History Highlights of Turkey, Anatolia and Byzantium

Anatolia is the Asiatic portion of contemporary Turkey, extending from the Bosporus and Aegean coast eastward to the borders of the Soviet Union, Iran, and Iraq. The Greeks and Romans called western Anatolia "Asia." Later the name "Asia Minor," or "Little Asia," was used to distinguish Anatolia from the land mass of the greater Asian continent.

Already in late prehistoric times, Anatolia was heavily settled by Neolitic populations as testified  by the many villages and towns excavated at Siirt, Diyarbaker, and Urfa (southeastern Anatolia); Tarsus and Mersin in the Cicilian Plain, CATAL HUYUK (southeast of Konya); Hacilar (southwestern Anatolia); and Suberde (southwest of Konya).

The most famous excavated sites among them is the 32-acre site at Catal Huyuk  which was populated as early as  7000-5600 BC.  Many outstanding artifacts found at this site testify to it being a major metalworking, specialized-craft, and religious center. Individual city-states abound during the Chalcolithic and Early Bronze ages (3d to early 2d millennium BC). Between 1940 and 1780 BC, Assyrian merchants from Mesopotamia peacefully established a score of trading colonies in central and eastern Anatolian cities, thereby drawing the region into wider politico-economic focus.

The Hittites

Enduring political unification of Anatolia was achieved by the HITTITES, an Indo-European confederation that subdued the kingdoms of the central plateau about 1750 BC. They established the Old Hittite Kingdom, eventually ruling from BOGAZKOY (Hattusa). The confederation, whose chief members were Luwians, Palaites, and Neshites, entered Anatolia from Europe well before 2000 BC. For the first century and a half, the Old Hittite Kingdom was internally strong and militarily secure. Under Hattusilis I (fl. c. 1560 BC) the Hittite kingdom began to expand into northwest Syria. His adopted son, Mursilis I (fl. c. 1620 BC), raided down the Euphrates Valley and defeated Babylon (c. 1600 BC). Thereafter the kingdom struggled under a series of internal coups and royal assassinations until stability was reestablished by Telepinus I (c. 1525 BC). About 70 years later came the second major phase of Hittite political and military power.

The Hittite Empire period was inaugurated by Tudhaliyas II (fl. c. 1460 BC), but its chief architect was Suppiluliumas I (r. c. 1380-1346 BC), who reconquered much of central Anatolia and dominated Syria and the state of Mitanni in eastern Anatolia. Hittite successes made them a major player in the international intrigues of the day and brought them into deadly rivalry with the Egyptian empire to the south for control of Syria and Palestine. A major battle between the Hittites under Muwattalis (r. c. 1315-1296 BC) and the Egyptian king Rameses II was fought at Kadesh on the Orontes River c. 1300 BC, victory going to the Hittites. A peace treaty between the two powers was concluded between RAMESES II and Hattusilis III (r. c. 1289-1265). Thereafter, serious disruptions occurred in Anatolia, and the Hittite vassals and allies in the west attempted to gain independence. Finally, invasions of SEA PEOPLES from the Aegean and attacks by mountainous Gashga peoples destroyed Hittite power in Anatolia (c. 1200 BC).

Neo Hittite Era

After the Hittite state's collapse, Anatolia had no political centrality or cohesion for nearly half a millennium. Archaeological evidence suggests the reestablishment of small principalities in the area. Textual evidence is sparse. Assyrian records recount an invasion (c. 1160) of Assyria's western borders by a large force of "Mushki," perhaps ancestors of the later Phrygians. In reaction, Assyrian armies sought first to move into southeastern Anatolia, and thereafter beyond the Euphrates, where they encountered the Neo-Hittite (Syro-Hittite) kingdoms, some 16 of which occupied the region between the Taurus Mountains and the Euphrates. Monuments from these states reveal a dialect written in "Hittite hieroglyphics," which suggests a clear cultural and population connection with Hittite Anatolia. Incursions of Aramaen nomads into Syria, and inevitable Assyrian reaction to these, spelled the demise of the Syro-Hittite kingdoms as independent states by the 8th century BC.

The Kingdoms of Urartu, Phrygia, Lydia, Caria and Lycia

The kingdom of Urartu, which occupied an area in eastern Anatolia, Armenia and northwest Iran, resisted the incursions of the Assyrians.  The Phrygians, a horse-rearing, military aristocracy that dominated Central and Western Anatolia, made Gordion their capital.  Lydian invaders established powerful kingdom with Sardis as its capital.  The satrap Hyssaldomus and his successors ruled Caria.  The Lycian people, under their traditional Homeric leaders Sarpedon and Glaucus, settled in the Xanthus valley.  Byzas of Megara founded Byzantium.  The Lydians are credited with having invented coinage in the middle of the 7th century BC.

In the mountainous eastern Anatolia the state of URARTU, in its turn, was defeated by the Syrians in 743 BC. In western Anatolia, Phrygians had arrived from southeastern Europe perhaps earlier than the Trojan War (c. 1190 BC). By the 8th century BC they had created a state (PHRYGIA) with its capital at GORDION, southwest of modern Ankara. On Anatolia's western coast, Lycians, Carians, and Mysians, probably descendants of peoples known to the classical Hittites, inhabited defined areas. By the 6th century BC, LYDIA had emerged as the region's dominant state. The fall of Assyria in 612 BC, and of Babylon in 539 BC, left the field open to the Persians who, after Cyrus the Great's victory over CROESUS of Lydia in 546 BC, incorporated Anatolia into their empire.

Alexander the Great and the Hellenistic Period

Alexander the Great’s whirlwind campaign in 334 and 333 liberated Anatolia from Persian rule.  From his empire the Diadochoi, his successors, carved kingdoms which lasted for almost 200 years.  Great cities like Pergamum, Ephesus and Anitoch were founded and despite bitter wars of succession and the incursions of invaders this was a time when the arts flourished.  Towards the end of the period the influence of Rome began to be felt increasingly in Anatolia.

After the Persians crushed rebellious Ionian (Greek) cities in western Anatolia (494 BC), they launched two unsuccessful invasions of Greece. During the 5th and 4th centuries BC, Persia meddled in Greek affairs from its bases in Anatolia. The rise of PHILIP II of Macedonia and his son, ALEXANDER THE GREAT, (mid-4th century BC), initiated a victorious Pan-Hellenic crusade that destroyed the Persian Empire. After Alexander's death a number of independent states emerged in Anatolia--among them BITHYNIA, CAPPADOCIA, PERGAMUM, and PONTUS--all of which were eventually absorbed by the Roman Empire in the 1st century BC. Out of Pergamum, the Romans formed the province of Asia, which included LYCIA, Caria, Mysia, and Phrygia.

Byzantine Empire

The Byzantine Empire is the name given to the continuation of the Roman Empire, which--converted to Christianity and using Greek as its principal language--flourished in the eastern Mediterranean area for more than 1,000 years until its fall in 1453. The name Byzantine is derived from BYZANTIUM, the city which CONSTANTINE I made his new capital and renamed Constantinople (now ISTANBUL, Turkey). The three major periods of Byzantine history--Early, Middle, and Late--are characterized by drastic changes in internal organization.


The Early Byzantine period (324-610) was highlighted by Constantine's conversion to Christianity and the foundation of Constantinople, Theodosius I's final division of the empire into eastern and western parts, and Justinian I's successful efforts to reconquer the West. The major foreign conflicts of the period were with the Persians under the SASSANIANS in the east and the Germans in the west. Constantine and his successors successfully withstood Persian attack, but the defeat and death (363) of JULIAN THE APOSTATE caused the loss of large parts of Armenia to the Persians. Conflict was renewed under JUSTINIAN I (527-65) and his successors; the Byzantines repeatedly had to buy peace, and the year 610 saw the Persians threatening to occupy the eastern provinces. German pressure (c.375) on the Rhine and Danube increased as the Huns drove the Germans westward. Early in the 5th century, the Germans occupied most of the western half of the empire; they took Italy in 476. Justinian regained North Africa and Italy, but his successors yielded northern and central Italy to the LOMBARDS.

Internally, the reforms of Constantine, who built on the major administrative changes of his predecessor DIOCLETIAN, brought an end to the previous anarchy. The person of the emperor was elevated to a semi-divine position and surrounded by Eastern-style ceremonial, to insulate him from military coups. At all levels, civil and military authorities were sharply divided, to hinder potential rebels. An elaborate and huge bureaucracy developed. Although exceptions occurred, subjects were bound to fixed social-economic positions; peasants could not leave the land, nor craftsmen their jobs. A sound currency and a money economy were restored.

Constantine's conversion to Christianity made it the most favored religion in the state; after 380 it was the sole official religion. The state, however, became deeply involved in religious disputes. Constantine was forced to confront the heresy of ARIANISM, and only THEODOSIUS I (r.379-95) was able to subdue the Arians. During the 5th and 6th centuries, NESTORIANISM and MONOPHYSITISM disturbed religious peace. The Nestorians were expelled, but efforts to suppress or reconcile the Monophysites failed.


The Middle Byzantine period (610-1081) began with the triumph of HERACLIUS over the Persians and his subsequent defeat by the Arabs. After 634, Muslim ARABS seized Palestine, Syria, and Egypt (provinces largely inhabited by Monophysites) and raided deep into Anatolia. LEO III (r. 717-41) beat them back from the gates of Constantinople, and BASIL I (r. 867-86) started a campaign of reconquest that achieved considerable success in the 10th century. Slavs and Bulgarians meantime took possession of the Balkan peninsula. BASIL II (r. 976-1025) proved himself the greatest of Byzantine conquerors in defeating Arabs and Bulgarians.

The loss of the Monophysite provinces to the Arabs ended that religious problem, but Leo III commenced a dispute about ICONOCLASM when he attacked the veneration of images (726). Many monks were among those who suffered death or other penalties at the hands of Leo's son, Constantine V (r. 741-75), when iconoclasm reached its height. The images were briefly restored under Irene (787) and finally under Michael III in 843. The iconoclast rulers exacerbated relations with the papacy. Disputes over theological formulas, religious usages, and territorial jurisdiction led to a schism (867-870) under Patriarch PHOTIUS. Increasing disagreements with the papacy culminated in the Great SCHISM between the ORTHODOX CHURCH and Roman Catholicism in 1054.

Michael III's successor, Basil, inaugurated the Macedonian period (867-1056). Laws were codified by Basil I and LEO VI, new styles of church architecture developed, and a literary renaissance occurred.

The Arab and Bulgar invasions caused a perpetual state of military emergency. In response, civil and military authority was unified in the theme system. Each army unit, or theme, was settled on a specific region (also called a theme), which was governed by its commander. Soldiers received allotments of land, and their sons apparently became free peasants. Because these free peasants, as taxpayers and soldiers, were fundamental to the survival of the state, the 10th-century emperors strove to defend them from the great landlords.

In the 11th century, this effort to save the peasants failed, and the throne became the prize in a struggle between the bureaucrats and the generals (who were great landowners). Distracted by this struggle, the emperors were unable to resist the SELJUKS, who conquered Anatolia between 1048 and 1081.


The triumph of the soldier-emperor ALEXIUS I COMNENUS in 1081 inaugurated the Late Byzantine period. Alexius and his immediate successors beat the Seljuk Turks back from the coasts of Anatolia, but were unable to cope with aggressive western Europeans. In 1204 the Fourth CRUSADE seized and brutally sacked the capital and established the Latin Empire of Constantinople, while refugee Byzantines created an empire at Nicaea, the despotate of Epirus and the Empire of Trebizond (Trabzon). In 1261 the ruler of Nicaea, MICHAEL VIII PALAEOLOGUS, regained Constantinople. The refounded Byzantine Empire had to face threats from Westerners and from Turks. Gradually reduced in area, it finally succumbed in 1453 to the Ottoman Turks, who made Constantinople the capital of the OTTOMAN EMPIRE. In this final period, the landed aristocracy dominated all provincial and central administrative positions of the Byzantine Empire. The peasantry was reduced to a servile status. The army consisted of mercenaries and a "feudal" levy based on government properties awarded to great landlords in return for military service. Venetian, Pisan, and Genoese merchants controlled Byzantine commerce. The emperors of the Palaeologan dynasty repeatedly tried to reunify the Orthodox and Catholic churches in return for Western aid against the Turks, but this effort proved futile.

The Byzantine Empire is notable for its ability to revive in times of disaster (as is shown in the cases of Heraclius, Leo III, Basil I, Alexius I, and Michael VIII), for its vigorous Greek culture, and for its outstanding Christian art and architecture. C. M. Brand

SELJUKS {sel'-juhks}

The Seljuks were a group of nomadic Turkish warrior leaders from Central Asia who established themselves in the Middle East around Konya during the 11th century as guardians of the declining ABBASID caliphate, and after 1055 founded the Great Seljuk sultanate, an empire centered in Baghdad and including Iran, Iraq, and Syria. They helped to prevent the FATIMIDS of Egypt from making Shiite Islam dominant throughout the Middle East and, in the 12th century, blocked inland expansion by the Crusader states on the Syrian coast. Their defeat of the Byzantines at the Battle of MANZIKERT (1071) opened the way for the Turkish occupation of Anatolia.

Seljuk power was at its zenith during the reigns of sultans ALP-ARSLAN (1063-72) and MALIK SHAH (1072-92), who with their vizier NIZAM AL-MULK, revived Sunnite Islamic administrative and religious institutions. They developed armies of slaves (MAMELUKES) to replace the nomad warriors, as well as an elaborate bureaucratic hierarchy that provided the foundation for governmental administration in the Middle East until modern times. The Seljuks revived and reinvigorated the classical Islamic educational system, developing universities (madrasahs) to train bureaucrats and religious officials.

After Malik Shah's death, a decline in the quality of dynastic leadership and division of their rule among military commanders and provincial regents (atabegs) weakened the power of the Great Seljuks. The last of the line died in battle against the KHWARIZM-SHAHS in 1194.

A branch of the Seljuks established their own state in Anatolia (the sultanate of Konya or Rum, survived until it was conquered by the Mongols in 1243.


The Ottoman Empire was a Muslim Turkish state that encompassed Anatolia, southeastern Europe, and the Arab Middle East and North Africa from the 14th to the early 20th century. It succeeded both the BYZANTINE EMPIRE, whose capital, Constantinople (modern ISTANBUL), it made its own in 1453, and the Arab CALIPHATE, whose mantle of descent from Muhammad it claimed after conquest of Egypt in 1517. The Ottoman Empire was finally broken up at the end of World War I, when its heartland of Anatolia became the Republic of TURKEY.


The Ottoman Turks were descendants of Turk nomads who entered Anatolia in the 11th century as mercenary soldiers of the SELJUKS. At the end of the 13th century, OSMAN I (from whom the name Ottoman is derived) asserted the independence of his small principality in north-western Anatolia, which adjoined the decadent Byzantine Empire. Within a century his dynasty had extended its domains into an empire stretching from the Danube to the Euphrates. In Bosnia, Bulgaria, Greece, and Serbia the conquered Christian princes were restored to their lands as vassals, while the subjects were left free to follow their own religions in return for payment of a special head tax.

The empire was temporarily disrupted by the invasion of the Tatar conqueror TIMUR, who defeated and captured the Ottoman sultan BAYEZID I at the Battle of Ankara (1402). However, Mehmed I (1389?-1421), the Restorer, succeeded in reuniting much of the empire, and it was reconstituted by MURAD II and MEHMED II. In 1453, Mehmed II conquered Constantinople, the last Byzantine stronghold. Both sultans developed the devshirme system of recruiting young Christians for conversion to Islam and service in the Ottoman army and administration; the Christians in the army were organized into the elite infantry corps called the JANISSARIES.

The empire reached its peak in the 16th century. Sultan SELIM I (r. 1512-20) conquered Egypt and Syria, gained control of the Arabian Peninsula, and beat back the Safavid rulers of Iran at the Battle of Caldiran (1514). He was succeeded by SULEIMAN I (the Magnificent, r. 1520-66), who took Iraq, Hungary, and Albania and established Ottoman naval supremacy in the Mediterranean. Suleiman codified and institutionalized the classic structure of the Ottoman state and society, making his dominions into one of the great powers of Europe.


Under the structure formalized in the 16th century, the Ottoman Empire was dominated by a small ruling class that achieved its power and wealth as a result of the status of its members as slaves (kapikullari) of the sultan. This elite group included both the older Turko-Islamic aristocracy--descendants of the Turkoman principalities of Anatolia, the Seljuks, and members of the Muslim bureaucracy and army of the caliphate--and the newer devshirme class of Christian converts and their descendants. The sultans played these two groups off against each other to enforce standards of honesty and obedience. To ensure that the sultan was the sole focus of loyalty, Mehmed II began the practice of executing all brothers of the reigning sultan so that the succession would fall, without question, to one of his sons.

The functions of the ruling class were limited to exploiting the resources of the empire, largely for its own benefit; expanding and defending the state and maintaining order; and preserving the faith and practice of Islam as well as the religions of all the subjects of the sultan. For these purposes the class was organized into four administrative institutions: that of the palace, which was in charge of housing, supporting, and maintaining the sultan and making sure that the system worked; and those of administration and finance, the military, and culture and religion. The vast subject class was left to carry out all other functions of state through autonomous religious communities called millets--for the Jews, the Armenian Christians, the Greek Orthodox Christians, and the Muslims--and through artisans' guilds and popular mystic orders and confederations, which together formed a substratum of popular society.


The decline of the empire began late in the 16th century. It was caused by a myriad of interdependent factors, among which the most important were the triumph of the devshirme class, the flight of the Turko-Islamic aristocracy, and degeneration in the ability and honesty both of the sultans and of their ruling class. The devshirme divided into many political parties that fought for power, manipulated sultans, and used the government for their own benefit. Corruption, nepotism, inefficiency, and misrule spread. The empire, however, survived for 3 centuries longer because Europe was unaware of the extent of its weakness, and the mass of Ottoman subjects were protected from the worst results of the decay by their millets and guilds. Starting in the 17th century, moreover, a few members of the ruling class temporarily remedied the abuses by forcefully restoring Ottoman institutions and practices to the pattern in which they had operated successfully in previous centuries. In the process they ruthlessly executed the incompetent and the corrupt and confiscated their properties. Chief among these traditionalist reformers were Sultan Murad IV (r. 1623-40) and the KOPRULU family of grand viziers (chief executive officers), who dominated the administration from 1656 to 1702.

The empire experienced its first major defeat by Europeans in the Battle of LEPANTO (1571), when its fleet was destroyed by a Christian coalition. Nonetheless it recovered dominance of the eastern Mediterranean, capturing Crete from the Venetians in 1669. In the east, moreover, Murad IV reconquered (1638) part of Persia, which had asserted its independence under Shah ABBAS I. This apparent military revival encouraged Grand Vizier Kara Mustafa Pasha to attempt an invasion of central Europe. Following its failure to take Vienna (1683), however, the Ottoman army collapsed. Major territories were lost to its European enemies in the ensuing war, which culminated in the Treaty of Karlowitz (1699). During the 18th century, a series of wars with Russia (see RUSSO-TURKISH WARS) and Austria accelerated the decline and loss of territory. At the same time large sections of the provinces remaining under Ottoman control fell under the sway of provincial notables, whose connection with the sultans was nominal.


Sultan SELIM III (r. 1789-1807) attempted to reform the Ottoman system by destroying the Janissary corps and replacing it with the nizam-i jedid (new order) army modeled after the new military institutions being developed in the West. This attempt so angered the Janissaries and others with a vested interest in the old ways that they overthrew him and massacred most of the reform leaders. Defeats at the hands of Russia and Austria, the success of national revolutions in Serbia and Greece, and the rise of the powerful independent Ottoman governor of Egypt, MUHAMMAD ALI, so discredited the Janissaries, however, that Sultan MAHMUD II was able to massacre and destroy them in 1826.

Mahmud then inaugurated a new series of modernistic reforms, which involved the destruction of the traditional institutions and their replacement with new ones imported from the West--and in all areas of Ottoman life, not just the military. These reforms were continued and brought to their culmination during the Tanzimat reform era (1839-76) and the reign (1876-1909) of ABD AL-HAMID II. The scope of government was extended and centralized as reforms were made in administration, finance, education, justice, the economy, communications, and the army; even the millets were forced to democratize and accept lay participation in their governance.

Financial mismanagement and incompetence, along with national revolts in the Balkans and eastern Anatolia, the French occupation of Algeria and Tunisia, and the takeover by the British in Egypt and the Italians in Libya, threatened to end the very existence of the empire, let alone its reforms. By this time the Ottoman sultanate was known as the "Sick Man of Europe," and European diplomacy focused on the so-called EASTERN QUESTION--how to dispose of the Sick Man's territories without upsetting the European balance of power. Abd al-Hamid II, however, rescued the empire, at least temporarily, by reforming the Ottoman financial system, manipulating the rivalries of the European powers, and developing the pan-Islamic and pan-Turkic movements to undermine the empires of his enemies. The sultan granted a constitution and parliament in 1876, but he soon abandoned them and ruled autocratically so as to achieve his objectives as rapidly and efficiently as possible. He became so despotic that liberal opposition arose under the leadership of the YOUNG TURKS, many of whom were forced to flee to Europe to escape his police.


In 1908 a revolution led by the Young Turks forced Abd al-Hamid to restore the parliament and constitution. After a few months of constitutional rule, however, a counterrevolutionary effort to restore the sultan's autocracy led the Young Turks to dethrone Abd al-Hamid completely in 1909. He was replaced by Mehmed V Rashid (r. 1909-18), who was only a puppet of those controlling the government.

Rapid modernization continued during the Young Turk era (1908-18), with particular attention given to modernizing the cities, agriculture and industry, and communications and also to the secularization of the state and the emancipation of women. However, the Young Turk leader Enver Pasha (1881-1922), who was virtual dictator from 1913, involved the empire in World War I on the side of Germany and Austria-Hungary. The defeat of these Central Powers led to the breakup and foreign occupation of the Ottoman Empire. The Turks accepted the resulting independence of their Arab and Balkan provinces, but the attempt of the victorious Allies to control the Anatolian territory left to the Turks and to turn parts of it, as well as eastern Thrace, over to other powers led to the Turkish war for independence (1918-23). Under the leadership of Kemal ATATURK, the Turkish nationalists overturned the postwar settlement embodied in the Treaty of Sevres (1920) and established the Republic of Turkey, formally recognized by the Treaty of Lausanne (see LAUSANNE, TREATY OF) in 1923.\





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