Azerbaijan Georgia Turkey Project

Cultural History: Turkey: The Turkish World after the 7th Century AD

The Turkish World After the 7th century A.D.

In the early 12th century AD, the Seljuk Turks began their incursions into central Anatolia. Turkic peoples had come from Central Asia, where they were the dominant cultural group by the 6th century AD. By the mid-7th century AD, the Göktürks (a nomadic confederation of Turks) built an empire that included the South Caucasus, but dynastic infighting led to its collapse. The Seljuks, a clan within the nomadic Oghuz peoples of the Aral steppes, established a dynasty that came to dominate the tribes that had moved into the Abbasid Caliphate during the 9th and 10th centuries AD. At first employed by the Caliphate as slaves and soldiers, the Seljuks gradually assumed greater authority as they adopted Islam, which they injected with new energy. By the 11th century AD, the Seljuks had wrested control of Mesopotamia and eastern Anatolia from the Caliphate and advanced to Persia, before turning their attention to the Byzantine Empire to the west.

The Hagia Sophia in Istanbul contains examples of the finest mosaic art, including this famous mosaic depicting Jesus Christ. (Image courtesy of the Embassy of the Republic of Turkey)

In 1071, at the Battle of Malazgirt, the Seljuks, led by Alp Arslan, defeated a Byzantine army in eastern Anatolia and captured the Emperor, Romanos IV Diogenes. (Although freed soon thereafter, he was deposed.) Within a few decades, the Seljuks had driven the Byzantine forces to the Sea of Marmara, and exerted Turkic dominance across much of Anatolia.

The Seljuk Empire had an important historical role in the dissemination of the Islamic faith and in its defense against anti-Islamic crusaders from Europe. It lost its dominance over Anatolia, although it remained a force in Mesopotamia and Anatolia until its final collapse under pressure from the Mongols in 1243. The Seljuk Sultanate of Rûm, a fragment of the dismembered empire, controlled a large part of central and eastern Anatolia as far as Lake Van until the end of the 13th century—in its latter years, as a vassal state to the Mongol Empire. The Sultanate, which ruled for over 200 years, helped to establish the Turkish character of the region, and created a system of han or caravanserai (roadside commercial buildings along trade routes) that fostered commerce from central Asia to the Mediterranean.

For 350 years, the Byzantines managed to fight off the Seljuk Turks. By the 14th century AD, however, a new force among the Seljuks’ successors had emerged, marking the beginning of a new era. Anatolian beyliks (Turkic states ruled by beys) gained power as the Sultanate of Rûm declined. One of the beyliks, led by Osman I of the Osmanoğlu, spread its power across western Anatolia, forming the basis for the Ottoman Empire. During the 14th century, Osman’s descendants gained greater control of Anatolia. After their victory against the Byzantines at the Battle of Adrianople in 1365, they moved their capital to Adrianople in what is now the European part of Turkey. This defeat isolated Constantinople from the rest of Europe and positioned the Ottomans to move against Greece and the Balkans. Within two decades, the Ottomans took control over much of the southern Balkans. This Ottoman expansion was halted in 1402, following defeat at the hands of the Mongol warlord Tamerlane at the Battle of Ankara, and for a time, the Ottomans were vassals of the Mongols.

Ishak Palace
Colak Abdi Pasha, the bey of the then-Bayazit Province, constructed the Ishak Pasha Palace during the late 17th century AD. The location is now known at Agri Province, Turkey, not far from Mount Ararat (Ağrı Dağı). (Image courtesy of the Embassy of the Republic of Turkey)

The expansion of the Ottoman Empire resumed under the Sultans Mehmet I, Murad II, and Mehmet II. It was under Mehmet II, known as the Conqueror that Constantinople finally fell to the Ottomans in 1453 AD, bringing the Byzantine Empire to a close. Mehmet II continued the expansion into the Balkans. At the time of his death in 1481, the Ottomans had an army in Italy marching on Rome. Under Selim I and Suleiman I (known as the Magnificent), the Empire came to include much of the Middle East and the Levant, Egypt, and North Africa. In 1529, Suleiman pushed westward and laid siege to Vienna. Although Vienna’s defenders held out against the Ottomans, the attack underscored the threat that a powerful Ottoman Empire posed to Europe, a threat that lasted for three more centuries, as the rising powers of the West faced off against the Ottomans in numerous battles from Gibraltar to the Black Sea. The result is the patchwork of numerous Christian and Islamic communities that co-exist in the region today. The Ottomans were dominant over a vast area and continued to control much of the Mediterranean region until World War I. Today Turkic peoples can be found from Anatolia through central Asia to western China. In Anatolia, Turkish society combined elements of the classical and Byzantine worlds with eastern cultural influences.

Two archaeological sites found along the pipelines corridor in Turkey relate to the Ottoman Period. Cilhoroz and Akmezar are located near Erzincan in northeastern Anatolia, not far from the great trade routes that passed through Erzurum. Both sites date from the final years of Byzantine control of the region and illustrate the simple, rural side of Anatolian life during the Middle Ages.

The fertile lands of the Erzincan-Çayırlı region, where the Akmezar settlement was located, were well suited for irrigation and also on transportation routes. Ceramics dating from the 11th to the 14th centuries AD, found at Akmezar, displayed a limited number of sgraffito glazed and other decoration techniques. A large number of practical containers typically used for storage and transportation were present, indicating a settlement of modest size and regional influence. Both the Erzincan and Çayırlı regions during the 11th though 14th centuries were densely populated, yet seem to have had a highly mobile population. Many of the structures uncovered in this area were crudely built and could be abandoned easily. Ram sculptures were also found at Akmezar, Başköy and other villages.


Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine Periods

[ TOP ]