Because of its strategic geographic position bridging Europe and Asia, Turkey has been coveted by many ambitious civilizations throughout history. The area also known as Anatolia and Asia Minor has traditionally been the center stage for the rise and fall of the world’s great empires. Each civilization’s fall from grace left imprints on various cultural elements of the area like language, architecture, cuisine and religion. Here are a few examples of ancient civilizations that called the area of modern Turkey home, the geographic areas in which they occupied and their unique legacy to the current inhabitants of this modern, cosmopolitan country.
Hittites 1600-1200 B.C.
The Hittites were known as a people of great military power who were the first to use their strengths to unify their people and establish an organized civilization in the area. They were thought to be of Indo-European descent, and their empire extended as far north as the Black Sea and south bordering Syria’s ancient city of Damascus. The Hittites occupied nearly all of central Turkey at the height of their reign.
Phrygians 1200-700 B.C.
The Phrygians built an empire in modern day west central Turkey near the city that is now known as Ankara. During the early part of their kingdom they were led by legendary kings like Midas with the famed touch that turned every thing to gold and Gordias of the mythic Gordian Knot story. They were known to speak a language that was similar to Greek. While the Phrygian people succombed to foreign conquests and assimilation, they were still recognized in Biblical accounts as a people group during the formation of the early Christian church in the land of Canaan and Asia Minor.
Persians 545-333 B.C.
Under Cyrus the Great and his numerous successors, the Persians became a great world power that conquered and occupied many lands including what is now modern day Turkey. Although the Persians were eventually vanquished by the Greeks, they left a legacy of wise administrative policies and government as an example for empires that wished to smoothly rule over distant territory.
Greco-Romans 332 B.C. – 395 A.D.
Alexander the Great led the Greek forces to victory over the Persians before ruling and occupying Turkey. It is said that he succeeded in untying the Gordian Knot. According to the legends about the knot in the city of Gordium, the person who severed it would rule Asia entirely. Alexander took the legend seriously and used Anatolia as a base for military campaigns into Asia. Under the Romans, the area was divided into several provinces like Cappadocia, Cilicia and Galatia for administrative purposes.
Byzantines 400-1453 A.D.
After the Western Roman empire declined, the eastern half called Byzantium flourished for a thousand years. This new Roman empire incorporated elements of Christianity into traditional pagan Roman customs to form a new religion that was used to further subdue the various people groups residing in
Turkish Seljuks 1075-1318 A.D.
The Seljuks were a people group that remained in the area during the time of Byzantium and managed to build a powerful empire in their own right. The Seljuks were a group of Turkish peoples who were originally from Central Asia but who had settled in Turkey. As they departed, the Seljuks left the name of their people group as a legacy.