Spring/Summer 00

The Phrygian Sanctuary of Gordion at Dümrek
by Brendan Burke

The Phrygian Sanctuary of Gordion at Dümrek Project addresses both the nature of Phrygian cult practice and the regional extent of Gordion’s cultural influence

Well–preserved rock–cut stepped monument along the western
approach to
the site>>

The sanctuary of Dümrek is located in central Turkey on a bend of the Sakarya River approximately 33 km north of the Phrygian capital of Gordion, about halfway between the Turkish capital of Ankara and the modern city of Eskishehir. The remains at Dümrek preserve one of the most remarkable and extensive Phrygian sanctuaries known in central Anatolia. The complete study of this site in the coming years will greatly improve our understanding of religion and culture during the first millennium BC.

The remains at Dümrek have never been studied in detail except for a preliminary recording of the monuments and a general surface survey of the site by the Gordion Regional Survey in 1996. In 1999 I returned to Gordion leading a small team of graduate students to continue the survey work started in 1996 and to study intensively the architectural and ceramic remains from Dümrek.

Upon entering the site the visitor is first struck by a very well–preserved rock–cut stepped monument along the western approach (see photograph). At least nine other rock–cut monuments of varying size and shape are scattered throughout the sloping terrain of the sanctuary. Similar monuments—which have been found throughout Phrygia at sites such as Midas City and Kalehisar—were called “altars” by W. Ramsay. The term “altar” has unfortunately stuck. Many scholars agree that the term should be abandoned, for there is no evidence of the burning, pouring, or offerings to a divinity that would be expected if these were in fact altars. More likely, as G. Körte suggested in 1898, these monuments should be thought of as “thrones,” probably for a deity. The flat surfaces could have provided Phrygian scribes with space for religious inscriptions and room for aniconic representations of probable divinities.

The site of Dümrek preserves the greatest number of such monuments from any known site in the region of Phrygia. The first throne has six steps leading to a seat with armrests and a crescent–shaped back support. The most remarkable discovery of our work in 1999 was an even larger stepped throne on a ridge just to the east of the first example. A massive carved boulder with eight steps leading to a seat complete with armrests had tumbled at some point in the past, probably because of an earthquake. In 2000 we will return to this throne for detailed study to determine from which rocky outcrop it had tumbled and to reconstruct its original position, probably overlooking the Sakarya River toward Gordion.

During the summer of 1999 the Dümrek project concentrated on analysis of over fifteen hundred sherds collected in radial transect units in 1996. Starting at the highest point on the Kale, eight radial survey lines of 75 to 275 meters were mapped from a single base point. Walking in straight lines out from the transect points, the teams of field walkers collected surface pottery that ranged in date from a single painted Early Bronze Age sherd to Late Classical/Early Hellenistic pottery, with no discernible Roman, Byzantine, or modern wares. Most of the survey finds dated to the Early and Middle Phrygian periods (about 800 to 500 bc), contemporaneous with the citadel at Gordion, the construction of the Midas Mound and other tumuli, and the reign of King Midas.

Considering the material described above we can safely assume that Dümrek is a Phrygian sanctuary although we do not know the divinity or divinities worshipped here. From ancient sources and Phrygian inscriptions we know that the main deity of the Phrygians was Matar, “Mother.” The nature of this deity is highly debated. Her associations have been traced back all the way to Neolithic figurines from Çatal Hüyük and Hacilar as both a symbol of fertility and a mistress of animals and controller of natural elements. The interrelationship of the main Phrygian goddess with female divinities in the Hittite/Neo–Hittite sphere as well as deities of the Greco–Roman world is complex. Matar is sometimes referred to as Kybele in Greek, but this Greek name derives from only one of several Phrygian epithets associated with Matar. Since “Kubileya,” in Phrygian, refers to a topographic feature meaning “of the mountains,” it is appropriate that many of her sanctuaries are located in mountainous areas just as we find at Dümrek. The Greek name Kybele is often associated with the Hittite and Neo–Hittite deity Koubaba, centered at Carchemesh, although this association has recently been questioned.

The project at Dümrek is investigating the use of this sanctuary during the Iron Age and its relation to the greater Phrygian landscape. The site is located prominently on the Sakarya River and along important overland trade routes as well. We hope to understand how this land was used by both the elites centered at Gordion and the local populations in and around Dümrek. Working cooperatively with the Gordion Regional Survey, the project will address both site–specific issues such as the nature of Phrygian cult practice and more general problems like the regional extent of Gordion’s cultural influence. The Dümrek project is much more than just a recording of Phrygian “altars” at a single site. It is an exploration of one type of site within a highly varied archaeological landscape and environment. The ongoing research at Dümrek will contribute to a greater understanding of Phrygian culture in general.

Brendan Burke is a Research Associate of The Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at UCLA. Financial support of this research was given by the Ahmanson Foundation, The Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at UCLA, and a private donation to the University of Pennsylvania Museum. All Backdirt authors can be reached by email at ioapubs@ucla.edu.