Show Summary Details

Page of

PRINTED FROM OXFORD HANDBOOKS ONLINE ( © Oxford University Press, 2018. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a title in Oxford Handbooks Online for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 26 February 2021

Introduction: The Oxford Handbook of Ancient Anatolia

Abstract and Keywords

This introductory article presents an overview of the current book. The early years of the twenty-first century mark roughly a century of serious scholarly study of ancient Anatolia, and this book represents a synthesis of current understanding at the end of this century of scholarship. It documents close to ten millennia of human occupation in Anatolia, from the earliest Neolithic to the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BCE. The book is also defined geographically, rather than by a culture, ethnic group, language, or polity. A brief description of its five parts is presented.

Keywords: ancient Anatolia, Anatolian scholarship, Neolithic, Alexander the Great

Much of the fascination that Anatolia conjures in the minds of its enthusiasts stems from the wonderful diversity, over time and place, of the people who have lived there. These early years of the twenty-first century mark roughly a century of serious scholarly study of ancient Anatolia, and this volume represents a synthesis of our current understanding at the end of this century of scholarship. It documents close to ten millennia of human occupation in Anatolia, from the earliest Neolithic to the death of Alexander the Great in 323 b.c.e. Although beyond the scope of this volume, the additional 2,300 years between Alexander and the modern day are no less rich in the procession of peoples, languages, cultures, and religions which have come to, or through, Anatolia. Romans, Parthians, Arabs, Jews, and Byzantines, as well as Türkmen, Selçuk, and Ottoman Turks have all left their impression on the memory and monuments of Anatolia. In cities like İstanbul or Ankara, one can observe many of these cultural layers literally piled on top of one another or embedded in the monuments of later people, as in the Kaiser Wilhelm Fountain in the Roman hippodrome in İstanbul, or the Roman architectural and sculptural elements incorporated into the inner citadel of the kale in Ankara. In Bursa, ancient Prusa, the (rebuilt) tombs of the first Ottoman sultans, the eponymous Osman and his successor, Orhan, are built around Roman and Byzantine columns salvaged from monuments or structures erected long before the Turks arrived in Anatolia in 1071 c.e. The forests of columns that fill the pre-Ottoman mosques in Erzurum, (p. 4) Konya, and elsewhere in Anatolia include columns and capitals of Greek, Roman, and Byzantine design, mixed together and adapted to the service of a new building style and purpose.

This intermixing of culture has been operative in Anatolia for as long as we can imagine and constitutes one of the most important conditioning factors for Anatolian peoples; they have always been in constant contact with other cultural groups, current and past. This is exemplified in the dozens of ancient occupation sites, in the form of höyüks (mounds), which rose from the Anatolian plain over centuries or millennia as new groups moved in, or existing groups moved back, to sites that offered sufficient advantages of location and resources to justify the effort of leveling off old towns and rebuilding them. The peoples of Anatolia covered in this volume therefore lived amongst the monuments and settlements of their predecessors, thereby creating millennia-long tensions between holding on to their own cultural traditions and appropriating those of their predecessors.

In contrast to Oxford Handbooks on Hellenic or Byzantine studies, this volume is defined geographically, rather than by a culture, ethnic group, language, or polity. On its northern, western, and southwestern perimeters, Anatolia has very clear boundaries. With an exceptionally long coastline, it enjoys access to the Black Sea, Sea of Marmara, Aegean, and Mediterranean. Defining its eastern and southeastern boundary is a bit more problematic, but a number of the chapters, especially those covering the east and southeast, provide detailed arguments for what should be considered Anatolia. Modern national borders are mostly irrelevant to discussions of Anatolia in antiquity, which includes for some of our authors not only Asiatic Turkey but also parts of today’s Armenia, Georgia, Syria, and Iraq.

Anatolia is one of the most diverse areas in the Middle East by topography, climate, and history. In covering as completely as possible the wealth of different lifeways and plethora of languages, ethnicities, and religions of ancient Anatolia, we have given the authors as much autonomy as possible in conceptualizing their topics. Given the difficulties of maintaining consistency in the spelling of names in a region inhabited for millennia, complicated by the changes over time in ancient place names (remarkably, often recognizable despite those changes) and the varying practices of scholars toward Latinizing of Greek names, we have followed in general the same principle of author autonomy in the spelling of names. For Turkish names we have followed its clear and fairly recently developed orthographic system, although even here there is some latitude in spelling, especially for geographical terms like Kızıl Irmak, or names of sites, like Can Hasan, or in the spelling of terms like höyük/hüyük.

While we recognize that there may remain topics or issues in the study of ancient Anatolia which are not addressed in this volume, we have sought the optimal balance of chapters on archaeological, historical, and philological topics, and a balance as well of chapters both very specific and broadly synthetic, each of which represents the most recent scholarship in these various fields. This volume is meant to be comprehensive, within reason, for ancient Anatolia, beginning with the Neolithic and ending with the moment when Alexander the Great swept through (p. 5) Anatolia in the first stages of his conquest of the Persian Empire, unifying much of the ancient Near East politically (temporarily) and culturally, thereby permanently setting Anatolia on a path of increasing cultural homogeneity and Hellenization and altering its relationship to the rest of the ancient world.

The “Background and Definitions” section (part I) provides a starting point for approaching this enormous topic. McMahon offers an overview of some of the earliest evidence of a perspective both Anatolian and foreign on the diversity of places, people, and languages in first millennium Anatolia. Matthews provides a comprehensive synthetic history of the archaeology of preclassical Anatolia, beginning with some of the earliest explorations and excavations in the Near East, under the Ottomans, through the far more recent development of the systematic study of the many prehistoric sites of Anatolia. Yakar discusses dating techniques and the necessity of working with both material and textual evidence to develop secure chronologies for the rather daunting range of Anatolian peoples and sites. Together, these chapters provide a broad and essential introduction to the succeeding sections.

Defining Anatolia: The Key Sites

Although the section with the title “Key Sites” closes the book, explaining its structure and contents offers insight into how we, as editors, approached the composition of the entire volume. Choosing which sites to include in this section was one of the most difficult choices we faced. We settled on a set of criteria to guide our choices: long-term, established, and ongoing projects (e.g., Gordion, Çatal Höyük, Sardis, Kültepe-Kaneš); shorter term, completed, and carefully excavated sites (e.g., Titriş Höyük and Ilıpınar); and projects begun in the past decade or two that are subjects of continued research (e.g., Göbekli Tepe, Arslantepe, Ayanis, and Kaman-Kalehöyük). Snapshots of Neolithic and Chalcolithic life on the Anatolian plateau are provided by Roodenberg (Ilıpınar) and Hodder (Çatal Höyük), and Neolithic ritual at the southeastern site Göbekli is profiled by Schmidt. The Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age southeast is represented by Arslantepe (Frangipane) and Titriş Höyük (Algaze and Matney), respectively. The important earlier second millennium on the plateau is outlined by Kulakoğlu’s overview of Kültepe-Kaneš; the Hittite Empire is represented not by a single key site but by Mielke’s masterful treatment of several Hittite centers; and Omura’s chapter on Kaman-Kalehöyük offers a review of occupation at a site spanning the Late Bronze and Iron ages. The breadth of Iron Age Anatolia is represented in the west (Greenewalt on Sardis), in the center (Voigt on Gordion), and finally in the east (Çilingiroğlu on Ayanis). The eleven chapters in this section offer some of the most important work that has been, and continues to be, carried out across the Anatolian peninsula and beyond.

(p. 6) Chronology and Geography

As noted above, the topographic and climatic diversity of Anatolia—from the Mediterranean coast, to the rolling plains of the plateau and high peaks of the mountain chains, and finally to the arid areas of the southeast—means that not only were there disparate culture areas in ancient Anatolia but also that each region and its chronological periods needed treatment in separate chapters. Also notable is the vast chronological range covered in the volume—we asked our authors to describe nearly 10,000 years of cultural lifeways to this volume’s readers.

Given this regional individuality in Anatolia’s prehistory and early history, we asked part II’s authors to address a series of questions, including “what constitutes my period and region?” and “which sites best represent my region and period?” to guide chapter content and allow for unique approaches to the material. The results were comprehensive and up-to-date interpretive studies.

Though defining the geographical extent of a region may seem straightforward, in fact a review of numerous publications finds many authors stating that their site is “on the plateau in the Lake District” or “in the Upper Euphrates region of southeastern Anatolia.” What constitutes the plateau, the southeast, the west, the east, of Anatolia? One point made clear by our authors is the dichotomy between a “region,” and how we as modern archaeologists envision that region. For instance, Özbaşaran skillfully describes the topographic and climatic variability of the Anatolian plateau; however, excavated Neolithic plateau sites are mainly located in the northwest and southern areas. Conversely, chapters on the second and first millennia (e.g., Seeher, and Kealhofer and Grave) place plateau life mainly in its center at major cities such as Gordion and Ḫattuša. Certainly the editors of this volume, when envisioning “the plateau,” think of the region east of Ankara and north of Cappadocia, where their research has been centered for two decades—the western and southern plateau areas are not part of our “plateau consciousness” on a daily basis. The chapter authors have provided an invaluable service in not only defining the geographical “boundaries” of their regions, slippery as they may be, but also in reminding us that while important sites may be located only in one defined area of that larger region, prehistoric and early historic inhabitants most certainly envisioned broader landscapes stretching across and beyond the few sites we know archaeologically today.

It is easier, perhaps, to understand the posing of questions such as “what constitutes my period?” in this section devoted to time and space. In their discussions of chronological stages, authors have made invaluable contributions: Rosenberg and Erim-Özdoğan ask us to recast our periodizations of the Neolithic southeast, eschewing the awkward applications of chronologies such as the “Pre-Pottery Neolithic A and B”; Schoop and Steadman are united in the struggle to define the “end” of the Chalcolithic and the “beginning” of the Early Bronze Age on the plateau, while Özbal and Ökse marshal the overwhelming amount of recently excavated data on the Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age in the southeast into cogent discussions on what is happening where and often why. Important chapters by Marro and Palumbi on (p. 7) eastern Anatolia in the Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age bring into focus the latest evidence for defining the nature of interaction between Transcaucasia and southeastern Anatolia—a decades-long topic of discussion and controversy.

Chapters featuring the early historic periods include those on the dynamic but poorly understood Iron Age on the plateau and in the east—treated in some detail by Kealhofer and Grave, and Khatchadourian, respectively. This volume represents one of the only places where a comprehensive presentation of sometimes scant and often contradictory Iron Age data from Anatolia has been undertaken. Matney’s chapter profiles the Iron Age southeast—a period of empire, collapse, rebuilding, multiple cultures marching through and settling the region, and a host of other events which he lays out in a coherent and compelling form. Matney’s chapter is superbly preceded by Laneri and Schwartz’s treatment of the southeastern Middle Bronze Age, a period about which we formerly knew little and now can far better understand.

The authors who dealt with the Late Bronze Age, including Bryce, Seeher, and Gates, all skillfully reveal how the peoples, places, and events in each of their regions (west, central, and southeast, respectively) moved in and out of the Hittite orbit; readers understand that the Hittite Empire was always a factor, welcomed or not, in the daily undertakings of Anatolian peoples across the plateau and in the southeast. The Late Bronze Age chapters were prefaced by Michel’s excellent study on the kārum period on the plateau, which highlights the international nature of the early second millennium plateau and the importance of the settlement at Kültepe.

The final chapter of part II treats the last of the Anatolian periods covered in this volume. Greaves offers a comprehensive exploration of the complex archaeological and historical evidence describing the intersection between Greeks and Anatolians in the western and central reaches of the peninsula, beginning with the “Greek migrations” and ending with the coming of Alexander the Great. Each chapter in this subsection on the Iron Age provides not only a complete and current overview of relevant data but also the author’s own interpretations of the extant evidentiary repertoire, thereby making available to readers not only the most up-to-date study on the target place and time but also providing the benefit of an expert’s evaluation of complex and often seemingly contradictory data.

Philological and Historical Topics

Before the discovery and decipherment of the textual corpora left behind by the early literate societies of the Bronze and Iron Ages in Anatolia, the only written evidence for Anatolia in this period was later Greek literary sources like Homer, Herodotus, Xenophon, and Arrian, and inscriptional evidence, mostly in Greek. Wonderful as such sources are, they can only provide the perspective of outsiders who have their own distinctive sense of identity, mostly formed before their late (p. 8) arrival in Anatolia. However, with the discovery and decipherment of the languages covered in this section, whose scribal traditions were developed in Anatolia, all of them preserved only in epigraphic records discovered in Anatolia (broadly defined), we can begin to appreciate an Anatolian perspective. Thus we may learn, for example, what these people called themselves and their neighbors, how they organized their politics, or how they interacted with the divine.

With the arrival of Old Assyrian traders in Anatolia in the Middle Bronze Age, writing comes to the region for the first time, dramatically altering potential approaches to the study of Anatolia. For the first time, we can put a name to the people who lived in Anatolia. The oldest of the languages preserved there, that of the Old Assyrian merchants of the Middle Bronze Age, is covered by Michel in the “Chronology and Geography” section and initiates the narrative of the development of writing technologies and their effects on the societies of ancient Anatolia. Of course, we know the Old Assyrians to have been temporary sojourners in Anatolia in the Middle Bronze Age, traveling from northern Mesopotamia to establish trading colonies on the plateau.

Picking up the thread begun in Michel’s chapter, the first four chapters in part III focus on the text corpora of Anatolian cultures which discovered and developed writing and record-keeping traditions. Beckman introduces the oldest attested Indo-European language, Hittite, also one of the first lost Anatolian languages to be deciphered. Yakubovich brings to light the Luwian language, which was originally known only from scattered passages in the Hittite corpus but is now known to have survived the fall of the Hittite kingdom and the end of Hittite as a written language. Zimansky profiles the history of the discovery of the forgotten kingdom of Urartu and the deciphering of its language, yet another hitherto unknown linguistic tradition of Anatolia. Through this deciphering, the magnificent monuments of this eastern Anatolian kingdom, which extended well beyond the eastern border of present-day Turkey, come to life. The recently edited Urartian corpus described in Zimansky’s chapter provides an excellent balance to Radner’s chapter in part IV on the incessant conflict between Urartu and Assyria known mostly from Assyrian sources.

Although Hittite is the best-known Anatolian language of the Late Bronze Age, and Luwian spans the gap between Hittite and Neo-Hittite eras (i.e., between the Late Bronze and Iron Ages), Phrygian is the language of the most politically powerful Anatolian people of the Early Iron Age. Roller’s chapter provides specific details on the alphabetic script and language of the Phrygians, which proves to be Indo-European but not part of the Anatolian family, supporting the tradition preserved by Greek authors such as Herodotus that the Phrygians were immigrants to Anatolia. Roller’s comprehensive approach to the full range of available sources allows her to provide an overview of Phrygian religious practice, deities, and monuments.

Based on an exhaustive review of the relevant textual sources, Beal’s chapter provides a fascinating narrative of the political history of the second millennium, focusing on the Hittite state and its capital at Ḫattuša. Not unexpectedly, we learn (p. 9) that the Hittites struggled (as do all empires) with issues of dynastic succession, court intrigue, and constant pressure on their borders. Beal develops the theme of the Hittites’ innovative strategies to deal with such issues, including utilizing international treaties, and discusses some of the most unique texts of Anatolian antiquity, such as Ḫattušili III’s sophisticated justification for deposing his nephew.

Sams provides a similar overview for the first millennium, drawing of necessity on a wider range of sources as he puts into perspective the sweeping changes of the Iron Age, with invasions by peoples of the steppe, creation and destruction of a native Anatolian empire, the arrival and settling of the Greeks on the Aegean coast, and the first large-scale and long-lived invasion and subjugation of Anatolia by outsiders, the Persians. This section concludes with an insightful overview by Harmanşah of the monuments created by the procession of Anatolian peoples described in the previous chapters. He argues that architecture and monuments are the most visible and powerful remnants of past civilizations, especially through funerary monuments, and that Anatolia, with its vast array of monuments from multitudinous peoples leaving their mark over centuries, provides a unique opportunity to study, and marvel at, what he calls the “landscape of the dead.”

Thematic and Specific Topics

The thirteen chapters in part IV, “Thematic and Specific Topics,” treat some of the most difficult topics in Anatolian pre- and early history. Anatolia has often been referred to as a crossroads between Europe and Asia—a description apt not just in recent history but in the ancient world as well. Most of the chapters in the “Intersecting Cultures” subsection deal with the movements of people into and across the Anatolian peninsula. Three chapters address the sharing of material culture, ideologies, and peoples between the western regions of Anatolia and Europe: Özdoğan undertakes a thorough review of evidence for interaction between Anatolia and the Balkans spanning the Neolithic through the Bronze Ages, and Harl completes the story by laying out, in fascinating detail, the early history of Greek presence along the Anatolian western coast and their progress inward. Jablonka offers readers a comprehensive review of Troy’s place in the larger Aegean/Anatolian world, highlighting the continued important role this settlement played over three millennia.

To the east, Sagona tackles the bracing subject of Anatolian–Transcaucasian interactions spanning the Chalcolithic through the Bronze Age; his chapter reminds us that the national boundaries that divide these regions today do not at all reflect how ancient cultures envisioned their landscapes. Also focusing attention on the east is Radner’s excellent account of the waxing and waning of Assyrian and Urartian interactions throughout the Iron Age; the battles for control of land and peoples between these two powerful entities is provided in a skillful presentation of (p. 10) archaeological and textual data. Also blending (very limited) archaeological data with philological studies is Melchert’s comprehensive overview of the arrival and florescence of the Indo-European languages in Anatolia, the most famous of which is, of course, Hittite.

Chapters in the “Pastoralists to Empires” subsection treat the kinds of critical issues promised by the title. Castro Gessner provides the latest word on the Neolithic-Chalcolithic Halaf Tradition in southeastern Anatolia. She reviews the evolution of scholarship on the nature of Halaf social organization and lays out the difficulties in accurately defining the Halaf “cultural region” and its associated chronology. In many respects, Rothman’s overview of the Uruk period provides the same service. Although the chronology of the Uruk phenomenon has become less problematic in recent decades, the exact structure of the Uruk system in southeastern Anatolia is still not fully understood; Rothman provides well-constructed arguments for how we might best comprehend not only the overall structure of the Uruk system but also its involvement with Late Chalcolithic Anatolian societies.

On the plateau Düring bravely undertakes a comprehensive overview of what he calls the “millennia in the middle,” that is, the Chalcolithic period. Unlike southeastern Anatolia, where numerous sites help document a cultural prehistory, our knowledge of Chalcolithic lifeways on the plateau is spotty at best. Düring marshals the known data and offers readers an invaluable set of interpretive frameworks for understanding these three millennia in the heart of Anatolia. A marvelous chapter on the florescence of metallurgy in Anatolia is provided by Muhly. It has been far too long since a comprehensive treatment of the impact of metals and metallurgy on Anatolian societies has been attempted; Muhly addresses this admirably in a chapter reviewing this topic, from the first emergence of metal experimentation in the Neolithic to the full-blown metallurgical societies of the Bronze Age. Ur’s chapter on landscape archaeology, primarily targeting recent research in the southeast, is not limited to a specific chronological period but instead provides examples of what can be learned about societies of any period or locale through landscape studies. His chapter is a blend of an overview of methodologies that can be employed, combined with fascinating revelations of what has been discovered.

The final two chapters treat the second millennium Hittite Empire from two methodological perspectives: material culture evidence and textual evidence. Glatz notes that textual sources “cannot be taken a priori as representative of the totality of Hittite imperial organization and modes of engagement” (chapter 40, p. 878) and shows how the material culture can sometimes be an even clearer lens through which scholars may view the rise and fall of this powerful empire. In many ways, van den Hout supports Glatz’s assertions in his review of the Hittite texts; he describes the contradictory information that is sometimes provided by multiple texts on the same subjects. Conversely, however, he also draws out the nuanced understanding that scholars may gain regarding, for instance, royal intentions and goals, the pomp and circumstance of ritual, or the intricacy of ancient law through their close readings of the some 30,000 extant Hittite texts. The two (p. 11) chapters combine to offer an unparalleled examination of the Hittite Empire from its inception to its collapse.


Although the coverage in this volume is meant to be comprehensive, there is always more that could be said. There is fascinating ongoing work on Palaeolithic Anatolia, and naturally the history of the region does not cease with the arrival of Alexander the Great. For the period covered by this volume, we also continue to learn more. Our goal therefore has been both to provide the most complete portrait of ancient Anatolia as we understand it after a century or so of scholarly work and to allow the expertise and enthusiasm of the scholars represented herein to inspire the continuing quest to understand even more. One of Anatolia’s greatest attractions is the lure of the work still to be done; scholars working in this area know that every new season of excavation or discovery of textual evidence could radically alter our understanding of the people and places we study. This volume therefore stands as a statement of our current state of understanding and an invitation to look forward to our continued exploration of the most fascinating place we know. (p. 12)