The Royal Road built by the Persians in the 6C BC
Main routes through Anatolia

The Persian Achaemenid conquest: in 612 BC, the Medes, allied to Babylon, caused the fall of Niniveh which led to the end of the Assyrian hegemony. The Persians had aided the Medes in establishing their power, but about 550 BC, Persian Cyrus, the founder of the Achaemenid dynasty, took over the rule of Media from Astyages. In a short time he extended his conquests north and west, pushing into Asia Minor. He invaded Lydia and attacked Sardis, defeating king Croesus. He extended the occupation as far as the Straits, subjecting one by one the Greek cities of Ionia, Aeolia and Dorid. Asia Minor was divided into provinces called satrapies ruled by a satrap (governor). To prevent the concentration of power in one man's hands, the Persian king sent out officials with the title "eye of the king" to supervise the satraps. The king also regulated the taxes and imposed a fixed sum upon each satrap who himself levied taxes and recruited mercenaries for the Persian army.

Persepolis - Relief
of Darius I

Persepolis – Relief of a
Persian soldier

Together with an efficacious administration, the Persians established a fast net of communications.They built the Royal Road that ran from Sardis, where was located the headquarters of the Persian administration in western Asia Minor, to Susa, the first capital of the Achaemenids.

On the cultural plane the Persians did not impose themselves, on the contrary they borrowed from Greek art and thought, as they did from all advanced cultures to the enrichment of Persia. Daskyleion, located near Manyas Lake, is one of the rare places in Asia minor where evidences (reliefs) showing the Persian influence, have been found.

Daskylaion–Detail of a 5 BC
Graeco-Persian funerary stele
Istanbul Archaeological Museum

Ionian cities' revolts against Persia: at the beginning of the 5C BC the cities of Ionia, led by Miletus, revolted against the Persian administration in Lydia (Sardis). They looked for help in Greece and found support amongst the Athenians who attacked and burned Sardis. King Darius I put down their rebellion, then organized an expedition to punish the city-states in Greece, deciding to include Greece to his vast empire. This marked the beginning of the Persian Wars. However the Persians suffered setbacks: Darius I was defeated at the Battle of Marathon (490), Xerxes at Salamis (480) Platea and Mycale (479). These glorious events for the Greeks were celebrated by historian Herodotus. Under the leadership of the Athenians, Greek states from the Aegean formed the Delian League to free the Greek cities in Asia Minor that lived under the direct threat of Persian revenge. Persia, which sank into a confusion of dynastic troubles, hung on for another century and a half, in spite of new revolts of the Anatolian cities that had to wait for the coming of Alexander the Great to get rid of the Persian yoke.


A Cities founded by Alexander . Cities founded by his successors

Alexander III of Macedon (356 - 323 BC), the son of the brilliant ruler and strategist Philip II of Macedon, was born in Pella. He was one of the greatest military genius in history. He conquered much of what was then the civilized world, driven by his divine ambition of conquest and universal sovereignty.
At the age of twelve, he tamed the beautiful and fiery Bucephalus, a horse that no one else could ride. From age 13 to age 16, he was taught by Aristotle. During Philip's expedition against Byzantium in 340, Alexander, then sixteen years old, was left in Macedonia in the charge of the royal seal. When he was 18, with his father, he subjugated the Athenians and the Thebans. Sparta remained the only Greek state not under Macedonian rule.
In the spring of 336 BC, Philip decided to send his army into Asia Minor to liberate the Greek coastal cities from the Persian domination, but he was assassinated before he was able to depart. Alexander, who was only 20, became the new king of Macedon.
Philip's elimination had made all the hill-peoples of the north and west raise their heads and set the Greek states free from the Macedon hegemony. Alexander started with blitz campaigns across the Danube, into Thrace in 335 and across the Balkans. As a result of a revolt by the Thebans, he took the city by surprise and destroyed it (only the temples were spared) teaching the other Greek cities a lesson.

Then Alexander took up the interrupted campaign of his father against the Persians. The army was accompanied by explorers, engineers, architects, scientists, court officials and historians. In the spring of 334, Alexander crossed the Dardanelles (Hellespont). Near Troy, at the Battle of Granicus, he defeated the Persian army. Alexander conquered the west and south-western part of Asia Minor in winter 334-333 (Lycia, Pamphylia, Pisidia) and most cities opened their gates. He first took possession of Sardis, the headquarters of the Persian government on this side of the Taurus. At Gordion, tradition records his cutting of the Gordian knot. Then he moved to Ankyra and then south through Cappadocia and the Cilician Gates. During the Battle of Issus he defeated Darius III and the great king's camp with his harem fell into his hands.

Sarcophagus of Alexander
Relief depicting Alexander fighting against the Persians
Istanbul Archaeological Museum
In 332 BC he conquested Syria, Phoenicia and Egypt. In the spring of 331 he struck into the heart of the Persian empire. Darius III escaped once again but his army was shattered at the Battle of Gaugamela, the last big battle of the war which took place between Nineveh and Arbela on the 1st October 331 BC. Babylon welcomed Alexander as new "King of Asia". Then Alexander entered and burnt down the capital of Persia, Persepolis, the cradle of the Achaemenid dynasty. In the summer of 330, Alexander chased Darius III as far as Skirmish at the Caspian Gates, where he found him dead, assassinated by the usurper satrap Bessus whom he captured and executed later in 328. Alexander organized a grandiose funeral for the last Persian Emperor.


Since there were no more obstacles to his claim to definitively be Great King, between the winter of 330 and 325, Alexander campaigned eastward towards Central Asia and India reaching the mouth of the Indus. Towards the end of 324 he was back to Babylone.

On the 10th of June 323, Alexander mysteriously died (he might have been poisoned as he was taken sick after a splendid entertainment in honour of Nearchus' departure for Arabia) in his 33rd year.


The new era, that began with Alexander the Great and ended with Roman Emperor Augustus (30 BC), is called the Hellenistic Period when oriental spirit mixed with Greek civilization.

As no heir had been appointed to the throne, the empire Alexander the Great had created did not survive after his death because it was divided between his generals known as Diadochs: Ptolemy Lagus took control of Egypt and Palestine, Cassander of Macedonia and Greece, Seleucos Nicator of Phrygia and all the eastern provinces of Asia Minor, Syria and Iran, Antigonos of Asia Minor and Lysimachos took control of Thrace, Mysia, Lydia and most of the Greek cities of Asia Minor.
After more than fourty years of warfare between Alexander's generals, three major kingdoms emerged from the turmoil: the Ptolemaic Kingdom in Egypt, the Antigonid Kingdom in Macedonia and the Seleucid Kingdom.

The Seleucid Kingdom, the largest of the three, now included most of Asia Minor and the earliest boundaries established by Seleucos I Nicator (305-280). He spread Hellenistic culture to the east, built many cities carrying his name (Seleucia) and made Antioch on the Orontes the capital of his empire. He defeated Antigonos at the Battle of Ipsos in 301 and Lysimachos at the Battle of Corupedion in 281 BC, and absorbed their Kingdoms into the Seleucid Empire. The Empire was at its peak under the reign of Antiochos III. But in 194 BC, when he added Thrace to his possessions, the Romans would not allow it to happen, and war broke out. Antiochos III was defeated at the Battle of Magnesia (189 BC) and lost his lands beyond the Taurus range, to Rome. After this, Parthia and Armenia were the first to break away. The Seleucid Empire continually lost territory through war or rebellion, and anarchy and instability ended in the parceling of Asia Minor into the independent kingdoms of Bithynia, Paphlagonia, Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Commagene, Cilicia and Pergamon. In 64 BC Pompey put an end to the Seleucid Empire which was reduced to Syria and Palestine at the time it was annexed by Rome.

The Kingdom of Commagene : the Commagene, a province of the Seleucid Empire, was located on the right bank of the Euphrates. The capital of the Commagene Kingdom was Samosata (Samsat) which lies today submerged by the water of the Atatürk Dam.
The region was first named after the Neo Hittite Kingdom of Kummuh which lasted between 1000 and 708 BC, when it was incorporated to the Assyrian Kingdom at the time of Sargon II. After the Persian domination (553-333 BC), Kummuh came under the Seleucid domination of
Seleucos I Nicator and its name was changed into Commagene in the Hellenistic Period. When the governor Samos revolted in 163 B.C., he declared himself independent, taking the title "king Ptolemy". From 162 BC a long period of insurrections followed. The independence of the Commagene was proclaimed in 80 BC by King Mithridates I Kallinikos, the son and successor of Samos II.
Antiochos I Epiphanes (69 - 31 BC) claimed descent from the Seleucids by the marriage of his father Mithridates I with Laodike, the daughter of the last Seleucid king Antiochos VIII Philometor Grypos. King of Armenia Tigranes, who considered himself as the successor of the Seleucids, temporarily annexed the Commagene. Upon the intervention of the Romans, Antiochos I Epiphanes was recognized as the king and a Roman's ally by Pompey. This was the most glorious and prosperous period in the history of the Commagene. Antiochos I founded a cult of god-kingship for himself and his forefathers, and built an imposing tumulus and sanctuary atop Nemrut Dag (Mount Nimrod) in a breathtaking place.

Nemrut Dag

Because Mithridates II (31 - 20 BC) married his daughter to Parthian King Orodes II (the enemy of Rome) and supported the wrong side in the Battle of Actium (Mark Antony against Octavianus, the future Emperor Augustus), the Commagene lost the favor of Rome and was kept under a close watch until the death of Antiochos III in 17 AD. The Commagene then was annexed by Tiberius until Caligula, in 38 AD, restored the kingdom for his friend Antiochos IV, soon deposed and reinstated in 41 by Claudius. Vespasian, in 72, annexed the kingdom to the Roman province of Syria after Antiochos IV was deposed for supposedly conspiring with the Parthians against Rome.

The Commagene was the synthesis between the East and the West, Persian and Hellenistic cultures.
The Kingdom of Pergamon: Lysimachos, who had amassed a vast wealth deposited in Pergamon (Mysia), died in 281 BC, defeated by Seleucos. His lieutenant Philetairos, the guardian of his fortune, was a good administrator who managed to rule Pergamon as a vassal of the Seleucid Kingdom. Assuring the Seleucids of his loyalty he founded his own kingdom. In 263 BC, Philetairos' nephew Eumenes I (263 - 241 BC) made an alliance with Egypt, defeated Seleucid king Antiochos I and declared himself independent. He is considered to be the first king of Pergamon and the founder of the Attalid dynasty (named after his grandfather Attalos of Tios).

His relative and adoptive son Attalos I (241 - 197 BC) secured the place by defeating the Galatians driving them back to the north-center of Asia Minor. He also established good relations with Rome. His son Eumenes II (197 - 159 BC) made alliances with the Romans who had entered Asia Minor. Together they defeated Antiochos III at the Battle of Magnesia in 189 BC, and Eumenes II was granted the Seleucid territories in western Asia Minor. Very wealthy and powerful Pergamon became one of the most prominent Hellenistic city and its Acropolis was one of the most beautiful in its time. Attalos II (160 - 138 BC), the founder of Attalaia (Antalya) followed the same policies as his father. His nephew, Attalos III (138 - 133 BC), who was not interested in the state affairs, neglected his kingdom, allowing Rome to increase its influence over Pergamon. He bequeathed his kingdom to Rome who respected Pergamon which remained a wealthy and cultural free city. In 88 BC, together with Ephesus and other cities of the region, Pergamon rallied Mithridates VI, King of Pontus, in the revolt against Rome. Then Pergamon lost its independence and became a Roman city.

The Kingdom of Pontus: when Mithridates of Cius on the Propontis, who was a prince of Persian origin in the service of Antigonus, was killed in 302 BC, his son Mithridates I, took advantage of the confusion caused by the Diadochian wars to break away from the Seleucids. He came to Cappadocia of Pontus, a region in the north-east of Asia Minor bordering the Pontus Euxinus (Black Sea) and founded the independent Kingdom of Pontus (301 BC) of which he became the king until his death in 266 BC. He was followed by Ariobarzanes (died about 258 BC), Mithradates II (to about 210 BC), Mithradates III (to about 190 BC), Pharnaces (to 170 BC), Mithradates IV (to about 150 BC), Mithradates V (to 121 BC), and then Mithradates VI Eupator, commonly called the Great. From the time of Pharnaces, the kings of Pontus were the allies of the Romans. However Mithradates VI revolted against their domination, slaughtering Roman colonists. The three wars he led against the Romans (88-84, 83-81, 74-64 BC) were unsuccessful, and finally his kingdom, which he had increased by the conquest of the seaboard from Bithynia to Colchis, Paphlagonia and Armenia, was lost to Rome (63 BC). His son Pharnaces II made an attempt to recover control of Pontus and Armenia but he was defeated at the Battle of Zila (Zile near Amasya) by Julius Caesar who told the Senate his victory pronouncing those famous succint words: " Veni, Vidi, Vici ", "I came, I saw, I conquered".