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Asia Minor in Antiquity

In ancient times and in the early Middle Ages, Isauria was an area in the interior of Asia Minor with constantly changing borders.

The heartland of the area lay north of the Taurus in what is now central Turkey , which borders Iconion and Lystra to the south . The plain of Iconium belonged to Lycaonia , Isauria begins with the hill area. Its two ancient cities, Isaura Nea and Isaura Palaia, were located on these hills (Dorla) and on the Zengibar Kale watershed, respectively.

When Isaura Palaia, a heavily fortified city at the foot of the Taurus, was besieged by Perdiccas , one of the successors of Alexander the Great after his death, the inhabitants preferred to set fire to their city than surrender.

Plan of the ruins of Isaura (Davis, 1879)

When the Romans in the early 1st century BC When they met the Isaurians for the first time in BC , they considered Kilikia Tracheia to be part of Isauria, extending the area to the sea, an extension of the term that remained valid for two centuries. The entire basin of the Kalykadnos was designated as Isaurian, and the cities in the valley of its southern arm as the Isaurian Decapolis. At the end of the 3rd century Cilicia was separated from the northern slope of the Taurus for administrative purposes; the rest was now the late ancient Roman province of Isauria-Lycaonia , later only Isauria , which extends to the borders of Galatia , but did not cross the Taurus to the south. Pisidia , which until then belonged partially to Isauria, was also separated, including Iconium. As compensation, Isauria received the eastern parts of Pamphylia . With these reforms of Emperor Diocletian at the turn of the 4th century, Isauria was again limited to the area around Isaura Palaia and parts of Kalykadnos.

The Isaurians were already 76-75 BC. BC partially came under Roman rule. During the war of the Cilicians and other pirates against Rome, the Isaurians took part in the events so actively that it seemed necessary to the proconsul Publius Servilius Vatia to subdue the entire population, for which he in 75 BC. Received the nickname Isauricus . But only Pompey finally subjugated the pirates a few years later. The Isaurians were then subordinated to King Amyntas of Galatia for a while , but it is evident that they retained their predatory habits and also their independence (see Lydius ). In the 3rd century they supported the emperor Trebonianus Gallus in the civil war. Ammianus Marcellinus describes in his historical work, which was written towards the end of the 4th century, that many Isaurians left their country in the middle of the 4th century, probably in the 350s, and plundered the coastal region around Seleukeia for several years .

In the 5th century in particular, many men referred to by the sources as Isaurians held important positions in the Eastern Roman army. The Isaurian highlands seem to have only nominally recognized Roman sovereignty at that time, but especially since Emperor Leo I (457–474) it has evidently been the preferred recruiting area for the imperial army alongside the Balkans. This development reached its climax with the Isaurian Zeno, who was able to ascend the throne himself (see Croke 2005); at that time the state treasury is said to have even paid the Isaurians a high annual fee. His successor Anastasius then broke the power of the Isaurians in a six-year civil war (492–498). But it is also said that they were finally subjected again only in the time of Emperor Justinian .

According to tradition, this comparatively obscure people, at least in the hinterland hardly Romanized, produced two Eastern Roman or Byzantine emperors : First the already mentioned Zeno (ruled 474–491), whose maiden name was allegedly Traskalisseos Rousoumbladeotes, and later Leo the Isaur who took the throne 717, until 741 reigned and became the founder of a dynasty that ruled for three generations - where, however, it can be assumed that Leo is actually not from Isauria, but from Syria .

Isauria retained a certain degree of independence until the arrival of the Seljuks in the 11th century. The Byzantine Isauria also partially included Cyprus . In the 12th century the area was mainly exposed to Armenian attacks, and the Latin princes of Antioch tried to gain a foothold here.

The country contains ruins of cities and their fortifications. The ruins of Isaura Palaia are notable primarily for their location, but also for their fortress and tombs. Those of Isaura Nea have disappeared, but many inscriptions and reliefs that are built into the houses of Dorla as spolia indicate the place. He was finally identified by William M. Ramsay in 1901. Ruins have also been preserved from the town of Adrasos .


  1. Ammian 14: 2-8.