Termessos was a Pisidian city built at a height of 1050 meters in the Taurus Mountains. Termessos constitutes an unusual synthesis of a large number of rare plants and animal species, which are under protection in the Termessos National Park.
Termesos is one of the best preserved of the ancient cities of Turkey. It lies 30 kilometres to the north-west of Antalya. Concealed by a multitude of wild plants and bounded by dense pine forests, the site, with its peaceful and untouched appearance, has a more distinct and impressive atmosphere than other ancient cities. Because of its natural and historical riches, the city has been included in a National Park bearing its name.
The inhabitants of Termessos called themselves the Slymi and were a Pisidian people. Their name, as well as that given to the mountain on which they lived, was derived from Solymeus, an Anatolian god who became identified with Zeus, giving rise here to the cult of Zeus Solymeus (Solim in Turkish). This name still exists as a surname in some people in Antalya region.
The recorded history of Termessos commences principally at the time that Alexander the Great surrounded the city in 333 BC but failed to conquer. Arrianos, an ancient historian, notes that even a small force could easily defend it due to the insurmountable natural barriers surrounding the city. Alexander wanted to go to Phrygia from Pamphylia, and according to Arrianos the road passed by Termessos. Actually, there are other passes much lower and easier of access, so why Alexander chose to ascend the steep Yenice pass is still a matter of dispute. It is even said that his hosts in Perge sent Alexander up the wrong path. Alexander did not undertake an assault, but instead marched north and vented his fury on Sagalassos.
The historian Diodors has recorded in full detail another incident in the history of Termessos. In 319 B.C., after the death of Alexander, one of his generals, Monophtalmos, proclaimed himself master of Asia Minor and set out to do battle with his rival Alcetas, whose base of support was Pisidia. His forces were made up of some 40,000 infantry, 7,000 cavalry, and included numerous elephants as well. Unable to vanquish these superior forces. Alcetas and his friends sought refuge in Termessos. The Termessians gave their word that they would help him.
At this time, Antigonos came and set up camp in front of the city, seeking delivery of his rival. The elders of the city decided to hand Alcetas over, but the youths of Termessos wanted to keep their word and refused to go along with the plan. The elders sent Antigonos an envoy to tell him they would surrender Alcetas. Learning of his imminent capture, Alcetas killed himself. The elders delivered his corpse to Antigonos. After subjecting the corpse to all manner of abuse for three days, Antigonos departed Pisidia leaving the corpse unburied. The youth, greatly resenting what had happened, recovered Alceas' corpse, buried it with full honours, and erected a monument to his memory.
Termessos was obviously not a port city, but its lands stretched south-east all the way to the Gulf of Attaleia (Antalya). Because the city possessed this link to the sea it was taken by the Ptolemies.
An inscription found in the Lycian city of Araxa yields important information about Termessos. According to this inscription, in the second century B.C., Termessos was at war for unknown reasons with the league of Lycian cities, and again in 189 B.C. found itself battling its Pisidian neighbour Isinda. At this same time we find the colony of Termessos Minor being founded near the city in the second century B.C., Termessos entered into friendly relations with Attalos II, king of Pergamum, the better to combat its ancient enemy Serge. Attalos II commemorated this friendship by building a two-storeyed stoa in Termessos.
Termessos was an ally of Rome, and so in 71 B.C. was granted independent status by the Roman Senate; according to this law its freedom and rights were guaranteed. This independence was maintained continuously for a long time, the only exception being an alliance with Amyntas king of Galatia (reigned 36-25 B.C.). This independence is documented also by the coins of Termessos, which bear the title "Autonomous".
The end of Termessos came when its aquaduct was crushed in an earthquake, destroying the water supply to the city. It was abandoned - and this fact does much to account for its remarkable state of preservation today.
From the main road, a steep road leads up to the city. From this road one can see the famous Yenice pass, through which wound ancient road that the Termessians called "King Street" as well as Hellenistic period fortification walls, cisterns and many other remains. King Street, built in the second century A.D. by contributions from the people of Termessos, passes through the city walls higher up and stretches in a straight line all the way to the centre of the city. In the walls to the east of the city gate are some extremely interesting inscriptions with augury by dice. Throughout the history of the Roman Empire, beliefs of this sort-in sorcery, magic, and superstition-were widespread. The Termessians were probably very interested in fortune telling. Inscriptions of this kind are usually four to five lines long and include numbers to be thrown with the dice, the name of the god wanted for soothsaying, and the nature of the prediction given in the counsels of that god.
The city Termessians where the principal official buildings are located lies on a flat area a little beyond the inner walls. The most striking of these structures is the agora, which has very special architectural characteristics. The ground floor of this open-air market place has been raised on stone blocks, and to its north-west five big cisterns have been hollowed out. The agora is surrounded on three sides by stoas. According to the inscription found on the two-storey stoa on the north-west, it was presented to Termessos by Attalos II, king of Pergamum (reigned 150-138 B.C) as proof of his friendship. As for the north-eastern stoa, it was built by a wealthy Termessian named Osbaras, probably in imitation of the stoa of Attalos. The ruins Iying to the north-east of the agora must belong to the gymnasium, but they are hard to make out among all the trees. The two-storey building consisted of an internal courtyard surrounded by vaulted rooms. The exterior is decorated with niches and other ornamentation of the Doric order. This structure dates from the first century A.D.
Immediately to the east of the agora lies the theatre. With a view out over the Pamphylian plain, it displays most clearly the features of the Roman theatre, which preserved the Hellenistic period theatre plan. The Hellenistic cavea, or semicircular seating area, is divided in two by a diazoma. Above the diazoma rise eight tiers of seats, below it are sixteen, allowing for a seating capacity of some 4-5,000 spectators.
A large arched entrance way connects the cavea with the agora. The southern parados was vaulted at some later time, the northern has been left in its original open-air state. The stage building exhibits features characteristic of the second century A.D. A long narrow room is all that lies behind it. This is connected with the podium where the play took place, by five doors piercing the richly ornamented facade or scaenae frons.
Under the stage lie five small rooms where wild animals were kept before being taken into the orchestra for combat. As in other classical cities, an odeon lies about 100 metres from the theatre. This building, which looks like a small theatre, can be dated to the first century B.C. It is well preserved all the way to roof level and exhibits the finest quality ashlar masonry. The upper storey is ornamented in the Doric order and coursed with square-cut blocks of stone, while the lower storey is unornamented and pierced by two doors. The building was originally roofed, since it received its light from eleven large windows in the east and west walls.
Seating capacity was probably not larger than 600-700. Amid the rubble, pieces of coloured marble have been unearthed, giving rise to the possibility that the interior walls were decorated with mosaic. It is also possible that this elegant building served as the bouleuterion or council chamber.
Six temples of varying sizes and types have been accounted for at Termessos. Four of these are found near the odeon in an area that must have been sacred. The first of these temples is located directly at the back of the odeon and is constructed of truly splendid masonry. It has been proposed that this was temple of the city's chief god, Zeus Solymeus. What a pity, then, that apart from its five metre-high cella walls, very little remains of this temple.
The second temple lies near the south-west corner of the odeon. It possesses a 5.50x5.50 metre cella and is of the prostylos type. According to an inscription found on the still complete entrance, this temple was dedicated to Artemis, and both the building and the cult statue inside were paid for by a woman named Aurelia Armasta and her husband using their own funds. To the other side of this entrance, a statue of this woman's uncle stands on an inscribed base. The temple can be dated on stylistic grounds to the end of the second century A.D.
To the east of the Artemis temple are the remains of a Doric temple. It is of the peripteral type, with six or eleven columns to a side; judging from the size of it, it must have been the largest temple in Termessos. From surviving reliefs and inscriptions, it too, is understood to have been dedicated to Artemis.
Further to the east, the ruins of another smaller temple lie on a rock-hewn terrace. The temple rose on a high podium, but to what god it was dedicated is not known at present. However, contrary to general rules of classical temple architecture, the entrance to this temple lies to the right, indicating that it may have belonged to a demi-god or hero. It can be dated to the beginning of the third century A.D.
As for the other two temples, they are located near the stoa of Attalos belong to the Corinthian order, and are of the prostylos type. Also dedicated to deities who are as yet unknown, these temples can be dated to the second or third century A.D.
The Roman House
There is a typical Roman period house with a Doric order doorway along the west wall, which rises to a height of six metres. This type of house generally belonged to nobles and plutocrats. The main entrance gives onto a hall which leads through a second entrance to a central courtyard, or atrium. An impluvium or pool designed to catch rainwater lies in the middle of the courtyard. The atrium held an important place in the daily activities and was also used for reception of guests. It was often ostentatiously decorated. The other rooms of the house were arranged around the atrium.
A street with wide, shop-lined porticoes ran north-south through the city. The space between the columns of the porticoes was often filled with statues of successful athletes, most of them wrestlers. The inscribed bases for these statues are still in place, and by reading them we can recreate the ancient splendour of this street.
To the south, west and north of the city, mostly within the city walls, there are large cemeteries containing rock-cut tombs, one is supposed to have belonged to Alcetas himself. Unfortunately the tomb has been despoiled by treasure hunters. In the tomb itself a kind of lattice work was carved between the columns behind the kline; at the top there was probably an ornamental frieze. The left part of the tomb is decorated with the depiction of a mounted warrior dateable to the fourth century B.C. it is known that the youth of Termessos, much affected by the tragic death of General Alcetas, built a magnificent tomb for him, and the historian Diodoros records that Alcetas did battle with Antigonos while mounted on a horse. These coincidences suggest that this is indeed the tomb of Alcetas and that it is he who is depicted in the relief.
The sarcophagi, hidden for centuries among a dense growth of trees south-west of the city, transports one in an instant to the depths of history ceremony, the dead were placed in these sarcophagi along with their clothing, jewellery, and other rich accoutrements. The bodies of the poor were buried in simple stone, clay, or wooden sarcophagi. Dateable to the second and third centuries A.D., these sarcophagi generally rest on a high pedestal.
In the family tombs of the weatlthy the sarcophagi were placed inside an ornamented structure in the shape of the deceased. There are inscriptions calling on the fury of the gods to scare away grave robbers. The inscriptions also state the fines meted out to those who did not conform to these rules. These fines, ranging from 300-100,000 denarii and generally paid to the city treasury in the name of Zeus Solymeus, took the place of legal judgements.