On 15 October AD 117, Hadrian crossed the Cilician Gates (Pylae Ciliciae), the most famous mountain pass through the Taurus Mountain. The new Emperor was travelling northward into Cappadocia along the Via Tauri which run across the mountain chain.
We know from a fragment of an itinerary found in Rome that Hadrian left Antioch in the beginning of October AD 117 and reached the city of Mopsucrene on 13 October (see previous post here). The inscription records the various stages of Hadrian’s itinerary in southern Asia Minor while on his way back to Rome via the Danube regions. Hadrian was travelling from Tarsus to Andabalis, via Panhormos (Pozantı), Aquae Calidae (Çiftehan), Tynna (Porsuk) and Tyana (Kemerhisar). On 14 October, Hadrian entered the ancient city of Panhormos and on the same day, or the next, he crossed the Cilician Gates. This is the only time that the name Panhormos has appeared anywhere and no remains of the ancient city have ever been unearthed.
In Roman times the Cilician Gates were one of the key routes of the eastern part of the Empire, carrying almost all the overland traffic heading for Antioch and the Syrian regions. Many armies passed through it; those of the Persian general Cyrus the Younger in 401 BC, Alexander the Great in 333 BC, Septimius Severus in AD 194 and the Crusaders. It was also this road that Cicero used on his journey to Tarsus immediately after his nomination as governor of Cilicia.
Xenophon, writing in the 4th century BC, tells that the pass consisted of an exceedingly steep wagon-road and that only one cart could travel through the narrow pass [Xenophon, Anabasis 1.2.21]. Many centuries later, as the legend goes, a loaded camel could just pass between the Gates until Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt (1789 – 1848) opened up the road to carry his artillery over the mountains.
Scottish archaeologist W. M. Ramsay, who is now most remembered for his studies of St. Paul’s missionary journeys in what is now Turkey, described the 70 miles road as being “made in the steep bank by cutting the rock on the higher side and by building on the lower side, so as to give a sufficiently broad platform”. He also described the actual passage of the Gates as being about 90 metres long with the rock walls on both sides rising almost perpendicularly. The narrowest part was not more than 9 to 10 metres from rock to rock and ancient cuttings could still be distinguished from the fractures made by blasting for the modern road.
In the early 20th century there was still only a small road through the Gates which could only be passed on foot or by horse. The Cilician Gates are known today as Gülek Pass or Gülek Boğazı in Turkish and today the Tarsus-Ankara Highway passes through them.
We know from the inscription found in Rome that it took Hadrian five days to cross the Taurus Mountains, starting his journey at Mopsucrene, the last station for travellers before they passed the Gates, and finishing at Andabalis in Southern Cappadocia.
Traces of the Roman road on which Hadrian marched have been observed since the 19th century and it is still possible today to walk over a long section of the Via Tauri. The most impressive and best-preserved stretch of road can be found some 6 kilometres north of Tarsus on a rocky plateau, 400 metres above sea-level.
Having passed through the Cilician Gates some 32 km further to the north, Hadrian crossed the border between the provinces of Cilicia and Cappadocia and continued to march northward towards Podandos and Aquae Calidae which he reached on 15 October.
Standing at the entrance to the pass across the Taurus Mountains, the ancient city of Podandos was a small fortified town on the border between Cilicia and south Cappadocia. Due to its similarity of name, it has been identified with modern Pozantı. The Itinerarium Burdigalense (“Bordeaux Itinerary”), where the city is named Opodandum, places it XV miles north of the Cilician Gates. Some ruins of the ancient city were located and exposed in the 19th century on the east bank of the Çakit Suyu river about a mile upstream from Pozanti but the site is now covered with irrigated orchards.
Due to its strategic position on the major gateway to the Mediterranean coasts, Podandos was naturally a place of great importance in the Roman Empire. The command of the Pass depended on who was ruling the city. When the emperor Valens partitioned Cappadocia into two parts in AD 371, Prima in the north and Secunda in the south, Podandos was chosen as capital of the southern part. However, it was soon rejected in favour of Tyana and by Late Antiquity its importance was diminished. The military importance of the city was again revealed in the 7th century when Muslims arrived in Anatolia. The Arabs called the city El Bedendum and finally it was changed to Bozantı and Pozantı by the Turks.
It was in this area that an important milestone was unearthed. The stone carries an inscription stating that Caracalla “repaired the road through the Taurus Mountains with new bridges, after the road had collapsed through old age (viam tauri vestutate), by levelling mountains, cutting through rocks, and widening the tracks” (AE1969/70, 607). The milestone also gives the distance to the Cilician Gates; XV miles. These roadworks and their commemoration were made on the occasion of Caracalla’s eastern expedition in the spring of AD 217. Another inscription recording Caracalla’s work survived and was still visible at the Cilician Gates until recently.
Continuing north along the Via Tauri, Hadrian reached the thermal spa of Aquae Calidae, located XII miles from Podandos (It. Burd.). The ancient city has been associated with Çiftehan in the province of Niğde.
There were no permanent settlements in Aquae Calidae but its thermal baths were famous during the Roman Empire era. In 1879, the Reverend E.J. Davis referred to ‘a hot mineral spring’ and the presence of a ‘bath of Roman construction …with vaulted roofs of masonry … somewhat ruined’ standing over it. Its thermal springs are still in use today.
From Aquae Calidae the route led west to Tynna, a city mentioned only by Ptolemy (Geog. 5.7.7). It has been identified with some certainty as being located on the site at Porsuk/Zeyve.
From Tynna, the ancient road to Tyana curved towards the north. The emperor would reach Tyana the next day, on 17 October.
Sources & references:
- Christol Michel, Drew-Bear Thomas. L’aménagement de la Via Tauri sous les Sévères. In: Anatolia Antiqua, Tome 17, 2009. pp. 239-254.
- Ramsay, W. M. “Cilicia, Tarsus, and the Great Taurus Pass.” The Geographical Journal, vol. 22, no. 4, 1903, pp. 357–410.
- Harper, Richard P. “Podandus and the via Tauri.” Anatolian Studies, vol. 20, 1970, pp. 149–153.