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Gordium City of Midas
2002 / October

The Phrygian king Midas was renowned far and wide for his power and riches. In ancient Assyrian texts he is referred to as Mita of the Mushki people, while the Greeks called him Midas. It is related that he committed suicide by drinking the blood of a bull after Cimmerian invaders from Caucasia dealt his army a humiliating defeat in the early 7th century BC. His magnificent castle was razed and burnt, and his palace with its exquisite mosaics and wooden furniture inlaid with ivory was abandoned.

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Gordium City of Midas
2002 / October

The successors to the powerful Phrygian kingdom built King Midas a tomb just outside their capital city. This burial mound was so splendid that it was reported to be the second highest in the entire ancient world. The tomb chamber where Midas was buried was neatly constructed of great beams made of cedar and juniper, and the interior furnished with ornately decorated objects of fine craftsmanship. The tables, stools and screens from the tomb are today among the most precious pieces of furniture in the world. Made of boxwood, the tables have tops of walnut which provides a contrasting ground for the inlay of aromatic juniper wood. On these tables stood three great bronze cauldrons filled with smaller vessels, ladles, belts and fibulas. The fibulas made of gold, silver and bronze, and the other metal ware demonstrates the height of technological skill achieved by Phrygian craftsmen. Bronze bowls with central bosses, the forerunners of the bath bowls used in Ottoman times, have superb relief decoration that has never been equalled.

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Gordium City of Midas
2002 / October
After the wooden burial chamber was completed, it was surrounded by hewn stone walls, and finally earth was heaped over it to a height of 50 metres. Today Gordium Museum stands opposite the stone façade of the tomb.
Doubts as to whether the tomb really belonged to King Midas or not, in no way detract from the splendour of the tomb. The artefacts discovered here are clearly the work of a sophisticated culture. The Phrygians inspired their contemporaries in the sphere of music as well as art, and it is no coincidence that in one legend told of Midas he adjudicated in a music competition between the god Apollo and the satyr Marsyas. When he tactlessly declared the music of Marsyas to be finer, the angry Apollo turned Midas's ears into those of a donkey
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Gordium City of Midas
2002 / October

Legends about Midas do not end there. He is supposed to have founded the city of Ankara, and to have become the first foreigner to make an offering to a Greek temple, presenting a throne of dazzling beauty to the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. The story of how everything he touched turned to gold, including his food, and how he was saved by bathing in the River Paktalos (today the Sart), as a result of which the waters of the river were filled with gold dust, is one of the myths inspired by his fabulous wealth.
The mound of Yassýhöyük, where the Phrygian capital city of Gordium was discovered, is situated 29 kilometres from the town of Polatli west of Ankara. This monumental city was unprecedented in central Anatolia. Excavations have revealed a magnificent city gate flanked by high towers and defensive walls surrounding the city. The world's oldest pebble mosaic pavement, with geometric patterns worked in dark red, blue and yellow, was discovered here and can be seen in Gordium Museum.

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Gordium City of Midas
2002 / October
Geometric and animal motifs were widely used in Phrygian ornamentation; on the baked clay tablets which decorated house façades, the woven tapestries they hung on walls, their clothes, and all kinds of vessels and wooden artefacts.
The Phrygians spoke an Indo-European language and worshipped the mother goddess Cybele, whom they called Matar and to whom their country was dedicated. According to ancient writers and most researchers until now, the Phrygians migrated from Thrace to Anatolia around 1100 BC. The collapse of the Hittite Empire around 1200 BC was followed by three centuries of silence, broken suddenly by the appearance of a powerful Phrygian state. Early Phrygian history was a mystery to the ancients, and remains a puzzle in many respects. According to Herodotus, writing in the 5th century BC, the Phrygians were the first people to inhabit the world, and their word for bread, bekos, was the first word in human speech.
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Gordium City of Midas
2002 / October
Strabo (63 BC - 21 AD) found himself unable to unravel the tangle of earlier accounts and legends, and finally demanded, 'Who are the Phrygians?'
Archaeological excavations in recent years are gradually helping to answer this question. It now appears that, contrary to earlier assumptions, the Phrygians did not migrate into Anatolia, but were an indigenous people who had been there all the time. At the tomb of Midas and museum at Gordium, the reality of the Phrygians is revealed to be as fascinating as the myths and legends to which they gave rise.

* Nermin Bayçin is an archaeologist
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