The Seljuk Han of Anatolia





Anatolia upon the arrival of the Seljuks in 1071 was ripe for the development of commerce and trade, and the Seljuks benefitted from several factors to aid in this development. Firstly, a solid economical base provided by the fertile agricultural sector was already in place. Then, as today, Anatolia was an agricultural powerhouse. By taking over this economic network, the Seljuks were able to enhance their potential power and make the transition from a nomadic to a more sedentary culture. Secondly, an established tradition of metal mining and metal working existed in Anatolia, handed down from the Ugarits and Hittites. Lastly, a corridor of centuries-old trade routes was already in full operation and begged for further development. Controlling, safeguarding and encouraging this trade potential was of utmost importance for the emerging Seljuk state. The construction of hans is a direct result of this desire for economic expansion via the development of trade routes.

Prior to the arrival of the Seljuks, there were 3 developed and fully-operating major trade routes in existence:

Archaeologists now present evidence that dates the earliest international trade convoys to 2700 B.C. This trade of 5,000 years ago involved cargos of tin, brought from the mountains of Afghanistan overland across Iran to the city of Eshnunna (Tel Asmar in current-day Iraq) on the Tigris river in Mesopotamia. From there the cargos were transported overland, via the city of Mari on the Euphrates, to the port of Ugarit (current-day Ras Shamra) in northern Syria, and finally from there shipped to various destinations in the Middle East. Tin was an important commodity, as it was vital ingredient in the production of bronze. The bronze alloy formulated in the eastern Mediterranean in the 3rd Millennium BC brought about a revolution in economics, civilization and warfare. At that time, there were only two known sources of tin in the world: Afghanistan and Anatolia. Anatolian tin was used locally and the surplus was exported. The increased demand for tin for bronze production opened up trade with Afghanistan, and thus the first known trade route, the Tin Road, was born. This route was the predecessor of the much later, and more famous Silk Road network, over which merchants traveled to and from China.


The 7,000 mile Silk Road network spanned China, Central Asia, Northern India, and the Parthian and Roman Empires. It connected the Yellow River Valley to the Mediterranean Sea and passed through the Chinese cities Kansu and Sinkiang and the present-day countries of Iran, Iraq and Syria. By 760 AD, during T'ang Dynasty China, trade along the Silk Road declined. It substantially revived under the Sung Dynasty in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, when China became largely dependent on its silk trade. In addition, trade to Central and Western Asia, as well as to Europe, recovered for a period of time from 1276-1368 under the Mongol Yuan Dynasty of China. The Chinese traded silk against medicines, perfumes, and slaves in addition to precious stones. As overland trade became increasingly dangerous, and overseas trade became more popular, trade along the Silk Road declined after this period. While the Chinese continued to deal in silk and furs with the Russians north of the original Silk Road, trade and travel along the road substantially decreased. It must be understood that the  Silk Road is more of a concept than a real road that can be drawn on a roadmap. The name was invented in 1877 by Ferdinand von Richthofen to describe the network of trade routes which linked China with the Mediterranean until they were made redundant by the European maritime discoveries of the late 15th c. The name was picked up again in the 1980s by UNESCO, and now signifies a larger concept for East-West trade rather than one specific highway. Scholars debate its exact configuration, and many varying descriptions of the route are encountered in texts.

Anatolia's connection with the Tin and Silk roads was not overland, but through its Mediterranean ports. The harbors on the Mediterranean coast were important junction points on this trade route. A route from the Syrian port of Ugarit passed through modern-day Antakya to Adana in Turkey. Tin mined in the Taurus mountains of southern Turkey was brought here for sale as well. In time, this route extended inland to Konya, by way of Niğde, eventually reaching as far as the Asian shore of the Bosphorus.

In the 2nd Millennium BC, a well-developed trade route between Anatolia and Mesopotamia was used by Assyrian merchants. About 500 years after the establishment of the Tin Road, a second trade route developed, still in use today. It originated in upper Mesopotamia and reached Kayseri via Mardin, Diyarbakir and Malatya. Created by Assyrian merchants who were the first to initiate trade between Anatolia and the Middle East, the route later was extended from Kayseri south to Niğde and north to Sivas. It eventually connected to Persia and was responsible for making Kayseri a leading trading center of the age.
In Seljuk times, there was a vast commercial fair called the "Yabanlu Pazari" (Bazaar of the Foreigners) that was held forty days a year at a place still called Pazarren near Kayseri. It is referred to by Mevlana in his Mesnevi. All the caravan routes converged at this point, not far from the site of a Bronze-age trading post. This fair's origins are thought to go back as far as the 2nd Millennium BC, when Kultepe, known in ancient times as Kanesh-Karum, was an important early Hittite commercial cities. Dating from 2000 BC, Kultepe near Kayseri was also one of the world's first cities to be open to free trade. Kltepe became an important Assyrian merchant stop, carrying goods up from Mesopotamia.

A third important road through Anatolia was established in the 5th century BC by the Persian King Darius I of the Achaemenid Empire: The "Royal Road". This road was built to facilitate communication through his large empire, and his couriers ("pirradazis") could travel its 1,677 miles (2,699 km) in only seven days. This road effectively connected the Persian cities of Persepolis and Susa with the Aegean city of Sardis in Turkey. The famous Greek historian Herodotus of Halicarnassus (5th BC) wrote: "There is nothing in the world that travels faster than these Persian couriers - neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor darkness of night prevents these couriers from completing their designated stages with utmost speed.". The writings of Herodotus have allowed scholars to reconstruct the road (Histories 5.52-53). The western end originated in Sardis (in the western Turkish province of Manisa), passed east through Turkey to the old Assyrian capital of Nineveh (present-day Mosul, Iraq) and then south to Babylon (present-day Baghdad, Iraq). From there, it is believed that it split in two routes, one leading northwest towards China and the other east to Susa in Persia. This connecting road made Sardis one of the richest cities in the world at the time. Sardis, capital of the ancient kingdom of Lydia, was one of the most important cities of the Persian Empire and later a seat of a proconsul of the Roman Empire. It was also the site of one of the Seven Churches of Asia, and is mentioned in the Bible's Book of Revelations. Sardis was a political and military base, but it was also important as the final western stop on the Royal Road. The city was also known for its industrial arts, notably the manufacture and dyeing of wool and the production of carpets.


After the founding of Constantinople as the capital of the Eastern Roman and later Byzantine Empires, new overland connections were established with the West through Iconium (later Konya), Sebastia (Sivas) and Tokat to make it possible for caravans to reach the city. Uskudar on the Asian side of the Bosphorus was the terminus of these routes. By this point in time, Sardis found itself off the major communication lines and lost some of its importance, but the trade routes this city established were maintained by the Seljuks. This "Royal road" eventually developed important connections with other established routes and became a branch of the Silk Road network. Anatolia was not directly a part of the classic Chinese/Central Asian Silk Road per se, but via the Royal Road, it became a part of the many roads and routes that connected the East with the West. A bridge in Diyarbakir, Turkey, still stands from the Roman-era use of the road.


In addition to these existing routes, the Seljuks further developed the trade routes of :

As stated above, Anatolia's connection with the Tin and Silk roads was not directly overland, but through its Mediterranean ports. The harbors on the Mediterranean coast were important junction points on both these trade routes. Merchant goods setting out from China would cross Turkestan, Iran, and Iraq in order to reach the Syrian coast. From there they would be laden onto a ship calling on the Mediterranean ports of Asia Minor. To reach their ultimate destination, Europe, the goods sold at the Mediterranean ports would either continue across the Mediterranean by ship or be carried overland through Anatolia to reach Constantinople and beyond. The ports along the Mediterranean were thus a direct link to the mineral and agricultural riches of the hinterland of both the eastern countries and Anatolia.

A crucial step in consolidating the Seljuk commercial power occurred in 1214. The capture of Sinop on the Black Sea was the great exploit of Izzeddin Keykavs I, as it allowed him to expand the Seljuk sea routes on both the Black and Mediterranean Seas.

THE CRUSADE ROAD: Links with Europe renewed
With the spread of Islam in the Middle East, the Byzantines steadily lost control over the traditional trade routes. They attempted to establish new routes using Black Sea ports, but the main thoroughfares were eventually overcome by the Muslims. Once the Seljuks established themselves in Anatolia, Byzantium completely lost control of the flow of trade through Asia Minor. The Seljuks developed the inland cities of Sivas, Tokat and Niğde to take advantage of this trade. By erecting hans along the Konya-Kayseri-Sivas route, the Seljuks attracted Genoese commercial interests to Sivas, followed by merchants from Naples, Pisa, and Russia.

In addition, the arrival of the Crusaders increased the volume of trade, as Europeans developed a taste for oriental goods, linking in effect Peking to Paris. Pilgrim "Holy Land" souvenirs were highly-prized items. Luxury items such as Islamic carpets, textiles, ivories, metalwork, ceramics and glass filled the stately homes and cathedrals of Europe. Many of these goods passed over the land and maritime routes of Anatolia.


Local manufacture of goods was highly encouraged by the Seljuks. The many Christian Greek and Armenian businessmen and merchants present in Anatolia at the arrival of the Turks were allowed to continue working in their towns. They formed an active sector of economic importance in the areas of metalwork, textiles, and construction, and even taught these trades to the Seljuks. By the second quarter of the 13th century, the Seljuks had become an export nation, although they still imported more that they exported. They also developed many local industries and traded their own goods among the cities of the Empire. These industries included the production of alum (an important mordant for dyeing wool) and refined sugar.

Parallel to this mercantile activity inland was an extensive shipping trade, based in the ports of Antalya and Alanya on the Mediterranean and in Sinop on the Black Sea. The capture of Antalya in 1207 had signaled a major triumph for the Seljuks, as it opened trade with Europe. The capture of Alanya in 1221 by Alaeddin Keykubad was an even greater asset, as the natural harbor provided the opportunity to set up a naval base in addition to the establishment of commercial activities, notably with Venice, Florence and France.

Major trading originated in the cities of Konya, Sivas and Kayseri, and was often handled in these urban centers by Greeks and Armenians. In a later time, the Venetians and merchants of Constantinople set up elaborate trade agreements, notably for luxury items such as textiles and gems. Trade was also maintained with the east to Syria and Iraq, as well as with the Kipchak Empire of Southern Russia via the active port of Sinop.

The trade currency was the dirrhem, generally struck with the reigning Sultan's name, and sometimes with elaborate symbols, such as a horseman, star, sun, lion, or crescent. Most of the coinage was minted in Konya, in copper, silver and gold. Some of the royal claimants to the throne contrived to mint coins bearing their own names. At the time of Alaeddin Keykubad, the currency issued by the Caliph of Baghdad, the Fatimids, the Beys of Aleppo and the Italian florin were all accepted as legal tender throughout the sultanate. Also employed as a banking exchange was the informal transfer system known as the hawala, the Arabic word for trust. Money was deposited in one place, its sum and availability communicated to the desired party, who then picked it up at a more convenient place or at the end of his journey. Large sums of money were transferred by trust, a handshake and a code word. This system was used by the Chinese, who called it fei qian, or "flying money". It was extensively used by Islamic traders as a means to avoid robbery along the deserted and isolated trade routes. It is still in use today in the Middle East.

Patterns of trade varied. Merchants bought and sold along the way, bumble-bee style, or drove specific convoys of goods to a specific client, urban market or port of call. Trade was carried out inside hans as well, where merchants could meet with local clients and negotiate prices and orders.


The pack animals used for trade were camels, as they were perfectly adapted to local geographic conditions, and were the most efficient of all animals for speed, endurance and load capacity. Those used were a breed combining the dromedary (one hump) camel with the sturdier eastern Bactrian race (two-humps). They could carry some 250 pounds on their backs and could cover some 20 miles a day. A camel train (called a "katar") was comprised of little groups of 7 camels led by a donkey, and could transport a ton of goods between Konya and Kayseri in approximately 10 days. Time is money, but so is load capacity. The more a camel could carry, the more money the merchant could make. If extraneous baggage was eliminated, such as tents, gear and food, the load capacity could be further increased. These supplies and services were offered by hans, and they made it possible for the caravans to carry more loads and more efficiently turn higher profits.

The Turks exported extensively, sending out more goods than they imported. In addition to the tin, alum and other goods mentioned above, what exactly was sold along these routes? What was unloaded from the tired camels tethered at the end of the day in the courtyards of the great Anatolian hans?

Many of these items eventually made their way to Europe as well, transported by the Latins and Byzantines from the maritime ports of Antalya, Alanya and Sinope.

What did they export?

Mail, and documents of official and governmental nature were also transported along these routes.

The imports of the Seljuk Empire included:

An analysis of the orientation of hans gives key information about the trade routes developed by the Seljuks to increase their inland commerce hubs of Sivas, Aksaray, Kayseri and Konya, and the port cities of Antalya, Alanya and Sinop. Trade routes crossed Anatolia in all directions, from south to north, from east to west, and in a broad diagonal running from southwest to northeast.  These routes linked cities in Anatolia among themselves and with the other major centers of trade in the Middle East at that time, which included Tabriz in Iran, Baghdad in Iraq, and Aleppo in Syria. The major commercial port cities of Anatolia of the 13th century were the Mediterranean ports of Antalya, Alanya, and Ayas, the Aegean center of Izmir, the Black Sea ports of Sinop, Samsun and Trabzon, and of course, Constantinople on the Bosphorus. Konya, Kayseri, Sivas and Erzurum were the major inland trading hubs.

In general, the han laid parallel to the road, so it can be assumed that the main portal faced the direction of the approaching travelers. The cube mosques in the courtyards were oriented in the required prayer axis.

Many of the paved roads of Turkey today follow the same ones that were used in Seljuk times.

The Konya-Aksaray-Kayseri axis, known as the "Ulu Yol", or "Grand Road", split in two at Kayseri: a northern route headed to Sivas, then Erzurum, and onto Iran and the Caucasus. A more southerly route headed to Malatya, Diyarbakir, Van, Mesopotamia and Iran. From Konya, roads led down to Mediterranean ports of Antalya and Alanya. Another important route was the "High Road", built by Alaeddin Keykubad I to ensure communication between Alanya and Konya. It ran westward along the Mediterranean coast from Antalya to Alanya. The last major road system was the important north-south trade artery that ran from Sivas to Samsun on the Black Sea.


It is interesting to note that the number of hans in eastern Anatolia is sparse, despite the fact that Sivas was a principal trading hub for the empire. Another oddity is the high number of hans (4) along the relatively short stretch of road between Konya and Beyşehir.

The orientation of the hans along the following main trade routes are as indicated below:

This road appeared to go from Aksaray west:

Ak perpendicular to the road
Sultan Han Aksaray parallel to road, door faces Aksaray
Obruk Han parallel to road, door faces Aksaray
Zazadin Han parallel to road, door faces Aksaray



This road appeared to go from Aksaray east:

Ağzikara parallel to road, door on side but probably faced Aksaray
Oresun perpendicular to road
Alay perpendicular to road
Dolay parallel to road, door faces Aksaray

This road appeared to go from Konya west (or both ways ?):

Horozlu perpendicular tot he road
Dokuzun parallel to the road, door faces Konya
Hacı Hafiz parallel to road (?)
Kadin parallel to road
Işakli perpendicular to road
Eğret perpendicular to road
Yeniceky perpendicular to road


The road appeared to go from Konya west to Beyşehir:

Altinapa parallel to road, door faces Konya
Kuruesme parallel to road, door faces Beyşehir
Kurueşme parallel to road, door faces Beyşehir
Kireli parallel to road, door faces Konya
Ertok parallel to road, door faces Eğridir
Eğridir perpendicular to road

This road appeared to go from Antalya north to Eğridir:      

Evdir faces south
Kırkgz perpendıcular to road
Suzuz perpendıcular to road
Incir (?) facade faces south





2001-2016, Katharine Branning; All Rights Reserved. No part of this site may be reproduced in any form without written consent from the author.