Asia Minor

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published on 02 September 2009
The Regions of Ancient Anatolia (Emok)

Asia Minor is a geographic region in the south-western part of Asia comprising most of what is present-day Turkey. The earliest reference to the region comes from tablets of the Akkadian Dynasty (2334-2083 BCE) where it is known as “The Land of the Hatti” and was inhabited by the Hittites. The Hittites themselves referred to the land as "Assuwa" (or, earlier, Aswiya) which actually only designated the area around the delta of the river Cayster in Lydia but came to be applied to the entire region. Assuwa is considered the Bronze Age origin for the name `Asia' as the Romans later designated the area.  It was called, by the Greeks, “Anatolia” (literally, 'place of the rising sun’, for those lands to the east of Greece). The name 'Asia Minor’ (from the Greek `Mikra Asia' - Little Asia)  was first coined by the Christian historian Orosius (c. 375-418 CE) in his work Seven Books of History Against the Pagans in 400 CE to differentiate the main of Asia from that region which had been evangelized by the Apostle Paul (which included sites known from Paul’s Epistles in the Bible such as Ephesus and Galicia). The Byzantine Empire of the 9th century CE referred to the region as "East Thema" which meant, simply, Eastern Administrative Division, and later sailors called it "The Levant" which meant `the rising' or `to rise' referring to how the land rose up out on the horizon of the sea.

In the ancient world, Asia Minor was the seat of the kingdoms and cities of Thrace, Bythinia, Paphlagonia, Aeloia, Phrygia, Galicia, Pontus, Armenia, Urartu, Assyria, Cilicia, Pamphylia, Lycia, Pisidia, Lycanoia, Caria, Mysia, Ionia, Lydia and, most famously, Troy.   

The accomplishments of the people of Asia Minor are vast and comprise a catalogue of some of the most famous people, places, and events in ancient history.

The accomplishments and advancements of the people of Asia Minor are vast and comprise a catalogue of some of the most famous people, places, and events in ancient history. According to the historian Philo of Byzantium (writing in 225 BCE) and later writers, Asia Minor was the site of two of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World: The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus (in the region of Ionia) and the Tomb of Mauslos at Halicarnassus (also known as The Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, in Caria). In the city of Miletus, in Ionia,  the first western philosopher Thales, and his followers Anaximander and Anaximenes, sought the First Cause of existence, the matter which gave birth to all things, and initiated scientific inquiry and method. Herodotus, the `Father of History' was born at Halicarnassus. The great philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras was born on the island of Samos and Heraclitus, another important philosopher, at Ephesus, where he lived and wrote. Cilicia included the city of Tarsus where the Apostle Paul was born, a region known for its expertise in tent making, which was Paul’s vocation.

Lydia was the kingdom of the great King Croesus who defied the Persian Empire under Cyrus and claimed to be the happiest man in the world until his defeat and capture by the Persians. Lydia was also the site where, in Greek mythology, the Titan called Asia lived and, earlier, where the great mother goddess Potnia Aswiya (Mistress of Assuwa) was worshipped (who became Artemis and whose great temple was dedicated in the capital of Lydia, at Ephesus). Phrygia was the mythological birthplace of Rhea, the Greek Mother of the Gods and the City of Troy was made famous in Homer’s 8th century BCE works the Illiad and the Odyssey. The region of Asia Minor is regarded as the birthplace of coinage and the first to use coined money in trade; which of the kingdoms were the first to do this, however, is much disputed.

Model of the Temple of Artemis

Between 1250 and 1200 BCE the Sea People's invaded from the south, making incursions into Greece, harassing Egypt, and finally driving the Hittites from the region of Assuwa. The Sea Peoples did not remain to colonize the area, however (at least not to any important degree) and eventually moved on to settle, in part, to the south in Canaan. Greek colonists, mainly from Athens and surrounding Attica, settled the coastline of Asia Minor from the Mediterranean up to the Black Sea. It was these Ionian colonies which, supported and funded by Athens and Eretria, rose in revolt when the area came under Persian control, provoking the wrath of the Persian king Darius I and the first invasion of Greece in 490 BCE which was repelled at the Battle of Marathon.

Alexander the Great defeated the Persians in 334-333 BCE and conquered Asia Minor. In Gordium, capital of Phrygia, he is claimed to have famously cut the Gordian Knot which the oracles claimed meant Alexander would be king of Asia. Following his death the land was governed by his general Antigonus in the north and west and his other general Seleucus to the south and east and was prominently involved in the Wars of the Diadochi (the wars of Alexander's successors). The region remained unstable throughout the rule of the Hellenistic governors until the coming of Rome in 133 BCE (King Attalus III of Pergamon left his city to Rome in his will and thus invited the Roman presence into the region). After 133, Rome steadily conquered or annexed the cities of Asia Minor until it was wholly a Roman province.

Under Roman rule, the land became stabilized; roads were built and the infrastructures of many of the cities improved. The coastal communities flourished and Ephesus, especially, enjoyed great prosperity until the rise of Christianity when `earthly' advances in the region were neglected in anticipation of the Second Coming of Christ. The Byzantine Empire controlled the region after the fall of Rome in 476 CE and, after the rise of Islam, the later Byzantine Christians fought the Islamic Fatimids for the land until the coming of the Seljuq Turks in 1068 CE. Turkish control increased in the region until 1299 CE when Asia Minor became part of the Ottoman Empire and, after its collapse, became Turkey.

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Visual Timeline
  • 6200 BCE
    First copper smelting in Anatolia.
  • c. 1700 BCE
    The Hittites invade the region of the Hatti and begin a systematic campaign against them. The great city of Hattusa is sacked and destroyed.
  • c. 1380 BCE
    First instances of iron working in the Hittite Empire.
  • 1350 BCE - 1250 BCE
    The Hittite empire is at its peak.
  • 1334 BCE
    Trojan War, according to Duris of Samos.
  • 1285 BCE
    Peak of Hittite power.
  • c. 1250 BCE
    Trojan War, according to Herodotus.
  • 1200 BCE
    Phrygians invade Anatolia and destroy the Hittite empire.
  • 1200 BCE
    Lydia arises as a Neo-Hittite kingdom.
  • 1184 BCE
    Trojan War, according to Eratosthenes.
  • c. 800 BCE - c. 700 BCE
    Homer of Greece writes his Iliad and Odyssey.
  • 687 BCE - 546 BCE
    Mermnad dynasty rules Lydia.
  • 609 BCE - 560 BCE
    Reign of Alyattes of Lydia. Minting of first coins made from electrum.
  • 560 BCE - 547 BCE
    Reign of Croesus of Lydia.
  • 547 BCE
    Anatolia conquered by the Persians. Ephesos remains neutral.
  • 547 BCE - 546 BCE
  • 499 BCE - 494 BCE
    Ionian cities rebel against Persian rule.
  • c. 498 BCE
    Ionians and Greek allies invade and burn Sardis (capital of Lydia).
  • 448 BCE
    Ionian cities become independent from Persia.
  • c. 415 BCE
    The Histories of Herodotus is published. The work is divided into nine chapters, each dedicated to one of the Muses.
  • 279 BCE
    Celts invade Thrace and Anatolia.
  • 262 BCE
    Eumenes rebels and wins against the Seleucid Antiochos I. Beginning of the Pergamon Empire.
  • 218 BCE
    The Aegosages Celts enter Anatolia under Attalos of Pergamon.
  • c. 189 BCE
    The treaty of Apameea Kibotos. Peace and alliance is established between the Seleucid Kingdom and Rome joined by her allies, such as Pergamon and Rhodes. The Seleucids have to evacuate all the land and the cities from Asia Minor and to pay a huge war indemnity.
  • 188 BCE
    Maximum extent of the Pergamon Empire after Apamea peace.
  • 133 BCE
    Attalus III, the last king of Pergamon, bequeathes the whole of Pergamon to Rome.
  • 25 BCE
    Galatia is peacefully absorbed into the Roman Empire.
  • 42 CE - 62 CE
    St. Paul goes on missionary journeys across Asia Minor, Greece, and Rome.
  • 67 CE
    Side becomes part of the Roman Empire.
  • 190 CE
    Side freed from Seleucid control.
  • 305 CE
    Ptolemy takes over Side.

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