A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
Contents of a great Phrygian king's tomb reveal a lavish funerary banquet
Around 700 B.C., a great Phrygian king--perhaps the historical Midas himself--died and was buried at Gordion, the capital of the ancient kingdom that was located in what is now central Turkey. While the death of the powerful king most likely caused tension over monarchical succession and the division of wealth, the unstable situation was mitigated by means of the traditional last rights, culminating in the burial of the king. This elaborate ceremony, which served the spiritual needs of both the deceased monarch and the surrounding community, doubtlessly had a profound affect on both the Phrygian kingdom and nearby ancient states.
Although the literate Phrygians left no account of the burial ceremony, well-preserved remains from the king's tomb allow the scenario to be easily envisioned. Fifteen pieces of fine wooden furniture buried with the king, along with nearly 200 bronze pottery vessels--some containing food and drink residues--were discovered during a 1957 excavation by University of Pennsylvania team, led by Rodney S. Young. In fact, the objects found within the tomb have enabled researchers to reconstruct the enactment of the burial ceremony and have revolutionized modern understanding of the arts and funerary customs of the ancient Phrygians during the age of King Midas.
Elizabeth Simpson is a professor of ancient art and archaeology at the Bard Graduate Center in New York City; she is director of the Gordion Furniture Project and a research associate at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Philadelphia.