Phrygian Kingdom Rises Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Phrygians, an Iron Age people, founded a kingdom in western Anatolia with its capital at Gordium, an important cultural and religious center during the reign of the legendary king Midas, son of Gordios.

Summary of Event

The Phrygians were originally a Thracian tribe who arrived in Anatolia around 1200 b.c.e. and participated in the destruction of Troy VII (near modern-day Hissarlik, Turkey) and the former Hittite capital of Hattusa (Bogazköy, Turkey). Their king Midas (Mit-ta) is mentioned in the annals of the Assyrian king Sargon II (second half of eighth century-705 b.c.e.) and records of Eusebius of Caesarea (c. 260-339 c.e.) as Mita or Mushki. This is the same legendary mythological figure whose ears were transformed into those of an ass and who had power to turn everything he touched to gold. However, the well-known geographer Strabo (64/63 b.c.e.-after 23 c.e.) refers to Midas as a king who committed suicide by drinking the blood of the bull during the invasions of the Cimmerian tribes that attacked and burned the ancient capital at Gordium (Yassi Höyük, Turkey) around 700 b.c.e. Midas Alexander the Great

The result was a transfer of hegemony of western Anatolia to the indigenous Lydians, the representatives of the old pre-Hittite civilization in Anatolia. During the Lidyans’ rule between 675 and 585 b.c.e., the kingdom lost its political and cultural power. After 585 b.c.e., the Phrygians were allowed to be ruled by their own princes, and although subjects of Lydia, they experienced a second golden age. It was a brief period, yet numerous well-preserved monuments erected in the districts of present-day Eskişehir and Afyon document the final prosperous years of this great culture. In 546 b.c.e., under the Persian occupation, the ancient kingdom became weak and inefficient. Alexander the Great entered Asia Minor in 334 b.c.e. and, within a short time, gained control over the region. Later, under the successive rulers of Anatolia, the Phrygians were considered slow and stupid and were valued only as slaves.

The Phrygian society consisted of high priests, landowners, merchants, and craftspeople who were highly cultured and educated. They had their own Indo-European language, related to Thracian dialects, with script based on the early Greek alphabet in use from about 730 b.c.e.

Gordium, the capital of the Phrygian kingdom, was at its best between 725 and 675 b.c.e. Originally, the city was surrounded by a massive fortification of walls with three gates, and the centrally located palace had inner rooms arranged like a megaron (large room). The name of the city comes from that of Gordius, the first legendary king of Phrygia, who tied the original knot on the walls of the city, prophesying that whoever loosened the knot would become the leader of all Asia. In winter of 333 b.c.e., Alexander the Great cut through the knot with his sword. From his act arose the phrase “cutting the Gordian knot,” which denotes a bold solution to a complex problem. Although the story of Gordius, of a peasant who became king and who dedicated his chariot to Zeus, has been handed down from ancient times, no records support a historical status for Gordius, and archaeologists have not found the remains of the temple in which the chariot was reportedly kept.

In addition to this fortress, the so-called Midas Monument at Midas City (Yazilkaya, Turkey) is in a good state of preservation. Proposed dates for it have ranged between the eighth and sixth centuries b.c.e. The imposing carved rock surface bears two inscriptions, of which the upper one contains the name Midas (MIDAI). The monument imitates the facade of a building that served as an architectural frame for the niche in which the figure of great Phrygian mother goddess Cybele was displayed at public festivals.

Elaborate funeral ceremonies and burial customs resulted in the creation of tumuli of various sizes, erected between the eighth and sixth centuries b.c.e. There are about eighty mounds in the area around Gordium, of which the Midas Mound is the largest and most luxurious. This tomb is famous for both its dimensions—170 feet (53 meters) in height with a diameter of close to 1,000 feet (300 meters)—and the finds made there. The timber chamber, constructed of pine, measured 17 by 20 feet (5 by 6 meters) and included the skeleton of a man who had lived to be at least sixty years old and had no traces of any physical deformity. Originally, the body was placed in an open cedar coffin surrounded with exceptionally fine furniture and two hundred bronze and pottery vessels, several of which contained solid food and liquids. The reconstructed interior of the chamber is on permanent display in the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in Ankara, Turkey. Although some researchers believe the tomb’s occupant to be King Midas, the latest research dates the tomb to 718 b.c.e., which calls this identification into question.

Significance

The Phrygians were an Iron Age people whose king Midas founded a short-lived kingdom in western Anatolia. They were known to be creative, and their art and culture occupy an outstanding position in recorded history of ancient civilizations.

Phrygian architecture, particularly its carved facades and tumuli, may have influenced the Etruscan rock-cut tombs of Norchia and burial mounds of Tarquinia (both in Italy), which they resemble. Furthermore, there is strong evidence that Phrygian religion influenced beliefs in Greece and Rome, including the early cult of the goddess Cybele and her association with Demeter and Rhea. The influence of Phrygian design and technique, especially in woodwork, textiles, and tapestry, can be recognized in Ionian artistic production of the seventh century b.c.e.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Akurgal, Ekrem. Ancient Civilizations and Ruins of Turkey. New York: Kegan Paul International, 2002. An archaeological survey of visual monuments of Turkey with maps and illustrations.
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    xlink:type="simple">Boardman, John, et al., eds. “The Phrygian Kingdom.” In The Cambridge Ancient History. Vol. 3. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991. A comprehensive depiction of historical events relevant to the Phrygian kingdom from the eighth to the sixth centuries b.c.e.
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    xlink:type="simple">De Vries, Keith. “Gordion and Phrygia in the Sixth Century b.c.Source: Notes in the History of Art 7, nos. 3/4 (Spring/Summer, 1988): 51-60. This special issue is dedicated to Phrygian art and archaeology.
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    xlink:type="simple">Ramsay, William Mitchell. The Cities and Bishoprics of Phrygia. New York: Arno Press, 1975. A comprehensive history of Phrygia from the earliest times to the Turkish conquest.
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    xlink:type="simple">Sams, Kenneth G. “The Early Phrygian Period at Gordion: Toward a Cultural Identity.” Source: Notes in the History of Art 7, nos. 3/4 (Spring/Summer, 1988): 9-16. A brief analysis of Phrygian early pottery from Gordium.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Simpson, Elizabeth. “Celebrating Midas.” Archaeology 54, no. 4 (July/August, 2001): 27-33. A report on the latest excavations at Gordium.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Simpson, Elizabeth. “Phrygian Artistic Intellect.” Source: Notes in the History of Art 7, nos. 3/4 (Spring/Summer, 1988): 24-43. An excellent analysis of artifacts from three early tumuli at Gordium.
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