Ancient Caria: In the garden of the sun


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They were one of the first to fit handles onto their shields and a crest and tassel to their helmets. They were masters of the sea, but they were just as comfortable in the mountains of southwestern Anatolia… They were the Carians… 

Ancient Caria was a civilization that took root and sprouted in western Anatolia. Its second capital was Bodrum (Halicarnassus) in southwest Anatolia, where at 55 meters tall blossomed one of the seven wonders of the ancient world: the mausoleum of the powerful governor of Caria, Mausolos. British archaeologist C.T. Newton, however, carried the ruins of this site to the British Museum in the 19th century. 

One day, “the fisherman from Halicarnassus” (Turkish writer and poet Cevat Şakir Kabaağaçlı) visited the museum in the United Kingdom that accommodates the ruins of the mausoleum. He fell into such a deep sorrow while admiring the beautiful statues and relics depicting the Carian governor and his wife that were taken from Bodrum in two warships, that he immediately sat down and wrote a letter to the British Museum asking officials to return the masterpieces to their homeland. 

“Mausolos and Artemisia II are longing for Bodrum’s warm sunshine and its blue skies. They would be so much happier living in their own land instead of the rainy, foggy, misty and cold London,” he wrote. The British Museum officials promptly responded, saying they received his letter and noted his advice. And for this reason, they decided to paint the Mausolos Hall of the museum a turquoise blue color. The hall was painted in Bodrum blue for many years but somehow now its color is gray. 

The ancient civilization of Caria was situated in the region that was surrounded by the Büyük Menderes River in the north and Dalaman River in the south. Because the mountains meet the sea perpendicularly in this region, the shore is made up of peninsulas, bays and islands, creating a most suitable environment for seafaring, fishing and trade. 

Records show that there were at least 115 known Carian cities. Some of them were reportedly very gorgeous, and yet the location of others are not even known. Halicarnassus was the capital and the most important among them. After Halicarnassus came Mylasa (Milas), while others included Labraunda (Ladranda) some 14 kilometers northwest of Milas, Alinda (Karpuzlu), Alabanda (Çine Araphisar village), Latmos Herakleia (Kapıkırı village in Aydın), Gerga (Aydın, Çine, Deliktaş), Euromos (10 kilometers from Milas), Stratonikeia (Eskihisar village, Yatağan, Muğla) and Lagina (Yatağan, Milas). 

Cities such as Afrodisias (near the village of Geyre in Aydın), Miletus (Milet, Aydın), Priene (Söke in Aydın), Tralles (Aydın), Nysa (Sultanhisar in Aydın) and Hierapolis (near Pamukkale in Denizli) should also be included because their first establishments can be traced back to Caria, their first indigenous inhabitants being the “Cars;” other records also show them as having been Carian cities.

Sumerian records from 4000 B.C. called the western Anatolians and the Aegeans “those living on the seashore, in the garden of the sun,” whereas Egyptian records from 3000 B.C. depicted them as “those living at the heart of the sea.” 

We do not know for sure what they, themselves, called their own land in their own language. But we do know that the Caria land was called Karuwa (the land of the summits) in one of the oldest languages of Anatolia, the Luwian language; in Hittite texts, Karkusha; in Greek texts, Kares/Karkoi; in Persian texts, Karka; and in Egyptian hieroglyphs, Keres. 

Double-bladed axe

The gulets in Bodrum today sail like swans. The highly sophisticated boat-building sector in the Bodrum area is nothing but an extension of the Carian boat-building technique to today. It is beyond a coincidence; it is the continuation of a tradition. 

As one of Anatolia’s indigenous peoples, the Carians lived on the mainland, on nearby islands and also overseas, in harmony with their geography. In ancient texts, they are depicted as both good soldiers, bold sailors and pirates with great warring ability. Pirating was a way of life in those times and it was respectable. 

The Carians are known as the tribe to first fit handles onto their shields, the first to attach a crest and tassel to their helmets and the first to paint their shields. They were masters of the sea but after the Dorian exodus, they were comfortably able to live in the mountains as mountain men. Wine, honey, olive oil and figs were their most important products and exports. They also had a rich culture of medicinal herbs and plant roots; just like can be seen in Bodrum and Milas at open bazaars today. Their most significant activities were weaving, raising goats and sheep, lumber trade, furniture making, glassware and boat building. The region’s plentiful cedar and black pine forests contributed significantly to such a craft.  

Ancient texts say there were shipyards in Kaunos and Halicarnassus, and that the resin and black mastic – the raw materials for tar used in boat building and repair – were among the most important export items. Also it is known from ancient sources that the Carians often paid taxes to the Minoan and Persian Kingdoms, the Attic-Delos Sea Union and Egypt in the time of the Ptolemaic dynasty with triremes, the ancient war ship with three rows of oars on each side. The shipyard built in Bordum during Ottoman times is another example of the continuation of the region’s boat-building tradition. 

A popular weapon of war among the Carians was the double-bladed battle-axe that was also the symbol of the Amazons, as well as the Luwian and Hittite gods. In the ancient Luwian language, the name of this double-bladed sacred axe was labra, while in Hellenic sayings it is referred to as the labrys. It was also often an offering for heroic deeds during battles and a cult symbol.

To carry on the seafaring identity of the Carians, the 2005 Bodrum Cup Regatta selected Caria as the theme of the race and the axe symbol was placed on the race’s flags. Since that date, it still flies at the top of masts with the honor of watching over Anatolian history as it is made.  

First female admirals of the world 

While looking at the naval identity of the Carians, the story of the world’s first female admirals must be recalled. First of all, the daughter of one of Caria tyrants, Lygdamis I’s daughter Artemisia I, emerged as one of the first female admirals in the world. The Carians were initially a tribe that kept on resisting the Persians endlessly during their Anatolian invasions, and once they were under their rule, they mercilessly fought against the Hellenes. 

As the Queen of Pirates, Artemisia I fought in 480 B.C. at the Battle of Salamis with the Persian Emperor Xerxes against the Hellenes, not only as the admiral of Halicarnassus but also of the cities of Kos, Nisyros, Kalimnos and Rhodes. Though the Persian navy was defeated, Artemisia’s ships suffered few injuries, thus prompting admiration from the Persian emperor. According to ancient historian Herodotus, Xerxes was heard saying, “Today men fought like women and women like men.” 

Governor Mausolos’ throne was subsequently taken by his sister-wife Artemisia II. However, the Rhode islanders rebelled against being ruled by a female governor and declared war. She, just like her ancestor Artemisia I some 100 years earlier, proved her mastery of the sea. 

When the Rhodes navy arrived in Halicarnassus to invade the city, she hid her navy in a secret harbor, skillfully attracting the enemy’s navy to the main harbor. And when the soldiers disembarked, she raided their navy from behind, pulled the empty ships out into the open sea and killed all the soldiers on land. Moreover, as if the Rhodes navy had won the war, she sailed toward the Island of Rhodes with the Rhodes navy in front and Halicarnassus navy following. While the Rhodes islanders were rejoicing thinking they had won the war, she managed to totally suppress their uprising; thus rightly deserving the title of the second-known female admiral of Caria.  

Bronze men 

As one of the first settled populations in southwestern Anatolia, the Carians were truly one of the most remarkable tribes in the region. They are among the first known mercenaries in history, having served the Minoan Kingdom and the Phoenician and Persian navies. Ancient Egyptian sources, together with the Ionians, depicted the Carians who initially arrived in Egypt via the sea, as pirates and as “the bronze men who came from the sea.” 

The Carians were the most valuable soldiers of Egyptian kings because of their extraordinary skills while they were working for the Egyptian army during the 7th century B.C. as mercenaries. Pharaoh Psammetikus I even offered land to Carian soldiers in areas around the Nile delta, including the cities of Bubastis and Sais.  

It was during the 26th Dynasty, the Saite Period after the city of Sais (657 – 525 B.C.), that the Carian soldiers were at their topmost vigor. Also during the eras of Apries and Amasis, the Carian soldiers were the personal guards for the two pharaohs. Pharaoh Amasis resettled them in Memphis and a quarter of the city was allocated for them, becoming known as “Caricon.” The newcomers were called, “Carians of Memphis,” the “Caromemphites.” The biggest burial site for these soldiers was north of Saqqara. The highest number of inscriptions written in the Carian language has survived on tombs in the area. 

The Carian language is one of the Anatolian languages that are yet to be deciphered. It is a ‘Hellenized’ successor of the Luwian language and even though some letters do resemble the Greek alphabet it has little in common with Hellenic. According to ancient sources, the script consists of alphabetic patterns instead of syllables and is very rough. 

There are altogether about 300 inscriptions in the Carian language; 200 of those are found in Egypt. The texts are short, the scripts are mostly proper names and because they are generally broken, they are incomplete. A bilingual inscription found in Kaunos in 1996 and 1997 has excited linguistics and given hope to researchers. 

Carian inscriptions, apart from tombs, are found in the form of graffiti on rocks, temples and tombs along the Nile delta and valley written by mercenaries who took part in the Nubia (Sudan) campaign. They are also found on artifacts offered to Egyptian gods.  

Again, according to what Herodotus tells us, during the Nubia campaign led by Pharaoh Psammetikus II in 591 B.C., Carian soldiers carved their names into the Abu Simbel Temple as a memento. 

It can be presumed that Carians who have lived in the region for 400 years from the 8th century B.C. to the 4th century B.C. first arrived as pirates in Egypt, then became mercenaries, later married Egyptian wives and settled and transferred their traditions and habits to the region. According to various ancient sources, they adopted the lifestyle of Egypt at the time and were assimilated. 

When visiting Alexandria, the pearl of Egypt, the most significant stop is the library that contains 8 million books. So many people have written about Caria, but the primary source is indeed Herodotus. 

Regarded as the father of history with his nine-volume masterpiece called the “History of Herodotus,” in fact, Herodotus, himself, was a true Carian that was born in Halicarnassus. His father Lykses (Karca Lukshu) bore a Carian name and was a member of a rich dynasty. Even though Herodotus left Caria in resentment both because the cruel Governor Lygdamis killed his uncle and his political stances, he always maintained the Carian spirit. The best descriptions of the long-forgotten Anatolian populations are found in his history.  

After the Trojan War (1200 –1150 B.C.), those tribes who could not make it back to Greece headed south. Some incorporated with the Phrygians, some with the Lydians, and of course some with the Carians. 

Carian women, who had to marry them in desperation, refused to sit at the same table with their new husbands who had killed their fathers, brothers and sons, and they would never utter their names. This vow was passed on from mother to daughter but as generations passed, it was forgotten, the only remaining portion being the saying, “Carian women do not eat with their husbands.” This tradition is first seen in Miletus and Herodotus explained it in detail in his book. 

Herodotus conveyed that the Cretans called Carians “the islanders,” but Carians would not accept it and would boast of being mainlanders, that is from Anatolia. 

Meanwhile, only Carians and brother nations such as the Mysians and Lydians were allowed to enter the community’s most sacred temple, the Zeus Kairos Temple in Mylasa. Other people, even though they might be able to speak Carian, could not enter the temple. According to what Herodotus wrote, even the Hellenes could not enter.  

Last summer a tomb chamber and sarcophagus believed to belong to Governor Mausolos or his father Hekatomnos was found and dated to the 4th century B.C. It was found in Mylasa, which is called the “City of Temples” in ancient texts. This piece of news shook the archaeology world and moreover, the tomb chamber and its gorgeous sarcophagus were visited by grave robbers. 

Up until that day, the place was called Uzunyuva in Hisarbaşı and was thought to be a temple site but was actually revealed to be a mausoleum. And although it was first cited by Professor F. Rumscheid during a symposium in Oxford in 2006 when he said he thought this was a half-built mausoleum, because it was not recorded officially, no excavation work was done.   

The engraved sarcophagus found 12 meters below the structure that is thought to bear resemblances to the Halicarnassus Mausoleum has extraordinary craftsmanship.  

One side of the sarcophagus depicts a hunting scene while there is a king lying on an ancient lounge-chair and probably his family members around him on either side.  

There are not many remnants of the raiders though, who bought a village house on top of the sacred area and used carrot drills and water to pierce a thick, marble block to enter the tomb chamber. Because of the excessive use of water and some septic tank leakage, the pictures on the marble blocks have been extensively damaged. Thankfully, restoration work is continuing at full speed. It makes one happy to know that the sacred area will be protected by the state and eventually turned into an archaeological park containing several complexes. 

Author: Canaan Kucukeren | Source: Hurriyet Daily News [March 28, 2011]



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