Located at the heart of the so-called Anatolian plateau and along the important military highway leading from Constantinople to the eastern border of the Empire, Ankara (Ankyra) has always played a prominent role in the political, religious, intellectual and economic history of the Byzantine Empire.

“Inde obviat Galatia provincia optima sibi sufficiens. Negotiatur vestem plurimam; aliquotiens vero et milites bonos dominis fraestat. Et habet civitatem maximam quae dicitur Ancyra. Divinum panem et eminentissimam manducare dicitur.” [1]
Importance of the city is briefly given in the fourth century geographical treatise, Expositio totius mundi et gentium (A description of the world and its people). So as the center of the province of Galatia in Late Antiquity, Ankara boasted an active urban life, a center for rhetoric -- in his letters Antiochan rhetor Libanius (314-394), who visited Ancyra two times and calls it home, praises its inhabitants for being great intellectuals -- and with exceptional monuments, some of which still surviving today. Roman, Late Antique and Early Christian monuments of the city include among others, the monumental Roman walls, the Temple of Augustus and Roma and large baths (like those dedicated to Caracalla). [2] numerous fountains, nymphaea, an aqueduct (ca. 300), city walls, the palace (ca. 300), senate house (365), agora (343), the temple of Zeus (ca. 300), the temple of Asclepius (362), the county estate of Maximus (362), the gymnasium of Polyeidus (ca. 300), a prison, church of St. Plato (430), church of St. Clemens, church of the Novatians (420), monastery of Nilus (fifth century), hospice (420), hospital (420).

In the seventh century the prosperity of the city and its hinterland was celebrated in one of the most famous Byzantine hagiographies (the Life of Saint Theodore of Sykeon); [3] its fame was a double-hedged sword cause Ankara was targeted several times by the enemies of Byzantium: first the Persians and then the Arabs. [4] In the so-called Dark Ages the city retain its importance as an administrative and military center of an “Empire that would not die” [5] . Indeed, it became the capital of the Theme of Opsikion as it focused around a new and impressive set of walls built between the end of the seventh and the mid-eighth century. Although, it briefly fell in the hands of the Seljuks in the wake of the Battle of Manzikert in 1071, it returned in Byzantine hands in the wake of the first Crusade, but it was soon lost to Byzantium for good.

Today, in the shade of the magniloquent walls, only few ruins bear silent witness to the Byzantine era of Ankara including the church dedicated to Saint Clemens (the first Bishop and patron-saint of the city) and the new Byzantine sanctuary and the early Byzantine column supposedly erected by the last pagan emperor Julian. [6]

1 ” Clive Foss, “Late Antique and Byzantine Ankara. DOP, Vol. 31 (1977), pp. 27+29-87. Ancyra provides

the most delicious bread ever tasted (divinum panem eminentissimum manducare dicitur). H.-J. Drexhage, Die ’Expositio totius mundi et gentium’ eine Handelsgeographie aus dem 4. Jh. n. Chr., eigeleitet, übersetz und mit einführender Literatur (Kap. XXII-LXVII) versehen. (Münstersche Beiträge zur antiken Handelsgeschichte, 2, 1. 1983); M. Graham, New and Frontier Consciousness in the Late Roman Empire (University of Michigan Press: Ann Arbor, 2006) 110.

2 M. Kadioglu- K. Görkay and S. Mitchell, Roman Ancyra (Istanbul: YKY, 2011); U. Peschlow, Ankara. Die bauarchäologischen Hinterlassenschaften aus römischer und byzantinischer Zeit (Wien: Phoibos, 2015).

3 Three Byzantine Saints: Contemporary Biographies of St. Daniel the Stylite, St. Theodore of Sykeon and St. John the Almsgiver, trans. Elizabeth Dawes, and introductions and notes by Norman H. Baynes, (London: 1948).

4 “Ankyra.” In The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, I, ed. A. Kazdhan, p.104.

5 J. Haldon, The Empire That Would Not Die: The Paradox of Eastern Roman Survival, 640–740. (Princeton: PUP, 2017).

6 U. Peschlow, “Ancyra.” In The Archaeology of Byzantine Anatolia. From the end of Late Antiquity until the coming of the Turks (Oxford: OUP, 2016).