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About Pisidia

location | landscape | inhabitants | language


Pisidia is the highland region in southern Turkey which stretches north from the modern gulf of Antalya as far as lakes Burdur, Egridir, and Beysehir. Its boundaries cannot easily be defined but it includes the basins of three major rivers, the Cestrus (Aksu), the Eurymedon (Koca çay), and the Melas (Manavgatçay), which penetrate far into the highland region, although their valleys do not offer easy lines of communication with the interior (S. Mitchell, 'The Hellenization of Pisidia', Mediterranean Archaeology 4 (1991), 119).


Pisidia was a region of cities which already in the Hellenistic period were connected with one another by paved roads and smaller tracks. These may still be traced today, cutting across the grain of the hills in this rugged territory.

The highland region itself was by no means uniform. On the north side, Pisida is enclosed by a series of upland plains and lakes which may be traced from Elmali and Korkuteli in the west, through the basins of lakes Burdur, Egridir and Beysehir, into Lycaonia around Iconium. The land has various aspects: the Bozova north of Korkuteli is rich and fertile; the surroundings of Lake Burdur are largely bare and denuded; and there is impenetrable mountain country on the west sides of both Lake Egridir and Lake Beysehir. But taken as a whole the plain-land in this crescent-shaped belt of country is extensive, and its landscape often recalls the long vistas of the central plateau rather than the broken horizons of the Taurus. Most of the Augustan colonial foundations belong in this territory.

They enclosed the highland region proper, where massive mountain ranges alternate with deep river valleys of the Cestrus, the Eurymedon, and the Melas. These valleys themselves vary between fertile plains, as for instance the territory of Cremna and the Yilanli Ova south of Lake Egridir, which belonged to ancient Tymbriada; and deep gorges, like those of the Eurymedon east of Selge (S. Mitchell, Anatolia I (1993), pp. 70-71).


It has been commonplace to regard the Pisidians themselves as a truculent and independent, semi-barbarian people, who lived in a difficult and fragmented mountain region and posed a continual menace to the more stable areas of central and southern Anatolia. This characterisation misrepresents the cultural development of the highlands and underestimates their significance. Not all mountain populations were primitive and sparse in numbers, living on the margins of subsistence from bare and unproductive land. Pisidia was a region with considerable natural resources and a substantial reservoir of population (S. Mitchell, Anatolia I (1993), p. 71).

The region was inhabited by various tribes, including the Milyadeis, the Pisidians themselves, and the Solymi. The Pisidians, who were the dominant group, enjoyed a reputation for fierce independence (S. Mitchel, 'The Hellenization of Pisidia', Mediterranean Archaeology 4 (1991), p. 119).


In the territory of the Cibyratis on the border of Asia and Lycia, four languages could be heard in the time of Strabo: Pisidian, Solymian, Greek, and Lydian.

It is reasonable to assume that the Pisidians, who appear much less frequently in late sources than the Isaurians, also preserved their language, although the only attestation comes from inscriptions of the imperial period: namely a series of simple gravestones from the territory of Tymbriada, which exhibit Pisidian names with their native, non-Greek morphology; and two lengthy as yet undeciphered texts, which have been found in the territory of Selge (S. Mitchell, Anatolia I (1993), pp. 172-173).