It was a last minute toss up whether to go see the Aya Sophia or the Archaeology Museum first today. Knowing that the museum would require more time and attention we elected to get it out of the way first and as it transpired it took all day. We had stumbled across one of the Sultan's tombs in the passing and so invested 5 minutes on the way to learn that Sultan Ahmet I had reigned for 14 years before succumbing to "an incurable illness" at the ripe old age of 28. There were actually perhaps 20 or more caskets within the elaborately decorated tomb, all covered in ornate cloaks, most of whom we presumed had to have been either the Sultan's sons or other siblings who werent in line for the throne. The majority of them were only kids though and of the ones who had seen power a common story was to come to the throne at the age of 13 or 14 and to not even last that long upon it. We could only surmise that the "incurable illness" was quite frequently poison.
The Archaeology Museum houses some of the regions finest treasures of the past and as such it constitutes a history lesson going back to the very beginning. I had come to Turkey in order to learn that history and now that I saw it spread out before me I realised what a mammoth task I had given myself. Civilisation in Anatolia was as old as anywhere else and a balance had to be struck between being faithfull to the task whilst dealing with the practicalities of the road. There was also the difficult issue of where to draw the line in terms of geography, since past Empires rarely conformed to present day borders, some of them spread well off my intended path. This diary attempts to describe what was there but concentrates on what was interesting or important to me.
THE MUSEUM OF THE ANCIENT ORIENT
This first building had a short section on the Egyptian dynasties and included a mummy in a still brightly painted sarcophagus with deity figures painted inside and out. It explained the significance of all of the main Egyptian gods and had figurines of Bastet the cat goddess and Horus the falcon god amongst others. Apis was the sacred bull and horns.
The Sumerian culture were the inventors of script and had started to write around 2700BC in Lagash city state, capital Girsu (Telloh), now in present day Iraq (if they havent blown it up). Simpler pictographic representations had existed since around 3300BC. Remarkably, they were prolific and even inscribed the building bricks used for walls and floors on all sides, it must have made for an incredible workload and was testimony to their success that they could spare such manpower. In what later became known as Mesopotamia the Akkadian Kingdom was established in 2254BC as the worlds first centrally ruled state, stretching from the Persian Gulf to the Med, including much of present day Iran and Anatolia as far north as Diyarbakir. Its founder Naramsin (2254-2218BC) was deified in his lifetime and started the tradition of divine kings. Accordingly, the Temple of Sumerian culture became replaced by the Royal Palace in Akkad. The Akkadian Kingdom lasted 100 years until invasion from the east whereupon the northern cities suffered but the Sumerian south regained independence. From that the new cities of Uruk and then Ur grew to dominate Mesopotamia. From Ur the empire was later refounded and with it the divine king culture. Ur eventually fell in 2004BC and the influence of western Semites came to the fore (bloody Arabs) with the start of the Bronze Age. The first attempts at standardisation of weights and measures occured around this time and a bronze rod and weights were on display. Interestingly 1 Shekel (hello Israel) was deemed to be 180 grains (of sand I presume). Advances in technology occured with the Middle Bronze Age (the old Babylonian period to 1595BC) and the Late Bronze Kassite period to 1155BC.
The Middle Neo Assyrian period dawned from 1350BC to 600BC when great cities such as Nimrod were founded. Fantastic reliefs from here were on display of spearmen and a charioteer of the Assyrian army and I was well impressed by an amazing marble amphora, ground from solid rock. The neck was just wide enough to get your hand in. The early pictographic writing had gradually evolved to become more abstract over 2 millennia until early Cuneiform evolved as more standardised, angular and "alphabetic". Classical Assyrian had developed by 700BC, the first true alphabet with only straight lines and triangles. From 900BC we start to see glazed pottery and the evolution of seals betrayed the birth of a new sense of ownership.
Meanwhile, up the road in Anatolia, the Hittites had been kicking about since 2000BC and were well established as a power by 1650BC. In the Treaty of Kadesh they had signed the worlds first known peace treaty, in fact a pact, agreed between Hittite King Hattushilis and Ramses II of Egypt. It was written in Akkadian the international lingo of the day in 1269BC and was inspired by the mutual need to fend off the marauding "Sea Peoples". Yup, the enemy of my enemy... One of the major ancestral peoples of modern Turkey, they formed the "Land of Hatti" and had their own tongue Hattian of the Caucasian group. They were polytheistic and their kings were venerated as a sun god upon their death. Assyrian merchants (the worlds first international businessmen) later introduced cuneiform from whence records of their culture have survived.
THE ARCHAEOLOGY MUSEUM
Beautiful marble sarcophogi from Sidon, present day Lebanon, were massive and exquisite. The Alexander Sarcophagus shows some of the finest ancient relief art in the world, with scenes of Eck the Great fighting. It was probably made for Abdalonymous, installed as King of Sidon by Big Eck after his annexation in 332BC. It was originally vividly painted with seperately cast weapons of silver, subsequently robbed, also silver horse harnesses. Adjacent there was another similar work, the Sarcophagus of Mourning Women, again dating from the 4th Century BC.
Life long pursuit of H. Schliemann, who excavated here 1868-90, made famous by Homer in the Iliad and Odyssey. The oldest known such epic is Gilgamesh, along with the Hittite Telipinu and Kumarbi. The lost epic Kypria is known to have involved the judgement of Paris and the kidnapping of Helen, and led up to the 9th year of the Trojan Wars where the Iliad begins. Other lost epics are Ethiopia, and the Little Iliad Iluiperses. The eventual fall of the city is not included in the Iliad, Virgil later recounts it in the Aeneid. Several epics dealt with the homeward journeys after the war of which the Odyssey is only one.
A marble inscription of customs regulations was discovered, regulating passage through the Dardanelles circa 500AD.
Gordios became King of Phrygia and founded the city of Gordion. The legend of the Gordion Knot goes that he tied the axle of a cart in such an intricate way that no-one could untie it. The oracle said that whoever should untie it would become king of all Asia. Eck the Great got to hear of it, couldnt untie it, so he just cut it with his sword. Start as you mean to go on! Gordion was most successful under King Midas in the 8th Century BC, his tumulus is here. They spoke an Indo-european lingo with a modified Phoenecian alphabet.
Upon Big Eck's demise in 332BC there was division between his 4 generals. Ptolemy came to rule Egypt. Seleukos established the Seleucid Kingdom, which later became reformulated as the Parthian Empire under king Arshak, who had sovereignty over Iran, Mesopotamia, Syria and Afghanistan. It dissolved after defeat by the Sassanians in 274AD. They spoke Persian but used Greek for administration.