After the collapse of the Hittite Empire the Phrygians briefly dominated Anatolia, and their capital, Gordion, is one of western Anatolia’s most important archeological sites. It’s a name of much resonance, associated not only with the eponymous knot, but also with King Midas and his golden touch. The first things you’ll see as you approach are the immense royal tumuli scattered across the drab, steppe-like landscape. Inside these, archeologists found a wealth of stunning artefacts indicating the sophisticated nature of Phrygian culture. Nearby, the foundations of the Gordion acropolis have been uncovered.
The original settlement at Gordion dates back to the Bronze Age and the site was certainly occupied during the Hittite period. The Phrygians probably took up residence during the middle of the ninth century BC and a hundred years later the settlement became capital of the empire founded by the Phrygian king Gordius. The history of Gordion under the Phrygians mirrors the history of the Phrygian Empire itself – a brief flowering followed by destruction and protracted decline.
There’s little left in the records, save for the myths and legends associated with the empire, though some concrete information survives about the final king of the Phrygian Empire, Mitas (Midas) of Mushki, who is thought to have reigned from 725 BC to 696 BC.
Ironically it was another set of invaders, the Cimmerians, who laid waste to the Phrygian Empire, destroying Gordion, and though the Phrygians made a comeback and rebuilt their capital, their power had been irreversibly reduced. The city was occupied in 650 BC by the Lydians, fell in turn to the Persians just over a century later, and in 333 BC welcomed Alexander the Great for wintertime during his great march east. The arrival of the Galatians (Gauls) in Asia Minor in 278 BC was the final chapter in the long decline of Gordion, precipitating the flight of the city’s population.Read More
The myths and legends of Gordion
The myths and legends of Gordion
The name Midas is inextricably associated with Gordion. A number of Phrygian kings bore this name, and over the centuries a kind of composite mythical figure has emerged around whom a number of legends have grown up. The best known of these is that of Midas and the golden touch. According to the story Midas captured the water demon, Silenus, after making him drunk by pouring wine into his spring. In ransom for Silenus, Midas demanded of Dionysos the ability to turn all he touched into gold. Dionysos granted this wish but Midas was dismayed to find he had been taken quite literally, and his food and even his own daughter were transformed. He begged Dionysos for release from the curse and was ordered to wash his hands in the River Pactolus. The cure worked and thereafter the river ran with gold.
Another tale tells of how Midas was called upon to judge a musical contest between Apollo and the satyr Marsyas. Midas decided in favour of Marsyas and in revenge Apollo caused him to grow the ears of an ass. (Marsyas came off even worse – the god skinned him alive.) To hide his new appendages, Midas wore a special hat, revealing them only to his barber who was sworn to secrecy on pain of death. Desperate to tell someone the king’s secret, the barber passed it on to the reeds of the river who ever after whispered, “Midas has ass’s ears.”
Another story may have some basis in reality. It tells how, during the reign of Gordius, an oracle foretold that a poor man who would enter Gordion by ox-cart would, one day, rule over the Phrygians. As the king and nobles were discussing this prediction, a farmer named Midas arrived at the city in his cart. Gordius, who had no heirs, saw this as the fulfilment of the prophecy and named Midas his successor. Subsequently, Midas had his cart placed in the temple of Cybele on the Gordion acropolis, where it was to stand for half a millennium. Somehow the belief arose that whoever untied the knot that fixed the cart to its yoke would become master of Asia. During his stay in the city Alexander the Great took it upon himself to undo the Gordian Knot, severing it with his sword; today the phrase “cutting the Gordian knot” is used to describe solving any intractable problem in one swift move.