antiquity, Phrygia was a kingdom in the west central
part of Anatolia. The Phrygian people (Phruges or Phryges) in
earliest history lived in Macedonia under the name of Bruges (or
Bryges), which later evolved to Phruges. A number of peoples there
spoke Balkan languages descended from non-Greek or pre-Greek
Indo-European languages, or Greek in some early form of development.
During the floruit of the
city-state of Troy a part of the Bruges emigrated to Anatolia as
Trojan allies or under the protection of Troy. The Trojan language
did not survive; consequently, its exact relationship to the
Phrygian language and the affinity of Phrygian society to that of
Troy remain open questions. Similarly the date of migration and the
relationship of the Phrygians to the Hittite empire are unknown. A
conventional date of c. 1200 BC often is used, at the very end of
the empire. It is certain that Phrygia was constituted on Hittite
land, and yet not at the very center of Hittite power in the big
bend of the Halys river, where Ankara now is.
Subsequently the state of
Phrygia arose in the 8th century BC with capital at Gordium. During
this period the Phrygians extended eastward and encroached upon the
kingdom of Urartu, the descendants of the Hurrians, a former rival
of the Hittites. The two population streams merged to form the
earliest nation of Armenia, with Phrygian prevailing and becoming
Meanwhile the Phrygian kingdom
was overwhelmed by Iranian Cimmerian invaders c. 690 BC, then
briefly conquered by its neighbor Lydia, before it passed
successively into the Persian Empire of Cyrus, the empire of
Alexander and his successors, was taken by the king of Pergamon, and
eventually became part of the Roman Empire. The Phrygian language
survived until about the 6th century AD. In the Balkans the Bruges
had long since assimilated to Greek Macedonia.
Phrygians are mentioned by Homer
as dwelling in two regions of Anatolia:
In Ascania, the region around Lake
Ascania in Bithynia of northwest Anatolia. The Trojan allies
mentioned in the Catalog of Trojans are from there.
In the "swift-horsed" country of
Phrygia, a land of "many fortresses", on the banks of the Sangarius
(now Sakarya River), the third longest river in modern Turkey, which
flows north and west to empty into the Black Sea. There Otreus is
king. Priam once was there on the occasion of the war of the
Phrygians against the Amazons and reports seeing many horses and
that the leaders of the Phrygians were Otreus and Mygdon. Priam's
wife's brother, Asios, was the son of Dymas, a Phrygian.
Later, Phrygia was conceived as
lying west of the Halys River (now Kızıl River) and east of Mysia
was the 'Great Mother', Cybele, as the Greeks and Romans knew her,
who was originally worshiped in the mountains of Phrygia, where she
was known as 'Mountain Mother'. In her typical Phrygian form, she
wears a long belted dress, a polos (a high cylindrical headdress),
and a veil covering the whole body. The later version of Cybele was
established by a pupil of Phidias, the sculptor Agoracritus, 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 tympanon a circular frame drum,
similar to a tambourine.
The Phrygians also venerated
Sabazios, the sky and fathergod depicted on horseback. Although the
Greeks associated Sabazios with Zeus, representations of him, even
at Roman times, show him as a horseman god. His conflicts 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 the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Phrygia developed an advanced
Bronze Age culture. The earliest traditions of Greek music of
Greece, derived from Phrygia and transmitted through the Greek
colonies in Anatolia, included the Phrygian mode, which was
considered to be the warlike mode in ancient Greek music. 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 aulos, a reed instrument with two
pipes. 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. (See Phrygian 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.
Mythic kings of Phrygia were
alternately named Gordias and Midas. Some sources place Tantalus as
a king in Phrygia. Tantalus is endlessly punished in Tartarus
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.
According to the Iliad, the
Phrygians were Trojan allies during the Trojan War. The Phrygia of
Homer's Iliad appears to be located in the area that embraced the
Ascanian lake and the northern flow of the Sangarius river, and so
was much more limited in extent than classical Phrygia. Homer's
Iliad also includes a reminiscence by the Trojan king Priam, who had
in his youth come to aid the Phrygians against the Amazons (Iliad
3.189). During this episode (a generation before the Trojan War),
the Phrygians were said to be led by Otreus and Mygdon. Both appear
to be little more than eponyms: there was a place named Otrea on the
Ascanian lake, in the vicinity of the later Nicaea; and the Mygdones
were a people of Asia Minor, who resided near Lake Dascylitis (there
was also a Mygdonia in Macedonia). During the Trojan War, the
Phrygians sent forces to aid Troy, led by Ascanius and Phorcys, the
sons of Aretaon. Asius, son of Dymas and brother of Hecabe, is
another Phrygian noble who fought before Troy. Quintus Smyrnaeus
mentions another Phrygian prince, named Coroebus, son of Mygdon, who
fought and died at Troy; he had sued for the hand of the Trojan
princess Cassandra in marriage. King Priam's wife Hecabe is usually
said to be of Phrygian birth, as a daughter of King Dymas.
According to Herodotus (Histories
2.9), the Egyptian pharaoh Psammetichus II had two children raised
in isolation in order to find the original language. The children
were reported to have uttered bekos which is Phrygian for "bread",
so Psammetichus admitted that the Phrygians were a nation older than
Josephus claimed the Phrygians
were founded by the biblical figure Togarmah grandson of Japheth and
son of Gomer: "and Thrugramma the Thrugrammeans, who, as the Greeks
resolved, were named Phrygians".
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 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 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.
sources from the 8th century BC speak 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. 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 whichever was the
dominant power in eastern Anatolia at the time.
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.
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, 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.
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.
According to Herodotus, the
Armenians moving to the area of Lake Van in about the 7th century BC
were colonists of the Phrygians.
Under the proverbially rich king
Croesus, (r. 560546 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
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.
Under Persian rule, the Phrygians
seem to have lost their intellectual acuity and independence.
Phrygians became stereotyped among later Greeks and the Romans as
passive and dull.
Alexander the Great passed through
Gordium in 333 BC, famously severing the Gordian Knot in the temple
of Sabazios "Zeus". The legend (possibly 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 Pergamon. In 133 BC, western Phrygia passed to
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.
William (1878). A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography.
London: J. Murray, page 230.
Iliad, Book II, line 862.
Hymns number 5, To Aphrodite.
Iliad, Book III line 181.
Iliad, Book XVI, line 712.
MacQueen, The Hittites and their contemporaries in Asia Minor,
1986, p. 157.