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Urfa Castle, Şanlıurfa, Turkey (Bernard Gagnon/  CC BY-SA 3.0)

From Urfa To Edessa To Şanlıurfa: Spanning 10,000 Years Of History


During the Hellenistic Period from 312 BC to 63 BC, the Seleucid Empire was a major superpower and at its apex encompassed Anatolia, Persia, the Levant, (now modern Turkey, Iraq, Kuwait, Afghanistan, and parts of Turkmenistan) yet one would struggle to find the city of Edessa, founded by Seleucus I Nicator, one of the Diadochi of Alexander the Great, on a modern map. Even when Edessa became the capital of the Abgarid dynasty or the capital of the Roman province of Osroene, or the coveted prize in a tug-of-war between the Byzantines and the Parthians and the capital of the Outremer County of Edessa during the Crusades, its location remains elusive on a modern map. Just to confuse matters further, during the rule of Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175–164 BC) the city was named Antiochia on the Callirhoe and during Byzantine rule it was at some stage named Justinopolis. Where is Edessa? It is hidden in modern Şanlıurfa, on a plain in south-eastern Turkey about 80 kilometers (49 miles) east of the Euphrates River.

Map of the Taş Tepeler circle of Neolithic sites under excavation. (Deriv)

Map of the Taş Tepeler circle of Neolithic sites under excavation. (Deriv)

Steeped in layers of history, about 10,000 years ago, the region was part of a network of the first Neolithic human settlements where the agricultural revolution took place. Surrounding Şanlıurfa, then Urfa, lies what is believed to be 12 stone circle sites, collectively called Taş Tepeler, (Stone Hills) in an area covering 200 kilometers (124 miles).  The most famous of these is Gōbekli Tepe, and the rest are Karahan Tepe, Harbetsuvan, Gürcü Tepe, Kurttepesi, Taşlı Tepe, Sefer Tepe, Ayanlar, Yoğunburç, Sayburç, Çakmak Tepe and Yenimahalle.

Bronze Age Urfa

During the Uruk period (ca. 4000 to 3100 BC - from the protohistoric Chalcolithic to Early Bronze Age) regional settlements like Urfa and Harran expanded and developed into walled cities. At this time Urfa spanned 200 hectares. During the Bronze Age Urfa was an independent city state until its annexation into the Akkadian Empire, followed by the Neo-Sumerian Empire. After the fall of Ur it was again independent for a time until it fell to the Old Assyrian Empire and was abandoned in the Amorite expansion in 1800 BC.

There is a tentative, but as yet unproven possibility that ancient Urfa may be the city of Urshu, an ally of Ebla by way of a royal marriage. The Mari Texts refer to a clash between Mari and an alliance of Urshu and Yamhad in the beginning of the 18th century BC, as well as a conflict between Urshu and Carchemish.


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Dr Micki Pistorius has an Honours Degree in Biblical Archaeology

Top Image: Urfa Castle, Şanlıurfa, Turkey (Bernard GagnonCC BY-SA 3.0)

By: Micki Pistorius

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Dr Micki

Micki Pistorius is a South African psychologist, author and journalist. As a child, Micki’s natural curiosity was cultivated by both her parents and developed into an insatiable interest in history, art and literature. Her passion for history, archaeology and human... Read More

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