About 3,000 years ago the country now known as Turkey was divided into several kingdoms. The most important of these was the Hittite Kingdom. Another kingdom was ruled from the city of Troy. Around 1200 B.C. many Greeks began to migrate to Turkey. They settled along the coasts and established their own states there. These ancient Greeks conquered the people of Troy during the Trojan War, one of the most famous wars in history. Subsequently, both Asian and European Turkey were conquered by the Persians, who in turn were driven out by the Macedonian Alexander the Great in 333 B.C. After the death of Alexander several small kingdoms rose and fell in Turkey. They all were conquered eventually by the Roman general Pompey (106–48 B.C.) in 63 B.C. The Romans divided Turkey into several provinces and built many cities.
The Byzantine Empire. In A.D. 330 the Roman emperor Constantine chose Byzantium as his eastern capital. Byzantium, renamed Constantinople, became the most important city in the Byzantine, or Eastern Roman, Empire. For some 200 years, from the 800s to 1000s, the Byzantine Empire was a great world power. The Christian religion and much of the ancient Greek civilization survived here and were passed on to other parts of Europe and Asia.
During the 1000s, the first Turkish tribes, called Seljuks, came from western Central Asia and settled in what is now central and eastern Turkey. The Seljuks were followers of the Islamic religion. They attacked the Byzantine Empire and set up a Muslim state in Asian Turkey. The Seljuks in turn were weakened by the Christian Crusaders on their way to capture Palestine from its Muslim rulers. Later, Mongol invaders from Central Asia destroyed the little remaining power of the Seljuks. But the Seljuk settlements and states survived.
The Ottoman Empire. Another group of Turkish tribes from Central Asia arrived in the 1200s. They were called Ottomans, after their legendary first leader, Osman, or Othman (1259–1326). The Ottomans, or Ottoman Turks, conquered what remained of the Seljuk states. In 1326 they reached the Sea of Marmara. By 1360 the Ottomans had conquered much of what is now European Turkey. Constantinople held out until 1453, when it, too, fell to the Ottoman Turks. The Ottoman Empire reached its height during the 1500s. Under Sultan Suleiman I (1496–1566), known as the Magnificent, the empire extended across southeastern Europe and through parts of southern Russia, to Southwest Asia and North Africa.
Under succeeding sultans the empire began to slowly decline. By the late 1800s and early 1900s, it had lost most of its European territories, including what are today Greece, Romania, Bulgaria, Albania, and other parts of the Balkans. Egypt and other northern African states also became virtually independent.
Many Turks believed that changes in Turkish laws and customs were necessary to halt further decline. Sultan Abdul-Hamid II, known as Abdul the Damned, promised reforms but did not keep his word. In 1908 he was overthrown by a group of reforming politicians called Young Turks. They introduced political and social reforms and established a constitutional monarchy under Sultan Mohammed V.
It was too late, however, to stem the decline. The final breakup of the empire came after World War I (1914–18). As one of the defeated powers, the empire was forced to give up its remaining non-Turkish lands. The chief victorious powers, France and Britain, occupied Istanbul for a time, and in 1919, Greek troops invaded Turkey's Aegean coast.
Republic of Turkey. With the Ottoman government helpless, a Turkish general, Mustafa Kemal, organized a temporary government whose forces expelled the Greeks in 1922. The last sultan, Mohammed VI, was deposed, and in 1923, Kemal established a Turkish republic, with its capital in Ankara. Kemal became its first president. Adopting the surname Atatürk ("Father of the Turks"), he introduced many reforms that helped transform Turkey into a modern nation.