesus decided to make war against the Persians , crossing into their territory with his army in 547BCE. After an indecisive battle, likely in the region Boğazköy , he returned home to gather reinforcements from his allies for a later campaign. Unfortunately, the Persian ruler, Cyrus the Great pursued the retreating army to besiege Sardis . The Lydian capital fell shortly after and Persian control was extended over the region.
From the fall of Sardis through until 334 BCE, Anatolia was controlled by the Achaemenid Empire of Persia, yet the influence of Greek culture remained and in fact gained in strength in particular areas. Coastal regions such as Caria and Lycia tended to be strongly influenced but a steady penetration of Persian culture into other regions including Cappadocia and even further into Eastern Anatolia. Perhaps the best illustration of the blend elements from Persia, Greece, and Anatolia can be found in the religious systems as they adapted and evolved. It is likely that linguistic independence was maintained in many districts although Aramaic surfaced as the official language appearing on both coinage and dedicatory inscriptions.
Anatolia in the Hellenistic & Roman Age
In 333 BCE yet another group entered onto the scene. The Macedonians, led by Alexander the Great swept into Anatoliaseizing power from the Persians and bringing about the downfall of the Achaemenid Empire. The empire wrought by Alexander was short-lived as disputes among his successors caused an unrecoverable splintering of his great territories. Three of Alexander’s commanders usurped their respective domains to create dynasties of their own – in Syria, the Seleucids , in Egypt the Ptolemies and in Macedonia the Antigonids . This fragmentation also meant that once again Anatolia itself was divided, this time between Ptolemaic Egypt and the Seleucids. It was during this period that the city Pergamum , resembling somewhat a mountain fortress because of it position, gained in power as its rulers cleverly played competitors in the political and military realms. Successive rulers of Pergamum took advantage of lapses on the part of the Seleucid kingdom expanding control over much of their territory.
This expansion though was short-lived with Seleucid dominance soon restored and the borders of Pergamum severely restricted by Antiochus III . Building upon his initial successes Antiochus set about conquering much of the coastal areas up to and along the Hellespont (the Dardenelles ). Fearing still further expansion, Pergamum and Egypt petitioned Rome for assistance. At first Rome hesitated to become involved but when Antiochus crossed into Europe in 196BCE, they intervened sounding defeating the Seleucid ruler in two decisive battles. These defeats, the first at Thermopylae and the second close to Sardis allowed him not choice but to accept the terms of the Roman peace. This meant that Rome was the now the preeminent power for the Hellenistic east.
The final stage of Roman asserting control over Western Anatolia came when the last ruler of Pergamum , Attalus III died without an heir. He bequeathed his city to Rome paving the way for the reorganisation of the region as the Roman province of Asia with Ephesus as its capital and cultural centre. Much of the remaining areas of the peninsula fell under Roman control during the 1stcentury BCE. The off ice of the proconsul administered the province, with little need for a strong military presence even during the period of transition from Republic to Empire. Cities in Anatolia were for the most part given free reign to govern.
The Roman Period provided the necessary environment for trade to greatly increase while also providing for the influx of cultural aspects to blend with those already in place. Rome brought with it the knowledge of proper organisation so public works were widely undertaken to upgrade the infrastructure across the region of Asia Minor. Cities such as Perge , Aphrodisias , Aspendos and Ephesus flourished and expanded their political and cultural influence. The Roman emperors Augustus, Hadrian and Trajan all visited the province to oversee aspects of the development, likely travelling along the newly-laid road network.
As the Roman Empire expanded it had become more difficult to manage. An attempt to solve this by Emperor Diocletian (285-305CE) dividing the empire into what he thought would be two more manageable sections, eastern and western. It is also believed that this move was to curtail the spread of the new Christian religion, something that also proved to be unsuccessful. Diocletian’s decisions caused a major rift and brought about civil unrest and ultimately a civil war. Constantine, a recent convert to Christianity, triumphed in the dispute allowing him to move forward with his ideas.
The ancient city of Byzantium was chosen as the new capital for the Roman Empire in 324CE, the choice of the emperor Constantine the Great . Some six years later the city was dedicated to him and took on its new name, Constantinople . The city gained a reputation for its complex defence system initiated soon after the city’s dedication with the first wall enclosing the city. Even today remnants of these massive walls can be seen with many of the streets of modern Istanbulfollowing those of the time of Constantine. It is said that the new capital was designed to ‘outshine’ Rome. The Eastern Roman Empire then became also known as the Byzantine Empire and, in a sense, was basically a continuation. In fact, the majority of people continued to refer to themselves as Roman.
In a matter of a few short decades of the history of Turkey, though the decision to split the empire proved ill-fated for Rome. The west was overrun by ’barbarians’, tribes such as the Goths , resulting in complete loss of control there. While in the east, greatly assisted by Constantine’s leanings, Christianity was adopted and continued to flourish in Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul) spreading through Anatolia.
In the later Roman Period (Early Byzantine), much of central Anatolia as well as eastern Anatolia were reorganised into smaller districts governed locally but centrally controlled by the prefectural headquarters located in Constantinople. The population of Anatolia was concentrated along the coastal areas of the Mediterranean sea or the Black sea with large urban settlements as focal points. On the wider plains inland where climatic conditions were favourable cities also grew up. Constantinople continued to grow in prosperity and size as it fulfilled the function of a gateway between Europe and Asia. Hagia Sophia in Istanbul , still a true jewel of even a domesticated Turkey was ordered built by the Christian ruler Justinian , sometimes referred to as the last Roman.
As is much the case in modern Turkey, land on the plateau was mostly utilised as pasture while on the more fertile coastal plains the cultivation of vegetables, cereals and olives. Of course all cities relied upon the agriculture production of their satellite villages and farms with the producers travelling to market their goods. Coastal cities such as Istanbul Antalya, Mersin and Bursa or at least those with suitable harbours functioned as centres for longer-distance trade and distribution for the Mediterranean sea
The Era of the Seljuk Turks
Unfortunately in the 7 th century conditions altered drastically with Persian invasion and occupation. The unsettling effects of hostile interventions continued over the next century with damaging incursions by Arab raiders shattering the peace and collapsing administrative networks. The city of Ankara was captured the Arabs in the middle of the 7th century and less than twenty years later they had laid siege to Constantinople . Although the attack on Constantinople ultimately proved unsuccessful, the other Arab conquests marked the introduction of a new culture, a new language and a new religion. A combination these raids in turn impacted adversely on the social, cultural and economic structures of much of eastern Anatolia as well as Central Anatolia.
Whether or not these deteriorating conditions of the country directly contributed is debatable but plague swept through the eastern Mediterranean on many separate occasions during the 7 th & 8 th centuries. The debilitating effects on the population made the long-established patterns of urban settlement far less viable and far less attractive for any investment.
Also around this time nomadic tribes of Turks began to filter in across central Asia, establishing themselves and growing in strength and power over the next two centuries, centuries of struggle and failed treaties. Even in the face of such apparent disarray and external threats militarily the system was maintained that is until the mid-11 th century when after another failed agreement the Seljuk Turks moved to within striking distance of Constantinople . The massive walls kept out the Turks from the capital but control of central and eastern Anatolia was relinquished confining the Byzantine people more to the coastal areas.
Commercial activities formed an important component of the Anatolian Seljuk Turk economy in Anatolia. The Crusades had stimulated interest and demand in Europe for goods from the east and it was a simple matter to promote trade once certain trading routes had been secured. The mysterious caravanserai , fortress-like rest-houses, along with bridges, defence systems and even harbours formed the infrastructure for the creation of immense trading wealth. The tombs and palaces of the individual rulers clearly showed affluence yet looking beyond these more obvious expressions of extreme prosperity reveals something far deeper. The founding of mosques and religious centres paved the way for spreading knowledge and support of Islam among the wider populations. However, for the Seljuks , not everything went their way over the next two centuries, with their power and regions of control varying as they were challenged and pushed back a number of times. Mongol intervention also threatened Seljuk Turk authority on numerous occasions.
Constantinople’s fortunes fluctuated as well with fire destroying many areas in 1197, earthquakes, riots and the sacking of the city during the Fourth Crusade at the very beginning of the 13 th century. Now although the city was retaken a half a century later most of the inhabitants had fled and thus the capital struggled to recover any of its former economic glory or its defensive capabilities. Also as a result of the re-conquest of Constantinople attention shifted back to the city itself and away from other areas leaving them even more vulnerable. Much of the coastal regions and the south western areas were lost to the Turkmen and other groups coming in from Armenian regions and Central Asia by around 1270, with the fertile Maeander valley soon falling prey.
The Ottoman Empire
Ottoman history initially follows similar lines found in the history of many nations. Among the independent and competing tribes of Turkmen was a group rapidly gaining power and authority, the Ottomans. Led by a man named Osman they continually threatened and harassed any of the districts that had yet to be taken. Over the next century following the leader’s death Ottoman rule extended their control over Eastern Anatolia and beyond. The Byzantines continued to lose their territories leading to the rise of the Ottoman Empire. With the Battle of Nicopolis on the Danube in 1396, the last crusade with such a multi-national force the power of the Ottomans was firmly consolidated and recognised.
With continued expansion down through the Balkans as a major part of their strategy, Constantinople stood as a symbolic and physical threat. The great city’s conquest was therefore a crucial piece in the overall plan. The Ottomans had already snatched any semblance of Byzantine power along with all territory surrounding Constantinople . Although there was brief respite from the Ottoman onslaught such as their defeat at the Battle of Ankara in 1402 by a Turk-Mongol force, the situation remained unchanged with Ottoman power soon restored.
In 1444, the Ottoman Sultan, Mehmed II ascended the throne for a brief two years when his father returned to rule when internal strife could not be quelled. Mehmed waited in the wings while his father dealt with this unsettling dispute. He carefully observed as the Ottomans gathered momentum planning both political and military strategies for when he once more was in the position to implement these. On the death of his father in 1451, he became Sultan stepping up to take his place in Ottoman history.
As a most erudite scholar of historiography, perhaps Sultan Mehmed II was spurred on towards taking Constantinople (Istanbul) and becoming noted in Ottoman history by the words of Prophet Mohammed, ‘One day, Constantinople will be conquered. How wonderful and blessed are the commander of its conquest and his soldiers!’ Whatever the motivation Mehmed successfully overthrew the stronghold bringing the end to any power that may have remained in Byzantine hands. After entering the city in May of 1453, Mehmed adopted the title of ‘conqueror’ and living up to this name, carried out many successful military campaigns followed the taking of Istanbul.
The Ottoman Empire continued to expand across Asia Minor and further into Balkan areas while prospering under the leadership of a line of effective rulers, successful Ottoman Sultan following successful Ottoman Sultan. The long-established trade routes between Asia and Europe, now under the Ottomans’ control, brought great economic benefit. In existence for over six hundred years, the Empire at its height spanned most of south-eastern Europe, the majority of the areas in today’s Middle East along with North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. Cleverly, particular traditional institutions from Byzantium and the Turkish Empires were mixed with economic, political and social ideals of Islam . The result being new and more encompassing forms emerged and ushered the area into something that lasted into modern times.
It is difficult to say exactly when The Ottoman Empire began its decline and indeed why it collapsed bring Ottoman history to a conclusion. Examination of the historiography suggests a lack of cohesive over such a wide expanse of territory greatly contributed. This teamed with an over-reliance on agriculture when the rest of Europe was undergoing the Industrial Revolution may well have been underlying factors. However, the ideals of Nationalism and their gradual spread into the Empire likely acted as the crucial catalyst despite later attempts to modernise.
The Ottoman Empire had been a large multinational empire ruled over by an absolute monarchy. Its organisation and economic base also meant necessary involvement with the machinations of the great powers on the continent. This participation meant that with the coming of war in 1914 that the empire was drawn in and forced to choose a side. Additionally, even though there had been an extended era of cultural and economic decline, and widespread internal discontent, the Ottoman Empire still held sway over modern-day Turkey in its entirety along with the majority of the Middle East. The common reference to Turkey as ‘the sick man of Europe’ belies the fact that the Empire had no trouble at the outbreak of war in the fielding over well over a million soldiers.
Unfortunately, after the fateful decision to fight on the side of Germany in World War I, the armistice treaty signed at Mudros Harbour on the Greek island of Lemnos, in effect, set about the complete dismantling of the Empire. British and French troops immediately began occupying areas of the fallen Ottomans. Ottoman history moved very rapidly towards its end at the conclusion of World War I. The final blow came in 1922 when the last of the Ottoman sultans , Mehmed IV was deposed and departed from Constantinople, Istanbul. From this point modern Turkey emerged moving more towards a developed Turkish state and Turkish nation. This was a new beginning for the Turkish people and an incentive for the Turkish economy, with Turkish rule soon to become unified again under efficient leadership. Another chapter in the long history of Turkey was about to begin.
Odyssey Travellers escorted small group tour of Turkey provides a platform for the senior traveller interested in continuing to learn, whether as a couple or solo traveller, about this fascinating country full of history, incredible people, and stunning scenery. To bring the history to life on this small group tour to this unique part of Turkey , this tourcommences in Istanbul , where on this guided tour , ancient history commences under the backdrop of the Bosphorus strait and where Asia meets Europe. The group tour over 21 days travels from Istanbul to Cappadocia. We go on a Pamukkale tour, see the ancient ruins of Ephesus and the mosques in Turkey, and view the Aegean Sea, with our local tour guide sharing with you both the ancient and contemporary history and scenery of this incredibly diverse nation. The tour stops in nine key places that have played pivotal roles in the development of Turkey.
The itinerary of the escorted tour takes in many of the most famous sites and sights of the ancient world to discover Turkey. Istanbul is one of the world’s oldest cities and has been at the centre of civilisation for centuries. We visit a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Blue Mosque, a beautiful structure built between 1609 and 1616 by Sultan Ahmed during the age of the Ottoman Empire to house his tomb. The Mosque features six spectacular minarets, the culmination of two centuries of Ottoman mosque development. You will see the Greek theatres in the ancient city of Pergamon, the legendary Greco-Roman cities of Troy and Ephesus, and discover the cultural centres of Ankara and Izmir.
In Antalya the tour itinerary schedules a visit to the ruins and archaeological museum, which is filled with treasures from ancient times as Antalya is the major city of the Anatolian Mediterranean. In Saralti, we visit its underground city. In Konya, we learn about the mystic Whirling Dervishes. Our Turkey small group tour also includes a visit to the extraordinary limestone formations of Pamukkale, as well as the underground city and cave churches in Cappadocia.
A large part of our Turkey small group tour program is spent in Anatolia, in eastern Turkey. This tour also spends time on the Gallipoli Peninsula and in Istanbul, the European part of the country known as Thrace or Western Turkey. Of course these smal escorted small group tour of Turkey like any European tour, include in the itinerary time in special places to explore further.