The high plateau between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean is the setting for many of the most significant advances of neolithic man and his successors in the early stages of civilization.
In the use of metals Anatolia is regularly first, or among the first. Copper implements are found here from around 7000 BC. Bronze is used in the 3rd millennium BC, later than Sumeria but not by much. Iron is first worked here, in about 1500 BC.
One of the world’s first towns, Catal Huyuk, is on the southern edge of the Anatolian plateau. Excavation has revealed evidence of quite developed agricultural communities living on this site from about 6500 to 5700 BC.
Several millennia later Anatolia is the site of the first of the many empires established by Indo-European tribes – eventually the dominant group in the Eurasian land mass all the way from the Atlantic to India. These first Indo-European conquerors, ruling Anatolia from the 17th to 12th century BC, are the Hittites.
Troy: 1900-1250 BC
Contemporary with the Hittites, but controlling a much smaller tract of territory in the northwest of Anatolia, are the Trojans. They too are an Indo-European tribe, arriving in the region in about 1900 BC. Troy is ideally placed to prosper from trade, being on the north-south sea link between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, and on the east-west land route between Asia and Europe.
Troy survives many disasters, including several major fires, but none is so destructive as the sacking of the town by Greeks, in about 1250 BC, in the Trojan War. Not long after this the Hittites too are destroyed, by marauders from the coasts of Anatolia known as the Sea Peoples.
Ionia and Lydia: 8th – 6th century BC
The centuries after the collapse of both Hittites and Trojans are unsettled ones. Stability begins to return to Anatolia, at any rate on the west coast, with the establishment of Greek colonies. The most important of these is Ionia. Consisting originally of many small independent settlements, Ionia emerges in the 8th century as a league of twelve cities which between them dominate western Anatolia. Some, such as Miletus, will take a prominent role in the spread of Greek civilization.
The region becomes known at this time by its classical name, Asia Minor – accurately acknowledging that this is indeed a small appendage of Asia, dangerously exposed to the east. At present the threat comes from Lydia.
Lydia emerges in the 7th century BC as a rich and powerful state in the interior of Anatolia, with its capital at Sardis. The last king of Lydia, Croesus, has survived in popular memory as a man of legendary wealth (he is the first ruler in history to mint coins of gold and silver).
The Lydians raid into Ionia, with increasing success. By the mid-6th century Croesus controls Ephesus and many other Greek cities in Asia Minor. But in 546 he is defeated by a greater conqueror from the east, Cyrus. Within a year or two the Persian empire has engulfed Ionia. Greek civilization is confronted with its defining challenge.
Between empires: 6th c. BC – 15th c. AD
With the rise of the Persian empire to the east, and the combined strength of Greece to the west, Anatolia acquires the role which it will fulfil through much of history – that of a buffer state, over which the powers of southeast Europe and southwest Asia repeatedly clash.
The prolonged struggle of the Greco-Persian wars is finally resolved in Greece’s favour, in the late 4th century BC, when Alexander the Great marches east. But for the subsequent three centuries Anatolia is disputed between Hellenistic rulers, competing for the scraps of Alexander’s territorial acquisitions.
By the 1st century BC a new western force is securely in place. The Roman empire has extended its rule to the eastern Mediterranean coast. The Roman legions hold Anatolia with little more than occasional corrective expeditions (of which Caesar’s Veni, vidi, vici records one rapid triumph). Nevertheless, successive empires in Persia remain a constant threat. In the 7th century AD, on two separate occasions, Persian armies reach the walls of the Byzantine capital, Constantinople.
The 7th century also sees the rise of a new force which will eventually wrest Anatolia from the Byzantine empire, making it instead the heart of a Turkish empire.
Within fifty years of the death of Muhammad, the Muslims are threatening Anatolia. They attack Constantinople in 673. This proves a campaign too far, and Anatolia remains within the Christian empire. But just to the east of Anatolia, Syria and Armenia are lost to Islam.
By the end of the 11th century Muslim Turkish tribes have infiltrated much of Anatolia. The entire region becomes, once again, a shifting frontier between two great power blocs – representing now Christianity and Islam. Muslim victory in the struggle is finally assured with the fall of Constantinople in 1453. Anatolia becomes the centre of a Turkish empire, and today comprises most of modern Turkey.