Ideology and archaeology in Turkey

ÖZDOĞAN, M. 1998. Ideology and archaeology in Turkey, in L. Meskell (ed.). Archaeology under fire. Nationalism, politics and heritage in the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East: 111-24. London: Routledge.

Mehmet Özdogan

Setting the stage

Archaeology, and the active interest in constructions of the the past, is an innovation that was initiated, and subsequently evolved, in Europe. One could define archaeology as a perspicacious perception of the past that developed as one of the key elements of modern “Western”1 culture. As a concept, archaeology is closely linked with Western ideology and it is no coincidence that—in spite of the extensive field work taking place all over the world—ideas on how archaeological data should be evaluated are still being undertaken primarily in the West. At present, almost every state in the world, regardless of its economic status, cultural or historical background, is involved at some level in documenting, or at least in considering, the past. However, the type of archaeology that is being implemented differs considerably according to the ideological and/or political setting of each country (Arnold 1996; Banks 1996; Fleury-Ilett 1993; Mouliou 1996). One could say that while some nations are theorising archaeology, most nations are rather unconsciously practicing archaeology.

Archaeology began in Turkey as an imported concept. As such, it remained as an élite pursuit until it was integrated with the ideological framework of the Republic. At present, Turkey is one of the few countries where a local tradition in archaeology has developed. It also occupies a unique position being located between the West and the East. Turkey’s position is not just a matter of geographical location—in the last two centuries it has vacillated between Western and marginal Western models. Throughout history, and at present, its position has had a decisive impact on the formation of Anatolian cultures. The impact of this intermediary position between the East and the West can also be traced in the ideological formation of archaeology in Turkey.

The events that led to the emergence of modern Turkey are poorly known in the West, and without this knowledge, neither the motives that stimulated the development of archaeology in Turkey, nor the status of its current problems, can be comprehended. Throughout this chapter occasional remarks are made to illustrate the historical background of these events.

The beginnings of Turkish archaeology go back to the early years of the nineteenth century, to the time when the traditional Ottoman state was experiencing what can be termed as a ‘process of Westernisation’. Accordingly, archaeology in Turkey developed simultaneously through the events that led to the emergence of the modern Republic of Turkey.

Turkey is an Islamic country that for over half a millennia, as the only leading power of the Islamic world, had to confront European powers. Yet there are considerable discrepancies between Turkey and the other Middle Eastern and Islamic countries: these differences are not only restricted to distinct linguistic and ethnic origins, but Turks in general have never been orthodox in their religious beliefs.2 In spite of sharing the same religion, Turks (having their origins in remote Asia) and Arabs (having totally different origins and social habits), never developed a genuine liking for each other. Both in the Seljuk and in the Ottoman Empires, while people of Turkic origin were a minority, members of the Eastern Christian churches were at least as populous as their Islamic counterparts. Thus, when compared with the contemporary states in Europe, all Turkish states were highly pluralistic, being composed of diverse ethnic, racial, linguistic and religious groups. This seems to have characterised Anatolia from prehistoric times to the present. With some justification it can be stated that the Turkish population of the Ottoman Empire accorded better with their local Orthodox subjects than with other Islamic populations. Consequently, the Ottomans had inherited both the traditional hatred and mistrust of its Orthodox subjects to the Catholic World and also the physical boundary between the East and the West.3 This border endured, both physically and conceptually, for centuries.

The process of Westernisation in Turkey was not a linear development. As can be expected it was, and still is, full of controversies. First, it was a ‘state oriented’ process, mainly imposed by the newly emerging élite and even, in some cases, by the personal initiatives of the Sultans, implemented at the expense of confronting most of its subjects. Turkey’s struggles to change its system to a European one coincided in Europe with the peak of “anti-Turkish” trends, motivated under the impact of highly romanticized Hellenism. While Turkey was trying to integrate within the European cultural system, Europe was, and still is, reluctant to accept it, occasionally resulting in double-standards.

The emergence and the development of archaeology in Turkey took place under constraints that are deeply rooted in history. Confrontation between the traditional Islamic framework and the Western model, the endeavor to survive as a non-Arabic nation in the Middle East while the Empire was disintegrating, the hostile and occasionally humiliating attitude of Europeans, and growin nationalism have all been consequential in this development. The extremely rich archaeological potential of the country served to stimulate a developing interest in archaeology. However, compared to other Middle Eastern states where similar potential exists, Turkey can claim to have developed a long tradition in archaeology. Turkey not only became the first Islamic country to develop a critical view on cultural heritage, but it is the only one where a continuum has been established between local politics and science. This is clearly demonstrated by the fact that Turkey offers a rare case where scientific research—both by foreigners and Turks —could endure, without any obstructions, for over a century.4 I consider that the pace that archaeology took in Turkey is much more related to the ideology of the modern Republic than to the existing archaeological potential of the country.

The modern Republic of Turkey, founded in 1923, is the direct descendant of the Ottoman empire which, up to 1829 (the year when Peloponnese seceded from the Empire), extended over the Near East, Northern Africa, Caucasus, Cyprus and to most of the Balkan peninsula, including Greece and the Aegean islands. Almost all the regions that were considered the cradle of civilisation, thus appealing to the archaeologists, were dominated by the Ottoman Empire. During the incipient years of archaeology, at the time when the first European archaeologists took to the field, Turkey—or the Ottoman Empire—was the only non-Western European country to face the first wave of explorers and archaeologists. This inevitably had an impact on the Ottomans. The intelligentsia became engaged in archaeology, directly or indirectly, and came to consider it at a relatively early date. Like other modern institutions, archaeology began in Turkey as an imitation of that in the West. No efforts were spent either thinking about archaeological practices or adapting archaeology to local needs. It was oriented simply to the Near Eastern, Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine cultures. The remains of the Seljuk or of the Ottoman periods were not considered as antiquities
for a long period of time.

The traditional Ottoman perception of the past

The traditional Ottoman perception of the past, as in most other non-Western cultures, was less dependent on ‘factual’ evidence or, rather, the ‘facts’ did not necessarily have to be as concrete as they are in the Western way of thinking. The philosophical base of the Ottoman Empire, the forerunner of modern Turkey, can be considered as an amalgamation of Oriental and Islamic cultures, having its roots both in Central Asia and in the Near East. The conception of the ‘past’ was thus more putative than empirical. It was, in a way, an abstraction without a temporal dimension. Thus, “Antiquarianism…failed to develop in the Near East, where Islamic peoples lived in the midst of impressive monuments of antiquity” (Trigger 1989:44). There is an interesting contradiction in the Ottoman system. More than any other nation, the Ottomans collected and meticulously kept documents and books—even those left over from the Byzantine Period were saved. Extremely accurate records were kept from all over the Empire, yielding minute details about historical events and daily activities. Written documents, regardless of their subject matter, were saved and archived. However, these documents were never used to write a “factual” history. History was more a tradition beyond the use of written texts or documents. It is not a coincidence, then, that the history of the Ottomans was inevitably written by Europeans.

A past based on “facts”, or the perception that ancient remains constituted evidence from which to write a history, was a concept imported into the Ottoman Empire. Most of the “ancient buildings” were saved and esteemed, not because they were considered as indicators of the past, but because they were associated with an atavistic patrimony. For this reason, the traditional Ottomans considered inconceivable the interest shown to ancient ruins by the first generation of European archaeologists.
The first generation of European archaeologists and the Ottoman Empire

As mentioned above, the Ottoman Empire was the first and, for a considerable time, the only non-European state to meet the initial wave of European explorers and archaeologists. The latter were at first ignored, but in general their actions were taken to be the bizarre deeds of the Westerners. However, in time, the looting of sites and removal of antiquities by the Western explorers infuriated the newly emerging intelligentsia of the Empire.

As a part of the process of modernization in the beginning of the nineteenth century, a number of Western style institutions had already been established in the Ottoman Empire. Within that context, in 1846 a collection of antiquities was established in Istanbul (see Arik 1953). In 1868, this collection was to be inaugurated as the Ottoman Imperial Museum. As the Empire was still controlling the Near East and most of the Balkans, its collections grew rapidly and, in 1891, it moved to a new building, now the Istanbul Archaeology Museum. By the first decade of the twentieth century there were already a number of museums in the provinces, including Bursa, Selanik (present Thessaloniki), Konya and Sivas. As archaeology came to the Ottoman Empire as an imported concept through the impact of Classical archaeologists, most of the collections in the Ottoman Museums initially consisted of Hellenistic, Roman or Byzantine antiquities. In time, Near Eastern and Egyptian collections were added and since then all antiquities, regardless of their cultural origins, have been collected. The same trend can also be envisaged in selecting sites to be excavated. During the last decades of the nineteenth century, almost all the Turkish excavations were at sites of Greco-Roman period, such as Sidon, Nemrut Dag, Alabanda, Sipar, Tralles etc. (Arik 1950:4).

The most significant contribution made by the Ottomans to archaeology was prohibiting the export of antiquities which at that time might be considered as revolutionary. In 1884, Osman Hamdi Bey, the curator of the Imperial Museum and most eminent figure in the history of Turkish archaeology, formulated a new law for the protection of antiquities (see also Potts, Chapter 10). This law was so well formulated that it was maintained until 1972. Two important concepts were introduced by it: one considering all antiquities as the property of the state, and the other forbidding the export of all antiquities. The latter was strongly opposed and, to a degree, disregarded by Westerners until the establishment of the Turkish Republic. The major difficulty in the implementation of this law was the attitude of the Western archeologists and diplomatic services, not only because they wanted to enrich the museums of their own countries, but because they considered the Turks ineligible to possess such collections. There are numerous cases demonstrating this attitude, but H.Schliemann’s smuggling of the finds from Troy is the most explicit case (see Esin 1993). Schliemann countered the claims of the Ottoman government by stating that “instead of yielding the finds to the government…by keeping all to myself, I saved them for the science. All the civilized world will appreciate what I have done” (ibid.: 185). This view is also expressed by Runnels (1997:127): “He [Schliemann] shared the widely held dislike of the Ottomans that characterized Europeans in his day…his high-handed behavior …was excusable, even laudable.” In Europe, no one seriously considered justifying their practices eidier in scientific or in intellectual circles.

At the turn of the twentieth century, the Ottoman Empire experienced considerable political and economical difficulties which led to a total collapse. Considering the situation, the ability to maintain museums without losing their collections was a significant achievement of the first generation of Turkish archaeologists. During the last episode of the Ottoman Empire, attempts were made by certain foreign diplomatic missions to receive, as a present, some of the outstanding pieces on display. Such attempts were, with certain tact and persistence, prevented. More significant were the events during the years of occupation following the collapse of the Empire. After World War I, when most of Turkey—and in particular Istanbul—was occupied by the British and French troops, the director of the Imperial Museum, Ethem Bey, was able to save the museums. After Turkey’s War of Independence, the persistent claims of the government enabled archaeological material, excavated and removed during the occupation, to be partially repatriated. The most significant example of this is material from the Protesilaos-Karaagaçtepe excavations.

It should be emphasised here that the illicit export of antiquities from the Empire, as well as accusations of spying by some archaeologists such as T.E. Lawrence, inevitably resulted in foreign archaeologists being cast as disreputable characters. With the growing impact of nationalism, this image, at least among the general public, has been sustained up to the present.

Nationalism and archaeology in Turkey

Nationalism, both as a concept and as an ideology, developed in Western Europe and began impacting upon the Ottoman Empire by the first half of the nineteenth century. However, the Turkish population of the Empire were the last to contemplate this idea. For a considerable time, as late as the 1890s, even intellectuals educated in the West considered nationalism a very strange idea. The concept that Turkish speakers constituted a single nation is another idea that was imported from the West. Despite being customary for Europeans and other Middle Eastern peoples to identify Ottomans with Turks, throughout most of its existence the Ottomans not only rejected Turkish identity, but even considered it humiliating (see Güvenç 1996:21–33).5 Following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and during the formation of the new Turkish state, one of the main concerns of Atatürk, the founder of the new republic, was to propagate Turkish identity. Given Turkey’s situation in 1923 this seemed like an impossible achievement since for centuries being a Turk (and not an Ottoman) was considered degrading. Moreover, during the War of Independence there was no one, except a handful of intelligentsia educated in the West, who called themselves Turkish.

In creating a nation out of the ruins of the Ottoman Empire, it was essential to formulate an ideology that would assure national pride, give moral direction and identity. Most of the elite of the time were utterly desperate and had lost confidence as a result of the events that led to the collapse of the Ottoman system. They took a more retrospective view by looking back to the glorious days of history and to their Turkic origins in Central Asia. Thus, they promoted the Pan-Turkist ideology.

Atatürk was one of the few, if not the only person, who rejected Pan-Turkism and still had confidence in Anatolia. He developed an antithesis to the prevailing Pan-Turkist ideology and insisted upon Anatolia being the homeland. To substantiate this totally new concept, an ethnohistorical theory was formulated, relating Sumerians and Hittites to the Turks, and integrated into the ideological framework of the new state. This approach considered Anatolia and the present population as an ethnic amalgamation of thousands of years. Pan-Turkists, who later became the ideologists of the racist movements of the present times, were rather pleased with the idea of affiliating Sumerians and Hittites to Turkish origins, but they never accepted a pre-Turkish history of Anatolia as a part of their heritage. In some respects, conflict between “Anatolianism” and Pan-Turkism continues to the present day—although there was some consensus, at least in history books, by stressing both the Anatolian heritage and over-stressing Central Asian origins. The latter, particularly in books written in the 1930s under the impact of prevailing nationalistic trends of its time, posited a Turkish exodus from Asian steps. Atatürk’s view, summoning all the pasts of Anatolia—regardless of ethnic origin—as national, was incorporated into the ideology of the modern state.

The motive behind this ideology has survived, with some modifications up to the present. Remnants of all cultures that lived in Anatolia have been regarded impartially, either in issuing research permits or in the funding of archaeological expeditions; sites of Hellenistic, Byzantine or Turkish period were treated equally. For example, of the major excavations conducted in Turkey in 1995, twentyfour were on prehistoric and proto-historic period sites, thirty on Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine, and only nine on Islamic period sites. Even during the last decade, the newly founded nationalist and fundamentalist political parties have not yet hampered, but have begun criticising the state for treating pre- Turkish or pre-Islamic remains no differently from those of the later periods. One of their arguments is based on the fact that in the Balkan countries Ottoman cultural heritage had been systematically destroyed and that asking for a permit to excavate sites of Ottoman period in most of these countries (Greece, for example) would be unthinkable.

Turkish views on foreign archaeological expeditions

Another political aspect of archaeology in Turkey has been the relationship between the “foreign” and local archaeologists. Turkish archaeologists, since the last quarter of the nineteenth century, have been active, not only in the field, but also in setting a legislative basis regulating archaeological activities. Particularly since the 1930s the number of archaeologists, museums and institutions has consistently increased. In spite of the presence of a local archaeological tradition Turkey is one of the few Middle Eastern or Balkan countries to maintain good relations between the local and foreign teams. With the exception of the 1920s, during the formation years of the Republic, there have always been foreign teams working in Turkey. Occasionally there have been short episodes of turmoil, but these stem primarily from problems such as spying and smuggling and not from ideological reasons.

The first generation of Turkish archaeologists

From the beginning, archaeology in Turkey had developed as an élite involvement. Almost all first generation Turkish archaeologists were educated in the “Western style” and belonged to aristocratic families (see Esin, forthcoming). Notable among them are Osman Hamdi Bey, Makridi Bey, Halil Ethem Bey, followed by Aziz Ogan and Arif Müfit Mansel, all eminent scholars with strong personalities. The principles set by them have continued to be the traditional standpoint of Turkish archaeology, regarding all past cultures as equally important. At the same time they have defended the legal rights of the country by the protection of antiquities, rejecting all sorts of trade and exportation of antiquities. They have also established as a tradition the maintenance of good relations with foreign archaeological schools working in Turkey. Yet, two other serious implications of this tradition need to be mentioned. Due to their élitist background, these early scholars neither considered propagating archaeology to a more general public media, nor stimulating a consciousness for past heritage. Perhaps one positive consequence of this ‘élitism’ was to save archaeology from the political turmoils that the country experienced in the course of Westernisation.

Being extremely selective in issuing excavation permits by asking high scholarly standards is a tradition that was instigated by the first generation of Turkish archaeologists and later became the unwritten official policy. Unlike most Middle Eastern countries, where young and unexperienced archaeologists can easily get archaeological permits, the Turkish authorities have been selective, not only to foreigners, but even more to the Turkish archaeologists. While bringing higher excavation standards to Anatolia, it inevitably limited the number of excavated sites and, subsequently, our knowledge. Throughout the 1960s, when the number of excavated sites per year were counted in hundreds thoughout the Middle East and in the Balkans, the number remained below twenty in Turkey.

In the 1930s, Atatürk took a personal initiative to engage with archaeology. A group of students were sent to Europe, mainly to France, Germany and Hungary, to study archaeology, the Turkish Historical Society was founded, and Turkish excavations resumed in full. In the years preceding World War II, Atatürk invited German professors, fleeing from the Nazi regime, to Turkey. Most chairs in archaeology in the newly founded or reformed universities of the young Turkish Republic were allocated to migrant German professors. In 1939, this new influx of academics, coupled with the return of students educated abroad, led to a significantly high standard of teaching in archaeology. These students became the second generation of archeologists in Turkey. Even though archaeological excavations, such as Alaca Höyük, were promptly reflected in history books, the actual popularization of archaeology did not take place until the late 1960s.

The second generation and women in archaeology

The first of this second generation of Turkish archaeologists were educated in Europe. However, soon after World War II the new group of students in Turkish Universities took to the field. It was no longer a profession for the élite or aristocrats but their impact still persisted. An interesting aspect of this generation was the sudden increase in the number of active female archaeologists, a trend that still continues today. At present, Turkish archaeology is dominated by female archaeologists, and most archaeology departments are chaired by women. They also constitute a clear majority in museum-based archaeology. In this respect, at least in the Middle East, Turkey is a unique case.

Double standards in protection and cultural cleansing of Turkish heritage

On several occasions Turkey has been accused of the “selective destruction” of antiquities. As in all countries currently undergoing the process of industrialization, considerable destruction is unfortunately being inflicted upon sites and monuments. Turkey’s cultural inventory has not been completed yet and, in spite of existing legislations, massive destruction of sites is taking place due simply to inefficient implementation of the law. Nonetheless, I would argue that the destruction is neither culturally nor religiously selective. It is either due to the growing pressure caused by expanding urban, industrial and tourist centers, industrialized agriculture etc., or is the result of illicit digging by treasure hunters. Intensive construction activities currently taking place in Turkey have clearly resulted in the destruction of sub-surface Byzantine deposits, but the same activities have devastated even more of the Ottoman remains. With justification we can claim that during the last decades more Ottoman archaeology has been destroyed than any of the earlier periods since public opinion still posits that Byzantine and Greco-Roman remains are  antique whilst Ottoman ones are not. Even during conservative governments the only case that has been made public is that of St Sophia. This reputed Byzantine monument, after being used as a mosque for over 400 years, was converted to a museum by Atatürk. During the last twenty years conservative parties have occasionally demanded that it should again be used as a mosque as it symbolizes the conquest of the town. However, these demands have been met with such public rejection that the issue has now faded from current discussions. It should be taken into consideration that the Ottoman Empire ruled in the Balkans and the Near East for over 600 years and, to the Ottomans, the heartland of the empire was in fact the Balkans, not Anatolia. As such, most of the monuments were erected there. As late as 1908, all Macedonia, Western Thrace and parts of Bulgaria were still part of the Ottoman Empire. Now, almost nothing of Ottoman heritage survives in most of the Balkan countries. What survived through this “cultural cleansing” are sample areas of civilian architecture preserved, not as markers of cultural heritage, but for the purposes of tourism. Some mosques have been saved, either by being converted into museums or churches, but other monuments, particularly the Turkish cemeteries, have been wiped out.

On the other hand, even a brief survey of the old territories of the Ottoman Empire shows that the area is still full of pre-Turkish remains. After 500 years of Ottoman rule, Greece is still full of ancient Greek and Byzantine monuments. There are numerous old churches and monasteries throughout the Balkans that were maintained and repaired during Ottoman rule. Turkey, particularly Istanbul, still has numerous Byzantine, Roman and Hellenistic monuments, and most museums have special departments covering these periods. Most of the universities with programs in archaeology or art history have Classical archaeology and Byzantine art departments. As previously stated, most of the current excavations and restoration programs are devoted to pre-Turkish periods. Research and excavation permits are not rejected for taking Byzantine sites or monuments as their subjects. In the Balkans, however, the situation is different. Besides the systematic destruction of Ottoman archaeological remains, the Ottoman period has been omitted as a field of research. Considering the claims of southern Cypriots (see Vermeule 1975), one is
prompted to ask what remains of the 300 years of Ottoman heritage in Southern

There are often claims in Europe that Kurdish and Armenian cultural heritages in Turkey are being overlooked.6 Excavation and research permits there are issued by the Antiquity Service and I suggest that it is misguided to consider that applications are processed according to potential ethnic import of a site. All over Eastern and Southeastern Turkey there are, and have been for a long period of time, numerous excavations covering the entire time span from the Neolithic to Medieval periods. Numerous Armenian sites, including Ani and Ahtamar, have been excavated and a number of Armenian churches have been restored. For the most part, archaeology has not been linked to contemporary polemics surrounding ethnicity. Yet what is intended by Kurdish heritage, or Kurdish archaeology, is not clear. Kurds have lived in that region for some millennia under different tribal names,7 without establishing any state. The area now populated by Kurdish peoples has been part of numerous kingdoms and empires, including the Assyrian, Mittani, Urartian, Persian, Achaemenid, Roman, Byzantine, Armenian, Arab, Seljuk, Artuquid, Eyyubid, Mongolian, Ottoman and even the Crusader kingdoms. Which one of these should be considered Kurdish, Turkish or Arabic? Would such an approach not lead to a biased imposition of present conflicts onto the past? Is it our concern as archaeologists to use the past as a tool either to prove or disprove racial origins and claims which agitate present conflicts? Or should we engender the notion that the past is past and, whatever its character, it belongs to all of us?

Treasure hunting and the antiquities market

A final area where archaeology matters concerns the illicit looting of ancient sites to supply the demands of the art market. Cultural heritage in Turkey, like all “archaeologically rich” countries, suffers considerably from the exploits of treasure hunters. This phenomenon is provoked by the antiquity markets of the Western World and is not the result of any ideological reasoning. Turkey’s government, like that of Northern Cyprus, has been desperately struggling to stop illicit digging but it seems that, as long as there is a market in the West, the destruction will continue. Given these attempts, the West should not accuse these authorities of being unconcerned with illicit digging. To stop the illicit export of antiquities, buying them in Turkey (for Turkey) by paying sums comparable to the Western collectors has been suggested as an solution. For some years Turkish Museums bought from illicit diggers and, at the same time, private museums and collections were encouraged. This, of course, only encouraged further destruction of the sites. Museums attained
important objects at the expense of losing scientific knowledge of their contexts. The most significant destruction took place in the East and, in a few years, thousands of Urartian cemeteries were looted.


In spite of its significant place in the development of local archaeological traditions Turkish archaeology, as a case study, has been largely omitted or ignored by Western scholars working on the history of archaeology. Considering the large number of my colleagues that are fluent in our language it seems  evident that this negligence is more the result of political biases than of the inability to access documents written in Turkish. Here we can conclude with the quote that ‘Third World nations resent those in the West who would deny them their past while claiming history as their own’ (McIntosh et al. 1989:74).


1 Throughout this paper, “Western Countries” or “Western” is used, not in a
geographical sense, but as a concept to indicate countries that are conceptually
integrated with West European culture.

2 Inevitably, this does not imply that there were never cases of religious
orthodoxy, but that they have all been short lived. It is no coincidence that
at present Turkey is the only secular state of the Islamic World.

3 Here it is interesting to note that in the Ottoman Empire most of the
bureaucrats were from the local Orthodox population. The traditional
concerns of the local Orthodox subjects against the West did have certain
consequences which hampered the process of Westernization (see Berkes

4 In some other Middle Eastern states, such as Jordan, Syria, Israel and during
the previous regime of Iran, it was much easier for foreign teams to get
research permits than in Turkey. However, in none of these countries has this
situation been uninterrupted and, often, political concerns have been more
influential in yielding permits to foreign teams. In yielding research permits,
Turkey has been more selective and thus more difficult—but I would argue
that the selection has been based on scientific concerns.

5 To the Ottomans, “Turk” signified nomadic Turkomans or simple villagers.
The terms “Turk” and “Turkey” were introduced to Europe by the Crusaders.
In the Ottoman Empire, Turk as the name of the nation was first suggested
in 1874, and with great concern. After the introduction of nationalism and
when, for the first time, it was suggested that the Turkish speakers constituted
a nation, the Ottoman intelligentsia, to humiliate, named them “Turkists”
(Berkes 1975:64).

6 Three years ago in preparing an Anatolian archaeological exhibition for
Belgium, the Belgian delegation asked specifically for Kurdish archaeology
to be represented in the collection.

7 It should be noted that the term “Kurdish” was a general name given by
other communities and not used by them. What is generalized as Kurdish
actually consists of a number of different languages and dialects. In Turkey
there are two main Kurdish languages, Zaza and Girmançi. Kurds, until a
few decades ago, identified themselves either with their tribal names or with
language groups.


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Greek Colonies in the East

The Black Sea littoral, initially called by the Greeks "inhospitable," was colonized intensively by them. Ancient written sources number these colonies between seventy-five and ninety. According to the ancient Greek geographer Strabo, Miletus, the most prosperous city of Ionia (ancient East Greece, the western part of modern-day Turkey), was known to many. Its fame was due mainly to the large number of its colonies, since the whole of Pontus Euxinus (the Black Sea), Propontis (Sea of Marmora), and many other places had been settled by Milesians.

The reasons for Ionian colonization have been argued for many decades as one aspect of the general debate about why the Greeks established so many colonies. Nowadays, most scholars agree that colonization was enforced migration. Ionian cities were situated in favorable geographical locations and possessed large tracts of fertile land. Miletus, called "the pearl of Ionia," was in the Archaic period the center of Greek culture. At the end of the eighth century, Ionians began advancing deeply into the hinterland: Miletus, for example, pushed its frontiers twenty to thirty miles up the river valley. This expansion led to conflict between Lydians and Ionians, with Lydian kings seeking to push the Ionians back toward the coast. The principal outcome was to diminish the amount of cultivable land available to the Ionians. This was the chief reason why from the mid-seventh century, Miletus, which had never undertaken colonization, became the last Greek city to do so.

The struggles between Lydia and Ionia came to an end at the beginning of the sixth century, when Miletus was obliged to accept a treaty reducing its territorial possessions. This, in turn, provoked an internal crisis in Miletus, whose resolution prompted large-scale migration and the establishment of new colonies on the Black Sea. New and hitherto unparalleled difficulties arose in the middle of the sixth century as the expanding Persian empire conquered Ionian cities. Ancient written sources state directly that the Ionians faced a stark choice: death and enslavement or flight. In these circumstances migration was the obvious course, leading to the foundation of more new colonies. This did not mark the end of forced migration: in 499 B.C. an Ionian uprising against Persian rule was crushed, and in 494 Miletus was sacked and burned. In consequence, a final wave of Ionian colonies was established on the Black Sea at the beginning of the fifth century.

Archaeology provides the principal evidence for Greek colonies on the Black Sea. There are a few written sources on the establishment of Pontic Greek cities, but they are contradictory, giving different dates of foundation and mixing myths with other explanations of the colonization process. The first colonies appeared in the last third of the seventh century, and by the end of it Berezan, Histria, Sinope, possibly Amisus and Trapezus, Apollonia Pontica, and the Taganrog settlement on the Sea of Azov had been founded. All were very small, situated on peninsulas. The next wave of colonization dates to the beginning of the sixth century and witnessed the establishment of Olbia, Panticapaeum, Nymphaeum, Theodosia, Myrmekion, Kepoi, Patraeus, Tomis, and others. Hermonassa, on the

Taman Peninsula (South Russia), was a joint foundation of Miletus and Mytilene in the second quarter of the sixth century.

From the middle of the sixth century, other Ionian Greek cities were in the business of establishing colonies: Teos founded Phanagoria (Taman Peninsula), and the (non-Ionian) Megarians and Boeotians founded Heraclea, on the southern shores of the Pontus c. 556 B.C. The latter colony developed as a major trading center for the whole Pontus and in turn established its own colonies: Chersonesus in the Crimea was founded in the last quarter of the fifth century (where a small Ionian settlement had existed from the end of the sixth century) and, later, Callatis on the western coast. The mid-sixth century also was the period when Miletus established three colonies on the eastern Black Sea (in the ancient country of Colchis)—Phasis, Gyenos, and Dioscurias. The final Ionian colonizers arrived at the end of the sixth/beginning of the fifth century B.C., establishing new colonies (Mesambria, Kerkinitis, and others) and settling in existing ones. In newly established colonies, Apollo was the major deity, as he was in Miletus.

For their first sixty to eighty years of existence, the colonies looked quite "un-Greek." There was virtually no stone architecture; instead there were pit houses. Nor was there regular town planning. The only colony with fortification walls was Histria. A complete change of appearance took place at the end of the sixth/first half of the fifth century. Pit houses gave way to typical Greek stone dwellings. It is possible to identify clearly standard features of Greek urbanization, such as the agora, temenos, acropolis, and craftsmen's quarter, among others. Temples were built in the Ionic and Doric orders. As the result of a change in the local political situation, cities began to construct stone fortification walls. The exception is the region of the eastern Black Sea, where, thanks to natural conditions (wetlands and marshes, for example), temples and fortification walls as well as dwellings were constructed of wood.

Every Greek city became a center of craft production. In Histria and Nymphaeum pottery kilns were found dating from the mid-sixth century B.C.; in Panticapaeum from the end of the century; and in Chersonesus, Gorgippia, Histria, Phanagoria, and Sinope from the fifth to the second centuries. They produced such things as terra-cotta figurines, lamps, loom weights, and tableware; in Heraclea, Sinope, and Chersonesus, amphorae were made as well. Through the migration of Sinopean potters, the Greek cities of Colchis began to produce their own amphorae from the second half of the fourth century B.C. From the fourth century, tiles and architectural terra-cotta were manufactured in Apollonia Pontica, Chersonesus, Olbia, Tyras, and the Bosporan cities (on the Kerch and Taman Peninsulas). The Bosporan cities and Histria produced simple painted pottery, which imitated the shapes of East Greek and Attic pottery.

Nearly every Greek city has left traces of metalworking. In Panticapaeum, for example, workshops were found in two areas. The workshops, which produced iron, bronze, and lead objects (including weapons), contained numerous moulds, iron ore, and slags in the remains of furnaces. In Phanagoria, pottery and metal workshops were situated at the edge of the city. One produced life-size bronze statues. Metalworking in the Pontic Greek cities was based mainly on the use of ingots specially produced for them, for example, in wooden-steppe Scythia for the northern Black Sea cities. The same situation most probably obtained in the other parts of the Black Sea.

Agriculture was the main economic activity. Greek cities established their agricultural territories, called chorai, almost immediately. Their size varied over time; initially they were small but grew larger with the appearance of new colonists and the expansion of the cities. In the fourth century B.C. the chorai of Olbia and Chersonesus and of the cities of the Bosporan Kingdom each covered an area of about 150,000 hectares and contained several hundred settlements. These rural settlements were sources of agricultural produce for the inhabitants of the cities. There were several settlements specializing entirely in craft production. The wonderfully preserved chora of Chersonesus in the Crimea is unique, as is Metapontum in Italy. Chersonesus was situated in the Heraclean Peninsula, approximately 11,000 hectares of which was divided c. 350 B.C. into four hundred lots, each with six subdivisions, to make 2,400 small allotments. They were used mainly for viticulture and growing fruit trees. About 4,000 hectares along the north coast were the basis of the earliest allotments. There was a second chora of Chersonesus in the northwestern Crimea, entirely for grain production.

Trade was one of the principal economic activities of Greek cities. The main sources for the study of trade relations are pottery and amphorae. In the seventh and early sixth centuries B.C. pottery from southern Ionia was common throughout the Pontic region; later it was displaced by pottery from northern Ionia. Goods transported in amphorae came from Chios, Lesbos, and Clazomenae. The small quantities of Corinthian and Naucratite goods probably were brought by Ionian merchants, who also were responsible, with Aeginetans, for the appearance of the first Archaic Athenian pottery in the region. In the Classical period Athenian pottery predominates, on evidence from excavation of the Pontic Greek cities. This pottery probably reflects direct links between them and Athens.

Trade between the Pontic Greek cities and the local peoples is an extremely important but complex question. All discussion is based on the finds of Greek pottery made in local settlements, some as far as 500–600 kilometers inland from the Black Sea. Overall, about 10 percent of known and excavated local sites, especially for the Classical period, yield examples, but usually they are few in number (as is the case, for example, in both the Thracian and Colchian hinterlands). At the same time, local elite tombs each provide several examples of Athenian painted pottery. Thus, a simple explanation of the very close trade relationship between Greeks and locals is no longer tenable.

There are other ways in which pottery could have reached local settlements, and the small quantity cannot support the argument that the more examples, the closer and more intense the links. Painted pottery from elite tombs cannot be viewed only from the perspective of trade relationships: it is not known how the locals interpreted the scenes depicted on the painted pottery, which could have been a gift from the Greeks and not traded. Furthermore, the tombs contained jewelry and metal vessels, on which the local elite was much keener, in far greater quantities than pottery.

Over time the composition of imports and exports changed. The best account is found in the Histories of the Greek historian Polybius (book 4):

As regards necessities, it is an undisputed fact that the most plentiful supplies and best qualities of cattle and slaves reach us from the countries lying around the Pontus, while among luxuries, the same countries furnish us with an abundance of honey, wax and preserved fish; from the surplus of our countries they take olive-oil and every kind of wine. As for grain, there is give and take—with them sometimes supplying us when we require it and sometimes importing it from us.

From the start, the history of the colonies is inseparable from that of the local population. Many ethnic groups lived around the Black Sea, among whom the most prominent were the Thracians, Getae, Scythians, Tauri, Maeotians, Colchians, Mariandyni, and Chalybes. From the earliest days of the colonies, locals formed part of their population. For the Archaic period not much is known about the relationship between Greeks and local peoples, although it was most probably peaceful until the end of the sixth century/beginning of the fifth century B.C. Thereafter, local kingdoms grew up, such as the Thracian (Odrysian), Colchian, and Scythian. Relations between these kingdoms and the Greek colonies were at times peaceful and at others hostile. In about 480 B.C. a phenomenon unique for the whole Greek world in the Classical period took place: the Greek cities situated on the Kerch and Taman Peninsulas united, to withstand Scythian pressure, in a single state, known as the Bosporan Kingdom (whose capital was Panticapaeum). The rulers of this state were tyrants. Its final consolidation was completed by the middle of the fourth century B.C. In character it was akin to the kingdoms that mushroomed in the Hellenistic period.


Gorman, Vanessa B. Miletos, the Ornament of Ionia: A History of the City to 400 B.C.E. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2001.

Greaves, Alan M. Miletos: A History. London: Routledge, 2002.

Tsetskhladze, Gocha R. "Greek Penetration of the Black Sea." In The Archaeology of Greek Colonisation: Essays Dedicated to Sir John Boardman. Edited by G. R. Tsetskhladze and F. De Angelis, pp. 111–136. Oxford: Oxbow Books, 1994.

——, ed. The Greek Colonisation of the Black Sea Area: Historical Interpretation of Archaeology. Historia Einzelschriften 121. Stuttgart, Germany: Steiner, 1998.

Tsetskhladze, Gocha R., and J. G. de Boer, eds. The Black Sea Region in the Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Periods. Talanta 32/33. Amsterdam: Dutch Archaeological and Historical Society, 2002.

Tsetskhladze, Gocha R., and A. M. Snodgrass, eds. Greek Settlements in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea. BAR International Series, no. 1062. Oxford: Archaeopress, 2002.


The Iron Age (defined broadly as an archaeological period from c. 1200 to 300 B.C.) in Caucasia witnessed a series of remarkable transformations in the social, cultural, and political traditions of the region that have left indelible marks upon the region's cultural landscape and contemporary geopolitics. During this era, small, hierarchical, centralized polities emerged as the dominant features of the region's social order. In some areas, particularly southern Caucasia, these archaic sociopolitical formations subsequently fused into large empires; in other regions, traditions of local control persisted even as contacts with an expanding ecumene—driven by both Greek colonialism and Achaemenid imperialism—brought new social forces and cultural influences into the region. This brief overview provides an orientation to the region's primary sociopolitical transformations. Because the beginning of the Iron Age closely followed traditions established in the Bronze Age, this account begins in the early second millennium B.C. and concludes with a brief historical discussion of post–Iron Age Caucasia from the conquests of Alexander the Great through the Roman defeat of both the Pontic kingdom (66 B.C.) and Tigran II's Armenian empire (65 B.C.).


The Caucasus range traverses more than 1,100 kilometers, from the Black Sea to the Caspian Sea along the northern end of the isthmus that separates the Eurasian steppes from Southwest Asia. Caucasia continues to be shaped by the tectonic action of the Arabian and Eurasian plates, a collision that has thrown up the Caucasus Mountains, folding the underlying bedrock and erecting high volcanic peaks. The volcanic activity that raised peaks, such as Mount Elbrus, Mount Ararat, and Mount Aragats, to name only a few, covered the region with a sea of lava, leaving behind vast deposits of basalt, tuff, and obsidian. Caucasia is an ecologically diverse region with provinces ranging from the subtropical Colchian depression in the west, to the well-watered high mountains in the south, to the arid steppes in the east. Climate is similarly variable, with average annual rainfall varying from about 2,500 millimeters on the Black Sea coast near the modern Georgian city of Batumi to less than 200 millimeters on the Apsheron Peninsula of eastern Azerbaijan. Throughout much of Caucasia, the period of heaviest precipitation is between March and mid-May, but whereas summers are dry, heavy snows can fall in the highlands during the winter.

Distinct geographic provinces within Caucasia are most readily defined in reference to elevation and the Kura and Araxes River drainages. Southern Caucasia is most readily defined as the highland middle Araxes River and its drainages: a region of rugged upland mountains and high plateaus. Average elevation is between 1,200 and 1,800 meters above sea level, dipping below 1,000 meters only in the fertile Ararat Plain. The highlands of northern Caucasia are defined by the upper and middle Kura River and its drainages. North Caucasia should not be confused with the North Caucasus region, which encompasses the northern slopes of the Great Caucasus. Western Caucasia (the Colchian depression, drained by the westward-flowing Rioni and Inguri Rivers) and eastern Caucasia (the steppes of Azerbaijan, crossed by the lower Araxes and Kura as they sprint to the Caspian) are both low-lying areas characterized by broad open terrain.


The end of the Early and beginning of the Middle Bronze Age, across most of Caucasia, was marked by the disappearance of the Kura-Araxes archaeological horizon (defined most readily by distinctive black burnished ceramic complexes) and the large-scale abandonment of settled village communities. Except for the late-third-millennium B.C. layers from the Bedeni sites in southern Georgia, there is little evidence for continuity in Early and Middle Bronze Age occupations, and indeed comparatively few Middle Bronze Age settlements have been documented in Caucasia. As a result, the vast majority of the archaeological record for the Middle Bronze Age comes from mortuary sites. The tombs and kurgans of Shengavit, Trialeti (old group, a distinctive group of burials within the Trialeti complex), and Martkopi indicate profound social, cultural, and political transformations were under way during the third quarter of the third millennium B.C.

This shift in settlement patterns across Caucasia during the Early to Middle Bronze transition is traditionally interpreted as evidence of the advent of increasingly nomadic social groups predicated upon pastoral subsistence production. The appearance of ox and horse sacrifices in numerous Middle Bronze I and II burials attests to the increased prominence of pastoral production and equestrian mobility within these communities. The shifting subsistence economy was also accompanied by fundamental transformations in the social milieu, changes that centered on emerging radical inequality between a martial elite and the remainder of the social body. The rich inventories of Middle Bronze Age kurgans signify a profound departure in social relations from those indicated by the burials of the Kura-Araxes phase. Even more dramatic expressions of this inequality are visible in the following Middle Bronze II period, when a great part of highland Caucasia was enveloped in the Trialeti-Vanadzor horizon, which was most prominently marked by large burial complexes of unprecedented wealth. The monumental construction and rich mortuary goods of tombs from Trialeti, Vanadzor, Karashamb, and Lori Berd as well as the iconography of elite privilege portrayed on the metal vessels from Karashamb (fig. 1) and Korukh Tash testify to profound changes in the social orders of Caucasia and provide the initial indications of emergent sociopolitical inequality in the region.

During the Middle Bronze III period, Caucasia appears to have fragmented into several distinct material culture horizons. If the earlier Trialeti-Vanadzor sites present a relatively homogeneous horizon style for the Middle Bronze II phase, transformations in burial construction and the forms and styles of painted and black ornamented pottery during the succeeding period indicate the differentiation of the region into at least three contemporary, overlapping ceramic horizons: Karmir-Berd, Sevan-Uzerlik, and Karmir-Vank. Karmir-Berd materials largely prevail in the highlands of central-southern and northern Caucasia. The Sevan-Uzerlik horizon tends to predominate in the western steppe of Azerbaijan, the Nagorno-Karabakh highlands, and the Sevan and Syunik regions of Armenia. The Karmir-Vank horizon is best known from the Nakhichevan region of Azerbaijan and the site of Haftavan Tepe in northwestern Iran. These general regional divisions cannot be taken as rigid geographic mosaics. Sevan basin sites have also yielded evidence of Karmir-Vank and Karmir-Berd painted pottery; Ararat Plain sites have included both Karmir-Berd and Sevan-Uzerlik materials; and Sevan sites contain both Karmir-Berd and Sevan-Uzerlik ceramics. In Georgia, the Trialeti-Vanadzor horizon persists into the Middle Bronze III phase at sites such as Treli, Tsavgli, Natakhtari, and Pevrebi; however, it is also possible to detect the influence of Sevan-Uzerlik complexes as well, represented by black pottery with dotted lines.

During the Middle Bronze III phase, the wealth of the burial inventories seen in the preceding phase begins to diminish such that, in the complexes represented by Karmir-Berd or Karmir-Berd/Sevan Uzerlik pottery, relatively few bronze artifacts have been recorded. Furthermore, in the complexes that signify the end of Middle Bronze Age, the distinctive painted pottery becomes increasingly rare, yielding to the incised gray and blackware ceramics that came to predominate under the Lchashen-Metsamor horizon of the Late Bronze Age.

The first clear evidence for sociopolitical complexity in southern Caucasia appears in the Late Bronze Age. The Late Bronze Age is marked most conspicuously by the reappearance of numerous permanent settlements in the form of variably sized stone-masonry fortresses built atop hills and outcrops. These fortified settlements are often associated with large cemeteries, such as Treligorebi located on the outskirts of modern Tbilisi, Georgia. The transition between the Middle and Late Bronze Age is also marked by the gradual introduction of new ceramic forms and decorative styles—most notably the disappearance of painted pottery and punctate designs in favor of suites of black, gray, and buff wares with incised decorations—as well as new approaches to metallurgical production.

Examinations of Late Bronze and Early Iron Age sites in Caucasia began in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, when archaeologists and architectural historians embarked on a series of nonsystematic surveys to document the settlement history of the region. To date only a handful of Late Bronze or Early Iron Age settlements, including Metsamor in the Ararat Plain and Tsakahovit on the northern slope of Mount Aragats, have hosted intensive archaeological investigations. Evidence of unfortified settlements remains scarce, even in regions, such as the Tsakahovit Plain, that have hosted intensive systematic archaeological surveys. Archaeological investigations have focused more resolutely on late-second- to early-first-millennia B.C. cemeteries. Large mortuary complexes at Lchashen (on the northwestern coast of Lake Sevan), Lori-Berd (in the Lori-Pambakh region of northern Armenia), and Artik and Horom (both on the lower western slope of Mount Aragats) have provided the most extensive orientation to the material culture of the era as well as the primary bases for periodization.

With the dawn of the Late Bronze Age, the social inequalities visible in the kurgans of the early second millennium appear to have been formalized into a tightly integrated sociopolitical apparatus where critical controls over resources—economic, social, sacred—were concentrated within the cyclopean stone masonry walls of powerful new centers. These political centers projected authority well into the hinterlands. Large-scale irrigation facilities first appear in the region in association with Late Bronze Age fortress complexes, suggesting significant centralized control over the agricultural productivity of the region. In addition, vast cemeteries appear coincident with the emergence of Late Bronze Age polities.

In the Tsakahovit region, an archaeological survey conducted in 1998 and 2000 recorded a very high density of Late Bronze Age cemeteries (4.6 per square kilometer) in the mountain highlands immediately surrounding a series of adjacent fortresses. Given the lack of nonfortified settlements in the region, it is quite likely that non-elite populations may have continued the highly mobile ways of life that arose in the Middle Bronze Age, even as elites settled within fortified complexes. It is possible that the explosion in tombs and cemeteries in the Late Bronze Age was part of an effort by emergent sociopolitical authorities to increase the commitments of their subjects to a specific place (through ties between ancestral and descendant families and groups) and thus make them a more stable foundation for the demands of the extractive political economy.

Many of the material culture forms and styles developed in the Late Bronze Age continued into and through the Early Iron Age. Pottery from Early Iron Age levels is typologically distinct from Late Bronze III wares but is quite clearly continuous with Late Bronze Age formal and decorative traditions. The same holds true for fortress architecture, which, while distinct in several morphological features, remains within the building traditions established in the Late Bronze Age. Thus the Early Iron Age is marked archaeologically by the emergence and expansion of iron implements but appears to have been socioculturally continuous with the preceding era. Examinations of materials recovered from mortuary contexts suggest that the Early Iron Age can be divided into two distinct phases: a transitional Early Iron I, dated conventionally to the late twelfth century and eleventh century B.C., and an Early Iron II phase during the tenth and ninth centuries B.C.

Archaeology in the Borderlands: Investigations in Caucasia and Beyond


The florescence of local polities during the Late Bronze and Early Iron Ages was brought to an end in southern Caucasia by Urartian imperial expansion in the early eighth century B.C., providing a rather emphatic terminus for the period visible in the destruction levels at several sites, including Metsamor. The state of Biainili, known to the Assyrians (and hence modern scholarship) as Urartu, appears to have emerged in eastern Anatolia from a group of local polities during the late second millennium and early first millennium B.C. Between the mid-ninth century and the late eighth century B.C., the Urartian kings embarked on a program of imperial expansion, conquering rivals from the headwaters of the Euphrates to the south shore of Lake Urmia. Although a Urartian presence had existed north of the Araxes since the reign of King Ishpuini in the late ninth century B.C., the Urartian occupation of southern Caucasia did not begin until the second decade of the eighth century B.C., when King Argishti I formalized his military conquests through an extensive program of fortress construction in the Ararat Plain.

Although direct Urartian rule in the region was focused in southern Caucasia, the expansion of the empire had profound implications for Caucasia as a whole. The military campaigns of Urartian kings ranged far more broadly than their ambition to govern, and the demands of tribute in the form of goods, livestock, and human captives that they made upon the vanquished must have had considerable implications for local economies of the region. Furthermore, the rise of Urartu profoundly altered trade patterns in the region, as the empire was strategically positioned to regulate north-south exchanges between Caucasia and northern Mesopotamia as well as east-west trade between central Anatolia and northern Persia.

Urartu's imperial era was brought to a close by a series of military defeats in the late eighth century B.C. Urartian military and diplomatic incursions into the southern Urmia basin provoked Sargon II to reassert an Assyrian presence in the region. His campaign climaxed in the defeat of the Urartian army led by King Rusa I. Assyrian intelligence reports indicate that Urartu was also attacked at this time by Cimmerians crossing the Caucasus and destabilized by an insurrection within the Urartian ruling elite that threatened the royal dynasty. Rusa I succeeded in deflecting the Cimmerians and quelling the rebellion, thus preserving the dynasty, but Urartu's era of expansion came to an end, its imperial designs checked by Assyria in the south and Cimmerians moving into Caucasia from the north.

The historical record for Urartu's reconstruction period during the seventh century B.C. is not as rich as that of the preceding imperial phase. But the archaeological record is substantial, indicating a reconsolidation of much of Urartu's territory, a resurgence of Urartian resolve to challenge Assyrian pretensions in the highlands, and a reinvigoration of the power of Urartian central authorities. The reign of Rusa II was the apogee of the reconstruction period. Thanks to foundation inscriptions, five major fortresses, accomplished on a massive scale, are directly attributable to him, including Teishebai URU (modern Karmir-Blur) on the Ararat Plain near Yerevan (fig. 2). Several additional fortresses in southern Caucasia that lack foundation inscriptions can also be dated to the reconstruction period based upon architectural parallels and ceramic assemblages. Dynastic succession following Rusa II is unclear, leaving some confusion over the last rulers of the empire and the dating of collapse. The fate of Urartu and its possessions in southern Caucasia during the late seventh century B.C. is not well understood. Boris Piotrovskii dated the final collapse of Urartu to 590 or 585 B.C. based largely upon a biblical reference, but this chronology is generally thought to be too long. An inscription of Ashurbanipal, dated to 643 B.C., records the submission of the Urartian king "Ishtar-duri" (Sarduri III or IV) to the Assyrians. Although this event does not provide an adequate date for Urartu's collapse, the empire was never again a significant force in the geopolitics of Southwest Asia.


Investigations of Late Iron Age Caucasia have been accomplished at a number of key sites, including Armavir-Argishtihinili, Erebuni, and Artashat in the Ararat Plain; Horom and Benjamin in the Shirak Plain; Sari-Tepe in western Azerbaijan; and small soundings at Astghi Blur, Jujevan, and Norashen in northeastern Armenia. These sites together provide an orientation to the architecture and archaeological materials of an era during which the rapid decline of Urartu was followed by the emergence of local rulers (including the Yervandid, or Orontid, kings of Armenia) who were subsequently incorporated as satraps of the Achaemenid empire.

During the Late Iron Age, local ceramic traditions from the Middle Iron Age continue, in part, in most sites. In southern Caucasia, preceding Urartian constructions were reoccupied and renovated, often following episodes of destruction that attended the Urartian collapse (e.g., at Armavir-Argishtihinili). The collapse of Urartu appears to have initiated a transformation in settlement patterns, as populations shifted away from the handful of large fortresses that dominated life under the Urartian regime and toward a larger number of small dispersed towns. Throughout the Urartian period, local ceramics in Caucasian regions peripheral to the major centers continued traditions of the preceding Early Iron Age horizons. Following the collapse of Urartu, these pre-Urartian ceramic traditions were partly reenergized, as local wares developed as syntheses of both pre-Urartian and Urartian traditions.


Colchis, the easternmost archaic Greek colony, has penetrated the Western imagination largely as a place of myth: home of Medea and destination of the Argonauts. Ancient Colchis was located on the fertile lowlands of the Rioni River drainage of western Caucasia. The region appears to have developed along similar lines as the rest of Caucasia during the Early Iron Age, with the regularization of an entrenched elite, the rise of increasingly large settlements, and the development of a robust metallurgical industry with major centers in Abkhazia to the north and Adzhar to the south. However, the arrival of Greek colonists during the sixth century B.C. brought unique sociocultural and political forces to bear upon the region in the Middle and Late Iron Ages. It has been suggested that it was the prominence of Colchian metallurgy and metalworking that lured not only the Greeks to Caucasia's Black Sea shores—an argument found in the Geographia (1.2.39) of the Greek scholar Strabo (c. 63 B.C.–c. A.D. 21)—but also encouraged the northern campaigns of Urartian kings, who referred to the region as "Kulha" or "Qulha." Sarduri II, for example, boasted in his "annals" inscribed on the rock face at Van Kale of having destroyed twenty-two cities in Qulha. Furthermore, the incredible scale of bronze and, later, iron production within the Colchis archaeological horizon has suggested the possibility of close economic and social ties to the prolific metallurgical traditions of the Koban region of the central north Caucasus (North Ossetia).

Despite extensive archaeological and epigraphic research, however, it is not as yet entirely clear as to what kind of sociocultural entity Colchis was. Greek myths suggest a highly centralized kingdom dating back into the late second millennium B.C.; however, Urartian inscriptions indicate a more fragmented political landscape with a number of kings ruling discrete portions of the territory from large fortified settlements (similar to what they encountered in southern Caucasia). Nevertheless, broad similarities in major material culture classes, including metal and ceramic styles, suggest a degree of sociocultural integration in western Caucasia even if the case for political unification remains unsubstantiated (although substantial disparities in mortuary customs—for example, shaft graves such as those at Dvani in contrast to the dolmens found to the north in Abkhazia—suggests that variation within the Colchis archaeological horizon has been understated).

The dating of the arrival of the Greeks is also a matter of some debate. While the earliest appearance of Greek pottery in the region has been dated to the end of the seventh century B.C., it is not until the mid-sixth century that Colchian sites begin to boast a substantial corpus of Greek wares. Greek settlement in the region was limited to the seacoast and river estuaries. Information about this initial era of colonization comes largely from archaeological sources and a few fragments of mythohistorical sources. However, both do seem to indicate that the vanguard of initial Greek intrusion came to Phasis, at the mouth of the Rioni, from Miletus, on the southwestern coast of Asia Minor. Burials around Vani, the most extensively excavated aboriginal Colchian site, suggest a further intensification of inequality and elite privilege in the era of early Greek colonialism, with extensive and rich burial inventories, including gold jewelry, silver and bronze personal ornaments, and local and imported pottery. The site of Vani itself appears to have been dominated by a local aristocracy that sat at the apex of a stratified social hierarchy. The dramatic expansion in the size and number of large storage jars (pithoi) during this period has suggested to some scholars a concomitant increase in the scale of surplus production, increasing demands upon the productive economy from redistributive institutions, or both.

The arrival of Achaemenid imperial forces in Caucasia established Yervandid Armenia as a formal satrap and also reconstituted Colchis geopolitically from a distant periphery to a remarkably cosmopolitan borderland, assimilating and reinventing traditions and practices from Greece, Persia, and the Eurasian steppe as well as the diverse array of social worlds within Iron Age Caucasia. The Histories of Herodotus (3.97), from the fifth century B.C., describes the relationship between an autonomous Colchis and the Achaemenid regime as based not on forced tribute but rather regular "presents" of one hundred young men and one hundred young women given to the Persian court. And Colchian soldiers were also listed among the expeditionary force that followed the Persian king Xerxes into Greece. But even at this time, perhaps Colchis's most prosperous era, it appears that the region continued to be ruled by a dispersed aristocracy rather than a single king capable of unifying the region into a single polity.


The arrival of Alexander the Great's forces in Southwest Asia and the subsequent collapse of Achaemenid power brought about important transformations in Caucasia, including the slow erosion (despite the tenacity of Aramaic in major inscriptions) of Persian cultural influence under the spread of Hellenism; however, it is important not to overstate the significance of the event. Alexander never found his way into Caucasia or the Armenian Highlands of eastern Anatolia, and even if he had, Greek cultural influence was already permeating the region via the long-standing colonies in Colchis. Moreover, Alexander's conquests do not seem to have profoundly reordered the political landscape of Caucasia. By 316 B.C. Armenia was reconstituted as a satrap of Macedonian power, ruled by a king named Orontes, who appears to have been part of the Yervandid dynasty already ensconced in the region during the Achaemenid era. Occasionally the Yervandid kings formally recognized Seleucid suzerainty, but there is little to suggest that the titular overlordship of the Macedonian conquerors made a profound practical difference in Caucasia's sociopolitical order.

In 188 B.C. Artaxias (also known as Artashes) succeeded to the throne of the Armenian kingdom, initiating a new Artaxian dynasty and consolidating much of Caucasia and the Armenian Highlands under his authority. Despite efforts by the weakened Seleucids to reassert their authority over a reinvigorated local dynast, Artaxias was successful in creating an empire that established unified control over a broad swath of Caucasia and eastern Anatolia. Until the first century B.C., the expansion of the Armenian empire under the Artaxian kings was largely unchecked as Seleucid power diminished; however, the emergence of the Parthian dynasty of the Arsacids in Iran and the increasing ambitions of Rome in Southwest Asia signaled trouble not only for the Armenian empire but also for Caucasia's other regimes in Pontic Colchis, Iberia, and Albania. Artaxias's grandson, Tigran II (r. 95–55 B.C.), presided over the largest consolidated polity in Caucasia's history, ruling a territory larger than Urartu that extended from the Caspian in the east, to the Kura Valley in the north, and to the Mediterranean in the west. One result of Tigran II's campaigns in the west was the further Hellenization of the royal court, which had long held to Achaemenid traditions of the early Yervandid era. Tigran was particularly successful in campaigns against Parthia (88–85 B.C.), which brought his armies on the eastern front as far south as Hamadān in Media (northwestern Iran), while to the west his forces reached Syria and the city of Antioch. For thirteen years, a Pax Armenia covered an immense multicultural and multinational empire ruled from the major cities of the empire, such as Artashat, on the northern bank of the Araxes, and Tigranakert, east of modern Diyarbakır. Artashat, occupying twelve hills (approximately 100 hectares), hosted extensive archaeological excavations during the 1970s and 1980s that explored many of the major constructions of the Artaxian period and provided the primary artifactual sources for the period.

Rome, preoccupied in Anatolia by a protracted war with Mithradates of Pontus did not interfere while Tigran's expansionary ambitions were directed against the Parthians and Seleucids. However, by 71 B.C. the imperialists in the Roman Senate sought a more encompassing solution to their problems in the east. A legate of the Roman general Lucullus delivered an ultimatum to Tigran at Antioch to hand over the recently defeated King Mithradates VI of Pontus, who had taken refuge in Armenia. Tigran refused to surrender him. Two years later, in 69 B.C., Lucullus marched on Tigranakert and, after a short siege, succeeded in defeating the main body of the Armenian army and sacking the city. The defeat of Tigranakert prompted the rapid unraveling of Tigran's dynasty, and soon, assailed by both Rome and Parthia, Artaxias's grandson sued for peace (66 B.C.) under terms that left him only the Caucasian and east Anatolian heartland. While Tigran's son Artawazd II (r. 55–34 B.C.) succeeded him on the throne, Armenia was reduced to a buffer state between Rome and Parthia. Artawazd's participation in raids along the Roman border led to a severe response, as the forces of Marc Antony succeeded in occupying Artashat and carrying Artawazd as a captive into Egypt, where he was eventually executed.


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