Briefing-Historical Background of Modern Turkey

This briefing was absolutely fascinating. It was like having a National Geographic Article in the flesh. Our academic for this briefing was Asli Ozyar and she has become one of my role models. She was brilliant and I cannot wait to debrief with myself in Australia and email her to get resources off of her.

Her idea of modern Turkey is anything from the past 10,000 years. She briefed us on the Hittites (many of you will recognise them from the Bible) and the ancient Anatolians. Basically the Paleolithic era. This. Woman. Was. Fascinating. I took 6 pages of notes on this briefing so you will have to bear with my idyllic blubbering.

She mainly discussed the history of Turkey prior to the Greco-Roman age. Did you know that the very first man-made monumental shrine IN THE WORLD was discovered in Turkey? Yeah. Impressive. I’m impressed. These weren’t just any random monumental shrines, these took some serious manpower to build. We are talking Stonehenge times 15. Serious manpower. I’m really upset that we weren’t able to go to the Hittite Museum in Ankara, but I shall make it a priority on my next trip.

Let’s start with a little bit of background though. Anatolia in Greek translates to “land as seen from Greece” or “land where sun rises”. Apparently they are one and the same. Turkey, being where east meets west, meaning in Anatolia itself there were complete regional differences. This does not include the area outside of Turkey. 3-400,000 years ago the first hominids appeared in Istanbul and about 10-12000 years ago they found the first permanent settlements in Turkey. Part of this was from climate change and part of this was due to the discovery of food production. Gotta love that agricultural lifestyle.


One of the big questions she asked was “What came first? Settling or agriculture?”. I found this to be an interesting question in light of my American and Australian background knowledge of Native Americans and Aboriginals. Certain Native American tribes would actually participate in agriculture using low maintenance crops that they could plant and then come back to at a certain point in the year to harvest and settle down for winter, while being hunter/gatherers the rest of the year. The Aboriginals would frequently cultivate and harvest native plants while at the same time living their hunter/gatherer lifestyle. I sort of assumed it was similar to that beginning and then they just happened to develop from this type of lifestyle to a fully agricultural, community driven lifestyle. In reality, it’s been discovered that they settled first and then developed into an agricultural society. They are still digging up the evidence regarding this, but there is enough evidence to say that they settled first. Archeologists are still trying to figure out the how and why of it all.

As previously stated with the massive religious shrine, Turkey is the home of the first known permanent sites in the world. The curious thing about this, as stated above, is that they were hunter/gatherers and there was actually no necessity for these permanent sites at this time. They still don’t know how they were capable of making these shrines. Everyone knows a lot of the sites in Turkey was made by slavery, but as these were hunter gatherers we are talking about I doubt they had a significant amount of slaves. These shrines were made with very large, very heavy stone slabs. There’s about 15 shrines in the one location in total and they contain monolithic pillars (one giant slab of rock rather than individual slabs contained in each pillar) and they weigh a couple of tons each. This would have taken some serious engineering and social skills.

In light of this, I should let you know that the only known earlier artwork there are cave paintings of wild boar and birds at Gobekli Tepe.

Following this monumental structure, there have been village type architecture found in Cayönü which coincides with the megalithic structures used for worship. All this led to the Bronze Age (for this region, not necessarily for other regions) which happened in the 4th millennium BC. During this age they’ve discovered that Anatolia was full of villages, but not large cities and most of them had access to mines. The exploitation of metals in this region began very early and very few other regions in the world can compete on the same timeline.

In the scope of human evolution in regards to civilisation, metallurgy (the working of metals) has been a key ingredient to social progression and cultural complexity. Copper “swords” were found from the 4th millennium BC and by the 3rd millennium BC elaborate burials for the elite were being performed. They found crowns, golden goblets and writing as well. From the remains that they have been able to put together almost all the remains are identified as female. They are still unaware of the exact significance of these burials, but obviously the women in these societies were important. The big thing to understand here is that the treasure they were buried with, much like the pharaohs of Egypt, was produced purely for the burial.

These people were the first known people to work metals. Bronze and copper and all that jazz. They were making metal pots before most civilisations were working out how to drink out of their hands. Turkey has an insanely rich history. The Hittites and their ancestors were essentially the peak of ancient human civilisation. They kept everything recorded on clay tablets using cuneiform writing when the Egyptians were discovering Papyrus. I’m recording this digitally and it’s going to be destroyed and lost far before the baked cuneiform clay tablets from thousands of years ago.


I’ve always had a rather strong fascination with Turkey due to the fact that it does have the East meets West history, but I never really knew about its ancient history. Now that I have a very limited background on its ancient history I have even more of a fascination with it. I reckon I could get a holiday home on the beach as they are super cheap here, spend three months out of the year here studying Turkey for the rest of my life and be a happy person. One of the things I find fascinating is all the history about the Hittites. The old testament of the Bible mentions the Hittites quite a few times but really doesn’t say much about them, but we learn so much about them from recent discoveries.

The Hittites formed urban states that contained territorial aspects. Turkey, as hosts to the Hittite Kingdom, was essentially the first real “State” as we know nation states today. Ankara has an open air museum that I will definitely be visiting next time I am in Turkey that is a UNESCO World Heritage site containing preservation of early state archives on clay of a land deed written in an Indo-European language recorded in cuneiform script. This is the earliest recorded Indo-European language found and is a sister language to Greek. The benefits of writing on clay tablets is that they don’t degrade like paper and paper-like items (such as papyrus), they survive fire, you can put them back together if they are broken. It’s beautiful.

They have also found peace treaties between the Hittites and the Egyptians used as a means of empire building. There was a formal international treaty between Pharaoh Ramesses II and Hattushili III, they have found land titles from Anatolia, letters from scribes to their families. It’s so amazing. It was an annalistic recording of political events which provided a model for later widespread use of annals in the Near East and shows a great historical consciousness. 10’s of thousands of archives have been found and there was also a great amount of artwork found of pottery that had handles and sharp edges, imitating metals before most people were making clay pots. It was also found that the Hittites were very fond of falconry and likened falcons to symbols of deities. The god that they worshipped originally was the weather god (the bull, aka Zeus in later times) and this was especially important for them as they relied on dry farming.

The more interesting thing is what happened to all of this, in my opinion. There is a sudden period between the bronze age and the  iron age in which all trace of their culture is lost. I liken it to Babylon where everyone suddenly started speaking a different language. They stopped using clay tablets to record things and we aren’t really sure what happened to them as a civilisation.

The Iron Age

The collapse of the Bronze Age shows a strong change in the balance of powers. It’s very bizarre because it shows a de-evolution of people (as opposed to regression, which we are seeing today). Sites were abandoned, there was new migrations of people and the 1st millennium also shows the rise of the Assyrians and the Persian Empire. There was the uprising of Alexander the Great and the first forms of what we know as globalisation (as opposed to the previous empire building) began to make an appearance. The reasons are unknown, but it is theorised that this was due to climate change and civilisation in Anatolia and Egypt reaching a saturation point.

I also find it interesting and it sort of relates to a book I need to reread called When God was a Woman. Women were buried with gold treasure that was specifically made for the burials. I think it would be fascinating to know the culture that held women in such high esteem and why it necessitated them being buried with such beautiful treasures. It is a far cry from the lack of women’s rights in the world today, Turkey included. It forces me to consider the interesting dynamic between regression and evolution in human cultures.

Based on briefings we have had during my time in Turkey and discussions with the people on this trip most of the people agree that mankind in general is regressing. It just gives me one more thing to think about. Once again, using Sara as an example, being Muslim she believes that Judgement day will come and she believes that it is near due to the fact that there is very little decency and compassion left in the world. This is a far cry from the academic who briefed us, who when questioned about her religious beliefs in such a predominantly Muslim society stated “I know too much to believe in any god”. I find that I can relate to her and really look up to what she said. I must say, with as much as we know, it takes someone who is very devout and strong in their faith to believe anymore, but it takes someone who is just as strong in their belief that there is no God to deny something that many people may socially persecute them for.

I know what it is like personally as I have been persecuted by many people, some my own “family” though I only consider them related by mere coincidence rather than family at this point.

While this religion topic may seem to digress it is highly relevant to how historical Anatolia shaped modern Turkey. Historical Anatolia and the Hittites started out with few gods, but they were definitely polytheistic. They had the Bull, which represented Zeus essentially, they had the deer to represent mother Earth and another god that I can’t recall, possibly the falcon. They were very Hellenistic as they realised that allowing cultures to keep their own gods allowed for better assimilation (back to the assimilation and integration briefing) and the culture grew to possibly thousands of gods, similar to Egypt or ancient Rome and ancient Greece.

Somehow, for better or worse, you decide, the polytheistic belief system developed into the monotheistic Ibrahimic religion that it is today. It varied throughout history, shuffling between Christian and Muslim, into the conservative Muslim society that most people associate with Turkey. I have barely scraped the surface of this briefing (once again with scraping the bloody surface), but I hope it has been enough to inspire anyone reading this to learn more about the topic at hand. I have purchased a copy of the Qu’ran and my copy of the Bible is in the US but I plan on bringing it back with me next time I am in the US so I can read more on the Hittites and ancient Palestine.

If anyone wants the email of the professor who gave this briefing so that they can get some more sources on the topic at hand please let me know and I can get you her email address.