x0x THE HIDDEN LANGUAGE OF ANATOLIA
- x0x THE HIDDEN LANGUAGE OF ANATOLIA
By Kemal Ozdemir
In their attempts to understand the natural world and make themselves
understood, human beings developed systems of signs and symbols as one
form of communication. Symbols come in countless forms in many cultures,
and today are still widely used as shortcuts for expressing concepts of
many kinds, as in the case of company emblems and logos.
Many symbols were originally inspired by the creative and destructive
aspects of nature, and came to embody complex religious, magical and
spiritual ideas. The ancient settlement of Catalhoyuk near Cumra in the
central Turkish province of Konya was the most sophisticated town in the
world when it was built in the Neolithic period, and marks the beginning
of civilisation. The people of Catalhoyuk who dwelt here around 7000-6000
BC vividly depicted man's struggle with nature and beliefs in wall
decorations , and made figurines showing the mother goddess giving birth.
The eagle which came to carry people into the heavens appears in these
wall decorations as a symbolic reflection of their religious beliefs.
A two-head eagle perched on a tree of life guarded by a pair of lions is
carved in relief on the facade of Yakutiye Medrese, a monumental Seljuk
building in the eastern Turkish city of Erzurum. The symbolic meaning of
this relief can be traced back to shamanist beliefs of Central Asia,
representing the journey into the sky up the tree of life made by the
shaman, and the eagle which guides him.
The Ivriz relief carved on rock near the town of Eregli near Konya date
from 700 BC and depict the Luwian king Varpalavas worshipping Tarhun, the
god of the skies and fertility. In his left hand the god holds ears of
wheat, and in his right a vine branch with bunches of grapes. Multiple
grain fruits such as wheat, grapes and pomegranates symbolised fertility
and abundance for almost all the civilisations of Anatolia over the ages.
From the Neolithic age onwards, all the civilisations of Anatolia, as in
Egypt, Mesopotamia and the rest of the Near East, have left behind symbols
and signs, including the Hittites, Trojans, Urartians and Galatians (who
established a state close to modern Ankara). With the development of sea
trade in the
Mediterranean, the use of symbols to indicate origin became widespread
among the peoples of the region.
One of the objects on which symbols are most commonly found are coins,
which were first invented by the Lydians who inhabited an inland region of
western Turkey around 600 BC. The symbol of the Lydian kings was a lion.
The statues of lions found at the Lion Gate of the Hittite capital city of
Hattusas (Bogazkoy) were guardians of the city and symbols of power.
Statues of lions and eagles are found on the eastern terrace of the burial
sanctuary of the Commagene king Antiochus I on Mount Nemrut in
southeastern Turkey. The role of both animals was as protector. In
mediaeval times, Anatolian Seljuk reliefs featuring lion figures
representing absolute power were carved on kervansarays (caravanserais),
castles, palaces and other buildings.
Following the Lydians, Anatolian city states minted coins bearing symbols
or devices representing the city, which appeared on inscriptions, pottery
and metal ware, weights, and even as tattoos on the bodies of slaves. The
symbol might be the deity who protected the city, or a temple dedicated to
In some cases the symbol became the city's name, as in the case of Side,
an ancient Mediterranean city whose name, pronounced 'seeday', means
pomegranate; and Aigai, meaning goat, an animal whose horn had
mythological associations with the cornucopia or horn of plenty.
The lion was the symbol of Miletus, the deer and bee of Ephesus, the seal
of Foca, the eagle of Abydos, the cockerel of the Dardanelles, the sphinx
of Chios, a winged horse of Lampsakos, the goddess Athena of Priene, and
the eagle of Byzantium and Rome.
With the spread of Christianity in Anatolia, new symbols appeared. The
lily represented the Virgin Mary, a fish and a lamb Jesus Christ, and a
triangle the Holy Trinity. These symbols appear frequently in the early
rock churches of Cappadocia. During the Crusades, the Latins and other
westerners were influenced by the more highly developed Byzantine
symbolism, and the use of the cross was adopted by the West. In 1096, the
Byzantine empress Anna Comnenos noted that the shields of the Crusaders
bore no symbols at all. The symbols on the shields of the Seljuk armies
who fought against the Crusaders in Anatolia were the crescent, symbol of
Islam, the sword, the name of Allah in kufi script, the eagle and lion,
symbols of sovereignty, and vertical bands. Most of these symbols came to
be widely used in Europe on shields and standards following the Crusades.
Latin armorial devices seen at Enez, Amasra, Bodrum Castle and in Izmir
Archaeological Museum, and French armorial devices on Saint Pierre Han on
Eski Bankalar Caddesi in Istanbul can all be traced back to the middle
ages. The colourful patterns of Turkish carpets and kilims are also rich
in symbols which have their roots in the ancient cultures of Anatolia, and
are kept alive today by weavers. Interpretation of these motifs reveals
the fascinating stories of symbols deriving from past ages.
* Kemal Ozdemir is a researcher and author.