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In antiquity, Phrygia was a kingdom in the west central part of the Anatolian highlands, part of modern Turkey. It had a rich mythological heritage, as the homeland of the Great Mother Cybele, and an influential history, before it was overwhelmed by Cimmerian invaders, then briefly conquered by its neighbor Lydia, before it passed successively into the Persian Empire of Cyrus, the empire of Alexander the Great and his successors, was taken by the king of Pergamum, and eventually became part of the Roman Empire.


Phrygians were mentioned by Homer as settled on the banks of the River Sangarius, (now Sakarya, the second largest river in modern Turkey), which flows north and west to empty into the Black Sea.

Later, Phrygia was conceived as lying west of Halys River and east of Mysia and Lydia.


The Mother Goddess as worshiped in Phrygia was Cybele. In her typical Phrygian form she wears a long belted dress, a polos, or high cylindrical headdress and a veil covering the whole body. The later version of Cybele was established by Pheidias' pupil, the sculptor Agoracritos, and became the image most widely adopted by Cybele's expanding following, both in the Aegean world and at Rome, It shows her humanized though still enthroned, her hand resting on an attendant lion and the other holding the tambourine-like drum (the tympanon)

The Phrygians also venerated Sabazios, the sky and father god depicted on horseback. Though the Greeks associated Sabazios with Zeus, representations of him, even into Roman times, show him as a horseman god. His early conflict with the indigenous Mother Goddess, whose creature was the Lunar Bull, may be surmised in the way that Sabazios' horse places a hoof on the head of a bull, in a Roman relief at Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

Phrygia developed an advanced Bronze Age culture. The earliest traditions of Greek music, derived from Phrygia and transmitted through the Greek colonies in Asia Minor, included the Phrygian mode, considered the warlike mode in ancient Greek music. And Phrygian Midas, the king of the "golden touch," was tutored in music by Orpheus himself, according to the myth. Another musical invention that came from Phrygia was the double flute. Marsyas, the satyr who first formed the instrument using the hollowed antler of a stag, was a Phrygian follower of Cybele. He unwisely competed in music with Olympian Apollo, and inevitably lost. Whereupon Apollo flayed Marsyas alive and provocatively hung his skin on Cybele's own sacred tree, a pine.

Phrygia retained a separate cultural identity. Classical Greek iconography identifies the Trojan Paris as non-Greek by his Phrygian cap, which was worn by Mithras and survived into modern imagery as the "Liberty cap" of the American and French revolutionaries.

The Phrygians spoke an Indo-European language. Although the Phrygians adopted the alphabet originated by the Phoenicians, and several dozen inscriptions in the Phrygian language have been found, they remain untranslated, and so much of what is thought to be known of Phrygia is second-hand information from Greek sources.


Bronze Age migrations

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 from Europe including the Phrygians, who established their kingdom, with a capital eventually at Gordium. It is still not known whether the Phrygians were actively involved in the collapse of the Hittite capital Hattusa, or whether they simply moved into the vacuum that followed the collapse of Hittite hegemony.

The first Phrygian Midas had been king of the Moschi or Brigi in the western part of archaic Thrace, which later Greeks knew as Macedonia, according to Greek mythographers. This Midas, who became surrounded in myth and legend, migrated with his people through Thrace, eventually reaching Asia Minor, probably in the period of unrest and migrations, about 1200 BCE, that the Egyptians associated with the "Sea Peoples."

Mythic Past

Later mythic kings of Phrygia were alternately named Gordias and Midas. Some sources place Tantalus as a king in Phrygia. Tantalus is endlessly punished in Tartary because he killed his son Pelops and sacrificially offered him to the Olympians, a reference to the suppression of human sacrifice.

In the mythic age before the Trojan war, during a time of interregnum, Gordius (or 'Gordias'), a Phrygian farmer, became king, fulfilling an oracular prophecy. The kingless Phrygians had turned for guidance to the oracle of Sabazios ("Zeus" to the Greeks) at Telmissus, in the part of Phrygia that later became part of Galatia. They had been instructed by the oracle to acclaim as their king the first man who rode up to the god's temple in a cart. That man was Gordias (Gordios, Gordius), a farmer, who dedicated the ox-cart in question, tied to its shaft with the "Gordian knot." Gordias refounded a capital at Gordium in west central Anatolia, situated on the old trackway through the heart of Anatolia that became Darius' Persian "Royal Road" from Pessinus to Ancyra, and not far from the River Sangarius.

Myths surrounding the first king Midas connect him with Silenus and other satyrs and with Dionysus, who granted him the famous "golden touch." In another episode he judged a musical contest between Apollo, playing the lyre, and Pan, playing the rustic pan pipes. Midas judged in favor of Pan, and Apollo awarded him the ears of an ass.

The mythic Midas of Thrace, accompanied by a band of his people, travelled to Asia Minor to wash away the taint of his unwelcome "golden touch" in the river Pactolus. Leaving the gold in the river's sands, Midas found himself in Phrygia, where he was adopted by the childless king Gordias and taken under the protection of Cybele. Acting as the visible representative of Cybele, and under her authority, it would seem, a Phrygian king could designate his successor.

Homer recounts briefly that the Trojan king Priam had in his youth come to aid the Phrygians when the Amazons attacked them.(Iliad 3.189).

Golden Age of Midas

Phrygia dominated Asia Minor between the Hittite collapse (12th century BC) and 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 the Aryans in the east and the Greeks in the west. Phrygia seems to have been able to co-exist with whichever was the dominant power in eastern Anatolia at the time, whether Hurrian, Urartu, or Assyria.

Firmer history begins with the Phrygian Golden Age under the King Midas who reigned c. 725 - 696 BC. An Assyrian inscription records tribute sent by Midas, 709 BC.

Cimmerian invasion

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, in Gordium when the city fell to the Cimmerians in 696 BC and was sacked and burnt, as reported much later by Herodotus.

A series of digs have opened Gordium as one of Turkey's most revealing archeological sites. 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, coffin, furniture, 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.

Cimmerian invasions continued intermittently throughout a long interregnum, until the Lydians repulsed the Cimmerians in the 620s, and Phrygia was subsumed into a short-lived Lydian empire.


Croesus' Lydian Empire

Under the proverbially rich king Croesus, (r. 560 - 546 BC, Phrygia remained part of the Lydian empire that extended east to the Halys River. There may be an echo of strife with Lydia and perhaps a veiled reference to royal hostages, in the legend of the twice-unlucky Adrastus, the son of a king Gordias with the Queen, Eurynome. He accidentally killed his brother and exiled himself to Lydia, where King Croesus welcomed him. Once again, Adrastus accidentally killed Croesus' son and then committed suicide.

Persian Empire

Lydian Croesus was conquered by Cyrus in 546 BC, and Phrygia passed under Persian dominion. After Darius became Persian Emperor in 521 BC he remade the ancient trade route into the Persian "Royal Road" and instituted administrative reforms that included setting up satrapies. The capital of the Phrygian satrapy was established at Dascylion. Gordium was captured and destroyed by the Gauls soon after 189 BC and disappeared from history. In Roman times only a small village existed on the site.

Under Persian rule, the Phrygians seem to have lost their intellectual acuity and independence. Phrygians became sterotyped among later Greeks and the Romans as passive and dull.

Alexander and the Successors

Alexander the Great passed through Gordium in 333 BC, famously severing the Gordian knot in the temple of Sabazios "Zeus". The legend promulgated by Alexander's publicists was that whoever untied the knot would be master of Asia. With Gordium sited on the Persian Royal Road that led through the heart of Anatolia, the prophecy had some geographical plausibility. With Alexander, Phrygia became part of the wider Hellenistic world. After Alexander's death, his successors squabbled over Anatolian dominions.

Gauls overran the eastern part of Phrygia which became part of Galatia. The former capital of Gordium was captured and destroyed by the Gauls soon afterwards and disappeared from history. In imperial times only a small village existed on the site. and in 188 BC the remnant of Phrygia came under control of Pergamum. In 133 BC, western Phrygia passed to Rome.


For purposes of provincial administration the Romans maintained a divided Phrygia, attaching the northeastern part to the province of Galatia and the western portion to the Province of Asia. Phrygia ceased to exist on the map. The name Phrygia continued in intermittent use until the collapse of the Byzantine Empire in 1453.

External links

Harry Thurston Peck, Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities. New York. 1898.

See also Phrygian cap.