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Turkey, History

Turkish nomads, Battle of Manzikert, Priene, sultanate of Rum, Byzantine army

The first major civilization in Anatolia was that of the Hittites, about 1900 to 1200 bc, which originated in the central plateau. It was destroyed by invaders known as the Sea Peoples, who swept over Asia Minor and Syria at the beginning of the 12th century bc. The destruction of the western Anatolian city of Troy, an event celebrated in ancient Greek legends, probably occurred during these invasions.

One group of the Sea Peoples, the Phrygians, established a kingdom that became the dominant Anatolian power in the 9th and 8th centuries bc. During this period the Greeks founded Miletus, Ephesus, and Priene and a number of other cities in Ionia, an area along the Aegean coast. About 700 bc the Phrygian kingdom was overrun and destroyed by the Cimmerians, a nomadic people who thereafter lived in western Asia Minor. In the 7th century bc the Lydians also appeared near the Aegean coast, where they founded a kingdom, the capital of which was Sardis. It was overthrown by the Persians under Cyrus the Great in 546 bc.

From the mid-6th century to 333 bc most of Asia Minor, including Anatolia, belonged to the Persian Empire, although the Greek cities frequently enjoyed a considerable degree of autonomy. In the 4th century bc Persian power declined, and after 333 bc it was supplanted by the Macedonian Empire of Alexander the Great. In the 2nd and 1st centuries bc, Asia Minor was gradually conquered by the Romans.

After the division of the Roman Empire in the 4th century ad, Asia Minor became part of the Eastern Roman, or Byzantine Empire, the capital of which was Constantinople (present-day Istanbul), or Byzantium, located on the European side of the Bosporus, just across from the west coast of Anatolia. During the 11th century Asia Minor was invaded by nomadic Seljuk Turks. In 1071 they routed the Byzantine army at the Battle of Manzikert; during the 12th century they ravaged much of eastern and central Anatolia. Although at this time the primary objective of the Seljuks was not to attack the Byzantines but to eliminate the threat of heterodox Shia Islam posed by the Fatimids of Egypt, some members of the Seljuk dynasty saw an opportunity to win a realm of their own. They established the sultanate of Rum (with its capital at Konya), which ruled central Anatolia in the 12th and 13th centuries.

Most of the nomads who had made the initial Seljuk victories possible were soon pushed to the west of Anatolia, where frontier colonies were maintained against the last Byzantine defenses. Although the sultanate of Rum imitated the Seljuk Empire of Baghdad, the presence within its boundaries of large numbers of Christians and its superimposition of Islam on top of a living Christian tradition produced a milieu considerably different from that of other Islamic states. It provided the basis for the unique Ottoman systems of government and society that began to emerge in the 14th century.

The Seljuks of Baghdad and Konya were soon overwhelmed by the invasion of the Mongols under Genghis Khan, culminating in the capture and sack of Baghdad in 1258. In Anatolia, the Turkish nomads used the resulting anarchy to form a series of principalities, nominally under the suzerainty of Rum, which in turn was dominated by the Mongols. These principalities maintained themselves through their raids against one another and against the last Byzantine nobles, who held out in western Anatolia.

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Article key phrases:

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