We met with our third traveling partner in Istanbul two days ago, and the three of us enjoyed a Turkish bath and massage before boarding a night bus to the ancient Anatolian capital of Perganum. Following that, we moved to Selcuk, where the ruins of Epheseus stand just miles away. For the past two days we have hiked for miles exploring the best preserved ancient ruins in the Eastern Mediterannean. My digital camera is having problems connecting to the Turkish computers thus far, but rest assured that I will have great photos for the Cominganarchy.com travelogue when I return to North America.
Yet while I toured the ruins of both cities, I was struck with a terrifying revalation. Both cities faced urban decline and were eventually abandoned. But the structures at both ancient cities would be far better preserved had it not been for Medieval looting. Perganum in particular was badly pillaged by bandits and peasants. The pristine white pillars were burned to produce lime to fertilize the fields, bricks were taken for constructing simpler, newer buildings, and every trace of metal was melted down to forge tools and weapons.
The Dark Ages were indeed dark. Resources were scare and technology was lost. Medieval Europeans did not know how to make bricks. In the late ancient age, sources of raw materials dried up, and it seemed only natural for many at the time to destroy ancient buildings. Today, we see this as a cultural tragedy. Back then, it was simply doing what was necessary to survive given the circumstances.
I mention this because it made me think about the value of knowing history. It has been said by some geologists that were a nuclear holocaust or a major catastrophe to come, humans would be unable to have another industrial revolution. Easily mined metals and materials have been exhausted, and only post-industrial era technology allows our current lifestyle possible. Will future genarations tear down the Empire State building and the Lincoln Memorial, pillaging the glorious cities of the 21st and 20th century for basic necessities? Are we living in a golden age of peace and prosperity, where the value of our material wealth will only be recognized in retrospect from a future post-modern Dark Age?
These are more thoughts that I consider as I travel eastward. Today ends our two-day exploration into western Turkey and the ancient ruins of Greece and Rome — in half an hour we board a night bus to Konya, an old Hittite and Seljuk capital that was the home of the famous Persian poet Rumi and which is apparently one of the most religiously conservative cities in Turkey. More is, I hope, to come.