Jan van der Crabben
by Livius
published on 28 April 2011
Phrygian Captive, Corinth (by Mark Cartwright)

Phrygia was an ancient nation in western Turkey with its capital at Gordium. Compared to several other nations in Anatolia, the Phrygians were newcomers. Although their language has to be reconstructed from names, quotes, and a mere 350 inscriptions, and is consequently not very well-known, it is certain that it is related to the languages of the southern Balkan Peninsula. This confirms a statement by the Greek researcher Herodotus of Halicarnassus that the Phrygians were in fact Thracian Brygians who had once crossed the Hellespont (Histories, 7.73). This seems to have happened in the ninth century, when Gordium was founded. However, it is possible that the first Phrygians were already in Anatolia in the eleventh century, because the Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser I (1114-1076) refers to the "Muški" he defeated near the Euphrates, and this name was later applied to the Phrygians. Of course, it is possible that the Assyrians used the same word for two ethnic groups, but it is also possible that early Phrygian raiders indeed reached the Euphrates. These early raiders may or may not have been the inhabitants of Troy VIIb.

In the course of the eighth century, the Phrygians settled everywhere in Anatolia. One group moved all the way to Tyana in Cappadocia; another built a kingdom near Gordium, controling the vast plains near modern Sivrihisar; and a third one stayed near the Hellespont, and founded Dascylium. In this age, the country controlled by the Phrygians was larger than the country that later geographers called Phrygia. They accepted many customs from their new subjects, like the cult of the great Mother of the gods. The Phrygians of Gordium created a large kingdom, which occupied the greater part of Turkey west of the river Halys. It was a real state, no longer a tribal society, as can be deduced from about 260 inscriptions in the Phrygian language, found in this heartland. There were contacts with Delphi in the west (Herodotus, Histories, 1.14), and with Urartu and Assyria in the east, to which Gordium was connected by the Royal Road.

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The most famous king of Phrygia was Midas, who is known from Greek legends.

The most famous king of Phrygia was Midas, who is known from Greek legends and perhaps also from contemporary Assyrian sources, which refer to an Anatolian ruler named Mit-ta-a. During his reign, a nomadic tribe called Cimmerians invaded the country, and in 710/709, Mit-ta-a was forced to ask for help from the Assyrian king Sargon II. Unfortunately, this did not prevent the Cimmerian invasion. In 696/695, Midas committed suicide after a lost battle (Strabo, Geography, 1.3.21). (The large tomb now called "Midas' Mound" is too old to be the final resting place of the last king of Phrygia.) After half a century of confusion, in which small Phrygian principalities survived, western Turkey was reunited by the Lydians, whose first great king was Gyges (c.680-c.644). One of his successors Alyattes (c.600-560), built a massive fortress on a hill near the citadel of Gordium. From this moment on, Phrygia was no longer a political, but, to paraphrase Metternich, "just a geographic concept".

The Regions of Ancient Anatolia

When Lydia was conquered by king Cyrus the Great (after 547), Phrygia became a satrapy of the Achaemenid Empire. Together with Paphlagonia and Mysia, Phrygia was one tax district. (Herodotus, Histories, 3.90). The population retained some of its ancient characteristics. There was continuity in architecture, language (110 inscriptions), agriculture (animal husbandry), and especially religion: the cult of the Mother of the gods in Pessinus, where the goddess was venerated together with Attis, the cult of Men, and the cult of Sabazios are examples. A Persian garrison was stationed in Gordium, and was still there in the last months of 334, when the Macedonian commander Parmenion, the right-hand man of Alexander, captured the city. This may suggest continuity, but on the other hand, there had been changes. For example, the satrapy had, at the end of the sixth century, been divided into two parts: Greater Phrygia in the south and Hellespontine Phrygia in the northwest.

After the troubles following the death of Alexander in 323, Greater Phrygia was first ruled by Antigonus, but after the battle of Ipsus (301) by the Seleucid kings of Asia. In the third century, the Galatian Celts, defeated by Antiochus I Soter, settled in northeastern Phrygia, where Ancyra was one of their towns. Other settlers were Jews: 2,000 families were deported by Antiochus III the Great (Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, 12.147-149). The region was gradually taken over by the Attalid rulers of Pergamon, and eventually by the Romans. Originally, Phrygia belonged to the province of Asia, but the borders were rearranged on several occasions. In 286, the Roman emperor Theodosius I settled Visigoths in the region, who revolted in 399 but were repressed. It comes as some surprise to learn that there were still people speaking Phrygian in the fifth century (Socrates, Ecclesiastical History, 5.23).

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Editorial Review This Article has been reviewed for accuracy, reliability and adherence to academic standards prior to publication.


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APA Style

Livius, . (2011, April 28). Phrygia. Ancient History Encyclopedia. Retrieved from

Chicago Style

Livius, . "Phrygia." Ancient History Encyclopedia. Last modified April 28, 2011.

MLA Style

Livius, . "Phrygia." Ancient History Encyclopedia. Ancient History Encyclopedia, 28 Apr 2011. Web. 25 Aug 2019.

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