When people mention Alexander the Great, the image that springs to mind is often an idea of the scope of his conquests. With so many defeats in the face of Alexander’s ambition and drive, it comes as a surprise to many people when the guide on our Turkey tours tells them the story of Termessus, a mountain-top city that defied the armies of Alexander.
As always, the complete truth of ancient history is hard to determine, but it seems the city may not have defied him through any conventional show-of-arms. Alexander may have decided its naturally fortified position atop a mountain, and decided the time and lives conquering Termessus would cost him weren’t worth the effort. However, it is worth noting Alexander was willing to commit to lengthy and labour-intensive decisions such as climbing Aornos, or building a causeway out to Tyre. The emphasis many Turkey tours place on Termessus’ unlikely survival may not be entirely misplaced.
Termessus can seem like a mysterious location on first sight, especially given the uncertainty behind Alexander’s decision to pass it by. Termessus is impressively situated, thirty kilometres north-west of Antalya in the south of Turkey, standing atop Güllük Dağı at a height of about 1,665 metres above sea level, in the limestone mountain range that forms the division between the coastal region and the Anatolian plateau. The climb can make a strenuous addition to Turkey tours in the area, but is well worth it for those who come prepared.
Alexander the Great’s scrutiny of the city marks the city’s first appearance in the historical record. Alexander would have been quickly aware that the city was akin to an eagle’s nest – hard to reach and able to be defended by a small force. The city stood guard over a strategic road close by Alexander’s route to Phrygia from Pamphylia. Fortifications beside the road reveal that the Termessians almost certainly used the road as a source of revenue, exacting road tolls from those who passed. After judging the difficulty of his attack, he marched north and instead turned his attention to the stunning mountain top city of Sagalassos, the principal city in the region (another excellent site on historical Turkey tours). The Termessians came to support their Pisidian brethren but were defeated following Alexander’s successful siege.
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