The Phrygians

Ancient Phrygia in the west of the Anatolian plateau, the country around the sources of the Sakarya river within the triangle of the modern cities of Afyon, Eskisehir and Ankara, was named after the western Indo-Europeans who came here from Europe around 1200 BC and left their mark as skilled craftsmen with a culture of their own. It was a country clearly with many towns and cities, lying on the routes to the east from Lydia and Caria.

Today it has only three major cities: Afyon, the opium city, Eskisehir, a hub of industry and the main railroad junction, and Kütahya, a center for ceramics and the mining of brown coal. Here in many places the westerlies and southerlies can still carry rain deep into the mountains, bringing denser settlement and a greater degree of cultivation in their train. This farming potential enabled Phrygia even in early classical times to develop a powerful kingdom of its own with many towns and cities. Its fringes, where east met west, were a battleground for Persians and Lydians, Romans and Galatians, Arabs and Romans, Crusaders and Seljuks, Ottomans and Mongols, Byzantines and Turks. Ruins and age-old monuments abound up on the rolling plateau around the upper reaches of the Sakarya, with here and there towering rocky outcrops and a few scraggy trees, although nowadays signs of settlement are few and far between.

The Phrygian language, which died out in the 6th century AD, belonged to the Indo-European group of languages. It was closely related to Greek, as can be seen from 80 ancient Phrygian inscriptions (7th-4th centuries BC), written in a script rather like Greek and over 110 neo-Phrygian writings in Greek from Roman times.

As Thracian invaders, the Phrygians played a decisive role in the destruction of the Hittite Kingdom and the fall of Troy. Their independent Phrygian kingdom of the 8th and 7th century BC maintained close contacts with the Aryans in the east and the Greeks in the west. Its early history is only briefly chronicled (by Herodotus), recounting the suicide of its last king, Midas, in Gordion when it fell to the Cimmerians (696 BC). With the establishment of the Galatians in eastern Phrygia the fertility cult of Cybele, the mother goddess, spread widely amongst town dwellers, while country folk tended to worship Men, the god of moon, ruler of Paradise and the Underworld. In 188 BC Phrygia came under Pergamum, followed by Rome, who made it a province in 133 BC.

The early spread of Christianity here was largely due to Saint Paul but the 2nd century AD also saw the development of two extreme sects: Montanism, derived from the locally born prophet Montanus who preached that the end of the world was high; and Novationism, named after the Roman theologian and later Bishop Novatian, whose followers called themselves "the pure", in Greek "katharoi" (hence the Cathar heresy of the Middle Ages) and refused to allow any lapsed Christians back into the Church.

The Phrygians

The Phrygians arrived in Anatolia in 1200 BC, among the migrating tribes known as the "people of the Aegean Sea". At first they lived in Central Anatolia, building settlements over the ashes of Hittite cities like Hattusas, Alacahöyük, Pazarli and Alisar. At the beginning of the 8th century BC they set up their capital at Gordion.

We are familiar with King Midas from his epic, and from the discovery of his burial chamber. Midas succeeded to the throne in 738 BC. He defended the frontiers of Phrygia quite well, but could not resist the attacks of the Cimmerians. After his defeat by Cimmerians in 695 BC, he committed suicide by drinking bull's blood. Phrygians built the largest mound (tumulus) in Gordion known as the Tumulus of Midas; 53 meters (174 feet) high and 300 meters (984 feet) wide.

Influenced by Hittite art, Phrygian art, in turn, influenced Etruscan art in Italy. However, they were also directly influenced by the Urartu in Eastern Anatolia. For instance, they imported the Urartu figure of a bull's head and worked it on a cauldron of strictly Phrygian form. Metal ores were known and used in metalwork during the Early and Mid-Bronze Ages, from 2500 BC onwards. However, it was only around 1000 BC that Phrygian metalwork forms borrowed from pottery and metal vessels entered popular use. Phrygian art can be divided into three categories:

  1. Local Phrygian ware
  2. Urartu import ware
  3. Assyrian import ware.

These groups are again divided into two major phases consisting of artifacts found in mounds dating before 695 BC.

The pottery of the Phrygian period was fine polychrome ware, which can be distinguished basically as early and late ware. Because of the Lydian domination of Anatolia during the late period, it bears western Anatolian influence after 695 BC. As a contrast to the Hittite based motifs of the early period, in later ware we see studded patterns within lozenge shaped frames, and again studded motifs on animal forms. Complicated motifs took the place of very simple and geometric motifs from the old period. Instead of one color painted over another color, they started to be painted in many colors. Where animal shapes previously took on a schematic look to them, pieces from the late period showed evolvement. In addition, the late period witnessed motifs of meander, dots and plaited hair. Filtered vessels that had little application in daily life were seen to be popular as a funerary gift. Today Phrygian works of art are on exhibit at the Anatolian Civilizations Museum in Ankara.

Apart from their capital Gordion where you can visit the Tumulus of King Midas and nearby small museum, Pessinus was also a major Phrygian settlement. Examples of megaron planned, semerdam roofed houses were carved into the rock tombs. These may be seen around Afyon - Arslantas and Eskisehir - Yazilikaya. The Arslantas rock monument near Afyon and the ruins of Midas near Eskisehir are among the most important Phrygian monuments in Anatolia, and are where the Phrygians worshipped their major deity Cybele and her lover Attis.