Map of Byzantine Asia Minor in 780 AD, with the classic regions in black letters. These regions must not be confused with the Byzantine themata (provinces) in red letters (map source: wikipedia)
By Periklis Deligiannis
In the 4th century BC, before the conquests of Alexander the Great, Asia Minor (or Anatolia) was a multiracial area inhabited by several peoples with different ethno-linguistic origins. The Lydians, Carians, Lycians and the natives of Pamphylia and Cilicia were of Luwian origins. The Lycaonians, the Pisidians and the Phrygians belonged to the Phrygian group of peoples. The regions of Ionia, Aeolis, Doris, Troas and the coasts of Pamphylia and Cilicia had Greek population (descended from the Mycenaean and Archaic Greek colonization and the Hellenization of the natives). The Mysians and Doliones were Proto-Thracian populations, while the neighboring Bithynians were a Thracian proper tribe. The Cappadocians of Cappadocia proper and the Western Pontos (see below) were speaking several “hybrid” Phrygian, Iranian, Luwian, Hurri-Urartian and Palaeo-Caucasian dialects like the neighboring Armenians did, but the mixed Irano-Phrygian ethnic character with a lead of the Phrygian element, tended to prevail in both mentioned peoples.
The Kartvelian (Palaeo-Caucasian) tribes were the main population in Eastern Pontos (Pontus in Latin). In Paphlagonia, the local Palaic language (of the region Pala or Pa(ph)la in the Hittite archives) was loosing speakers in favour of the Phrygian. The following clarification needs to be made on the place terms “Cappadocia” and “Pontos”. Both regions were initially a geographical unit: Cappadocia, which extended to the south coast of the Black Sea (Euxeinos Pontos for the ancients) but since the establishment and development of the Hellenistic kingdom of the Mithridatids in coastal Cappadocia (3rd-2nd century. BC), known as “Cappadocia of Pontos”, or possibly even earlier, the specific area was geographically separated from the mainland and was eventually called simply “Pontos”. Moreover a geophysical separation of the region from the rest of Cappadocia existed, because of the high mountains that stretch between them. Finally, the north coast of Anatolia was also dotted with Greek city-colonies.
I do not mention Anatolian Galatia because this area was just a state, being the result of an invasion and not an ethnic region. The area of Galatia was comprised from parts of Cappadocia and Phrygia. The Gallic/Celtic overlords were scant in number compared to their numerous native subjects. That is why in this study I consider Galatia as the western part of Cappadocia and the eastern part of Phrygia.
All the coasts of Asia Minor (western, northern and southern) were colonized to a greater or lesser extent by Greeks in various periods apart from a few exceptions; Lycia being the most important. The densely populated peninsula of Lycia had not enough living space for new settlers. Except a few colonies (Phaselis, Rodiapolis, Gagae and others) or settlements (Xanthos, Patara, Karydala and others), the Greeks were not many in the region until the Hellenistic period. In the Hellenistic age, a massive colonization of Greeks swept Asia Minor. Hundreds of thousands settled in the large peninsula as citizens or land-owning soldiers (klerouchoi, katoikoi) linguistically Hellenizing till the beginning of the Late Roman Period the western hinterland and a few regions in the east. The indigenous inhabitants of these regions had acquired Greek ethnic consciousness/identity specifically because they were Hellenized during the Hellenistic and Early Roman Period, i.e. when the Greeks still retained their political and cultural dynamics after Alexander’s march; dynamics different from the status of being an inhabitant and then a citizen of the Roman Empire. For this reason the aforementioned peoples considered themselves “Greeks” and not generally “Romans”: the ‘ethnic’ designation ‘Roman’ (Ρωμαίος [Rhomaios] in the Byzantine Empire) essentially derived from the status of being an inhabitant of the Empire (Roman/Byzantine Empire) and since 212 AD from the status of the Roman citizen because that year the Roman citizenship was offered to all the free inhabitants of the empire .
The Hellenization of the aforementioned peoples was aided by their extensive intermarriage with the colonists. Their languages disappeared till the 7th-8th century AD in favor of Greek, and simultaneously the Orthodox Christian doctrine prevailed overwhelmingly among them. In the 11th century, when the Seljuk Turks arrived in Anatolia, the vast majority of its residents were speaking the Greek language while most were following the Orthodox doctrine and considered themselves Greeks or Greek-related.
However the eastern Anatolian hinterland, specifically Cappadocia proper, Isauria and the Inner Tracheia Cilicia, were only partially Hellenized during the Late Roman and Early Byzantine period. In the Middle Byzantine period, Greek was possibly the prevalent language in this region but coexisting with others. The important point is that only a part of its population had Greek ethnic consciousness/identity and followed the Orthodox faith. The other residents, although previously had a Roman imperial consciousness/identity, they did not consider themselves Greeks (although many seem to had been exclusively Greek speakers, not even bilingual) and many followed heretical doctrines based on Montanism, Manichaism, Messalianism, Katharianism and later on Paulicianism and similar teachings. Additionally, the Byzantine emperors of the 8th-11th AD colonized the same area with numerous Armenians and also Syrian (Aramaic), Coptic (Egyptian Christian), Kurdish, Arabic and other populations who were not Orthodox or Greek-speaking. In the Eastern Roman and then Byzantine Empire, the Greek language and consciousness/identity and the Orthodox faith usually characterized the citizens who were loyal to the imperial power, while the use of indigenous languages, the faith in Monotheletic/Monophysite religious doctrines and the rejection of Hellinization usually coexisted in the populations questioning it, without of course these identifications being absolute or even general.
Despite the crushing Byzantine military prevalence over the Paulicians who had convulsed eastern Asia Minor, it seems that large parts of Cappadocia, Lycaonia, Isauria and Cilicia remained inhabited by heretic or crypto-heretic populations until the Turkish invasion of the 11th century AD. In the 11th cent., the Byzantines tried to impose on them the orthodox doctrine of the Synod of Chalcedon, causing their wrath and thus pushing them in cooperating with the Seljuks. Linguistics gives us important information on the density of the mentioned non-Greek and mainly non-Orthodox populations at the eastern Asia Minor hinterland (essentially the major part of the Great Anatolian plateau). The Armenian language was widely spoken in the region, along with Greek. Armenian, Kurdish and Lazic prevailed in the Byzantine territories east of the Euphrates River (which do not geographically belong to Asia Minor); their speakers being indigenous.
However, scholars often attribute the use of the Armenian language in Cappadocia and other areas west of the Euphrates, to the abovementioned relocation of many Armenians during the 8th-11th centuries. Although those settlements were really dense and significantly strengthened the Armenian presence in the eastern Anatolian hinterland, I consider that the “Armenian” language spoken there was mainly the language of the native Cappadocians. In the following paragraphs I introduce the general rationale and just some of the arguments in favor of this theory which I have propounded in a study that I have written (‘The struggle between the Byzantine Empire and Islam‘, Athens 2009, in Greek only).
At the beginning of the first millennium BC, the Phrygians (originating from the central Balkan Peninsula where they were known as Brygae or Brygi) invaded Cappadocia subduing the Hittite, Luwian, Hurrian and other natives. The invaders had already settled in Phrygia Major (Great Phr.) or simply Phrygia, in which region gave their name. The fact that Phrygia permanently retained its name (till the arrival of the Turks) means that it was the main concentration area for the excursion of the Phrygian tribes to other extensive regions of Asia Minor which they eventually colonized. In fact, Phrygia Minor (or Hellespontine Phr.) was the first ground where the Phrygians settled coming from Thrace, but already before the Classical Age this region was evacuated by them and colonized by Proto-Thracian tribes that followed them close behind (a kind of tribal rearguard).
Some Phrygian tribes, using Phrygia as their base managed to conquer most of Cappadocia implanting their language in the region. The Mushki people mentioned in the Assyrian archives were among them. The Proto-Armenians were another Phrygian people who trekked and settled beyond Cappadocia, at the area east of the Euphrates, and formed the basis of the modern Armenian nation. The name of those Proto-Armenians may have been the Armina, as the Persians used to call Armenia and the Armenians, because there are several place-names in the Balkan Peninsula (the cradle of the Phrygian peoples) with the prefix Ormen-/Armen-. It is possible that these Proto-Armenians were a subtribe of the Mushki. However the modern Armenians are using the national name Hayer, being the name of the pre-Armenian population, ie the Urartian and Hurrian people of the land Azzi-Hayassa mentioned in the Hittite archives. Their modern name indicates that the pre-Phrygian population retained an important role in the new people created and that they were not subjugated by the newcomers but probably joined them after a compromise. It should also be noted that the Phrygians were numerically strengthened throughout their march in Asia Minor and then east of the Euphrates, by the aforementioned Proto-Thracian and other peoples of the Balkan Peninsula. The Phrygians settled also in Pisidia, Lycaonia, Paphlagonia and elsewhere implanting their language there too.
Although the Hittite, Palaic, Luwian, Hurrian and Urartian dialects of the pre-Phrygian natives of Cappadocia and Armenia survived for some centuries, the newcomer Phrygian language prevailed in both countries: an evidence of the vitality of the rather not populous Phrygians. The result of this development was the close relation in the Roman Period of the languages of Great Phrygia, Cappadocia and Armenia. However, some centuries after the Phrygian invasion and mostly during the Achaemenid rule the last two mentioned countries were infiltrated by strong Iranian ethnic elements, due to the settling there of many Scythians, Sacians (Saka), Persians, Medes, Matienians, Sagartians and other Iranians. The Iranian elements were mixed with the Phrygian ones, resulting in the evolution of the Classical Cappadocians and Armenians who had a mixed Irano-Phrygian character in language and culture. It is characteristic that due to the strong ancient Iranian presence in Armenia, the ethnologists of the 19th and early 20th centuries had classified the ancient Armenians as Iranians, before it was finally ascertained that they were a Phrygian people who received strong Iranian influence .
Similarly, the Cappadocians had been classified as Iranians by some scholars, while the place name “Cappadocia” is considered to be Iranian (hypothetically meaning the “land of the beautiful horses”). Because of the Iranian influence, the Cappadocian language and the Armenian language were significantly separated from the Phrygian proper language of Phrygia, Pisidia and Lycaonia. However they maintained their close relationship to each other being possibly simple dialects of a common Cappadoco-Armenian language. The ancient Phrygian proper was the linguistic basis of the latter but the Iranian elements were numerous, especially in its vocabulary.
The Greek language and cultural influence reached Cappadocia and Armenia mainly during the first centuries AD, due to the Christianization of their people. Cappadocia had received a strong Greek influence earlier, in the Hellenistic period, but its limited Hellenization was superficial and mainly confined to a part of the aristocracy. However, it had prepared the fertile ground for the Hellenization of many Cappadocians in the early Christian age and then during the Byzantine period. On the other hand, although Christianized many Cappadocians maintained their native language probably influenced by their Armenian relatives. The Armenians were Christianized without ever been Hellenized. Indeed, the rejection of the Synod of 453 AD by the Armenian Church can be very well seen as a reaction of the Armenian ethnic identity against the Greek Church of Constantinople. Additionally the Paulicians (Pauliciani) were mainly ethnic Armenians, Cappadocians and Aramaeans (Syrians) . Over the centuries, the ethnic name “Cappadocian” came to mean primarily the Greek-speaking Orthodox inhabitant of Cappadocia and not the inhabitants of the country who still spoke the native language. This is evidence that till the Middle Byzantine Age, probably most Cappadocians were already linguistically Hellenized (or became bilingual) and followed the Orthodox faith, at least superficially.
This ethno-linguistic and religious situation was reached not so much by the demographic growth of the Hellenized Orthodox inhabitants, but due to the reduction of the indigenous ethnic element of Cappadocia which suffered major losses because of the Byzantine military operations against various ‘heretics’ (not accepting the doctrine of the Synod of Chalcedon), especially the Paulicians. The presence of numerous heretics in Cappadocia was a major threat to the empire because they were not reluctant to come to terms and even in alliance with the Muslims on the other side of the border.
However the non-Hellenized Cappadocians remained a large part of the local population and had to adopt a new ethnic identity since as we analyzed, the Cappadocian identity no longer had its ancient meaning. Thus they began to identify themselves with the Armenians with who as it has been analyzed, spoke much the same language and followed a non-orthodox Christian doctrine as they did. This identification was strengthened by the aforementioned Armenian settlements in their country. In this way by the Middle Byzantine Period the ancient Cappadocian population was separated into “Greeks” who mostly followed the orthodox doctrine of Constantinople, and “Armenians” who mostly had tendencies of religious, cultural and political independence from the imperial capital. It can be hypothesized that the former were the majority in almost all the urban centers (Caesaria, Sebasteia, Euchaita, Amaseia, Colonia, Nazianzos, Nyssa, Sebastopolis and others) while the latter were the majority mainly in the east Cappadocian country, extending from those centers to the Euphrates. This ethnic separation of the region’s Christians survived during the Seljuk and Ottoman period. Although much of the population was Islamized, the Greek Orthodox community of Cappadocia remained numerically significant and socially compact until the early 20th cent, although many of its members were speaking only Turkish. Simultaneously Cappadocia maintained a significant Armenian community, which was reinforced by arrivals from neighboring Cilicia (after the destruction of the Armenian kingdom of this region) and mainland Armenia, and it is attractive to assume that many of these “Armenians” were in fact the descendants of those ancient Cappadocians who were not Hellenized. But it seems that most of the latter were Islamized and eventually Turkified, being more prone to this choice due to their opposition to the imperial control.
Similarly, many of the Kurds of modern Cappadocia (Karaman) and Kurdistan proper, do not originate from the ancient Kurdish core (being probably the Gutians [Guti, Quti, Qurti or Kurti] mentioned in the Assyro-Babylonian and Aramaean archives and the Carduchians mentioned in Xenophon’s “March of the Ten Thousand”) but from Scythians, Medes, Sagartians and other Iranians who had settled on those areas since Antiquity and spoke dialects similar to Kurdish Iranian. These Iranian populations often threatened by invaders, chose their ethnic unification around the scant of number Gutian/Carduchian core thus forming the populous modern Kurdish nation numbering 30-40 millions.
The Greeks and Armenians of Cappadocia stubbornly retained their ethnic identity and Christian religion, although their region was the first one in Asia Minor to be conquered by the Turks. They retained them, with the help of the following advantages.
First, the rapid Turkic conquest of Cappadocia secured its relative peace. Second, the Seljuk and Karamanian (Karamanoglu) monarchs were generally tolerant to the local Christians. Third, the wild Türkoman tribes used the area usually only for their passage to the western Asia Minor. The latter was wealthier than the eastern part and suffered more from their raids, which were aimed at looting goods and people. However the Cappadocian Christians became a target of persecutions by the late Sultan regime and the Young Turks, suffering massacres, deportations and other atrocities. In 1923, the surviving Cappadocian Greeks fled to Greece during the population exchange with Turkey, while only a few of the Cappadocian Armenians had managed after the Genocide to find refuge on Russian territory, mainly in Caucasian Armenia. Finally, regarding the non-Greek and non-Armenian population of eastern Anatolia, we will note the survival till the Middle Byzantine period of Luwian-speakers in Isauria and western highland Cilicia (who were eventually Hellenized) and the survival to date of Kartvelian speakers (mainly Laz) in East Pontos.
As we analyzed, many of the people of the eastern Anatolian hinterland had tendencies of autonomy or even independence from the Byzantine Empire, due to their ethnic and religious backgrounds. When the empire declined politically and financially and had to submit them to excessive taxation to meet the pressing needs, they felt that there was nothing that keeps them connected to her. It is well known that in the 11th century AD many of them welcomed the Seljuks as liberators. The winning over of those people by the Turks and the occupation of the Great Anatolian plateau were the decisive bases for the invading newcomers towards the gradual conquest of the whole peninsula. With the conquest of the mountainous, inaccessible and geophysical protected Anatolian plateau, the Seljuks occupied a natural fortress and base of military operations from which they could heavily raid western and northern Asia Minor and lowland Cilicia, devastate these areas and gradually colonize them with Turkomans.
On the contrary, the Byzantines could not seriously threaten the Turkish highland base. This area has always been the eastern “gate” of the Byzantine Empire. The Arabs tried for centuries to conquer it by military overexertion, without success. Its conquest in 1071 AD by the Seljuks, after the Battle of Manzikert, in conjunction with many internal factors of decline of the Byzantine Empire, led to her gradual loss of Asia Minor and eventually of all her territories.
 I have to remind that the Byzantines never called themselves by that name but only as “Romans”. The terms “Byzantine Empire, Byzantium and Byzantines” were invented by the Western historians of the 18th century, in order to accurately determine the new medieval Christian empire originated from the eastern part of the old Roman one, and has since prevailed. These historical terms come from the name of Byzantium, the ancient Megarian town which was located in the site of Constantinople. Till the end of the Byzantine Empire in 1453, the state was officially the “Basileia Rhomaion” (Βασιλεία Ρωμαίων) and its citizens were called “Romans” (Rhomaioi). Byzantium and the Byzantines exist only in history books.
 However, the Phrygian origin of the Proto-Armenians is not generally accepted by the modern scientific community; on the contrary there are many objections. Some scholars still consider them as Proto-Iranians and many believe that they were an ethnolinguistically independent Indo-European branch.
 On the other hand, many Armenians were Orthodox and especially those who used to live in Constantinople and the western Byzantine provinces or themata. The Armenians were an important people of the empire providing her with plenty of military manpower as well as some imperial dynasties.