Abstract: Untangling Text and Archaeology at Ancient Gordion

Gordion is best known because of two events recorded in texts: the reign of King Midas and his suicide as a result of a nomadic invasion; and Alexander’s encounter with a knot. Greek and Roman texts also provide a description of Gordion’s location: equidistant from the Black Sea and Mediterranean; and on the river Sangarios.  The site that best fits ancient descriptions is Yassıhöyük, a large flat mound located in the center of modern Turkey.  Excavation at the site began in 1900 and confirmed that the site was occupied in the first millennium BC; the presence of rich burial mounds strengthened the link to the place called Gordion.  Excavations by Rodney Young from 1950 to 1973 uncovered a well-preserved elite quarter.  Relying on ancient texts to provide a chronological framework, Young believed that he had found the home of Midas, sacked and burned in 700 BC; occupation levels before and after the fire had few historical referents and were less well understood.  In 1988 new excavations were undertaken in order to better define and date the archaeological sequence within Yassıhöyük, and to explore other parts of the settlement.  This lecture summarizes what we know archaeologically about Gordion during Phrygian times (the 10th through 6th centuries BC) and shows how the use of archaeological methods--stratigraphy, radiocarbon dating, dendrochronology and regional survey--have significantly altered our understanding of the relationship between texts and archaeological remains.   


Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic:

2011   “Gordion:  the changing political and economic roles  of a first millennium city.” In The Oxford Handbook of Ancient Anatolia, Sharon Steadman and Gregory McMahon, eds.  Oxford:  Oxford University Press.

2009  “The Chronology of Phrygian Gordion.”  In Tree Rings, Kings and Old World Archaeology. Sturt Manning and Mary Jaye Bruce, eds., pp. 319-327.  Ithaca:  Cornell University Press.

2000 (with Robert C. Henrickson) “The Formation of the Phrygian State: the Early Iron Age at Gordion.”  Anatolian Studies 50:1-18.

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