The Dark Age in Asia Minor

Like Greece and the Aegean, Asia Minor has no history for a period of close to five centuries. Certain scholars disagree with this verdict, but it comes from the pen of one of the foremost authorities on archaeology and art of Asia Minor, Professor Ekrem Akurgal of the University of Ankara.1

“. . . Today [1961], despite all industrious archaeological exploration of the last decades, the period from 1200 to 750 for most parts of the Anatolian region lies still in complete darkness. The old nations of Asia Minor, like the Lycians and the Carians, the names of which are mentioned in the documents of the second half of the second millennium, are archaeologically, i.e., with their material heritage, first noticeable about 700 or later . . . Hence the cultural remains of the time between 1200 and 750 in central Anatolia, especially on the plateau, seem to be quite irretrievably lost for us.”

The huge land of Asia Minor for almost five centuries is historically and archaeologically void. The cause of the interruption in the flow of history about -1200 is assumed to lie in some military conquest; but the Phrygians, who are supposed to have been these conquerors, did not themselves leave any sign of their occupation of the country from before -750.

Thus the explanation that the end of the Anatolian civilization about 1200 was due to the incursion of the Phrygians is not supported by archaeological finds. According to Akurgal, the repeatedly undertaken efforts to close the hiatus by relics of Phrygian art “cannot be harmonized with the results of archaeological study. None of the Phrygian finds and none of the oriental ones found with them can be dated earlier than the eighth century.” “Such results compel us to exclude from the study of Asia Minor between 1200 and 750 any Phrygian presence and heritage.”

If there is no sign of Phrygian occupation for the period, are there possibly some vestiges of occupation by other peoples?

“It is startling,” writes Akurgal, “that until now in Central Anatolia not only no Phrygian, but altogether no cultural remains of any people, came to light that could be dated in time between 1200 and 750.” Nothing was left by any possible survivors of previous occupants, namely by Hittites, and nothing by any people or tribe that could have supplanted them. Also on the rim of Asia Minor the darkness of the Dark Age is complete: “In the south of the peninsula, in Mersin, Tarsus and Karatepe, in recent years important archaeological work was done . . . here, too, the early Iron Age, i.e., the period between 1200 and 750, is enwrapped in darkness.”2

Even after only a few decades of settlement a town should leave discernible relics for archaeologists; usually under such circumstances potsherds or a few beads, or a clay figurine, are found. Ash and kitchen refuse are ubiquitous finds wherever there was human habitation. But that on an area over 250,000 square miles in extent there should, as Akurgal claims, be found nothing, not even tombs, from a period counted not just by decades but by centuries, actually a period of almost five hundred years, is hardly less than miraculous.


  1. Akurgal, Die Kunst Anatoliens von Homer bis Alexander (Berlin, 1961), pp. 5-7; cf. his Phrygische Kunst (Ankara, 1955), p. 112.
  2. Ibid., p.7.