Gallipoli is the Italian form of the Greek name "Καλλίπολις", meaning "Beautiful City", the original name of the modern town of Gelibolu. In antiquity, the peninsula was known as the Thracian Chersonese.
The peninsula runs in a south-westerly direction into the Aegean Sea, between the Hellespont and the bay of Melas. In antiquity, it was protected by the Long Wall, a defensive structure built across the narrowest part of the peninsula near the ancient city of Agora. The isthmus traversed by the wall was only 36 stadia in breadth, but the length of the peninsula from this wall to its southern extremity, Cape Mastusia, was 420 stadia.
In ancient times, the Gallipoli Peninsula was known as the Thracian Chersonesus (from Greek χερσόνησος, "peninsula") to the Greeks and later the Romans. It was the location of several prominent towns, including Cardia, Pactya, Callipolis (Gallipoli), Alopeconnesus (Greek: Ἀλωπεκόννησος), Sestos, Madytos, and Elaeus. The peninsula was renowned for its wheat. It also benefited from its strategic importance on the main route between Europe and Asia, as well as from its control of the shipping route from Crimea. The city of Sestos was the main crossing-point on the Hellespont.
According to Herodotus, the Thracian tribe of Dolonci (Greek: Δόλογκοι) (or "barbarians" according to Cornelius Nepos) held possession of Chersonesus before the Greek colonization. Then, settlers from Ancient Greece, mainly of Ionian and Aeolian stock, founded about 12 cities on the peninsula in the 7th century BC. The Athenian statesman Miltiades the Elder founded a major Athenian colony there around 560 BC. He took authority over the entire peninsula, building up its defences against incursions from the mainland. It eventually passed to his nephew, the more famous Miltiades the Younger, around 524 BC. The peninsula was abandoned to the Persians in 493 BC after the outbreak of the Greco-Persian Wars (499–478 BC).
The Persians were eventually expelled, after which the peninsula was for a time ruled over by Athens, which enrolled it into the Delian League in 478 BC. The Athenians established a number of cleruchies on the Thracian Chersonese and sent an additional 1,000 settlers around 448 BC. Sparta gained control after the decisive battle of Aegospotami in 404 BC, but the peninsula subsequently reverted to the Athenians. In the 4th century BC, the Thracian Chersonese became the focus of a bitter territorial dispute between Athens and Macedon, whose king Philip II sought possession. It was eventually ceded to Philip in 338 BC.
After the death of Philip's son Alexander the Great in 323 BC, the Thracian Chersonese became the object of contention among Alexander's successors. Lysimachus established his capital Lysimachia here. In 278 BC, Celtic tribes from Galatia in Asia Minor settled in the area. In 196 BC, the Seleucid king Antiochus III seized the peninsula. This alarmed the Greeks and prompted them to seek the aid of the Romans, who conquered the Thracian Chersonese, which they gave to their ally Eumenes II of Pergamon in 188 BC. At the extinction of the Attalid dynasty in 133 BC it passed again to the Romans, who from 129 BC administered it in the Roman province of Asia. It was subsequently made a state-owned territory (ager publicus) and during the reign of the emperor Augustus it was imperial property.
The Thracian Chersonese was part of the Eastern Roman Empire from its foundation in 330 AD. In 443 AD, Attila the Hun invaded the Gallipoli Peninsula during one of the last stages of his grand campaign that year. He captured both Callipolis and Sestus. Aside from a brief period from 1204 to 1235, when it was controlled by the Republic of Venice, the Byzantine Empire ruled the territory until 1356. During the night between the 1st and the 2nd of March 1354, a strong earthquake destroyed the city of Gallipoli and its city walls, weakening its defenses.
After the devastating 1354 earthquake, the town of Gallipoli was besieged and captured by the Ottomans, making Gallipoli the first Ottoman stronghold in Europe, and the staging area for their expansion across the Balkans. It was recaptured for Byzantium by the Savoyard Crusade in 1366, but the beleaguered Byzantines were forced to hand it back in September 1376. The Greeks living there were allowed to continue their everyday life. In the 19th century, Gallipoli (Turkish: Gelibolu) was a district (kaymakamlik) in the Vilayet of Adrianople, with about thirty thousand inhabitants: comprising Greeks, Turks, Armenians and Jews.
Gallipoli became a major encampment for British and French forces in 1854 during the Crimean War, and the harbour was also a stopping-off point on the way to Constantinople.
British and French engineers constructed in March 1854, a 7-mile line of defence to protect the peninsula from a possible Russian attack and so keep control of the route to the Mediterranean Sea.
Gallipoli did not experience any more wars until the First Balkan War, when the 1913 Battle of Bulair and several minor skirmishes took place here. A dispatch on 7 July 1913 reported that Ottoman troops treated Gallipoli’s Greeks ‘with marked depravity’ as they ‘destroyed, looted, and burned all the Greek villages near Gallipoli’. Many villages were sacked and destroyed completely and also, some Greeks killed. The cause of this savagery of the Turks was their fear that if Thrace was declared autonomous the Greek population may be found numerically superior to the Muslims.
The Turkish Government, under pre-text that a village was within the firing line, ordered its evacuation within three hours. The residents abandoned everything they possessed, left their village and went to Gallipoli. Seven of the Greek villagers who were two minutes late behind the three hours limit allowed for the evacuation were shot by the soldiers. After the Balkan War was over, the exiles were allowed to return. But as the Government allowed only the Turks to rebuild their houses and furnished them, the exiled Greeks were compelled to remain in Gallipoli.
During World War I, British and colonial forces attacked the peninsula in 1915, seeking to secure a route to relieve their eastern ally, Russia. The Ottomans set up defensive fortifications along the peninsula and the attackers were eventually repulsed.
In early 1915, attempting to seize a strategic advantage in World War I by capturing Constantinople, the British authorised an attack on the peninsula. The first Australian troops landed on early morning 25 April 1915 and after eight months of heavy fighting, the troops were withdrawn around the end of the year.
The campaign was one of the greatest Ottoman victories during the war and is considered a major Allied failure. In Turkey, it is regarded as a defining moment in the nation's history: a final surge in the defence of the motherland as the Ottoman Empire crumbled. The struggle formed the basis for the Turkish War of Independence and the founding of the Republic of Turkey eight years later under Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who first rose to prominence as a commander at Gallipoli.
The Gallipoli Star was a military decoration created by the Ottoman Empire in 1915 and awarded for the duration of World War I.
The campaign was the first major military action of Australia and New Zealand as independent dominions, and is often considered to mark the birth of national consciousness in those nations. The date of the landing, 25 April, is known as "Anzac Day". It remains the most significant commemoration of military casualties and veterans in Australia and New Zealand.
On the Allied side one of the key promoters of the expedition was Britain's First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, whose reputation took years to recover.
Prior to the Allied landings in April 1915, Ottoman Empire deported Greek residents from Gallipoli and surrounding region and from the islands in the sea of Marmara, to the interior where they were at the mercy of hostile Turks. The Greeks had little time to pack and the Ottoman authorities permitted them to take only some bedding and the rest was handed over to the Government. Also, Greek houses and properties were plundered by the Turks. A testimony of a deportee described how the deportees were forced onto crowded steamers, standing room only; how, on disembarking, men of military age were removed (for forced labour in the labour battalions of the Ottoman army) and how the rest were ‘scattered… among the farms like ownerless cattle’.
The Metropolitan of Gallipoli on 17th July, 1915, wrote that the extermination of the Christian refugees was methodical. He also, mention that: "The Turks, like beasts of prey, immediately plundered all the Christians' property and carried it off. The inhabitants and refugees of my district are entirely without shelter, awaiting to be sent no one knows where...". In addition many Greeks died from hunger and there were frequent cases of rape among women and young girls, as well as their conversion to Islam.
Gallipoli was occupied by Greek troops on 4 August 1920 during the Greco-Turkish War of 1919–22, considered part of the Turkish War of Independence, and after the Armistice of Mudros it became a Greek prefecture centre as "Kallipolis". However, Greece was forced to withdraw from Eastern Thrace after the Armistice of Mudanya. Gallipoli was briefly handed over to British troops on 20 October 1922, but was finally returned to Turkish rule on 26 November 1922.
In 1920, after the defeat of the Russian White army of General Pyotr Wrangel, a significant number of emigre soldiers and their families evacuated to Gallipoli from the Crimean Peninsula. From there, many went to European countries, such as Yugoslavia, where they found refuge. A stone monument was erected and a special "Gallipoli cross" was created to commemorate the soldiers, who stayed in Gallipoli. The stone monument was destroyed during an earthquake, but in January 2008 reconstruction of the monument had begun with the consent of the Turkish government.
Between 1923 and 1926 Gallipoli became the centre of Gelibolu Province, comprising the districts of Gelibolu, Eceabat, Keşan and Şarköy. After the dissolution of the province, it became a district centre in Çanakkale Province.