Settlements > Termessos

Termessos

Background

Termessos (Greek Τερμησσός) was a Pisidian city built at an altitude of more than 1000 metres at the south-west side of the mountain Solymos (modern-day Güllük Dağı) in the Taurus Mountains (modern-day Antalya province, Turkey). It lies 30 kilometres to the north-west of Antalya. It was founded on a natural platform on top of Güllük Dağı, soaring to a height of 1,665 metres from among the surrounding travertine mountains of Antalya.

Concealed by pine forests and with a peaceful and untouched appearance, the site has a more distinct and impressive atmosphere than many other ancient cities. Termessos is one of the best preserved of the ancient cities of Turkey. The city was founded by the Solims who were mentioned by Homer in the Iliad in connection with the legend of Bellerophon.

What is known of Termessos' history commences principally at the time that Alexander the Great surrounded the city in 333 BC; he likened the city to an eagle's nest and in one of few cases, failed to conquer it. Arrian, one of the ancient historians who dealt with this event and recorded the strategic importance of Termessos, notes that even a small force could easily defend it due to the insurmountable natural barriers surrounding the city. The location of the city at the mountain pass from the Phrygian hinterland to the plains of Pamphylia is described by Arrian, Annals 1,26,6.

Alexander wanted to go to Phrygia from Pamphylia, and according to Arrian, the road passed by Termessos. There are other passes much lower and easier to access, so why Alexander chose to ascend the steep Yenice pass is still a matter of dispute. It is even said that his hosts in Perge sent Alexander up the wrong path. Alexander wasted a lot of time and effort trying to force his way through the pass, which had been closed by the Termessians, and so, in anger he turned toward Termessos and surrounded it. Probably because he knew he could not capture the city, Alexander did not undertake an assault, but instead marched north and vented his fury on Sagalassos.

According to Strabo, the inhabitants of Termessos called themselves the Solymi and were a Pisidian people. Their name, as well as that given to the mountain on which they lived, was derived from Solymeus, an Anatolian god who in later times became identified with Zeus, giving rise there to the cult of Zeus Solymeus (Solim in Turkish). This name still exists as a surname in some people in Antalya region, providing evidence to their Solymi heritage. The coins of Termessos often depict this god and give his name.

The historian Diodorus has recorded in full detail another unforgettable incident in the history of Termessos. In 319 BC, after the death of Alexander, one of his generals, Antigonos Monophtalmos, proclaimed himself master of Asia Minor and set out to do battle with his rival Alcetas, whose base of support was Pisidia. His forces were made up of some 40,000 infantry, 7,000 cavalry, and included numerous elephants as well. Unable to vanquish these superior forces, Alcetas and his friends sought refuge in Termessos. The Termessians gave Alcetas their word that they would help him.

At this time, Antigonos came and set up camp in front of the city, seeking delivery of his rival. Not wanting their city to be dragged into disaster for the sake of a Macedonian foreigner, the elders of the city decided to hand Alcetas over to Antigonos. However, the youths of Termessos wanted to keep their word and refused to go along with the plan. The elders sent Antigonos an envoy to inform him of their intent to surrender Alcetas. According to a secret plan to continue the fight, the youth of Termessos managed to leave the city. Learning of his imminent capture and preferring death to being handed over to his enemy, Alcetas killed himself. The elders delivered his corpse to Antigonos. After subjecting the corpse to all manner of abuse for three days, Antigonos departed Pisidia leaving the corpse unburied. The youth, greatly resenting what had happened, recovered Alcetas' corpse, buried it with full honours, and erected a beautiful monument to his memory.

Termessos was obviously not a port city, but its lands stretched south-east all the way to the Gulf of Attaleia (Antalya). Because the city possessed this link to the sea it was taken by the Ptolemies. An inscription found in the Lycian city of Araxa yields important information about Termessos. According to this inscription, in the 2nd century BC, Termessos was at war for unknown reasons with the league of Lycian cities, and again in 189 BC found itself battling its Pisidian neighbour Isinda. At this same time we find the colony of Termessos Minor being founded 85 km in the south-south-west (Oinoanda) in the 2nd century BC. Termessos entered into friendly relations with Attalos II, king of Pergamon, the better to combat its ancient enemy Selge. Attalos II commemorated this friendship by building a two-storied stoa in Termessos.

Termessos was an ally of Rome, and so in 71 BC was granted independent status by the Roman Senate; according to this law its freedom and rights were guaranteed. This independence was maintained continuously for a long time, the only exception being an alliance with Amyntas king of Galatia (reigned 36-25 BC). This independence is documented also by the coins of Termessos, which bear the title "Autonomous". The end of Termessos came when its aqueduct was crushed in an earthquake, destroying the water supply to the city. The city was abandoned (year unknown), which helps to explain its remarkable state of preservation today.

Sources

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