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Gordium – the capital city of ancient Phrygia

BILDER: Gordium – the capital city of ancient Phrygia

The Mushki were an Iron Age people of Anatolia, known from Assyrian sources. They do not appear in Hittite records. Several authors have connected them with the Moschoi (Μόσχοι) of Greek sources and the Georgian tribe of the Meskhi. Josephus Flavius identified the Moschoi with the Biblical Meshech.

Two different groups are called Muški in the Assyrian sources (Diakonoff 1984:115), one from the 12th to 9th centuries, located near the confluence of the Arsanias and the Euphrates (“Eastern Mushki”), and the other in the 8th to 7th centuries, located in Cappadocia and Cilicia (“Western Mushki”). Assyrian sources identify the Western Mushki with the Phrygians, while Greek sources clearly distinguish between Phrygians and Moschoi.

Identification of the Eastern with the Western Mushki is uncertain, but it is of course possible to assume a migration of at least part of the Eastern Mushki to Cilicia in the course of the 10th to 8th centuries, and this possibility has been repeatedly suggested, variously identifying the Mushki as speakers of a Georgian, Armenian or Anatolian idiom.

The Eastern Muski appear to have moved into Hatti in the 12th century, completing the downfall of the collapsing Hittite state, along with various Sea Peoples. They established themselves in a post-Hittite kingdom in Cappadocia.

Whether they moved into the core Hittite areas from the east or west has been a matter of some discussion by historians. Some speculate that they may have originally occupied a territory in the area of Urartu; alternatively, ancient accounts suggest that they first arrived from a homeland in the west (as part of the Armeno-Phrygian migration), from the region of Troy, or even from as far as Macedonia, as the Bryges.

Armeno-Phrygian is a term for a minority supported claim of hypothetical people who are thought to have lived in the Armenian Highland as a group and then have separated to form the Phrygians and the Mushki of Cappadocia. It is also used for the language they are assumed to have spoken. It can also be used for a language branch including these languages, a branch of the Indo-European family or a sub-branch of the proposed Graeco-Armeno-Aryan or Armeno-Aryan branch.

Classification is difficult because little is known of Phrygian and virtually nothing of Mushki, while Proto-Armenian forms a subgroup with Hurro-Urartian, Greek, and Indo-Iranian. These subgroups are all Indo-European, with the exception of Hurro-Urartian.

Note that the name Mushki is applied to different peoples by different sources and at different times. It can mean the Phrygians (in Assyrian sources) or Proto-Armenians as well as the Mushki of Cappadocia, or all three, in which case it is synonymous with Armeno-Phrygian.

The Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture notes that “the Armenians according to Diakonoff, are then an amalgam of the Hurrian (and Urartians), Luvians and the Proto-Armenian Mushki (or Armeno-Phrygians) who carried their IE language eastwards across Anatolia.”

In the 8th century, Tabal became the most influential of the post-Hittite polities, and the Mushki under Mita entered an anti-Assyrian alliance with Tabal and Carchemish. The alliance was soon defeated by Sargon of Assyria, who captured Carchemish and drove back Mita to his own province. Ambaris of Tabal was diplomatically married to an Assyrian princess, and received the province of Hilakku, but in 713 BC, Ambaris was deposed and Tabal became an Assyrian province.

In 709, the Mushki re-emerged as allies of Assyria, Sargon naming Mita as his friend. It appears that Mita had captured and handed over to the Assyrians emissaries of Urikki, king of Que, who were sent to negotiate an anti-Assyrian contract with Urartu, as they passed through his territory.

According to Assyrian military intelligence reports to Sargon recorded on clay tablets found in the Royal Archives of Nineveh by Sir Henry Layard, the Cimmerians invaded Urartu from Mannai in 714. From there they turned west along the coast of the Black Sea as far as Sinope, and then headed south towards Tabal, in 705 defeating an Assyrian army in central Anatolia, resulting in the death of Sargon.

Macqueen (1986:157) and others have speculated that the Mushki under Mita may have participated in the Assyrian campaign and were forced to flee to western Anatolia, disappearing from Assyrian accounts, but entering the periphery of Greek historiography as king Midas of Phrygia.

Rusas II of Urartu in the 7th century fought the Mushki-ni to his west, before he entered an alliance with them against Assyria. Assyrian sources from the 8th century BC speak of a king Mita of the Mushki, identified with king Midas of Phrygia. An Assyrian inscription records Mita as an ally of Sargon of Assyria in 709 BC.

After the collapse of the Hittite Empire at the beginning of the 12th century BC, the political vacuum in central/western Anatolia was filled by a wave of Indo-European migrants and “Sea Peoples”, including the Phrygians, who established their kingdom with a capital eventually at Gordium. It is presently unknown whether the Phrygians were actively involved in the collapse of the Hittite capital Hattusa or whether they simply moved into the vacuum left by the collapse of Hittite hegemony.

The so-called Handmade Knobbed Ware was found by archaeologists at sites from this period in Western Anatolia. According to Greek mythographers, the first Phrygian Midas had been king of the Moschi (Mushki), also known as Bryges (Brigi) in the western part of archaic Thrace.

Though the migration theory is still defended by many modern historians, most archaeologists have abandoned the migration hypothesis regarding the origin of the Phrygians due to a lack substantial archeological evidence, with the migration theory resting only on the accounts of Herodotus and Xanthus.

A distinctive Phrygian pottery called Polished Ware appears in the 8th century BC. The Phrygians founded a powerful kingdom which lasted until the Lydian ascendancy (7th century BC). Under kings alternately named Gordias and Midas, the independent Phrygian kingdom of the 8th and 7th centuries BC maintained close trade contacts with her neighbours in the east and the Greeks in the west. Phrygia seems to have been able to co-exist with whatever power was dominant in eastern Anatolia at the time.

Gordium, the capital city of ancient Phrygia, lies where the ancient road between Lydia and Assyria/Babylonia crossed the Sangarius river. It was located at the site of modern Yassıhüyük, about 70–80 km southwest of Ankara (capital of Turkey), in the immediate vicinity of Polatlı district.

During the 8th century BC the Phrygian kingdom with its capital at Gordium in the upper Sakarya River valley expanded into an empire dominating most of central and western Anatolia and encroaching upon the larger Assyrian Empire to its southeast and the kingdom of Urartu to the northeast.

The invasion of Anatolia in the late 8th century BC to early 7th century BC by the Cimmerians was to prove fatal to independent Phrygia. Cimmerian pressure and attacks culminated in the suicide of its last king, Midas, according to legend. Gordium fell to the Cimmerians in 696 BC and was sacked and burnt, as reported much later by Herodotus.

According to ancient tradition, in 333 BCE Alexander the Great cut (or otherwise unfastened) the Gordian Knot: this intricate knot joined the yoke to the pole of a Phrygian wagon that stood on the acropolis of the city. The wagon was associated with Midas or Gordias (or both), and was connected with the dynasty’s rise to power. A local prophecy had decreed that whoever could loose the knot was destined to become the ruler of Asia.

A series of digs have opened Gordium as one of Turkey’s most revealing archeological sites. Excavations confirm a violent destruction of Gordion around 675 BC. A tomb of the Midas period, popularly identified as the “Tomb of Midas” revealed a wooden structure deeply buried under a vast tumulus, containing grave goods, a coffin, furniture, and food offerings (Archaeological Museum, Ankara). The Gordium site contains a considerable later building program, perhaps by Alyattes, the Lydian king, in the 6th century BC.

Minor Phrygian kingdoms continued to exist after the end of the Phrygian empire, and the Phrygian art and culture continued to flourish. Cimmerian people stayed in Anatolia but do not appear to have created a kingdom of their own. The Lydians repulsed the Cimmerians in the 620s, and Phrygia was subsumed into a short-lived Lydian empire. The eastern part of the former Phrygian empire fell into the hands of the Medes in 585 BC.

The site was excavated by Gustav and Alfred Körte in 1900 and then by the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, under the direction of Rodney S. Young, between 1950 and 1973. Excavations have continued at the site under the auspices of the University of Pennsylvania Museum with an international team.

Tumulus MM (for “Midas Mound”), the Great Tumulus, is the largest burial mound at Gordium, standing over 50 meters high today, with a diameter of about 300 meters. The tumulus was excavated in 1957 by Young’s team, revealing the remains of the royal occupant, resting on purple and golden textiles in an open log coffin, surrounded by a vast array of magnificent objects.

The burial goods included pottery and bronze vessels containing organic residues, bronze fibulae (ancient safety pins), leather belts with bronze attachments, and an extraordinary collection of carved and inlaid wooden furniture, exceptional for its state of preservation.

The Tumulus MM funeral ceremony has been reconstructed, and scientists have determined that the guests at the banquet ate lamb or goat stew and drank a mixed fermented beverage. The burial is now dated to the second half of the 8th century BCE, and while it is possible that this is the tomb of King Midas himself, it is now generally assumed to be that of his father Gordias.

Gordium – the capital city of ancient Phrygia

Gordion – Phrygian capital and King Midas’ Grave

Gordias

Gordium

Gordian Knot

Midas

Mushki

Phrygia

Bryges

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