Asia Minor

Asia Minor is the westernmost part of Asia and it is surrounded by the Black Sea, Bosporus, the Sea of Marmara and Hellespont on the north, the Aegean Sea on the west and finally by the Mediterranean Sea on the south. Its east border can be defined by an imaginary line starting from the southeast coasts of the Black Sea on the north to the Gulf of Alexandretta on the south.

The term Asia Minor was first used by the ecclesiastical writer Paulus Orosius (4th-5th century) in his work Historiae adversus Paganos. The definitions “Anatole” (in Greek: the East) and “Anatolia” eventually did not prevail and the second one was initially used by Constantine Porphyrogennetos (945-959) and later by the Turks, in order to describe the conquered regions.

Many regions belong in this geographic area and their names are known from antiquity. Thus, in the northern part lie Pontus, Paphlagonia and Bithynia, in the western part Mysia, Lydia, Caria and on the south Lycia, Pisidia, Pamphylia and Cilicia. In the central part there are Phrygia, Isauria, Lycaonia, Galatia and Cappadocia.

The human presence in Asia Minor is evident even before Paleolithic Age (2.600.000-10.000 years ago). An indicative example is Karain Cave near Antalya (Αττάλεια), which is the only one in Minor Asia where all the Paleolithic years are represented. From the Neolithic Age comes the famous settlement of Çatalhöyük (6700-5700 B.C.) on the northeastern part of Iconium (in Turkish: Konya), which was estimated to have 5.000 inhabitants.

During the 2nd millennia B.C., the first kingdom that will form in the area of Minor Asia, the Hittite, with Hattusa as its capital city, will be replaced by small Hittite states. Later was the kingdom of Phrygians with the capital city of Gordium, which was destroyed during the end of the 8th century B.C. from Cimmerian invasions. There was also the kingdom of Lydians, which dominated the area till the mid-6th century, when Minor Asia was eventually submitted to the Persians.

The first Greek cities in Minor Asia were created by the Aeolians, Ions and Dorians, who in 1100 B.C. started from the Greek mainland and settled on the west shores. From the 7th century B.C., these first colonies came to found their own sub-colonies in different regions (Black Sea, Egypt, France, Spain). Especially for Miletus, it is estimated that the city found 80 colonies.

The Persian dominion ended with Alexander the Great’s expedition, who after the battle of the Granicus River (June 334 B.C.) advanced in Minor Asia and entered victoriously in Syria after the battle of Issus (November 333 B.C.). After his death, while some parts of Minor Asia were able to maintain their autonomy, others were handed to Lysimachus and Seleucus. In the 3rd century B.C. the kingdoms of Pontus and Pergamon were founded and they were submitted to the Romans in the last centuries before Christianity. This way the Romans ensured their dominion in Minor Asia. With Christianity, the area became breeding ground for its spreading and foundation with the creation of many local churches and the rise of martyrs and ecclesiastical Fathers.

Minor Asia became a vital place for the Byzantine state and was threatened many times. The Persian invasions were pushed back by the emperor Heraclius (610-641), while the Arab invasions lasted from the 7th till the 10th century. The advance of the Seljuk Turks, who came to the front during the 11th century, was sealed with the defeat of the Byzantine army in the battle of Manzikert (1071) and the creation of the Sultanate of Rum with its capital being initially Nicaea and after 1084 Iconium (because of Nicaea’s takeover by the Byzantines).

The battles of Alexios I Komnenos (1081-1118) against the Turks were continued by his son John II (1118-1143), who managed to limit their domains in Lycaonia, southeast Galatia and Cappadocia. However, Manuel I Komnenos (1143-1180) was defeated by Kilij Arslan II in the battle of Myriokephalon (1176).

After the Sack of Constantinople in 1204, the Empires of Nicaea and Trebizond were created in Minor Asia as well as small short-lived states from local rulers. In c. mid-13th century the Seljuk Sultanate found itself under the Mongolian dominion and so did the Empire of Trebizond. In 1261, Constantinople was reconquested by Michael VIII Palaiologos of Nicaea.

The Mongolian invasions brought as a result the decline of the state of Iconium and the appearance of small Turkish states, from which the one leaded by Osman prevailed, thus giving his name to the Ottoman Turks. Even though Andronicus II Palaiologos (1282-1328) tried to stop their invasion in Minor Asia, the Ottomans dominated all over Mysia and Bithynia occupying Prussa in 1326, which came to be their first capital. The expansionistic policy of the Turks, who till the beginning of the 15th century, had entered the largest part of Minor Asia, was halted temporarily because of their defeat to Timur in the battle of Ankara. Finally, Minor Asia became the main land of the Ottoman Empire after the Fall of Constantinople (1453) to Mohammed II (1451-1481) and the Fall of Trebizond (1461).

Important economic and intellectual development is observed from the 18th century, especially in the area of the west shores due to presence of the Greeks. An important lever for further development was the construction of a railway system, which from the mid 19th century connected Smyrna to Aydin and Kasaba and also Constantinople to Nicomedia, Eskisehir and Ankara. The import and export trade was remarkable, for example the important port of Smyrna competed even the one of Constantinople.

The ethnic-cleansing policy of the Turks after the Balkan Wars (1912-1913) and the beginning of the First World War (1914-1918) brought the deportation of 400.000 Greeks and the massacre or the displacement of others to the eastern Minor Asia. The defeat of the Greek troops in the expedition to Minor Asia (1920-1922) was the final blow to the Greeks of the area, leading 1.500.000 people to immigration in Greek mainland. The abandonment of the ancestral lands was completed with the exchange of populations after the Treaty of Lausanne (1923).

Minor Asia is now the main land of the Turkish Republic after its foundation by Mustafa Kemal in 1923 and the choice of Ankara as its capital.