Wednesday, May 29, 2024

A (Very) Brief History of Anatolia II

The acquisition of Anatolia by Rome happened in stages. Some of the Kingdoms – Bithynia, Pergamon – were granted to Rome by their last ruler. Some kingdoms – Pontus, portions of the Seleucid kingdom – were conquered. And some parts remained a part of successors to the Seleucid Empire – the Parthians and the Sassanids.

Asia Minor in 188 B.C.

Roman Empire in 117 A.D.

Early Imperial Rome became late Imperial Rome and Late Imperial Rome became the Western and Eastern Roman Empires. The Eastern Roman Empire retained control of Anatolia during this time, inheriting the Roman Empire’s territorial disputes with the Sassanids and then, in the 7th century, with the expansion of Islam.

Byzantine Empire Under Justinian A.D. 555

The expansion of Islam was a traumatic event for the Byzantine Empire. The recovered provinces of Northern Africa were swept away. Egypt, the breadbasket of the Byzantines as it had been for the Romans, was gone. Jerusalem, the Holy City, was swallowed up as was all of Syria and even parts of Armenia and far eastern Anatolia.

Expansion of Islam A.D. 622 - A.D. 750

This process in the East and South, combined with the invasion from the North of nomadic tribes - the Bulgars, Slavs, Hungarians, Pazterneks, Pechenegs, and Turks – started the slow slide of disintegration of the Byzantine Empire as geographic portions were lopped off in both the West and the East. The process accelerated in Anatolia when, in A.D. 1071 at the Battle of Manzikert in Eastern Anatolia, the Byzantine Army was destroyed, allowing penetration from the east of the Turks.

The Byzantine Empire circa A.D. 1097

The story of A.D. 1071 to A.D. 1453 is the long, slow story of the loss of Byzantine Anatolia to the Turks. First was the Seljuks, until they were dissolved and a series of local Turkish warlords fought for control. The period of warfare ended with the rise of Osman, the founder of what would become the Ottoman Empire (A.D. 1299 – A.D. 1923).

The Byzantine Empire circa A.D. 1400

The Ottoman Empire’s early history is overall one of going from victory to victory. In within 100 years, they had moved from central Anatolia across the continent to the Balkans. They continued on this track (albeit with some short lived defeats) slow devouring the remaining lands of the Byzantine Empire until in A.D. 1453 they conquered Constantinople.

The Ottoman Empire in 1683

The Ottoman State continued to expand until it met with a series of defeats – the Battle of Lepanto in A.D. 1566 by sea (for those readers that remember, we visited the town of Nafpaktos last year, near where this battle took place) and the Siege of Vienna in A.D. 1683 when, defeated by the Western Powers at the Siege of Vienna, it began a long 200 plus year loss of territory throughout Europe, Africa, and the Near East through a combination of local movements of peoples and the growing colonial powers. Even as these territory losses occurred, the heartland of the Ottomans – Anatolia – remained firmly in their grasp.

Turkey Under The 1920 Treaty of Sevres

As a result of their loss in World War I (A.D. 1914-1918), the Ottoman Empire was broken up and Anatolia occupied by the victorious powers (France, Great Britain, Greece, and Italy). The counter reaction to this was the War of Turkish Independence (A.D. 1921-1923) led by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, which eventually saw the end of the Ottoman sultanate and caliphate and the foundation of the modern Turkish state, largely within the borders of Anatolia (as well as the small slice of Europe which encompasses Istanbul and Edirne).

Turkey Under The 1923 Treaty of Lausanne

This all comes to bear on the trip, because when one says “I am going to Turkey”, what one is really saying is that I am going to a place with thousands of years of history and culture packed into a fairly small area. Yes, there is a dominant culture – the Turkish one – but it exists within and around the voices of thousands of years.

Modern Turkey


  1. I see what you mean by "a very brief history," and why. I'm glad I wasn't a school child there, having to learn and memorize all those events, people, and dates!

    1. Leigh, it is an impressive amount of history.

      One of the things that I commented to The Ravishing Mrs. TB on is the fact that one could see perhaps not quite as many Greek ruins in Turkey as in Greece, but certainly a large amount.


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