Classical empires: Greece & Persia
Post-Hittite Anatolia consisted of a patchwork of peoples, both indigenous Anatolians and recent interlopers. In the east the Urartians, descendants of earlier Anatolian Hurrians, forged a kingdom near Lake Van (Van Gölü). By the 8th century BC the Phrygians arrived in western Anatolia from Thrace. Under King Gordius, he of the Gordian knot, the Phrygians created a capital at Gordion (Yassıhöyük), their power peaking later under King Midas. In 725 BC Gordion was put to the sword by horse-borne Cimmerians, a fate that even King Midas’ golden touch couldn’t avert, and the Phrygians were no more. On the southwest coast the Lycians established a confederation of independent city states extending from modern-day Fethiye to Antalya. Inland the similarly named Lydians dominated Western Anatolia from their capital at Sardis and are credited with creating the first-ever coinage. Meanwhile, Greek colonies were steadily spreading along the Mediterranean coast, and Greek cultural influence was spreading through Anatolia. Most of the peoples of the Anatolian patchwork were clearly influenced by the Greeks: Phrygia’s King Midas had a Greek wife; the Lycians borrowed the legend of the Chimera and cult of Leto (centred on Letoön); and Lydian art acted as a conduit between Greek and Persian art forms. It seems that at times admiration was mutual: the Lycians were the only Anatolian people whom the Greeks didn’t deride as ‘barbarians’, and the Greeks were so impressed by the wealth of the Lydian king Croesus that they coined the expression ‘as rich as Croesus’. These increasing manifestations of Hellenic influence didn’t go unnoticed. Cyrus, the emperor of Persia, would not countenance such temerity in his backyard. He invaded in 547 BC, initially putting paid to the Lydians, then barrelled on to extend control to the Aegean. Over a period of years under emperors Darius I and Xerxes the Persians checked the expansion of coastal Greek trading colonies. They also subdued the interior, bringing to an end the era of home-grown Anatolian kingdoms. Ruling Anatolia through compliant local satrapies, the Persians didn’t have it all their own way. They had to contend with periodic resistance from feisty Anatolians, such as the revolt of the Ionian city of Miletus in 494 BC. Allegedly fomented from Athens, the revolt was abruptly put down and the locals massacred. The Persians used the connivance of Athens as a pretext to invade mainland Greece, only to be routed at Marathon (whence the endurance event arose).