The Phrygian Kingdom: Definition, Geography & History

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

The Greeks wrote about many interesting people in their world, but the Phrygians certainly stood out. In this lesson, we'll learn about these people and separate myth from fact.

The Phrygians

There are some pretty wild characters in Greek mythology. One of the figures to evoke a constant sense of envy in Western societies is King Midas, the man said to turn everything he touched into gold. While this is a very popular story, there are a few things you may not realize about King Midas. First, he may have actually been a real person, so that's cool. Secondly, he wasn't actually Greek.

Midas was the king of the Phrygians, a kingdom located in Anatolia (today the nation of Turkey). Located just across the Aegean Sea, Greece and Anatolia were often in contact with each other. The Phrygians in particular had a lot of contact with Greece. They borrowed the Greek alphabet for their language, and in return the Greeks borrowed their stories of kings who filled the Mediterranean region with gold.

The Phrygians were a people of Anatolia, modern-day Turkey

History of the Phrygians

Despite some really good archaeological evidence of their main cities, there's a lot that we actually don't know about the Phrygians. In fact, we don't even know what they called themselves. The name Phrygian was the Greek word for their kingdom. The Assyrian Empire to the south called them the Muski.

These mysterious people appeared in historic records with little notice or background, establishing themselves as a major power in the 8th century BCE. But where'd they come from? Ancient texts are inconsistent on this matter, but many historians believe they may have descended from the Balkans of Eastern Europe following the breakup of the Hittite Empire around 1200 BCE.

What we know for sure is that they built some major cities in the 8th century BCE and rose amazingly quickly to become the dominant power of Anatolia. Their capital city was Gordion, located about 60 miles southwest of Turkey's modern capital Anakara (also built on a former Phrygian city). Their civilization reached the height of their dominance around 750 BCE, after which Gordion was raided by a nomadic tribe called the Cimmerians (according to ancient sources). The Phrygian culture survived, even if their former power did not, and was later incorporated into the Persian Empire and that of Alexander the Great.

Phrygian Culture and King Midas

The Phrygian Kingdom is really interesting because it emerged in historic records very suddenly, and rose to be extremely wealthy and powerful very quickly. The Phrygians built large, fortified cities that showed architectural influence from both Greece and West Asia, and they established themselves as master craftsmen and artisans. Their bronze, ivory, and woodworking skills seem to have been particularly respected, and we find a lot of unique artifacts from Phrygian cities and tombs made of these materials. Considering the historical importance of Anatolia, it seems likely the Phrygia actually made a lot of its wealth from controlling trade routes connecting the Mediterranean to West Asia and Eastern Europe.

Inlaid wooden furniture seems to have been a speciality of Phrygian artisans

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