Cultural History: Turkey: Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine Periods
Hellenistic - Greek - Byzantine Periods
The Hellenistic period that began around the time of Alexander the Great greatly influenced the regions of Anatolia lying along the pipeline corridor. The Battle of Issus—the second of three great battles between the Alexander’s Macedonian army and the Persian Achaemenids—was fought in 333 BC on a plain approximately 30 kilometers from Ceyhan, the terminus of the BTC pipeline. Emperor Darius III personally led the Persian forces at Issus. Although the Macedonians were heavily outnumbered and cut off from their supply lines, they crushed the Persians, forcing Darius to flee. He consolidated his army for the subsequent Battle of Gaugamela, where the Achaemenids experienced their final, crucial defeat.
Within a few years of these triumphs, Alexander was dead, and Macedonian General Seleucus established his own dynasty in the parts of Alexander’s domain he then acquired. The Seleucid Empire lasted for several hundred years and established control over much of the South Caucasus and Eastern Anatolia. It proved to be a fascinating melting pot of leadership from the Macedonian and Greco-Mediterranean worlds, of indigenous cultures, and of political hierarchies inherited from the Achaemenids. The resulting Hellenistic culture combined elements from east (Persian/Achaemenid) and west (Greco/ Mediterranean). It was expressed in new forms of art and architecture, an expanding pantheon of gods, and the spread of a culturally distinctive style in ceramics and other crafts. Powerful Mediterranean influences also spread throughout eastern Anatolia and the South Caucasus during the Hellenistic Period. Roman control of the region reinforced economic and social connections there.
Two Turkish sites researched during the pipelines project, Yuceoren and Ziyaretsuyu, represent the Hellenistic and the Roman Periods respectively. The necropolis of Yuceoren, located near the pipeline terminus at Ceyhan, contains numerous tombs cut into the bedrock, where portions of a sarcophagus and articles used to treat the dead were found. The settlement site of Ziyaretsuyu, near Sivas in northeastern Anatolia, contains the remains of a few domestic structures, painted ceramics and amphorae (large storage vessels), and a terracotta figurine that provides a fine example of classical traits. (Both sites are discussed in greater detail in the "Site Overviews" section.)
During the 3rd century AD, the Roman Empire began to encounter a range of challenges that led to its decline. These challenges included economic decline, invasions by “barbarians,” and a general decay of the social fabric that had been a major source of the Empire’s appeal to its inhabitants. By the last decades of the century, the leadership in Rome was desperate for a way to maintain control of its sprawling Empire. To this end, Emperor Diocletian divided rule of the Empire’s western and eastern parts between himself and a co- Emperor, Maximian. Less than a decade later, they added two additional, junior Emperors. These four rulers, the Tetrarchy, held court in different parts of the Empire.
After Diocletian’s death in the early 4th century AD, years of conflict erupted as various aspirants vied to rule the Empire. By 312 AD, Constantine emerged as the most powerful, although the conflicts lasted until 324, when he gained complete authority over the Empire.
Constantine was one of the pivotal figures of the first millennium AD. A convert to Christianity, he eventually established the precedence of this religion within the Empire. He also moved the seat of his rule from Rome to Byzantium on the Bosphorus and renamed it Constantinople (now Istanbul), thus shifting the Empire’s center of gravity to the eastern Mediterranean. Over time, the eastern part of the Roman Empire came to be known as the Byzantine Empire. During the 5th and 6th centuries AD, the eastern Empire grew in power and splendor, reaching its height during the 6th century AD under the reign of Emperor Justinian, who introduced the Justinian Code, attempted to reestablish his authority over the western parts of the Empire, and presided over great artistic achievements such as the construction of the Hagia (or Aya) Sophia (Church of the Holy Wisdom).
The Byzantine Empire dominated much of the eastern Mediterranean for several centuries, at its height controlling territory from Saudi Arabia to the Balkans, including all of Anatolia, and spreading the Christianity of the Byzantine Orthodox Church throughout the region. Eventually, however, the Empire lost ground, first to the incursions of the Arabs and later the Turks. Islamic armies poured out of Arabia in the 7th century AD, capturing the Levant, Mesopotamia, and Egypt within a few years. By late in the century, a boundary between the Byzantine Empire and Arab world was established that lasted well into the 11th century AD, running from west of Ceyhan through eastern Anatolia to the highlands west of Azerbaijan. By the 8th century AD, the Abbasid Caliphate had established a powerful capital at Baghdad, from which it led the Muslim world.
Archaeological excavations along the pipeline corridor provided several glimpses into the world of eastern Anatolia during the Byzantine Empire. Most of the sites are domestic in nature— simple villages and communities of ordinary people who probably went about their daily lives knowing little about the Byzantine Empire or the Emperor in Constantinople. Two sites however at Kayranlikgözü (a public bath complex) and Minnetpinari, provide glimpses of the more public side of the Empire.
One of the more fascinating sites along the pipeline corridor is the Roman period bath complex located at Kayranlıkgözü of Turkey’s Andırın district. Tucked in between the Kayranlık mountain range on one side and 12th century AD Geben Castle on the other, this complex likely dates from the 2nd to 5th centuries AD doesn’t appear to have many structural relatives. Two notable exceptions exist in the archaeological record from this period however, one in Greece and the other in Istanbul. Yet despite similar architectural elements with other contemporary sites in Italy, Greece, North Africa, Europe and Anatolia, Kayranlıkgözü’s design and construction appears to be unique with respect to baths constructed in Roman-controlled areas. This raises some interesting questions regarding the nature of Roman rule, especially surrounding the apparent allowance for local influences in architecture at sites such as Kayranlıkgözü. Furthermore, how did aspects of local customs and transregional trade interact?
As is common at bath sites, Kayranlıkgözü lacked substantial material remains necessary for a concise archaeological analysis. Oftentimes bath complexes will not uncover material remnants, however in the case of Kayranlıkgözü two coins were discovered. Inscriptions observed on these coins suggest that the initial construction of this complex dates to the early 4th century AD. Additionally further metal and glass finds corroborate this estimate.
Minnetpinari, a Roman Period church located near the Turkish village of Başdoğan, provides some evidence of religious practice in Eastern Anatolia. Only the western portion of the basilica church was excavated, yet the church appears to have been built in three distinct phases. Initially the church was constructed atop a three nave floor plan. The ceiling, supported by large cylindrical pillars, magnificently displayed connecting archways around the church. A second, lesser phase of construction elevated the basement up to the same level as the main church floor. Finally a small chapel was attached to the southern nave to complete the church renovations.
The excavations at Minnetpinari uncovered a total of 65 tomb burials. The majority of these burials contained adult males, and with the exception of two graves, no artifacts were found in Minnetpinari’s tombs. Most tombs had a very distinctive arrangement, where two or more small stones were situated around the head of the deceased. Gender and Age also factored into the position of the body. Skeletons laying on their backs was ubiquitous to all of the honored dead, however the hands of male skeletons were crossed at their waist with their hands cupping their elbows. Conversely, female skeletons crossed their hands on top of their chests. Children were positioned with their right hand on their chest with the left hand supporting the right hand’s elbow. The elderly also had their own style as their left hand held the right hand close to the shoulder and right hand supports the left hand’s elbow (pudicita type). These distinctive burial positions were quite common in Christian communities not exclusive to Eastern Anatolia.
Numismatic material found at Minnetepinari has helped to piece together the political history and trade networks of Eastern Anatolia at this time. In Anatolia during the Early Medieval Period, local kings and rulers habitually reissued new coins in their own honor during both their political inauguration and sometimes throughout their reign. Minnetepinari is an interesting site in that it contains coins from multiple empires and time periods. Of the 46 total coins found at the site, 28 belonged to the 13th century Kilikia Kingdom, 4 to the later Islamic period and 4 to the Christian Roman Empire (contemporary to the occupation of the church). All point to the longevity of Minnetepinari and the diverse political climate of Anatolia through time.
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