A Few Famous Turks

My novel Evil Eye was inspired by the year I spent living and working in Isatanbul, Turkey – a vast and rapidly developing country about which most people know very little!

Here is a fun introduction to some very famous people. How many of them did you already know were Turkish?

1. St. Paul

The Apostle and keeper of the keys to the gates of heaven was born in Tarsus in southern Turkey. His missionary journeys signalled the arrival of Christianity in Asia Minor from 47 AD. St John, St Paul and St Peter all lived and prayed in southern Anatolia. Tradition has it that St John bought Virgin Mary to Ephesus after the Crucifixion, where she spent her last days in a small stone house (Meryemana Evi) on what is now Bülbüldağı (Mount Koressos). It remains a popular pilgrimage site for Christians to this day.

St Paul

2. Abraham

The father of the Jewish people was born in Turkey.

3. Father Christmas

Santa Claus, more politely known as St. Nicholas, was born in Patara near Kalkan and was Bishop of Myra in Demre on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast. The village contains the famous Church of St. Nicholas with the sarcophagus believed to be his tomb. He was very friendly to children and regularly donated gold coins to those in need, so the tradition of gift giving on 6th December, his festival day, spread widely. In some countries gifts are still given on the traditional 6th December, rather than on Christmas day.

A Generous Turk

4. Homer

The ancient poet who composed the Odyssey and the Iliad, was allegedly born in Turkey. He was allegedly born in a lot of other places, too, but Homer is most frequently said to be born in the Ionian region of Asia Minor, at Smyrna.

Greek poet Homer, claimed by some to have been born in Turkey.
Another Homer. This one DEFINITELY isn't Turkish.
Another Homer. This one DEFINITELY isn’t Turkish.

5. Herodotus

The famous “Greek” who wrote the first surviving history book, was also from Turkey. In those days, much of Turkey was occupied by Greek-speakers. He would have called himself Greek, but the place where he grew up was part of modern day Turkey.

Herodotus, the Greek Turkish Historian

6. King Midas

The legendary richest man in the world was Turkish. The son of Gordius, the last and the most famous of the Phrygian kings, ruled over the whole of Asia Minor in the 6th century BC. Midas was famous for his fantastic wealth and became legendary for the “Midas touch”, whereby everything he touched turned into gold. Unfortunately this also happened to any piece of food he tried to eat, so he died of starvation.

In this picture of King Midas by French artist Poussin, the King’s touch seems to make people’s clothes dissolve rather than turning them into gold. Oh those French!

7. The Roman Emperor Constantine I

He became Emperor in York, England, but he was born in Moesia in Turkey (AD 280?–337). He was the first Roman emperor to become Christian, legalise Christianity, and spread it throughout the Roman Empire and the known world. However, he refused to be formally baptised until he lay on his death bed, as he wanted to make sure that all the sins he committed during his lifetime (and there were quite a few) did not count against him in the afterlife.

The Emperor Constantine

8. The Amazons

Not booksellers online, but the legendary Amazon women warriors were from Turkey. According to Greek mythology, Amazons were a warlike tribe of women descended from Ares, the god of war, and the naiad Harmonia. They lived on the bank of the Thermodon River, on the Black Sea coast of Turkey.

I could not find any real Amazons to pose for the photo, so this one will have to do, even though she still has both boobs.

For the continuation of the Amazon race, the women kept a stock of men for mating purposes, but they had the status of slaves, and were allowed to perform only those tasks executed in other countries by women. Women entirely ruled their society, and two queens, one for defence and one for domestic affairs, shared the sovereign rule. Only women bore arms. They fought both on foot and on horseback, carrying crescent shields and wielding spears, bows and battle axes. War, hunting, agriculture and training girl Amazons were their principal pursuits. It was said they were the first humans to ride on horseback. Some legends claimed they deliberately cut of one of their breasts so they could carry their shields more effectively. It is thought this legend originated from the matriarchal tribes of Anatolia in which women were far freer and more dominant than the women of ancient Greece.

Were there any surprises here? Turkey tends to hold a lot of surprises for most people. My novel Evil Eye is set in Istanbul, and offers glimpses of the fascinating variety in Turkey’s culture and heritage.



2 Comments Add yours

  1. This is a really entertaining and informative post. I studied Turkey for many years but haven’t yet got there for myself. Though I didn’t know about the Amazon women of Anatolia, I can certainly imagine it knowing how tough life was for people there.

    1. I wish I had spent more time travelling in Anatolia when I lived in Turkey. There was so much to see in the Istanbul area that I never got around to venturing further afield!
      I do strongly recommend Turkey for holidays. The amount of fascinating history, and the interesting cultural curiosities to find there, are truly amazing. It is a very sadly overlooked holiday destination. Unfortunately the Turkish tourist board promotes the beaches and giant tourist hotel resorts, so the fabulous culture is still almost unknown.

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