ETHYMOLOGY

It would be useful to begin by questioning the origin of Cappadocia’s legendary title, “the Land of Beautiful Horses”. Although it is commonly assumed that the word “Cappadocia (καππαδοκία)” derives from the Persian word katpatuka, meaning “the land of beautiful horses”. The earliest record of this name appears on an inscription carved on the cliffs of Mt. Bisitun (Behistun) in Persia listing the tribes and countries that Darius I conquered in late sixth century B.C. This trilingual inscription, in Old Persian, Elamite, and Akkadian, includes the Old Persian name Katpatuka, a word claimed to mean “the Land of Beautiful Horses” From then on, the name Cappadocia has remained constant, whatever the changing geographical limits of the region. The scholars usually agree that the name has derived from Katpatuka, but the meaning of the word is not clear.

Herodotus (V.49) lists the Cappadocians amongst the peoples in the army of Xerxes and affirms that their name (καππαδόκαι) was given to them by the Persians (Herodotus VII. 72), but does not refer to the origin of its name. Later in the Roman period, Strabo, describing the country extensively his Book XII, also fails to give any explanation on the etymology of Cappadocia, but another Roman historian, Pliny the Elder (VI. 3. 2), writes that the region was named after the Cappadox River (modern Delice Çay), the largest tributary of Kızılırmak. Thus “Cappadocia” meant“the land around Cappadox”.

To summarize, the theories about the meaning of Cappadocia as “the land of beautiful horses” are ultimately unconvincing, and this legendary title appears to be more mythical rather than real, leaving the etymology of the word uncertain for the time being.

GEOGRAPHY AND BOUNDRIES

Cappadocia is the name of the large plateau at an altitude of approximately 1000 m in central Anatolia, extending from the Taurus Mountains in the south to the Kızılırmak (anc. Halys) River in the north, and from the Tuz Gölü (Salt Lake, anc. Tatta) in the west to the Mt. Erciyes (anc. Argaeus) in the east. The region lies on a rugged terrain rising gradually from west to east and is bordered by several volcanos, Mt. Hasan (3253 m), Mt. Erciyes (3916 m), Mts. Melendiz (2963 m) and Göllüdağ (2172 m). The succession of eruptions which began in the Miocene has lasted until the historical era, filling an area of 10,000 km² with volcanic ash, lava, and cinder. This was immediately followed by a process of erosion that still continues to shape the landscape, but with less intensity, creating a range of features in the landscape.

Although there are slight variations, the region generally has a continental and sub-desertic climate, which has changed little since the ancient and medieval times. Even though the precipitation levels are low, the three main catchment areas, that is, the Kızılırmak basin to the north, Melendiz Suyu to the southwest, and the Mavrucan basin to the southeast, drain the region with their numerous tributaries. The valley floors provide favorable conditions for cultivating vines, orchards, and grain. Apart from these valleys, however, the land is generally arid in Cappadocia, as the volcanic soil is poor in organic content. This explains the great number of dovecotes hewn out of the rock for obtaining pigeon droppings, which is a fine quality fertilizer used in orchards and gardens. The vegetation pattern, depending on the altitude and the nature of the soil, mostly consists of steppe types with a small number of stunted trees, forests being confined to the slopes of the Erciyes Mountain. We learn from Strabo (XII.2.1) that it was not much different in antiquity. He writes that Cappadocia was poor in timber, which thus had to be obtained from the forests surrounding the Argaeus. He also describes the enormous plain as being mostly empty, with only few fruit trees between Mt. Argaeus and the Taurus range, while Melitene (Malatya), a city usually regarded as a part of Cappadocia, was rich in fruit trees. The subsistence economy has been traditionally based on agriculture and stock raising. Despite the presence of urban centers since antiquity (e.g. Kayseri, anc. Mazaca-Caesarea; Kemerhisar, anc. Tyana; and Aksaray, anc. Koloneia), the region has been renowned for its agrarian character since ancient times. Strabo (XII.2.10) describes Cappadocian land as excellent for growing fruit trees, and cultivating grain as well as for animal husbandry of all kinds. The large steppes of the region provided abundant grazing for horses and mules. Especially horses need succulent herbage, which is easily found in high level valleys or slopes of mountains. It is necessary to bear in mind that the vegetation patterns of Anatolia have considerably changed and deteriorated as a result of the modern exploitation of ancient and medieval forests. In ancient and medieval times, therefore, fodder may have been much ampler and more varied than today. Also, with the introduction of modern technological tools in agriculture, the majority of the pastures have been converted into arable lands, thereby causing an overall neglect in animal husbandry. This change explains the lack of pastures in the region today. However, the slopes of Mt. Erciyes between 1800 and 3000 m are still covered by large pastures. At this point, the hundreds of feral horses on the foothills of Mt. Erciyes are worth mentioning. These are free-roaming, untamed horses descended from domesticated horses that strayed, or were released into the wild. Despite being called “wild” horses popularly, they are not truly wild and can be re-domesticated quickly.

Their presence, however, may be an indication that this area was the original habitat for the famous horses of Cappadocia. Nineteenth-century travelers also mention horse flocks wandering on the skirts of Mt. Argaeus.

FORMATION

The area of Cappadocia has gained its present fame thanks to the strong interaction of nature and history, the combined forces of which have created the main characteristic of the region.

Sixty million years ago when the nearby masif folded upwards, towering volcanoes arose. Ten million years ago, three of those volcanoes, Mt Hasan (3268m), Mt Melendiz (2898m), Mt Erciyes (3918m) erupted, covering the entire area with a thick layer of lava. There must have been some adventive cones as well. Acıgöl is a good example for adventives. The volcanoes and adventives filled the area, approximately 25.000 km2, with 100 metres of tuff. This, mixed with ashes, and sand, along with occasional layer of basalt, formed a high plateau. After the strata of soft tuff then hardened, wind and rain took the next step in creating this geological wonderland. For thousands and thousands of years since, erosion has been the priamary force of change consistently transforming the face of the area. Actually, The erosion by rain, wind began when volcanic activities ended in Pliocene epoch, 1.8 million years ago and it’s still going on.

 

Sixty million years ago when the nearby masif folded upwards, towering volcanoes arose. Ten million years ago, three of those volcanoes, Mt Hasan (3268m), Mt Melendiz (2898m), Mt Erciyes (3918m) erupted, covering the entire area with a thick layer of lava. There must have been some adventive cones as well. Acıgöl is a good example for adventives. The volcanoes and adventives filled the area, approximately 25.000 km2, with 100 metres of tuff. This, mixed with ashes, and sand, along with occasional layer of basalt, formed a high plateau. After the strata of soft tuff then hardened, wind and rain took the next step in creating this geological wonderland. For thousands and thousands of years since, erosion has been the priamary force of change consistently transforming the face of the area. Actually, The erosion by rain, wind began when volcanic activities ended in Pliocene epoch, 1.8 million years ago and it’s still going on.

 

Various volcanic materials, different in density and thickness, are affected differently by the different agents of erosion. While wind has a rounding effects, rivers and streams change shapes vertically; rain does so horizontally. Knowing the effect of each eroding agent makes it easier to understand how deep canyons, the softly flowing stone formations of hills and inclines, as well as the shapes of the fairy chimneys came about.

 

Different types of rock are eroded into entirely dissimilar shapes. Basalt, harder than tuff, is not affected easily by erosion, so that where a protecting layer of it exists on top, the tuff underneath erodes much more quickliy, and a veritable forest of rock needles arises, resembling a huge hall with columns, covering by ceiling of basalt.

 

With the erosion of the tuff, the support underneath the basalt decreases, and huge parts of the basalt cover break off while other remain, like a caps on single standing formations. Today these objects give impression that they were built by human hand, but in reality, these masterpieces are the happy end of the play written and acted by nature.

HISTORY

Cappadocia has been inhabited continuously since prehistoric times. During the 2th millennium BC, it was a part of Hittite Empire. In 585 BC the area was conquered by Persians. Between 4th and 1st centuries BC, it was ruled by the descendants of the satrap Ariarathes. Cappadocia became a Roman province with Caesarea as its capital in 17 AD. It was converted to Christianity very early so that already in the 2nd century there were numerous Christian  communities there.

 

At the beginning of the Byzantine period of Cappadocia was situated within the empire and on the main roads leading from Constantinople to the East. By the 7th century, the Byzantine frontier retreated westwards due to the Arab invasions and Cappadocia became an insecure border zone frequently changing hands until the second half the 9th century.

 

Shortly after the ultimate loss of Egypt and Syria in 636, Armenia was also taken by Arabs, which meant that Cappadocia was now the eastern border of the empire. Annual incursions into Asia Minor continued until 740 without a break, wherein Cappadocia especially the districts of Melitene (Malatya), Caesarea and al-Matamır were affected. Decentralizing the military administration by creating ‘regions’ or ‘themes’ that were commanded by a general (strategos), allowed autonomy which is necessary for rapid responses to sudden but brief attacks of Arabs. The earliest themes were Armeniakon, Opsikion, Anatolikon and Thrace whereby the region in question (the area between Aksaray-Niğde-Kayseri-Nevşehir) was partly in Anatolikon, partly in Armeniakon. The strategos was not only the military governor of a theme but he also directed local financial and judicial matters. The strategoi of major themes became so powerful at the beginning of 8th century that they fought each other fort he throne. Consequently, in the 8th and 9th centuries, in order to diminish the power of large themes, central goverment divided them into smaller groups, which included the theme of Cappadocia.

 

Asia Minor was open to the attacks of Arabs in 8th and 9th centuries. The second half of 8th century was marked with the balance of forces belonging to Byzantium and Abbasids. However, Arab invasions reached a peak at the beginning of 9th century. In the second half of the 9th century, changes concerning the relations of forces began when the Abbasid caliphate was diminished. The Byzantine Empire recovered and was able to mobilize more efficient and numerous troops. Yet, Arab attacks did not stop but they occured on a regional base.

 

In response to attacks, a system of early warnings was established within the population of villages. Spies and guards on the communication routes were alert to the signs of an enemy expedition in preparation such as the gathering of enemy troops. In addition, in South Cappadocia, the massive of Mt. Hasan and Mt Melendiz formed a barrier against aggressors approaching from South. Several Byzantine fortresses along the natural blockade  (al-Agrab, Koron, Antigus, Nakida) secured the entrance to the district of al-Matamır.

 

A turning point in the history of Byzantine Empire and especially Cappadocia was the reconquest of Melitene in 934. The Empire extended its boundaries to Euphrates and Tigris. Consequently, from 934 onwards Cappadocia was a borderland no more. During the three hundred years that it was the borderland, Cappadocia had been preyed upon and depopulated. Thus, one of the most important concerns for Byzantium in 10th century was to repopulate the area. In 11th century, a considerable part of Cappadocia was populated by Armenians.

 

Eventually, the following Seljuk invasion in 1071 Cappadocia was lost for Byzantine rule forever. In 11th century, civil governors replaced military ones and by the end of 12th century the thematic system collapsed. At the end of 12th century and especially 13th century,  a symbiosis was formed between Christianity and Islam, where the former had a subordinate role. However, Christian communities in Cappadocia were still oriented towards Byzantine Empire with its center in Constantinople. In fact, the name of the emperor Theodoros was depicted in Karşı Kilise near Zoropassos (Gülşehir) in 1212.

 

Yet, in Ottoman period the religious communities became stagnant. But in 19th century tolerance and a moderate increase in wealth led to new foundations. However, in 1924 the Exchange of population put an end to the Greek presence.

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