The Seljuk Han of Anatolia
The situation in
Anatolia upon the arrival of the Seljuks in 1071 was ripe for the development of
commerce and trade. The Seljuks were able to benefit from several factors to aid in this
development. Firstly, there was already in place a solid economical base provided by
fertile agricultural sector. Then, as today, Anatolia was an agricultural powerhouse. By
taking over this economic network, the Seljuks could enhance their potential power and make
the transition from a nomadic and warrior culture to one of a more settled agricultural
profile. Secondly, Anatolia possessed an established tradition of metal mining and metal
working, 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 of trade
Prior to the arrival of the Seljuks, there were 3 developed and fully-operating trade routes in existence:
THE TIN ROAD / SILK ROUTE
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 destinations in the Middle East. Tin was an important commodity, as it was vital ingredient in the production of bronze. The bronze alloy that was 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: Afghanistan and Anatolia. Anatolian tin was used locally and the surplus was exported. The increased demand for tin made the trip to Afghanistan necessary 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, 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 places such as the Chinese cities Kansu and
Sinkiang and the present-day countries of Iran, Iraq and Syria. By 760 AD, during
the T'ang Dynasty China, trade along the Silk Road had declined. It
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 Europe recovered for a period of time from 1276-1368
under the Mongol Yuan Dynasty of China. The Chinese traded
silk for 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. While the Chinese did maintain a
silk-fur trade with the Russians north of the original Silk Road, trade and travel along the road had
substantially decreased. It must
be understood that the
Silk Road is been 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.
THE ASSYRIAN TRADE ROAD
In the 2nd Millennium BC, there was a well-developed trade route between Anatolia and Mesopotamia that 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 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 Pazarören 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 one of the earliest Hittite commercial cities. Dating from 2000 BC, Kultepe was also one of the world's first cities to be open to free trade.
THE PERSIAN ROYAL ROAD
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 Hallicarnassus (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 started in Sardis (in the western Turkish province of Manisa), traveled 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 northwest towards China and the other east to Susa. This connecting road made Sardis one of the richest cities in the world at that time. Sardis was the capital of the ancient kingdom of Lydia, and one of the most important cities of the Persian Empire and later a seat of a proconsul of the Roman Empire. It was also was 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 the last stop on the Royal Road. The city was also known for its industrial arts, notably the manufacture and dyeing of woolen stuffs and 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
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
A bridge in Diyarbakir, Turkey, still stands from the Roman-era use of the road. Kültepe near Kayseri was an important Assyrian merchant stop, carrying goods up
from Mesopotamia that had been brought over the Silk Road.
In addition to these existing routes, the Seljuks further developed the trade
routes of :
THE MEDITERRANEAN and BLACK SEA PORTS
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 of these trade routes. The goods of a merchant setting out from China would cross Turkestan, Iran, and Iraq in order to reach the Syrian coast. From there they could be laden onto a ship calling on the Mediterranean ports of Asia Minor. To reach their ultimate destination, Europe, these goods sold at the Mediterranean ports would either continue on their way across the Mediterranean or be carried through Anatolia overland 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 very crucial step in consolidating the Seljuk commercial power occurred in
The capture of Sinop on the Black Sea was the great exploit of the reign of Izzeddin Keykavüs I, as it allowed him to expand the
Seljuk sea routes by completely
linking the north and south maritime routes of Anatolia.
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. This trade channel was taken over by the Seljuks, who sought to develop their inland cities such as Sivas, Tokat and Niğde to take advantage of this trade. By erecting hans along the Konya-Kayseri-Sivas route, they 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 by them to continue living and working in their towns. They formed a very 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 had 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 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 Florence
The bulk of the trade was of a transient nature. 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 is deposited in one place, its sum and availability communicated to the desired party, who then picks it up at a place more convenient 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 were 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 went on inside of the han 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
dromadary (one hump) with the more sturdy easter 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, as the old expression
goes, but so is load capacity. The more a camel could carry, the more
money the merchant could make. In this way, all extraneous baggage needed
to be eliminated, notably tent, camping gear and food...which could be supplied
by the han. In this way as well, hans made it possible to for the caravans to
carry more loads and more efficiently turn higher profits.
The Turks were heavy exporters, and sent 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 could eventually have 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?
sugar from the refineries of Alanya
produce: fruits (notably apricots), grains, olives, wheat, salted fish
textiles and carpets
chemical and mineral compounds: alum, salt, borax, yellow arsenic orpiment ("King's yellow" arsenic trisulfide pigment). Alum, an essential mordant for dyeing wool, was a particularly important export
metals: silver, lead, tin, zinc, copper, iron
leather, wool, mohair
gum Arabica, pine resin, timber
slaves, taken captive in war or raid, usually supplied by the Kipchaks. Slaves appeared to be the most valuable commodity of the Black Sea route. The Seljuks were the middlemen in the trade of slaves. Circassians and Kipchaks of Southern Russia were sold in the great markets of the Crimea to the Egyptians who imported them to become Mamluk slave servants.
Mail, and documents
of official and governmental nature were also transported along these routes.
The import demands of the Seljuk Empire included:
spices, arms and cotton from Egypt
light-weight woolens, delicate silks, musk, ambergris and other perfumes from Baghdad
glass from Syria and Iraq
cobalt from Iran
fine silk, pearls, paper, sandalwood, gun powder, jade, lacquer and porcelain from China
gems from Central Asia
black pepper, gems, gold and silver ingots, pharmaceutical products and aromatics from India
thoroughbred horses from Georgia
slaves, Caspian caviar and furs from the Caucasus and Southern Russia.
SELJUK TRADE ROUTES
An analysis of the orientation of the hans gives key information to the trade routes developed by the Seljuks to develop their inland commerce hubs of Sivas, Aksaray, Kayseri and Konya, and the port cities of Antalya, Alanya and Sinope.
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, 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 Trazon, 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.
However, as some of the larger hans had mosques in the courtyard (never in covered section) this axis orientation could have determined its position.
It is probable as well that the paved roads of modern 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|
|Yeniceköy||perpendicular to road|
The road appeared to go from Konya west to Beyşehir:
|Altinapa||parallel to road, door faces Konya|
|Kuruçesme||parallel to road, door faces Beyşehir|
|Kizilören||parallel to road, door faces Beyşehir|
|Kireli||parallel to road, door faces Konya|
|Ertokuş||parallel to road, door faces Eğridir|
|Eğridir||perpendicular to road|
This road appeared to go from Antalya north to Eğridir:
|Kırkgöz||perpendıcular to road|
|Suzuz||perpendıcular to road|
|Incir (?)||facade faces south|
©2001-2011, Katharine Branning; All Rights Reserved. No part of this site may be reproduced in any form without written consent from the author.