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History of Cappadocia

The region of Cappadocia
Visit Cappadocia

History of Cappadocia


Important settlements of the Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age are located in Cappadocia. Alişar , which is 45kms. southeast of Yozgat, was excavated from 1927-1932 by Chicago University and is an important site providing a complete chronology of settlement in Anatolia during those ears. The Chalcolithic dweelings found there were rectangular in plan with timber-rein-forced adobe walls. Burials below the floor of these houses were common. Geometric-patterned pottery on black slip, with white and yellow paste incrusted within incised contours was also a feature of the site. Pottery of the Early Bronze Age was characteristically geometrically-patterned Cappadocia ware, or Alişar III ware. Not only does the tumulus of Alişar provide a reliable stratigraphy for the pre-history of Central Anatolia, but it is the site of Alacahöyük where key evidence of the cultural life of the pre-historical period was revealed. The latter, in the district of Çorum, is one of the most important pre-historical settlements in Central Anatolia. Excavations carried out on the site between 1935-1946 failed to unearth the complete plan of a dwelling but several adobe sections over stone foundations were uncovered. Pottery, varying in tone from dark grey to black, is common and red burnished footed bowls were also found among votive gifts to the dead. Spiral copper rings and bracelets are evidence of the use of metal jewellry. The site also yielded fourteen royal tombs of the Early Bronze Age. These flat-roofed tombs were rectangular, stone-walled structures sealed with clay mortar. Excavations here revealed decorative and cult objects in the precious metals as well as iron swords, axes and arrow-heads. Among the most important finds were sun symbols embellished with horned bull-heads, stangs and solar symbols. These artefacts, now in the Museum of Anatolian Civilisations, are important pointers to the economic and social environment of the time, which was most likely characterised by feudalism and an advanced metallurgy.

From the evidence of excavations and other research, settlement during the Early Bronze Age appears to have been primarily concentrated around the Kızılırmak basin. Many fortified city states were situated in that region, and some continued as centres of habitation for millenia. The first light to be shed on the ideas of the time was the discovery of the Cappadocia tablets, which marked the entrance of the peninsula into the historical age.


Although the first inscriptions in the two earliest Near Eastern civilisations in Egypt and Mesopotamia are known to date to around 3200B.C., the written word entered Anatolia only around the early 2nd millenium.

Anatolia, rich in gold, silver and copper, was forced to import tin for the making of bronze. The tin trade in Anatolia was in the hands of rich Assyrian merchants who formed independent trading centres-karums-in Anatolia under the patronage of local Anatolian rulers. These settlements were politically ineffective and were basically the first trans-state trading organisation. It was through the Assyrian merchants, who were familiar with cuneiform, that writing reached Anatolia. These karums were situated broadly between Malatya and Konya, under the authority of the principal trade colony, Karum Kanesh at Kültepe.

Kanesh-Kültepe, situated 20 kms. north-east of Kayseri, is one of the largest tumuli in Anatolia and was the earliest capital of the region. The settlement was founded on a hill some 550 ms. in length, 450 ms. in width and, at the most, 20 ms. in height. During the era of the Assyrian trading colonies, the tumulus was inhabited by indigenous folk, while the Assyrian traders inhabited karum itself. The city was headed by a feudal lord, and excavations have revealed evidence of the importance of agriculture. Cereals such as wheat and corn are also mentioned in a number of written documents.

There are accounts of beer-making and viniculture alongside evidence of milling in the area. Metalwork also figured among the activities of the area, with both precious metals and iron being worked. Bronze was produced from copper mined around Ergani and tin was imported from Assur.

Assyrian caravans of 200-250 ass-loads travelled the route from Assur to Kanesh, with overnight stops on the way in a series of caravansaray-like merchant inns. The costs of such caravans are recorded in great detail cuneiform on tablets. Merchants brought tin, fabrics of various kinds and perfumes, which they traded for metal wares. Tin was the commodity to yield the most profit, (approximately 100%) while the Anatolian rulers were paid tax equal to 1/20 of the value of the goods.

In the case of disputes, which occasionally arose between the merchants and the local folk, the tablets give evidence of a lawyer being sent from Assur. Written documents also given evidence of inter-marriage between Assyrian merchants and native women. Marriage contracts stipulated the rights of the native wives.

Investigation into the tablet inscriptions has revealed the location of some of the karums, notably Karum Hattusa at Boğazköy. The existance of another karum at Alişar is also known.


In the final centuries of the Early Bronze Age, Hittites started to infiltrate into Anatolia in groups. The Hittites, a people of Indo-European origin had settled in the Marasanda-Halys-Hitit-river basin by the beginning of the 2nd millenium. The name Hittite was given to these tribes in reference to the biblical tribes of Hit by modern historians. The Hittites referred to themselves as the Nesha, and to their language as the Neshi tongue, that is the language of the city of Nesha.

During that period the land of the Neshi had formerly been called Hatti and the people were called Hattians. The Hattian tongue was neither Indo-European nor Semitic in origin. It is not yet known exactly where the Hittites originated from, although research seems to point towards the Caucasus as a recognisable stepping-stone to Anatolia.

Pithana, king of Nesha, and his son Anitta, whose names are mentioned in the Cappadocia tablets brought about the unification of the independent city states to create the first centralised governmental system. Some scholars claim that Nesha and Kanesh (Kültepe) to be one and the same, and believe that Kussara, where Anitta reigned, was Alişar.

Around the mid 18th century B.C., the Assyrian trade colonies were disbanded. The monochrome and painted pottery of the period, known as the early Hittite era carry on traditional Anatolian shapes and patterns. Animal-shaped ritual drinking vessels (bibru) in the form of whole animals or animal heads are typical of the ware of the period.

The Hittite state founded by Anitta, king of Kussara was ruled around 1600 B.C. by Labarnas I. This king moved the capital from Kussara to Hattusa, city formerly razed to the ground and cursed by Anitta, and changed his name to Hattusili, meaning “the one from Hattusa”.

The contribution of the Hittites, who formed a state in Anatolia to last from the beginning of the 2nd millenium B.C. to the end of the 8th century B.C. was mainly to plastic art,especially major sculpture and relief carving. The Sphinx Gate reliefs of Alacahöyük are the most typical examples of this.

At the beginning of the 12th century B.C. Anatolia was overrun by tribes coming from the west during the Aegean migrations, and all the important Anatolian cities were razed to the fround, destroying the Hittite state. From excavations carried our at Hattusa and other Hittite sites, it would appear that the Phrygian culture overlaid that of the Hittites. A dark age followed until written records again appear in the 8th century.

The Phrygians, according to the ancient historians, were Thracian origin. This description is now accepted by many modern scholars. The archaeological evidence confirms the existance of migrations from Thrace to Anatolia between 1190-1100 B.C., after which many tumuli in Central Anatolia show no signs of habitation for a considerable period. The Phrygians did not immediately settle in any one place, but probably moved eastwards towards the Kommagene region. After remaining in that region for some time, they then moved down into the Halys bend and the region of Assyrian, Urartu and the late Hittite state through Persia and Syria.

After the destruction of the Hittite state a series of Neo-Hittite kingdoms emerged, whose existance and approximate boundaries can be traced in relation to the various regions of Anatolia. Assyrian documents mentionthe Tabal kingdom in Cappadocia which included Kayseri, Niğde, Nevşehir and Ürgüp. Further information about the Tabals has been discovered on a number of late Hittite inscriptions in and around Kayseri. 11 such inscriptions, in hieroglyphics were discovered between Kayseri and Nevşehir. The capital of the Tabal kingdom was, at that time, Tuvanuva (the classical Tyana). Kültepe was also a town of some importance at the time.

On the obelisk of the Assyrian king Salmanassar III (858-824 B.C.) on Mount Nemrut, is inscribed the following: In the 22nd year of my reign I crossed the Euphrates for the 22nd time. I went as far as the kingdom of Tabal. There I received the tributes of the 24 kings of Tabal. This indicates that the country was ruled in the form of a confederation. The Ivrizkaya relief, considered the finest monument of the late Hittite period is situated in what was once the Tabal kingdom.

The Tabals became Assyrian vassals in the 7th century, and with the destruction of the Assyrian state in 612 B.C. they were absorbed into the kingdom of Lycia.

Cappadocia was subsequently conquered by the Median king Cyaxeres at the beginning of the 6th century. During the wars berween the Persians under Cyrus (559-529 B.C.) and the Lydians under Croesus (560-540 B.C.) Cappadocia came under Persian domination along with the rest of Anatolia.

The Persians settled in Cappadocia particularly as the environment was similar to that of their native country. The volcanic rock country of the Erciyes region was also suitable for the practice of their own fire cult. During the reign of Cyrus, Cappadocia became one of the five main satrapies of Anatolia, stretching from the Kızılırmak in the west to the Tyana in the south. It was amalgamated into the third satrapy during the reign of Darius I (522-486 B.C.), which as one of the Anatolian vassal regions paid tribute amounting to 360 talents of silver, 1500 horses, 2000 donkeys and 50000 sheep to the Persians, according to Strabo.

Documents dating from the era of the Persian kingdom are interesting in that they illustrate the relationship between Persia and Cappadocia during that period. In the inscriptions of Darius I, Cappadocia is mentioned as one of the 23 countries under Persian rule, of which is said: these, my countries… pay me tribute… and obey my commands, whether it be day or night, whatever they may be … I have been generous to those who have been careful, and I have punished those who have been my enemies. I have imposed my rule of law on those countries.

Xerxes (486-465 B.C.) who succeeded Darius, also mentions Cappadocia as being among the countries which paid Persia tribute. In the Persepolis inscriptions of this king is written: I became king of the lands beyond the borders of Persia; these are the countries which I ruled, which I brought me tribute, which obeyed my laws, and edicts.., mentioning Cappadocia among the vassal states. A relief on the fire temple of Persepolis dating from the reign of Xerxes also shows Cappadocia offering mules as tribute.

It is widely accepted that Cappadocia was a Persian vassal during that period. The people of the region were gradually integrated-orientalised-into Persian customs and way of life, a feature which persisted even in post-Christian Cappadocia. The Cappadocians were quick to absorb Persian culture with which they eventually identified, adopting the Persian pantheon and religious cults, as well as the calendar, which remained in use in the region until the fourth century A.D. Even costume, as we see from the Persepolis relief showing tribute-bearing Cappadocians, are strong evidence of Persian cultural influence.

Cappadocia was divided into two while under Persian rule, in about 360 B.C.;the northern part, including Sinop, Turhal and the region, becoming a separate satrapy, and Cappadocia Major in the south remaining independent, with the city of Mazaka as capital.