THE ANCIENT HISTORY OF TURKEY

By Tim Lambert

Catal Huyuk

Catal Huyuk was one of the world's first towns. It was built in what is now Turkey about 6,500 BC not long after farming began. Catal Huyuk probably had a population of about 6,000.

In Catal Huyuk the houses were made of mud brick. Houses were built touching against each other. They did not have doors and houses were entered through hatches in roofs. Presumably having entrances in the roofs was safer then having them in the walls. (Catal Huyuk was unusual among early towns as it was not surrounded by walls). Since houses were built touching each other the roofs must have acted as streets! People must have walked across them.

In Catal Huyuk the dead were buried inside houses. (Although they may have been exposed outside to be eaten by vultures first).

Although Catal Huyuk was a true town (defined as a community not self-sufficient in food) as least some of its people lived by farming. They grew wheat and barley and they raised flocks of sheep and herds of goats. They also kept dogs.

As well as farming the inhabitants of Catal Huyuk also hunted animals like aurochs (wild cattle), wolves, foxes and leopards.

People in Catal Huyuk wore clothes woven from wool. They also wore jewelry made of stone, bone and shell.

We do not know what the people of Catal Huyuk believed but religion was obviously important to them. They made figurines of clay and stone, which may have been gods and goddesses. They also mounted bull's skulls on the walls of some buildings and covered them in plaster to resemble living heads. It is believed these buildings were shrines.

Catal Huyuk was abandoned about 5,000 BC. Nobody knows why but it may have been due to climate change.

Catal Huyuk was then forgotten for thousands of years till it was rediscovered by James Melaart in 1958. He began excavating Catal Huyuk in 1961.

Later people in Turkey learned to use copper tools and later still bronze. After about 2,600 BC they began to build more substantial towns.

The Hittites

The Hittites were the first civilization in Turkey. They moved to Turkey about 2,000 BC and at first they were divided into separate states. However about 1,650 BC they were united by King Labarnas.

The Hittites were a powerful and warlike people. About 1595 BC they captured Babylon. Later the Hittites fought against Egypt. The Hittites reached a peak under King Suppililiumas (c. 1380 - c. 1346 BC). Under him the Hittites ruled not just most of Turkey but also parts of Syria and Palestine.

Some Hittite warriors fought on foot but others fought from chariots, which were pulled by teams of horses. Hittite chariots were light enough to be lifted by one man. Each had a driver and a soldier, who often wore iron armor. Hittite archers shot bronze tipped arrows.

The Hittite capital was at Hattusash. In it there were many temples. Like other ancient peoples the Hittites were polytheists (they worshiped many gods). Chief among them were the weather god Tarhun and his wife Istanu. There were many other gods and goddesses each of whom ruled some natural phenomena.

However the mighty Hittite state broke down about 1,200 BC when people from the Aegean attacked it called the 'Sea Peoples' and in time the Hittites were largely forgotten.

After the fall of the Hittites a number of civilisations rose and fell in Turkey. Among them were the Phrygians who were a powerful state in Central Turkey in the 8th Century BC. (The legendary King Midas was a Phrygian). Later came the Lydians. They dominated Western Turkey in the years 650-546 BC. The last Lydian king was Croesus 560-546, who we still remember in the phrase 'As rich as Croesus'.

However by his time there was a new power in the Middle East - the Persians.

The Persian Empire was created by Cyrus II, known as Cyrus the Great (559-529 BC). Cyrus first defeated another Iranian people called the Medes, then in 547 Cyrus defeated the kingdom of Lydia (in what is now Turkey) at the battle of Pterya and he became the ruler of most of Asia Minor. Soon afterwards Cyrus also defeated the Greek cities on the Turkish coast. (These had been founded by the Greeks as colonies many years before).

However in 334 BC Alexander the Great crossed the Dardanelles and swiftly conquered the Persian Empire. Alexander died in 323 BC and his empire was divided between his generals. Turkey became split into rival kingdoms.

Meanwhile in 279 BC Celts invaded Western Turkey and carved out a kingdom there. They became known as the Galatians.

By the 2nd Century BC Rome was the dominant power in the region and in 133 BC the ruler of a kingdom named Pergamon left his kingdom to Rome. That was the beginning of Roman rule. Over the next 100 years the Romans gradually extended their rule over Turkey.

In the First Century As the missionary Paul traveled to Turkey and Christianity took root in many cities. The new religion grew rapidly despite persecution. However persecution ended in 313 when the Emperor Constantine became a Christian. In 330 Constantine moved his capital to Byzantium, which was renamed Constantinople. (It is now called Istanbul).

In the 4th Century the Roman Empire split in two. The Western half declined and in the 5th Century it was conquered by Germanic peoples. However the Eastern half of the Roman Empire flourished.

A brief history of Turkey

A history of Bulgaria

A history of Egypt

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