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Turkey - From Anatolia to Alexander the Great

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Turkey in pre-history – a briefing

Turkey is host to a world of archaeological wonders. Known as Anatolia to prehistorians, the earliest prehistoric civilisations in the world developed here and as a result Turkey has a particularly long and varied heritage. This text is intended to give a very brief understanding of its prehistory.

Paleolithic Period (Old Stone Age) 600000-10000 BC

Neanderthal man appeared in the middle Paleolithic age. Homo Sapiens, the ancestor of modern man, were first seen in the upper Paleolithic age.

The most important Paleolithic places in Anatolia are in Yarimburgaz near Istanbul and Karain near Antalya . Karain is the only cave known in Anatolia where all the phases of the Paleolithic age are represented without interruption. It contains a number of habitation levels of this age. Teeth and bone pieces of Neanderthal man and Homo Sapiens have been unearthed in this cave.

Neolithic Period (New Stone Age) 8000-5500 BC

This age marks the beginnings of modern society, the hunter-getherers began taking advantage of new found skill by leading a settled lifestyle cultivating plants and domesticating animals. This settled existence ultimately lead to the founding of the first towns.

In Anatolia , the earliest evidence of agricultural life has been found in Hacilar 25 km / 15 miles SE of Burdur, 7040 BC. Wheat, barley and lentils as well as the bones of goats, sheep and horned cattle were found in the houses of Hacilar as well as the first household pets – dogs.

During this period the first signs of communal spiritual expression are found, these include “mother goddess” statues of a similar form to those found throughout much of Europe during this period.

The most advanced Neolithic center in the Near East is Catalhoyuk, located 50 km / 30 miles SE of Konya. This was prominent between 6500-5500 BC and is said to be the worlds first urban culture. Catalhoyuk is a town consisting of rectangular, single-storied flat roofed houses built of mud-bricks supported by wooden beams and buttresses from the inside. Entrances to the houses was gained through the roofs using ladders.

The early date of Turkeys Neolithic culture gives reason to suspect Anatolia played an important part in the Neolithic revolution that spread throughout Europe .

Chalcolithic Period (Copper Stone Age) 5500-3000 BC

The first metal in widespread use was copper, by this time Anatolian people cultivated crops, herded livestock, lived in brick houses, made vessels out of clay, stone, wood or basket work and fashioned weapons of bone or flint. Excess produce was traded for metals and other raw materials and the cult of the Mother Goddess left its mark on virtually every house.

Hacilar is the most advanced example of the Chalcolithic culture in Anatolia . By this time houses became two storied with an entrance at ground level. The most distinguishing feature of Hacilar is its handmade painted pottery decorated with geometric motifs in reddish brown on a pinkish yellow background.

With the increase of the metal industry, trade developed eastwards with Syria and Mesopotamia and westwards with the Balkans and Mediterranean regions.

Canhasan, 13 km / 8 miles NE of Karaman in the province of Konya , is an important Chalcolithic center together with Beycesultan, Alisar and Alacahoyuk.

Bronze Age (3000-1200 BC)

Bronze is an alloy of tin and copper and the proliferation of artefacts such as weapons, utensils and ornaments indicates further advancements in metallurgy skills. This is also indicated by the increasing complexity of the artefacts found, including jewelry, bull and stag statuettes, ritual standards, sun-dials (as symbols of the universe) and musical instruments (discovered at the burial site of Alacahoyuk). The bull figure plays is potentially an indication of new spiritual practices linked with the forthcoming Hittite civilisation.


The Hatti or Hattians were a race of indigenous people who lived in Central Anatolia . The Hatti gave their name to Anatolia, which was then called the land of the Hatti, a name that continued to be used by the later Hittites who also were influenced by Hatti religious rites, state and court ceremonies and their mythology as well as architecture; for example, the 60-room ground level palace at Kultepe.


During the period known as the Middle Bronze Age the Assyrian state in Mesopotamia established a trading system with Anatolia . By this time Anatolia was divided into feudal city states ruled by indigenous Hattians.

Written history started in Anatolia with the introduction of the Assyrian language, the cuneiform script and the use of cylinder seals by the Assyrian traders.


The Hittites are a people mentioned frequently in the Bible (Old Testament). They were immigrant people who arrived in Anatolia in 2000 BC. It took them 250 years to establish a kingdom in central Anatolia after 1750 BC and their powerful Empire flourished in the 14-13CBC until it was destroyed in 1200 BC by the Sea Peoples. The Hittites were able to integrate themselves so well with the Hatti that they even adopted several native deities.

Well known archeologist Renfrew suggested in 1987 that Indo-European languages are derived Anatolia , and it is possible that the Neolithic people of Anatolia carried their languages together with their agrarian skills to Europe and India .

It is generally accepted that Anitta founded the Hittite State in the 18CBC. Hattusilis I established his capital in the fortress city of Hattusha (Bogazkoy), which remained the principal Hittite administrative center. From a strategic point, Hattusha formed an easily defensible mountain stronghold that enabled the Hittites to increase their power into northwestern Syria and eastward across the Euphrates River to Mesopotamia .

Around 1350BC the Hittite civilisation was at its peak and its sphere of influence threatened the Egyptians. A major battle between the Hittites under Muwattalis and the Egyptian King Ramses II was fought at Kadesh on the Orontes River c.1286BC, whilst victory was gained by the Hittites, the outcome was a peaceful alliance with Egypt .

The battle was one of the first recorded in histor. The Hittite specialist O. R. Gurney summarizes the Egyptian text as follows:

"The Hittite army based on Kadesh succeeded in completely concealing its position from the Egyptian scouts and as the unsuspecting Egyptians advanced in marching order towards the city and started to pitch their camp, a strong detachment of Hittite chariotry passed round unnoticed behind the city, crossed the river Orontes and fell upon the center of the Egyptian column with shattering force. The Egyptian army would have been annihilated, had not a detached Egyptian regiment arrived most opportunely from another direction and caught the Hittites unawares as they were pillaging the camp. This lucky chance enabled the Egyptian king to save the remainder of his forces and to represent the battle as a great victory."

Earlier patterns of unrest re-established themselves in Anatolia and beset by both internal and external pressures, the Hittites were unable to resist the onslaught of the Sea Peoples, who overran Anatolia about 1200BC.

Outstanding examples of Hittite art are the Sphinx Gate of Alacahoyuk and the rock reliefs of Yazilikaya, an outdoor religious shrine outside the walls of Hattusha.

First seen in a relief of 12 gods in Yazilikaya, the number twelve has been repeated often throughout historic and prehistoric times with 12 Gods of Olympus, 12 Apostles, 12 Imams in Islamic mysticism, 12 in a dozen and 12 months in a year.

A number of major Anatolian sites have now been excavated from the Hittite period. Among these, in addition to Hattusha, are Alisar, Alacahoyuk and Kultepe, all in the central Anatolian plateau; Karahoyuk, near Konya in the southwest; and Tarsus and Mersin in the Cilician plain of southern Anatolia .

Iron Age (1200-700 BC)


The Urartians established a state around Lake Van in 1000BC. They were the descendants of the Hurrians who were contemporary to the Hittites in the east and southeast Anatolia . Tushpa near Lake Van , was the capital, with the massive fortress of Van as the citadel.

For about 300 years, from 860-580BC until the invasion of the Medes from the north, Urartu was a formidable regional power. Assyria in Mesopotamia competed with the Assyrian foe for control over eastern and south-eastern Anatolia .


The Phrygians were among those migrating peoples known as the "Sea Peoples" who were responsible for the final destruction of the Hittite Empire.

During the period of Midas (8 th Century BC), they rose to be a powerful kingdom that dominated central and south eastern Anatolia . This is the Midas of legend and myth. Midas' name was perpetuated in epics including the stories of how he became king and how his Gordian knot was cut through and also how his ears were transformed into those of an ass.


From the 11 th Century BC to the 6th, three Hellenic tribes of Hellas Ionians, Dors and Aeolians sent out colonies to western Anatolia and some Aegean islands. Out of these three colonies, Ionians became prominent, developing important cities under the influence of the pre-existing Anatolian culture.

The term Ionia refers strictly to the central part of the west coast of Anatolia where Ionic Greek was spoken, although the term is usually applied to the entire west coast. Many Mycenaean Greeks emigrated to Ionia in order to escape the invading Dorians (c.1100 BC). Their close contact with the more advanced civilizations of Anatolia ; Lydians, Carians, Lycians, Phrygians, even Hittites and Urartians, quickly raised their level of culture. Trade along with the arts and sciences flourished in Ionia , especially in Miletus .

In 800BC, the 12 principal Ionian cities: Miletus , Myus, Priene, Samos , Ephesus , Colophon , Lebedos, Teos, Erythrae, Chios , Clozomenae and Phocaea formed an alliance called the Panionium.

The Ionians were finally subjugated by Croesus, ruler of the expanding Kingdom of Lydia from north of Ionia . In turn, the Persian King Cyrus the Great conquered Croesus by 546BC. A revolt of the Ionians against Darius I in 499-494 was defeated and Miletus was destroyed.

When the Ionian cities fell under the domination of the Persians, all the philosophers and artists migrated to Athens and Italy . Thus, as Professor Ekrem Akurgal argues, the Ionian golden age passed from Anatolia to Athens . In other words, the foundations of the Greek Civilization were built in Anatolia . The first steps of democracy which had been taken in Ionia , were later established in Athens in 508BC.

The Ionians regained their freedom by becoming members of the Delian League.

Alexander the Great's conquest of the Persian Empire (334-325) freed Ionia , but its cities soon became the prey of contending Hellenistic monarchs. When one of them, Attalus III of Pergamum , died in 133 BC, he bequeathed his kingdom to Rome . Pergamum became the province of Asia and the Ionians became Roman subjects.



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