The oldest evidence of human occupation in present-day Turkey occurs in a small area of Antalya, on the Mediterranean coast. They are drawings of animals in caves, analogous to the art of Upper Paleolithic in Western Europe. The development of livestock and agriculture, as well as urbanization, characteristic features of the Neolithic, began in some regions of Anatolia before 7000 BC
Around 1900 BC, a large part of the region was occupied by the Hittites, an Indo-European people who formed a powerful empire until the 13th century BC. Later, Phrygians and Lydians invaded the western part of the region, while in the east the kingdom of Urartu, origin of the current Armenian people. In the 6th century BC, the Achaemenid Persians took over the country and dominated the Greek cities that had consolidated several centuries earlier, on the coast.
According to Intershippingrates, the conquest of the Persian empire by Alexander the Great, two centuries later, motivated an intense Hellenization of Anatolia. Rome took over almost all of the territory in the first century BC, although the Armenian kingdom, between the Roman lands in the west, and the kingdom of the Parthians in the east, remained independent. In the 4th century of the Christian era, Constantine the Great chose as capital the ancient Greek city of Byzantium (today Istanbul), strategically located at the entrance to the Black Sea. Renamed Constantinople, the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, or Byzantine, it soon became the largest city in Europe.
In the 11th century, groups of Turkish warriors from the Asian steppes, the Ghuzz (or Oghuz), invaded the country. In 1071, the battle of Manzikert, in which the Byzantine emperor was defeated, opened Anatolia to Turkish penetration. The invaders organized themselves in several rival states, among which was that of the Seldjuk Turks. In the first half of the 13th century, when the Turkish population, of Islamic religion, predominated over the Greek, Christian, the empire was invaded by the Mongols. Although short, the Mongol empire managed to weaken the political structure of the Seldjucid sultanate, which, after several decades, gave way to another dominant power, the Turkish-Ottoman state.
During the 13th and 14th centuries, Ottoman Turks dominated Anatolia almost entirely and began to expand across Europe, first in the Balkans. Constantinople remained independent until 1453, the year it was conquered and became the capital of the empire, under the name of Istanbul. The Ottoman empire reached its peak under Suleiman the Magnificent, from 1520 to 1566, when it came to encompass the territories of Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Arabia, Mesopotamia, Anatolia, Balkans and Crimea.
After Suleiman’s reign, the empire began to decline politically, administratively and financially. In 1718, Austria expelled the Turks from Hungary, and in 1783, Russia annexed Crimea. The 19th century saw the birth of a sincere desire for reform on the part of the Ottoman monarchs, with the aim of restoring the empire to its former splendor. Selim III, who wanted to westernize the country, undertook reforms in the administration and in the armed forces, but had to face the war against Napoleon, internal revolts and a new conflict with Russia.
Unhappy with the reform, the Janissaries dethroned the sultan in 1807. Mustafá IV annulled all reforms, but as anarchy continued, he was dethroned the following year and replaced by Brother Mahmud II, who restored order and progressive measures. The janissaries again revolted and forced the sultan to cancel the reforms. At that time the struggle with Greece for independence began. With the help of the Egyptian armada, the Turks defeated the Greeks in 1827, but the Western powers intervened. In 1828 Russia declared war on Turkey, which, weakened, had to accept the terms of the armistice the following year and the Treaty of London (1832), which made Greece an independent kingdom.
These setbacks stimulated several internal revolts, among which the most serious was that of Egypt, whose governor, Mohamed Ali Pasha, intended to take over the empire and found a new dynasty. Through concessions, Mahmud obtained support from Russia to stop the march of Egyptian forces (1833). After a truce, the fight went on. When Abdul-Mejid I ascended the throne, Egypt was about to take over the dissolving empire.
With the intervention of the Western powers, an agreement was signed (1840), by which Mohamed Ali founded a dynasty in Egypt, without prejudice to the sovereign rights of Turkey. The foreign minister of Abdul-Mejid I then undertook a series of important reforms, which modernized the country. Concerned about the Turkish strengthening and taking advantage of the religious issue surrounding the holy places, Russia sent an ultimatum to Constantinople demanding recognition of its right to protect the Orthodox in Turkey. As it was not attended to, it started hostilities.
The intervention of the United Kingdom, France and Austria, alongside Turkey, started the Crimean War (1854-1855), which ended with the Treaty of Paris (1856), whose terms guaranteed the integrity of Turkish territory. Abdul-Aziz, who ascended the throne in 1861 and continued reformist politics, faced revolt in the Balkans. At the end of his government, the country’s financial situation was critical. In June 1865, the Society of the New Ottomans was formed in Istanbul – the origin of the movement that Europe would know as “young Turks” – whose purpose was to transform the empire into a constitutional monarchy.