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Ruins of Gordion 3.JPG
The ruins of Gordion
Gordium is located in Turkey
Shown within Turkey
Location Yassıhüyük, Ankara Province, Turkey
Region Phrygia
Coordinates 39°39′18″N 31°59′39″E / 39.65500°N 31.99417°E / 39.65500; 31.99417Coordinates: 39°39′18″N 31°59′39″E / 39.65500°N 31.99417°E / 39.65500; 31.99417
Type Settlement
Site notes
Website https://www.penn.museum/sites/gordion/

Gordion (Greek: Γόρδιον, Górdion; Turkish: Gordion or Gordiyon) was the capital city of ancient Phrygia. 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. The site was excavated by Gustav Körte and Alfred Körte in 1900[1] and then by the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, under the direction of Rodney S. Young, between 1950 and 1973.[2] Excavations have continued at the site under the auspices of the University of Pennsylvania Museum with an international team. The Citadel Mound is approximately 13.5 hectares in size and at its height habitation extended beyond this in an area approximately 100 hectares in size. Occupation at the site is attested from the Early Bronze Age (ca. 2300 BCE) continuously until the late 4th century CE and again in the 13th and 14th centuries CE.[3]

Gordion lies where the ancient road between Lydia and Assyria/Babylonia crossed the Sangarius river.


Bronze Age

Gordion was inhabited from at least the Early Bronze Age, ca. 2300 BCE. By the end of this period it displayed ceramic commonalities with communities as far west as the Troad and as far east as Cilicia.[4]

During the Middle Bronze Age, Gordion came under the influence of the Hittites, with administrative seals evident at the site. There is also an extensive necropolis attested on the Northeast Ridge, with burials of the MH III-IV periods.[5]

Late Bronze Age Gordion was part of the Hittite Empire and located at the western edge of its heartland, approximately 200 kilometers west of the capital, Hattuša.

Iron Age

Early Iron Age (ca. 1200-950 BCE)

There is a cultural change at Gordion in the Early Iron Age, with distinct differences from the Late Bronze Age in regard to architecture and ceramics. Ceramic and linguistic links with southeastern Europe point to an influx of Balkan migrants at this time, possibly the Brygians.[6]

Early Phrygian Period (ca. 950-800 BCE)

There were several monumental construction projects on the citadel during the 10th and 9th centuries, the Early Phrygian period, resulting in a circuit wall around the Citadel Mound with an extensive gate complex, preserved to a height of 10 meters, and a series of elite buildings on the eastern side of the mound. These included several megaron-plan buildings, and the large interconnected Terrace Building Complex. The Megarons at Gordion likely served an administrative function. They feature pebble mosaic floors with elaborate geometric designs, among the earliest known examples of their type.[7] The Terrace Building was a locus of grinding, cooking, and weaving, as well as storage. The remains of the Early Phrygian period were preserved due to a conflagration on the eastern side of the Citadel Mound, likely dating to ca. 800 BCE. This destruction level and the subsequent rebuilding of the site above it preserved the architecture and many of the finds from the Early Phrygian period. The Early Phrygian period at the site is thus better understood than the Middle Phrygian.

Middle Phrygian Period (ca. 800-540 BCE)

The ca. 800 BCE destruction level marks the change from the Early Phrygian period to the Middle Phrygian. After the fire, the inhabitants of Gordion completed a massive construction program on the Citadel Mound that included the laying of up to 5 meters of clay to raise the height of the mound. The citadel was subsequently rebuilt on a largely similar plan, a process of monumentality that required an immense amount of labor and planning. During the Middle Phrygian period, Gordion grew to its largest size, approximately 100 hectares, and the political influence of Phrygia in Anatolia increased substantially. During the 9th and 8th centuries BCE, the city grew into the capital of a kingdom that controlled much of Asia Minor west of the river Halys. The fortifications at Gordion at this time expanded to include a pair of forts to the north and south of the Citadel Mound connected by a circuit wall that enclosed an area over 25 hectares, the Lower Town. Settlement stretched beyond the Lower Town onto the Northeast Ridge, where a series of houses were destroyed in an attack by an unknown enemy around 700 BCE. In the course of the 6th century BCE, the kingdom of Lydia, Phrygia's neighbor to the southwest, began to exert influence within Anatolia, likely at the expense of Phrygian control. The incursion of Cyrus the Great and the Achaemenid Empire into Anatolia, beginning in 546 BCE, spelled the end of any Lydian control and of Phrygian autonomy at Gordion.

King Midas

The most famous king of Phrygia was Midas, who reigned during the Middle Phrygian period at Gordion. He was likely on the throne at Gordion by ca. 740 BCE, based on the completion of Tumulus MM around that time. Contemporary Assyrian sources dating between c. 718 and 709 BCE call him Mit-ta-a. According to the Greek historian Herodotus, King Midas was the first foreigner to make an offering at the sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi, dedicating the throne from which he gave judgment.[8] During his reign, according to Strabo, the nomadic Cimmerians invaded Asia Minor, and in 710/709 BCE, Midas was forced to ask for help from the Assyrian king Sargon II. In Strabo's account, King Midas committed suicide by drinking bull's blood when the Cimmerians overran the city.[9]

Late Phrygian Period (ca. 540-334 BCE)

Following the campaigns of Cyrus the Great in Anatolia in the 540s BCE, Gordion became part of the Achaemenid Persian Empire. There is extensive evidence for the Persian siege of 546 BCE at Gordion, mainly associated with the fort at Küçük Höyük. The Persian attackers built a large siege ramp to assault the fortress, still visible today. After its conquest, Gordion became part of the satrapy of Hellespontine Phrygia, which had Daskyleion on the Sea of Marmara, not Gordion, as its capital. Despite its relegation in status, Gordion initially continued to prosper under the Achaemenids, with tumulus burials and monumental buildings maintained through the 6th century. Around 500 BCE, a semisubterranean structure, the Painted House, was added to the east side of the Citadel Mound. It featured a program of wall frescoes showing the procession of women. It is perhaps associated with cultic activity, although the nature of this is uncertain.[10]

The 4th century BCE at Gordion began with the combination of an earthquake and the attack of the Spartan king Agesilaos. The subsequent century saw an absence of monumental buildings on the Citadel Mound, and, in fact, stone from many of the earlier structures was used for smaller buildings elsewhere around the site.


There are over 100 tumuli in the vicinity of Gordion, dating from the 9th to the 6th centuries BCE. The largest of these burial mounds have traditionally been associated with kings, especially Tumulus MM. There are two main necropoleis, the Northeast Ridge and the South Ridge. Tumulus W at Gordion, dating to ca. 850 BCE, is the earliest known at the site and the first known anywhere in Anatolia.[11] Tumuli are associated with inhumation burials at Gordion until the late 7th century, when cremation began at the site. The two traditions then coexisted through the 6th century BCE.

Tumulus MM

Tumulus MM (for "Midas Mound"), the Great Tumulus, is the largest burial mound at Gordion, standing over 50 meters high today, with a diameter of about 300 meters. At the time it was built it was the largest tumulus in Anatolia and was only surpassed ca. 200 years later by the Tumulus of Alyattes in Lydia. Tumulus MM 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.[12][13] It is now generally assumed to be the tomb of Midas' father Gordias, and was probably the first monumental project of Midas after his accession.

Date of the destruction

The "Tomb of Midas" in Gordion, dated 740 BCE.

There is ample evidence of widespread burning of the city mound of Gordion, in a level referred to by Young as the destruction level. Archaeologists at first interpreted the destruction level as the remains of a Cimmerian attack, c. 700 BCE. The traces were later reinterpreted as dating to c. 800 BCE, largely on the basis of dendrochronology and radiocarbon analysis, and with reference to the types of objects found in the burned level.[14] If this reinterpretation is correct, then the otherwise-unrecorded destruction would seem to have been caused by a conflagration unrelated to a Cimmerian attack. The earlier date, though, is contested, primarily on the basis of the types and styles of objects excavated in the destruction level, the latest of which are dated to c. 700 BCE by some scholars.[15][16] The radiocarbon date seems to have a range wide enough to accommodate both proposed archaeological dates.[17] Although the date of the destruction continues to be debated, a date of c. 800 BCE is now most-commonly accepted.[18]

Gordian Knot

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 loosen the knot was destined to become the ruler of Asia.[19]


  1. ^ G. and A. Körte, Gordion: Ergebnisse der Ausgrabung im Jahre 1900. Jahrbuch des kaiserlich deutschen archäologischen Instituts V (Berlin, 1904).
  2. ^ R.S. Young, Three Great Early Tumuli. The Gordion Excavations Final Reports, Volume 1 (Philadelphia, 1981).
  3. ^ Rose, C. Brian (2017). "Fieldwork at Phrygian Gordion, 2013-2015". American Journal of Archaeology. 121 (1): 135–178.
  4. ^ "Bronze Age Gordion". The Gordion Archaeological Project. Penn Museum.
  5. ^ Mellink, Machteld J. (1956). A Hittite Cemetery at Gordion. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania. ISBN 9780934718059.
  6. ^ "Iron Age Gordion". The Gordion Archaeological Project. Penn Museum.
  7. ^ Young, Rodney S. (1965). "Early Mosaics at Gordion". Expedition. 7: 4–13.
  8. ^ Histories (Herodotus) 1.14.
  9. ^ Strabo 1.3.21. L. Roller, "The Legend of Midas", Classical Antiquity 2(1983): 299–313.
  10. ^ "Achaemenid Gordion". The Gordion Archaeological Project. Penn Museum.
  11. ^ Rose, C. Brian (2017). "Fieldwork at Phrygian Gordion, 2013-2015". American Journal of Archaeology. 121 (1): 171.
  12. ^ E. Simpson, “Midas’ Bed and a Royal Phrygian Funeral”, Journal of Field Archaeology, 17(1990): 69–87.
  13. ^ P. McGovern, D. Glusker, R. Moreau, A. Nuñez, C. Beck, E. Simpson, E. Butrym, L. Exner, and E. Stout, “A Funerary Feast Fit for King Midas”, Nature 402(1999): 863–864.
  14. ^ K. DeVries et al., "New dates for the destruction levels at Gordion", Antiquity 77 (June 2003)
  15. ^ O.W. Muscarella, "The date of the destruction of the Early Phrygian Period at Gordion", Ancient West & East 2, 225–252 (2003). (Argues against the earlier date.)
  16. ^ M.M. Voigt, "Old Problems and New Solutions: Recent Excavations at Gordion," in: L. Kealhofer (Ed.) The Archaeology of Midas and the Phrygians (Philadelphia, 2005), 28–31. (Argues for the reinterpretation of the archaeological evidence.)
  17. ^ D.J. Keenan, "Radiocarbon dates from Iron Age Gordion are confounded", Ancient West & East 3, 100–103 (2004).
  18. ^ C. B. Rose, G. Darbyshire [Editors], The New Chronology of Iron Age Gordion (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Museum, 2011).
  19. ^ L. Roller, "Midas and the Gordian Knot." Classical Antiquity 3(1984): 256–271.

Further reading

  • Keith DeVries (editor). From Athens to Gordion (Philadelphia: University Museum, 1980).
  • Peter Grave, Lisa Kealhofer, Ben Marsh, G. Kenneth Sams, Mary Voigt, Keith DeVries (2009), "Ceramic production and provenience at Gordion, Central Anatolia", Journal of Archaeological Science, 36, 2162-2176.
  • Ann C. Gunter. Gordion Excavations Final Reports Vol. III: The Bronze Age (Philadelphia: University Museum, 1991).
  • Ellen L. Kohler. The Gordion Excavations (1950–1973) Final Reports, Vol. II: The Lesser Phrygian Tumuli, Part 1, The Inhumations (Philadelphia, 1995).
  • Gustav Körte and Alfred Körte. "Gordion: Ergebnisse der Ausgrabung im Jahre 1900". Jährliches Ergänzungsheft 5 (Berlin, 1904). (In German.)
  • Frank Matero and Meredith Keller, eds. Gordion Awakened: Conserving A Phrygian Landscape (Philadelphia: Architectural Conservation Laboratory, 2011).
  • Machteld Mellink. A Hittite Cemetery at Gordion (Philadelphia: University Museum, 1956).
  • Naomi F. Miller. 2010, Botanical Aspects of Environment and Economy at Gordion, Turkey, Gordion Special Studies V. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Museum.
  • Oscar White Muscarella. Phrygian Fibulae from Gordion. (London: Colt Archaeological Institute, 1967).
  • Lynn Roller. Gordion Special Studies, Vol. I: Nonverbal Graffiti, Dipinti, and Stamps (Philadelphia: University Museum, 1987).
  • Irene Romano. Gordion Special Studies Vol. II: The Terracotta Figurines and Related Vessels (Philadelphia: University Museum, 1995).
  • C. Brian Rose (Ed.). 2012, The Archaeology of Phrygian Gordion, Royal City of Midas. Proceedings of a conference held at the Penn Museum. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Museum.
  • G. Kenneth Sams. The Gordion Excavations, 1950–1973: Final Reports, Vol. IV: The Early Phrygian Pottery (Philadelphia: University Museum, 1994).
  • Elizabeth Simpson. The Gordion Wooden Objects, Vol. 1: The Furniture from Tumulus MM (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2010).
  • Elizabeth Simpson and Krysia Spirydowicz. Gordion Wooden Furniture: The Study, Conservation, and Reconstruction of the Furniture and Wooden Objects from Gordion, 1981–1998 (Ankara: Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, 1999).
  • Rodney Young et al. Gordion Excavations Reports, Vol. I: Three Great Early Tumuli [P, MM, W] (Philadelphia: University Museum, 1981).

External links

  • The Gordion Archaeological Project official site
  • Conservation at Gordion by the University of Pennsylvania's Architectural Conservation Laboratory
  • Excavation, Study of Material Excavated 1988–1996, Regional Surface Survey, and Ethnographic Survey by Mary Voigt.
  • Erosion, Biodiversity, and Archaeology: Preserving the Midas Tumulus at Gordion by Naomi F. Miller
  • Livius.org: Phrygians
  • University of Pennsylvania Museum excavations at Gordion
  • Pictures from the museum, Midas tumulus and actual Gordium
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