Turkey is incredible. It is beautiful, friendly, breathtaking, colorful, and mysterious. A visit to Turkey delights visitors with amazing sights, sounds, and smells. A trip to Turkey is something that you will never forget.
The location of Turkey has provided this country and its people with front row seats for so many world events. Nestled between Europe, Asia, and Africa, it has been a crossroads of culture and history for thousands of years.
If you plan to visit this special place, you will surely want to know a bit about the history of Turkey before you go. The tale of this nation’s history is long. It is filled with adventure and struggle, victory and glory, and mystery and intrigue. Its story is intense, magical, and riveting. It serves as a wondrous reflection and summation of the overall human history of the planet Earth.
Read on to learn about the early years of Turkey. Discover the part that it has played in the development of the world we live in today.
The study of ancient human history often begins in the Paleolithic Age. Earlier, people were living in or were at least passing through the area that is now known as Turkey far before 60,000 BCE as well. In 2014, scientists found a stone tool in the Gediz River that dates back to 1.2 million years ago.
Historians know little about the lives of the people in Paleolithic Turkey because it is so far in the distant past. However, there is evidence of people living in Turkey during this time.
Researchers have found evidence of human habitation in caves near Istanbul, Antalya, and other places near the coast. In caves, they have found proof of habitation, including fruit remnants and animal bones. The ancient people also painted murals in some of these caves.
In the middle of the Stone Age, also known as the Mesolithic Age, humans continued to live and settle on the Mediterranean coast of this landmass. In many of the same caves as those described above, archeologists found cave paintings and artifacts from this period as well.
Due to Turkey’s location, it’s likely that during the Late Stone Age, or Neolithic Age, much human migration passed through it. Historians call ancient Turkey Anatolia. Anatolia likely was exposed to a variety of different early cultures and ideas as a result of these mass migrations.
During this period, several settlements began to develop and thrive. Some of these settlements, like Mersin for one example, are still in existence today. The majority of them no longer exist; however, their ruins draw archeologists from all over the world for intensive study.
The most advanced settlement of this period, Catalhoyuk, was located in south-central Turkey. Researchers uncovered the layout of the town and discovered farming tools. These tools suggested the domestication of animals, including dogs. They also found religious artifacts like figurines of a female goddess.
The Copper Age receives its name from the emergence of the creation and use of copper tools during this era. In Anatolia, researchers found numerous sites where they believe the creation of tools made of copper was likely.
The Bronze Age was also a time in which humans developed metal tools. Mineral deposits in Anatolia resulted in the development of metallurgy in this region. The advancement from copper to bronze occurred during this time as a result. Archeologists have discovered metal implements near royal graves that confirm this.
Trade between Anatolia and other world civilizations increased during this time. This further allowed this region to be influenced by a wide variety of world cultures.
Towards the end of the Bronze Age, settlers began to arrive in Anatolia. The Hatti people were one of these groups. The Hattians settled in the central portion of what is known as Turkey today. They created small city-kingdoms in this area and spoke a different language than the existing native people. They were also polytheistic.
The Hurrians were another group that came into this area during this time. They migrated west from their homeland near the Caspian Sea and spread and multiplied throughout the region and beyond. These people spoke yet another language and were also polytheistic. Unlike the Hatti people, they were prone to battle and often went to war with neighboring groups.
Troy was a city that was located in the northwest region of Anatolia. It is well known today thanks to Homer’s epic poem, The Iliad. It is a place known as something legendary, but it was a real city as well. Troy thrived and grew for several thousand years and was an important port city.
Later, it was the setting of the Trojan Wars. It was destroyed at the end of these wars as the Bronze age came to a close. Many people still visit the ruins of Troy today.
The first city began as a small fort surrounded by houses protected by walls and towers. As the city grew, it expanded, and Troy II was nearly double the size of the original settlement once more towers and walls were added. Subsequently, Troy continued to grow larger in Phases III-V.
The Hattians continued to thrive and advance their city-kingdoms. They continued to trade with other groups, including the Assyrians from Mesopotamia. They established trading posts known as Karums to help facilitate the trade of the materials needed to make bronze.
During this period, thanks to trade, writing appeared in this region. It was brought to the area by the Assyrians, and written evidence of trade transactions has been found to demonstrate this. The Hattians and the Hittites both learned, used, and benefited from the use of cuneiform writing.
Over the next century, the Hittites became the primary group residing in the area that is today known as Turkey. They were originally invaders from the Indo-European continent. In time, they became so numerous and widespread that they completely absorbed the Hattians.
Several Hittite rulers, including but not limited to King Hattusilli I, Telipinu, Alluwamna, King Tudhaliya, and King Suppilulumas, ruled the region. The empire continued to expand.
Not much is known about Troy VI because it was destroyed around 1250 BCE. This destruction was likely due to an earthquake. Few artifacts from this period of Troy have been found. Troy VII was built on top of the rubble. This has made it difficult for archeologists to excavate this area with success.
However, the layout of Troy VI is still evident. Researchers have found pillars at its entrance and tightly-packed housing near its center. They also found evidence of cobblestone roads. Mycenean pottery was also discovered, implying that the people of Troy traded with the Greeks.
The Iron Age followed the Bronze Age, and it was during this period that the composition of people in this region began to change. New settlers began to arrive from across the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas. The Greeks began to settle along the coast of Turkey, and classical civilization began to take hold.
As the Iron Age began and progressed, small kingdoms, or principalities, were founded throughout the region. These were governed by men called Beys, which is another word for Turkish chieftain. During this time, the use of iron and steel continued to increase, and alphabets and early literature began to emerge.
The Hittite Empire dissolved during this time, and small kingdoms like Caria, Troad, Aeolis, and Ionia appeared in the west. Phrygia existed in the central portion of the region. Assyrians controlled the eastern portion of the Turkish landmass during this time.
One of the major principalities in Turkey during this time was Urartu. Because of its central location, this kingdom was subject to many attacks from all sides. The Assyrians attacked continuously, but Urartu managed to not only hold its own but to expand during this time as well. At its greatest extent, it included areas that are today known as Armenia and Georgia. It stretched as far as the sources of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers tot he south.
In time, however, all kingdoms eventually fall. Despite its best efforts, the Urartu Civilization disappeared in the 6th century BCE. Today, its history is important to many Armenian people.
Another important principality of this time was Phrygia. This kingdom as located in the western central part of Anatolia and was highly influenced by both the Greeks and the Hittites. This area is famous for its impressive network of roads. However, today’s historians consider its central government weak.
Phrygia frequently appears in Greek mythology. It was home to people like King Midas. He was a real person, but his story has become fantastical over time. After King Midas’ death, Phrygia lost its independence, and like Urartu, disappeared.
The far western area of the landmass known as Turkey today included several civilizations. They were all independent from one another, but they were similar in many ways.
One of them was Lydia. This area was first called Maeonia, and it was located west of Phrygia. Its fertile soil led to abundant agriculture, and it had many rich gold and silver deposits. These things made Lydia a target to invaders. In an effort to combat the invasion of the Greeks from the west, Lydia became smaller and smaller. It was eventually claimed by Persia, Greek, and Rome before officially becoming a part of modern-day Turkey.
Caria was south of Lydia and had close ties with the Greeks and Minoans. The Carians were excellent seafarers and traveled throughout the region by ship. At different points in time, it was part of Persia, Greece, and Rome. However, it was a kingdom that also managed to stay mostly independent during this time. It was eventually absorbed by Byzantium.
Lycia was south of Caria on what is now the Teke peninsula. Today, researchers study, and interested parties visit many historical sites in this area. The elaborate tombs in which the Lycian people buried their dead are well-known. The remains of over forty cities have been found in Lycia in modern times. Eventually, Lycia became a part of Rome, Byzantium, and Turkey.
The Ionians lived along the coast and in the islands of the far western end of the Turkish landmass. At first, the Ionians were a mainly agricultural society. After the arrival of Egyptian, Assyrian, and Phoenician influence, they began to engage in early scientific thinking and processes. The intellect of this area became well known near and far, and many consider Ionia the origin of science.
Ionia was also advanced in areas of art and literature as well. Today, many people visit this area to visit the ruins of Ephesus and to view the Temple of Artemis and the Library of Celsus.
The Persian Empire became one of the most important civilizations in the world as the birth of Christ drew near. Cyrus the Great founded it around 550 BCE. Soon, the Persian Empire had captured and absorbed kingdoms like Babylonia, Phoenicia, and Armenia. It was just a matter of time before it also encompassed all of the smaller kingdoms described above.
During this time, the Persian King divided the area into small states that were each ruled by representatives of the Persian king. Even though this area was conquered, this was a wonderful time for Turkey. Leaders ruled the states fairly for the most part; they collected taxes, and infrastructure was built. The Great Royal Road was build that connected the eastern and western parts of Turkey once and for all.
The Persian Empire fell due to Alexander the Great’s invasion in 334 BCE. He ruled for the next nine years until he died in 323 BCE. At that point, he divided the Anatolian land he conquered into small kingdoms. These kingdoms became parts of the Greek Empire and then the Roman Empire.
The Hellenistic period was the peak of Greek influence and power. Not only was this influence spread throughout the entire Mediterranean region, but it also reached as far as western and central Asia, including parts of the Indian subcontinent. During this period, the areas touched by this influence experienced great advancements in all areas of culture, including the arts, literature, music, mathematics, philosophy, architecture, and science.
It differed from the Classical Greek period, and some historians view this time as a static period or a period of disorganization. Still, others instead cite it was a time of massive cultural growth. The philosophies of Stoicism, Epicureanism, and Pyrrhonism emerged during this period. The works of Euclid and Archimedes demonstrated significant advancements in mathematics. Greco-Egyptian religion and Buddhism both also continue to develop during the Hellenistic Age.
As Greece continued to expand through colonization, Greek cities and kingdoms were established as far away as Asia and Africa. As a result, the Greek language and culture spread along with them. The lifestyle and beliefs of the Greeks fused with the existing cultures in the Near East, the Middle East, Northeast Africa, and Southwest Asia.
Due to Turkey’s location, during this time, it continued to be a crossroads of culture, influence, and human migration from all of these surrounding areas.
Historians disagree about the endpoint of the Hellenistic Age. Their end dates vary over several hundred years. Some consider the end of this period to be the conquest of what is today known as Greece by Rome in 146 BC. Others believe this period ended much later when Roman Emperor Constantine moved the capital of Rome to Constantinople in 330.
No matter what endpoint is accepted as the end of the Hellenistic Period, this time did come to an end as the Roman Empire continued to grow and conquer.
The Roman Empire was one of the most important and vast civilizations in world history.
Rome began as a city-state in 509 BCE and quickly became a dominant force in the surrounding area. The Romans established a strong military and began to conquer their neighbors in short order.
The government of the early Roman Republic offered a model for future democracy. The leaders were elected by the people, and they then ruled the country through collective decisions. This government helped the Roman Republic to thrive; through the strength of the senate, Rome was able to overcome public rebellions and military attacks and invasions with relative ease.
As the Roman Empire expanded, all of the Hellenistic kingdoms that were created by Alexander the Great became a part of the Roman Republic by the middle of the first century BCE. The final turning point of this change was the defeat of the last king of Pergamum’s royal line. He died without an heir in 133 BCE. and bequeathed his kingdom to Rome.
A few years later, the Roman Republic officially claimed the entire landmass that is today known as Turkey as a part of Rome. At that time, this region was established as the province of Asia Minor. The capital of this province was Ephesus.
This connection with the Roman Republic was a positive one for Turkey. The region experienced great prosperity as a result, and for the most part, it experienced a period of peace. Again, this was much due to Turkey’s central location, which caused it to be a great crossroads of trade. Trade further facilitated the spread of religion, language, and ideas.
Christianity began to take hold in this area during early Roman rule in Turkey. Many early followers of Christianity took advantage of high-quality Roman roads built in Turkey to spread their beliefs far and wide to the people of this region, and these ideas quickly gained a foothold. Saint Paul of Tarsus is credited as a significant force in this spread.
Emperor Diocletian split the Roman Empire into two parts in 285 because it was becoming so large. The Turkish landmass became a part of the Eastern Roman Empire at this time.
The latest date that historians consider to be the official beginning of the Roman Empire’s complete absorption of Anatolia was when Roman emperor Constantine the Great designated a small fishing village on the Bosphorus Strait as the new capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. This town was initially called Byzantion, but Constantine renamed it New Rome and later again renamed it after himself under the name Constantinople.
Today, Constantinople is known as Istanbul. It was the recognized capital for hundreds of years and is Turkey’s largest city today, with a population of over fifteen million people.
The establishment of Constantinople as the capital was a turning point for the Roman Empire and the world. Although the Roman Empire was already in decline at this time, it continued to exist throughout the third century.
However, by the year 400, the Roman Empire struggled due to its massive size. This descent was gradual. The rulers of Rome became more and more corrupt. Wars began to erupt throughout the empire, and the Roman army was no longer a dominant force. Even despite the split into two separate but cohesive empires, the Roman Empire simply became too large to govern effectively. The city of Rome finally fell in 476 after being invaded by the Germanic Visigoths in 410.
Despite this, the Eastern Roman Empire continued to progress and move forward. Christianity became the official religion of the Eastern Roman Empire in 380, and paganism was banned in 392. Constantinople continued to be the sole capital of the empire after the fall of Rome.
The people living in the Eastern Roman Empire considered themselves Romans even though they were descendants of the Greeks. Continuing Greek influence resulted in the growth of the arts, poetry, architecture, religious prose during the Byzantine period. Nobles studied classical Greek language and literature.
During this time, Roman politics, Greek culture, and Christian religion all continued to exist and develop in Turkey and other parts of the Eastern Roman Empire. Emperors relied heavily on the church and were granted not only political power but divine power as well.
The Byzantine period continued to thrive for over a thousand years. Although there were wars with outside groups during this time, and some skirmishes over religion, for the most part, the Eastern Roman Empire did quite well holding its own against the rest of the world. It wasn’t until the empire was weakened by constant and ongoing invasions towards the end of this period that this region fell to the Seljuks, hundreds of years after the fall of Rome.
The people known as the Turks originated in eastern Asia long before they had anything to do with the area that is known as Turkey today. They lived as nomads in what is today known as China and Mongolia, but in time, they separated from that region and moved west to establish their cities and states.
During this time, the society of the Turks was mostly based on shepherding and raising livestock, and they were primarily followers of Islam by 1000.
One group of Turks known as the Seljuks settled in what is today known as Iran. They wanted to spread Muslim influence and had a desire to be in control of more land. They began to fight with the Byzantines with aggression from both sides.
Ongoing wars over many years culminated in the Battle of Manzikert (Malazgirt). Although the Turks were outnumbered by the Byzantines, their superior horsemanship and military prowess resulted in victory, and they gained control of the region. In a short time, the Seljuks created an empire that included surrounding areas as well.
The fallen Byzantines and the new Seljuk residents of the area worked together in 1300 to fight against invasion by the Mongols but did not have much success. The rule of the Seljuks was brief, and soon the Mongols were the most powerful force in the region that is today known as Turkey.
The Ottoman Empire was centered in Turkey and, in time, reached into southeastern Europe and the Middle East as well. Although Europeans did their best to stop expansion into that region, the Ottomans were powerful and won the majority of battles and conquests they took on. The Europeans mounted crusades in 1366, 1396, and 1444 but did not have much success in keeping the Ottomans at bay. Soon, Constantinople alone remained a technical part of Europe on the Turkish landmass.
During this time, Islam grew rapidly in this region when many formerly nomadic tribes in modern-day Turkey settled down. Soldiers, known as janissaries, were Christian captives from conquered lands. They were trained in the Islamic faith and were required to participate in military service. This only strengthened the military arm of the Ottoman Empire even more.
In 1453, Constantinople was captured and conquered by the Ottomans, and its name was changed to Istanbul. This was the official end of the Byzantine Empire, and many of the residents of this area fled to Europe, bringing with them the unique mixed Greek, Christian, and Roman culture of the area.
Although the Ottomans were pretty victorious in the realm of expansion and had a strong military throughout their rule, they did not have a stable government. This was this empire’s downfall. Disagreements between nobility and the people resulted in the decline of administrative control resulted in many problems.
The Ottoman Empire began to retreat from Europe upon the signing of the Treaty of Karlowitz in 1699. The lands that they had conquered began to be redistributed to different countries and kingdoms of Europe. This trend continued, and the Ottoman Empire continued to shrink in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
The end of the Ottoman Empire was its entry into World War I. The empire aligned itself with the Central Powers and was defeated. When the war ended, some of the remaining Ottoman Empire was divided into new states, including Iraq, Palestine, and Syria.
After World War I was over, some of modern-day Turkey was occupied by the Allies. This occupation resulted in national unity that resulted in the Turkish national movement. Military commander Mustafa Kemal led the Turkish War of Independence in hopes of creating a new and autonomous nation.
It was successful, and by Septemeber of 1922, the occupying armies were cast out. A new parliament met for the first time on November 1, and six centuries of Ottoman rule were over.
The Treaty of Lausanne in July of 1923 resulted in international recognition of Turkey as a sovereign nation. In October of that year, Turkey became known as the Republic of Turkey, and Ankara was named the new capital. Mustafa Kamal became the new country’s first president.
Kamal made many radical reforms to help establish this new nation as a secular one. Rights for women, a new writing system, and new laws were drafted and put in place.
As World War II began, the new Republic of Turkey made a wise choice to stay neutral but signed an agreement with Britain that stated that Britain would defend Turkey if invaded. Although Germany threatened to invade Turkey in 1941, they did not.
Turkey continued to trade with both sides during the war. The Allies provided military aid. In 1943, Turkey agreed to enter the war siding the Allies; it declared war on Germany and Japan in 1945. This symbolic move resulted in Turkey’s inclusion in the United Nations when it was formed.
Later, the Soviet Union demanded the allowance of military bases in the strategically important Turkish straits. Still, the declaration of the Truman Doctrine by the United States in 1947 allowed them to avoid this. This resulted in much ongoing support from the United States during and after the Cold War as well. Turkey joined NATO in 1952, helping to stop the spread of Soviet expansion throughout the world.
Although Turkey experienced military coups in 1960, 1971, and 1980, today, Turkey has a strong democracy.
So many of the most powerful empires of the past desired the land that is today Turkey. It held the capital of both the Eastern Roman Empire and the Ottoman Empire, which collectively held Constantinople as their capital from 330 AD until 1922 when the Ottoman Empire would eventually fall.
That’s an incredible 1592 years as one of the most important cities in the world!
You might wonder why Turkey was given so much emphasis. Part of the answer is geography. Turkey occupies a crucial tract of land that bridges Asia and Europe.
As the best way from one vast continent to the other, Turkey was the target of any ruler who wished to extend their empire from Asia to Europe or from Europe to Asia.
We hope you enjoyed learning something about the history of Turkey, the events before and after the height of the Roman Empire, and the continuance of the great city of Constantinople to this today.
You can learn more about ancient influences on modern Turkey as well as the fantastic historical sites and tourist destinations there today on our other pages.
Turkey has one of the richest histories in the world. Whether you want to see the great city of Constantinople or marvel at the Hagia Sophia, Turkey has unforgettable experiences to share with the world.
If you are interested in visiting Turkey, please contact us today. We would love to introduce you to this amazing country that will completely change your perspective and will leave you speechless and amazed.