Asia Minor, also called Anatolia, is a large rectangular-shaped peninsula that straddles Europe and Asia. Often referred to as the “mother of nations,” Asia Minor was the home of several great ancient civilizations, including the Hittites in about 1300 B.C. and the Lydians in about 700 B.C. Here, too, stood the famous cities of Troy, Ephesus, and Pergamum. Today the nation of Turkey occupies the area once known as Asia Minor.

Asia Minor was bordered by three seas—the Black Sea on the north, the Aegean Sea on the west, and the Mediterranean Sea on the south—and separated from Europe by the straits* of the Bosporus and the Dardanelles. Asia Minor’s geographic location at the crossroads of Europe and Asia provided great opportunities for trade. At the same time, the region’s lack of natural defenses made it an easy target for invasion.

Beginning in the 900s B.C., the Greeks established several colonies ilong the western coast of Asia Minor and introduced their culture to the region. They later established trading relations with the Lydians, who allowed the Greek colonies to govern themselves even though the colonies lay within the Lydian empire. In the 500s B.C., Cyrus the Great of Persia conquered the region and ended the independent status of the Greek colonies. This and other actions by the Persians eventually led to war between Persia and Greece. In the Persian Wars, (499-479 B.C.), the Greeks defeated King Xerxes and drove the Persians from the Greek cities.

In 334 B.C., Alexander the Great of Macedonia won the rest of Asia Minor for the Greeks when his armies swept in and seized the region from the Persians. In the aftermath of Alexander’s conquest, Greek culture spread throughout Asia Minor in a process known as Hellenization. Following Alexander’s death in 323 B.C., Asia Minor broke into several small states, and civil war raged in the region for many years.

* strait narrow channel that connects two bodies of water

Rome conquered Greece in 146 B.C., and Asia Minor became part of the Roman empire a few years later. The Romans reunited the various states in the region and formed the imperial* province of Asia. The Roman province enjoyed great prosperity. The apostle Paul, a native of the city of Tarsus in the southern part of Asia Minor, made the region an early center of Christianity. After A.D. 395, Asia Minor became part of the Eastern Roman Empire, also known as the Byzantine Empire. The region continued to prosper until the early 600s, when the first of many Arab and Turkish invasions began. (See also Colonies, Greek; Rome, History of: Roman Empire, Christian Era; Trade, Greek.)

* imperial pertaining to an emperor or empire

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