Philomelium on the Roman Road Network
Philomelium (modern Akşehir, Türkiye) was a notable Greco-Roman city in central Anatolia. It was located on the eastern border of the province of Asia, about 30 km north of Pisidian Antioch. Most people probably never heard of the city, but it played an important role in second-century Christianity. After the bishop of Smyrna was martyred ca. 155 CE, the church in Philomelium initiated, received, and circulated the Martyrdom of Polycarp.
I recently presented on the history and importance of Philomelium. An aspect of my argument was the city’s location on the main east-west travel route across Anatolia. I compiled several maps for the task and wanted to share them publicly in this post (the city of Philomelium is circled red in most maps).
Philomelium’s political and economic stature was largely a function of its geographical location within Anatolia’s road network. Due to topography, the city of Philomelium/Akşehir has been located on the main transanatolian pathway form the Persian period to this day.
The exact route of the Persian-era Royal Road through Anatolia has perplexed historical geographers. Several scholars of Anatolian history have questioned Herodotus’ account that the road from Susa to Sardis crossed over the Halys River in northern Anatolia (Histories, 5.52.2). Based on Xerxes frequent communication with his fleet in 480 BCE and the route of younger Cyrus’ anabasis in 401 BCE, some historians argue “that the Royal Road took a southern route via Philomelium, Laodiceia [Katakekaumene] and Cybistra.” If the Royal Road took this more direct and less mountainous route through southern Anatolia, then already in the fifth century BCE Philomelium was located upon the primary corridor across Anatolia.
The regional road network becomes clearer in the Hellenistic era. The Seleucids intensively founded settlements traversing central Anatolia to control the land route between their Syrian capital of Antioch and Aegean cities. The Hellenistic rulers established cities on both sides of Sultan Dağ in Phrygia Paroreios. The northern skirt had Philomelium and Laodicea Katakekaumene; Pisidian Antioch was on the southern side. The Hellenistic settlements suggests that two parallel routes ran between Iconium and Apamea, the northern of which passed through Philomelium.
Recent scholars have suggested that Philomelium was a small and insignificant city, though it was a conventus (assize city that Roman governors visited annually to hold court) from about 120 BCE to 255 CE.
Both routes remained in use through the Imperial era. In 6/5 BCE, Augustus established his via Sebaste to link his territories from Pamphylia to Phrygia. The starting points (caput viae) were Perge on the Mediterranean coast and the colony at Antioch, with a branch extending southeast to Iconium. This newly-surfaced imperial road wrapped around the northern shore of lake Karallis (Beyşehir Gölü) on the southern side of the Sultan Dağ.
Yet, in the same era, Strabo’s koine hodos ran from Ephesus east through Apamea, then curved north-east and ran along the northern slopes of Sultan Dağ to Philomelium and Lycaonia (Geography 14.2.64). The Tabula Peutingeriana shows both courses; the northern route connects Apamea, Synnada, Philomelium, and Laodicia Katakakumene; the southern route links Apamea, Pisidian Antioch, and Iconium.
Of the two options for travelers crossing through Phrygia, the route along the northern slopes of Sultan Dağ, when considering the topography, was the easier alternative. Though Pisidian Antioch was the leading city in Phyrgia Paroreios, the northern route through Philomelium was more conducive to east-west travel in Anatolia.
Roman milestones further clarify the road network in Phrygia Paroreios during the Imperial period. The city of Philomelium lied at the intersection of two routes. The smaller north-south route connected the colonies of Pisidian Antioch and Germa (near Pessinous and Gordion). The more trafficked route through Philomelium ran east-west, following the Hellenistic-era path. Coming west from Cappadocia, the route continued northwest after Philomelium to Iulia (Çay?). At the northwestern edge of the Sultan Dağ massif, a route branched southwest to Apamea then Ionia, while the main route continued northwest to Cotiaeum (Kütahya) and Dorylaeum (Eskişehir) towards Mysia and Bithynia. Milestones dating to the reigns of Trajan (100/1 CE) and Constantius (r. 293–305) identify Philomelium as the caput viae of this route. The city was centrally located along the transanatolian route throughout the second and third centuries.
The road bypassing Philomelium remained a prominent route in the late-antique, Byzantine, and Ottoman periods. Even today, the main Turkish highway from central Anatolia to the Aegean (D300) passes through Akşehir.