The district of Asia Minor, or Anatolia of the Greek World, is among the first cradles of human civilization. Some of the earliest Neolithic settlements in the Middle East have been found in Asia Minor. |
Early in its history, it was home to one of the most advanced and powerful civilizations prior to the Bronze Age. The Hittites ruled the region from approximately 1900 to 1200 BC. Toward the end of this period, Asia Minor was swept by the Phyrgians and the Hittite Empire was destroyed. The city of Troy, legendary in Greek epics and mythology, likely fell in this time period.
The semi-mythical, semi-historical King Croesus ruled from the throne of Lydia in the mid 6th century BC. He brought the Greek colonies of the region under his control, but was later removed from power by the Persian King Cyrus. In the period between this Persian take-over and the conquests of Alexander the Great, Asia Minor was a battleground for Greek and Persian dominance. Legendary names like Darius, Miltiades and Xerxes all played major roles in the shaping of Asia Minor as it passed back and forth from Greek to Persian rule.
Alexander the Great launched his great expedition to the east in 334 BC and quickly established Macedonian rule in Asia Minor. His campaigns brought the entire Middle East under his rule, but his successes were cut short by illness. Within 10 years of the beginning of his conquests, he died of fever, and the lack of heirs broke his fledgling empire into several pieces. The eastern section of Asia Minor's governing fell to Seleucus and his Seleucid Dynasty, which would remain intact until the Romans interfered some 2 centuries later. Migrating Celtic tribes settling the coastal regions and wars with the Parthians challenged the rule of these Syrian Kings, but it was their own aggressiveness which brought about their undoing.
In the west, the Kingdom of Pergamum was established in the early 3rd century BC by Philetairos. Later Kings, Eumanes and Attales, established relationships with the expanding Roman Republic and defended the territory from the Seleucids. In 196 BC, attempting to expand his own empire, the Seleucid King Antiochus III moved through Asia Minor and crossed the Hellespont planning to conquer Thrace.
Rome was occupied and expanding into Macedonia, and the Greeks of Achaea, fearful of conquest, welcomed Syrian interference. Other neighbors and enemies of the Seleucids, such as the Ptolemies of Egypt and the Kingdom of Pergamum pleaded with Rome to stop the invasion and Rome, using its tried and true method of conquering when asked for help, was all too happy to oblige.
Ignoring the advice to invade Italy from Carthaginian ally Hannibal, who had recently been utterly defeated, Antiochus pressed into Achaean territories. The Romans, under Manius Glabrio crushed his army in 191 BC at the historic battle site of Thermopylae. The Syrians were forced to abandon Greece and returned to Asia Minor in an attempt to spread their control of that area. The following year, Roman ally, King Eumenes II of Pergamum, found himself under siege and called for the Romans to help. The Romans under Lucius Cornelius Scipio, and the famed Publius Scipio Africanus had already crossed into Asia, for the first time, and moved against Antiochus. In 190 BC, the battle was joined at Magnesia and the Syrians were routed once again.
The ancients paint a ridiculously overwhelming picture of the victory with Antiochus' losses at 50,000 infantry, 3,000 cavalry, 15 elephants and 1,400 captured. Conversely, Roman losses were said to be only 300 infantry and 49 cavalry. Regardless of biased accuracy, the Battle of Magnesia decimated the plans of Antiochus and within 2 years, 188 BC, the entire territory of Asia Minor would be surrendered to Rome and placed under the control of Pergamum.
Over the course of the next 50 years, Rome's bond with Pergamum grew stronger. In 133 BC, King Attalus III, having no heirs to succeed him, willed his kingdom to Rome, opening Asia Minor to the Roman control. The city, however, remained an independent in many regards, but gradual annexation of the neighboring territories caused fear among the inhabitants and would lead to eventual revolt. Led by Mithradates VI of Pontus, the Pergamenes joined him against Rome in a final effort for independence. He ravaged Roman properties and slaughtered colonists throughout the region. He also moved into Greece with visions of re-establishing an Alexandrian Empire while Rome was pre-occupied with internal fighting between Gaius Marius and Lucius Cornelius Sulla.
Rome, however, was never too pre-occupied with internal rivals to extend her dominance over foreign foes. Between 88 and 84 BC, Sulla defeated Mithradates in the first Mithraditic war, followed by Lucullus in 83 BC. By 74 BC, unwilling to accept defeat, Mithradates was back at war with Rome, and this time it was Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus who led the legions. In 63 BC, Pompey finalized the defeat of Pontus incorporating or reestablishing control of Asia Minor, Syria, Bythnia et Pontus, Cilicia, Galatia and Cappadocia, Lycia et Pamphylia and the vassal state of Armenia, into the ever growing Roman Empire.
Asia Minor was now a permanent province of Rome and would remain so long after the fall of the west. With the reign of Augustus the "Pax Romana" was never more evident than it was in this region. The new Roman province of Asia Minor was a land of prosperity and highly defined culture. Already heavily Hellenized in the Greek custom, with Persian artistic influence, Roman civilization in the east thrived and culminated in Asia. Fantastic building projects spread throughout cities like Pergamum and Ephesus and today Western Turkey is home to some of the best preserved and remarkable Roman ruins.
The Acropolis of Pergamum, modeled after that in Athens, the Altar of Zeus, the theatre of Pergamum and the Palace of Ephesus are just a few examples of Roman and Greek combined achievement. Asia Minor, too, was home to a magnificent library rivaling even that of Alexandria.
In 326 AD, the Emperor Constantine moved the capital of the Empire from Rome to Byzantium, later renamed Constantinople and had a highly profound effect. Christianity had already become deeply rooted here, and the moving of the capital, along with inclusion of Christianity into Roman religion, made Asia Minor an even more important cultural hub. The province was the center of Roman and Hellenized culture in the east for centuries, and the territory remained part of the Byzantine Empire until the 15th century AD.