10 Phrygian Bronzes in the Greek World:
Globalization through Cult?

Maya Vassileva

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Vassileva, Maya (2014). Phrygian Bronzes in the Greek World: Globalization through Cult? In: Melammu: The Ancient World in an Age of Globalization. Berlin: Max-Planck-Gesellschaft zur Förderung der Wissenschaften.

10.1 Introduction

Gordion, the Phrygian capital city, was a major bronze-producing center in the first millennium BCE Anatolia and has yielded thousands of bronze objects. Several categories of objects became very popular in the Greek world by the seventh century BCE, mainly as votives in the sanctuaries. Phrygian or Anatolian/Oriental phialae and cauldrons found their way to the East and mainland Greek sanctuaries.1 Fibulae are the most numerous items among Phrygian bronzes found both in Phrygia and in Greece. They were prestigious dress decorations and probably items of aristocratic gift exchange. Bronze belts are the other category of elite decorations that often occurred as votives. This paper will investigate the possible reasons for their popularity in Greek milieu and the features of ‘fashion,’ thus ‘globalization’ suggested by their provenance.

A great number of the Phrygian fibulae were found in the tombs, but also in significant numbers in all levels of the Gordion City Mound, while the belts were exclusively found in burials.

10.2 Phrygian Belts

Fig. 10.1: Two bronze belts from Tumulus P at Gordion (Young 1981, TumP 35–6, Figs. 10–11)

Fig. 10.1: Two bronze belts from Tumulus P at Gordion (Young 1981, TumP 35–6, Figs. 10–11)

Probably the most exquisite belts are the three ones from Tumulus P, a child’s burial at Gordion (Figure 10.1: Young 1981, TumP 34–36). Five complete or almost complete belts and more fragments of hooks, catch-plates and belt buckles were discovered at the Gordion City Mound (Figure 10.2: a total of 16 inventory numbers, listed by Kohler 1995, 209). Most of them come from a late eighth or early seventh century BCE structure called ‘South Cellar’ (DeVries 2005, 37–40) which possibly contained a special deposit. Fragments of a belt come from one of the Ankara tumuli (Özgük and Akok 1947, Figs. 23, 25–26). Two beautiful silver belts of the same type was discovered in Tumulus D at Bayındır, in ancient Lycia (Özgen and Özgen 1988, 33, Fig. 48).

Fig. 10.2: Bronze belt from the Gordion City Mound: B 1605, M6C, South cellar. Courtesy The Gordion Project

Fig. 10.2: Bronze belt from the Gordion City Mound: B 1605, M6C, South cellar. Courtesy The Gordion Project

These belts consist of solid bronze bands with small holes running along both long sides, probably for sewing them to leather or tissue. A set of parallel incised lines also borders both long sides. Often they run along the two edges of the hook. Sometimes the bronze band is covered with geometric incised design. The belt buckle is of a Phrygian fibula type, covering the base of a long hook. It has no functional meaning, so the fibula itself must have been important. The catch plate is a rectangular open-work piece with a rounded end, usually riveted to the band. The hook is cut out of the same bronze sheet and comes out of two semi-circular cut-outs. Sometimes it is also decorated with meander or guilloche incised patterns. Compass drawn rosette is found at the base of the hook on some items.

Another type of belt, which will not be discussed here, was found in the so-called “Midas Mound” (TumMM), the biggest tumulus containing the richest burial at Gordion. They are composed of open-work rectangular plaques and big studded discs with thick leather backing (Young 1981, TumMM 170–180). A similar belt originates from Tumulus W (Young 1981, TumW 25). Fragments of such a disc were found in Tumulus J, in addition to appliqués with a repousé design that might also have been parts of belts (Kohler 1995, 65–6, TumJ 22–9). If so, this would be the only case of a belt associated with a warrior burial at Gordion.2

10.3 Visual Representations of Belts. Parallels

Some analogies of the Phrygian bronze belts, though not very close, can be found in the Near Eastern visual representations. Most of the visual data is provided by the Neo-Assyrian reliefs. Since ninth and eighth centuries BCE a new type of belt has been developed which ends fastened with hooks (Calmeyer 1971, 690). However, some similarities in the rounded shape of the belt ends and the fastening can be observed on some Syrian and Hittite representations: an example is the warrior on the relief of the King’s Gate at Hattussa/Boǧazköy (Moorey 1967, 84; Seeher 1999, 75–78). The same features can be found later in the Neo-Hittite representations on stone: on a relief from Carchemish, from the “Royal Buttress,” young Kamanis, introduced by his regent Yariris, wears a wide belt ending with a triangular open-work piece, which might be a knitted work as well.3 A sword is hanging over his belt. It is worth noting that Kamanis is known through his dedicatory inscriptions for the building of Kubaba’s temple and setting up her cult statue (Hawkins 2000, KARKAMIŠ A 31and B 62a). Narrower belts of the same type can be seen on a relief from Zincirly, worn by musicians, probably in a ritual ceremony (Luschan 1902, Taf. LXII; Özgen 1982, 57–59). All these Neo-Hittite representations are dated to the late ninth and throughout of the eighth century BCE and defined as being of Assyrianizing style. Other images on Neo-Assyrian reliefs of the eighth century BCE, also show hooks that fit into rings on the opposite end and geometrical design of the plate (Hrouda 1965, 47–48; Taf. 7, 20–23; Calmeyer 1971, 690–691).

Although a genetic relation of these belts to the Phrygian and Ionian ones has been denied (Calmeyer 1971, 691), in view of king Mita’s (Midas’) political activity in southeastern Anatolia in the late eighth century BCE (Hawkins 1997, 272; Vassileva 2008), some contacts and exchange could possibly be considered. The political involvement of Midas in southeastern Anatolia has also been the explanation of the Phrygian type fibula and a belt with rectangular geometric decoration worn by the Tabalian king Warpalawa (c. 738–709 BCE) on his relief at Ivriz (Muscarella 1967b, 83–84; Boehmer 1973, 150–156).

The Near Eastern belts were part of the warrior’s attire, and as such, were also king’s attributes in his representations as a warrior. Weapons are extremely rare in Phrygian tombs and we can hardly associate the Phrygian belts with a warrior’s costume. We cannot doubt, however, their aristocratic or royal contexts. The very few Phrygian representations of human figure are not very informative about this dress accessory.

Fig. 10.3: The Carchemish relief showing young Kamanis led by his regent Yariris (Hogarth 1914: Pl. B.7)

Fig. 10.3: The Carchemish relief showing young Kamanis led by his regent Yariris (Hogarth 1914: Pl. B.7)

10.4 Belts and Fibulae Dedicated at Greek Sanctuaries

Besides vessels, cauldrons and phialae, Phrygian belts and fibulae were dedicated in many Greek sanctuaries and temples. Entire belts of Phrygian type, or parts of them, were excavated at many Greek, mostly East Greek, sanctuaries: on Samos, Chios, at Ephesos, Didyma, Old Smyrna and Eythrai.4 Two complete belts were found in the Artemision at Ephesos in addition to numerous other belt fragments that would have amounted to at least 18 belts (Figure 10.4). They were found under the so-called B and C cult bases. Recent excavations at Miletos revealed a sanctuary of Aphrodite Oikos at Zeytintepe, where fragments of about 40 belts were found (Senff 2003). All of these were votives and often come from poorly stratified contexts. The best dated seem to be those from the Harbor Sanctuary on Chios starting from the early seventh century BCE and continuing to the end of the century (Boardman 1961/1962, 183; Boardman 1967, 217). The bronzes originating from Ephesos and Miletos are dated to the seventh–sixth century BCE (see the above quoted bibliography). Fragments of a bronze band decorated with a metope-like design of bosses recovered at Isthmia, at the sanctuary of Poseidon, might have originated from a belt, as the small sewing holes preserved on some pieces suggest (Raubitschek et.al. 1998, Nos. 209–213). They resemble the appliqués discovered in the stone cap of Tumulus J at Gordion (Kohler 1995, 65–66, TumJ 22–27).

Fig. 10.4: Bronze belt from Ephesos (Klebinder-Gauß 2007, Nos.711)

Fig. 10.4: Bronze belt from Ephesos (Klebinder-Gauß 2007, Nos.711)

In mainland Greece belt buckles were found in Delphi and Olympia (Perdrizet 1908, 130, Fig. 485–486; Völling 1998, 243–252). A number of these belts, as well as some of the Phrygian fibulae, dedicated at the sanctuaries are Greek imitations (Donder 2002, 3; Klebinder 2001, 115–117; Klebinder 2002, 78–79; Klebinder-Gauß 2007, 103–106).

Phrygian type fibulae in particular, or Phrygian-inspired items, are even more widely spread in the Greek world. They were so popular that an image of such a fibula appeared on a sixth century BCE electrum coin from East Greece, while two among the very few excavated stone moulds for casting such objects originate from Smyrna/Bayraklı (Boardman 1999, 88, Fig. 96; Muscarella 1967a, 49, Fig. 83–84) and Milet (Bilgi 2004, 31; recently one clay mould was found at Kaman Kalehöyük and a stone one at Bayındır, Lycia). Again, the greatest number come from the Ionian sanctuaries: in the Artemision at Ephesos, at Miletos, on Samos, Chios and Larisa.5 Recent excavations provided numerous Phrygian-type fibulae from the Assos necropolis as well (Bischop 1996, 143–154, Nos. 8–44). Significant numbers of Phrygian fibulae were discovered in mainland Greece and on some of the islands.6

Fig. 10.5: Detail from the Ivriz relief of Tabalian King Warpalawa

Fig. 10.5: Detail from the Ivriz relief of Tabalian King Warpalawa

Phrygian fibulae with double pins and detachable lock-plates (or shields) were exquisitely manufactured dress accessories. Most of the known examples were found in Tumulus MM at Gordion (Young 1981, MM185–194). The plates that cover the double pins are decorated with studs, incised lines or cut-outs. Some of the designs on the plates resemble the patterns on the belts, either on the bronze band or on the catch-plate. It is just this kind of double-pin fibula that Warpalawa wears on the Ivriz relief (with studs on the arc: XII.9 type: (Caner 1983, Taf. 67, No.1170) confirming its high-status value, probably as a king’s diplomatic gift. Such fibulae are only rarely found in Greek sanctuaries: one example from the Heraion on Samos (Jantzen 1972, 48–49, No. 1513; Ebbinghaus 2006, 208, Abb. 6), one lock-plate from the Artemision at Ephesos (Klebinder-Gauß 2007, 66–67, No. 215, Taf. 16 and one more peculiar Ionian innovation: 70, No. 218), and one from Thassos (Sapouna-Sakellarakis 1978, 128, No. 1678, Taf. 53; Figs. 5, 6 and 7). On the Samos piece traces of silver foil are detectable on the plate. All three of them are considered Phrygian imports (Klebinder-Gauß 2007, 67). Thus, they would have been among the elite votives in the sanctuaries.

Fig. 10.6: Double-pin fibula from Tumulus MM (Gordion)
(Caner 1983, No. 1070)

Fig. 10.6: Double-pin fibula from Tumulus MM (Gordion)
(Caner 1983, No. 1070)

These highly decorative dress accessories probably gave rise to Greek imitations of fibulae with fixed plates (cast together with the arc or riveted to it); sometimes two crossing bars within the bow, or a second plate/bar, parallel to that connecting both ends of the bow appear.7 These plates/bars are often studded. Such fibulae were also used as belt-buckles for Phrygian-inspired belts produced in Greek workshops.8

Following the development of the Phrygian belts, one can conclude that the Greeks accepted some of the later, more advanced shapes (Klebinder 2001, 117; Klebinder-Gauß 2007, 103–105). Lion’s heads as finials of the fibula-type belt buckle look like an Ionian innovation, unknown in Phrygia.9 A lion’s head is placed within the fibula bow on three gold examples from the Ephesian Artemision, and a plastic rosette on a third one (Bammer and Muss 1996, 82–83, Abb. 99–100; Seipel 2008, 144–145, Nos. 59–60). In general, more Phrygian-type fibulae and belts of precious metals are found outside Phrygia, in the Greek world.

The peak of dedications of Phrygian belts and fibulae was in the seventh century BCE. They lasted till mid-sixth century BCE, or, in some cases until the end of that century. Not surprisingly, the earliest types of fibulae dedicated in Greek sanctuaries come from Samos and from Lindos on Rhodes.

Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish the Greek imitations from the Phrygian imports. Often the Greek production is quite obvious, and sometimes only a general Phrygian inspiration can be detected. Recently, it has been stated that only few genuine Phrygian imports can be found among the bronzes at Ephesos and Miletos (Klebinder-Gauß 2007, 40, 105–6). Still, why then such a production of imitations?

Fig. 10.7: Double-pin fibula from Samos (Ebbinghaus 2006, Abb. 6)

Fig. 10.7: Double-pin fibula from Samos (Ebbinghaus 2006, Abb. 6)

It is generally agreed that the east Greek workshops were responsible for the spread of most of the Phrygian objects, genuine or imitations, in the Greek mainland. Some of the Ionian sanctuaries, like Samos, reveal impressive votive collections of Near Eastern and Egyptian objects (Ebbinghaus 2006). Delphi and Olympia were pan-Hellenic and international sanctuaries where votives of various origins occurred. Literary evidence documented the votive practice of foreign kings and tyrants, most famous of whom were the Phrygian Midas and the Lydian Croesus (Hdt. 1.14). Croesus dedicated precious objects at Delphi, at Thebes in Beotia, in the sanctuary of Apollo Ismenios in Ephesos, to Athena Pronaia, to Amphiaraos, as well as at Miletos (Hdt. 1.14; 92). Among other objects, belts and fibulae were royal or aristocratic gifts in the East Greek sanctuaries. East Greek nobles, tyrants in first place, were in their turn probably responsible for the distribution of “exotic” eastern votives further west in mainland Greek sanctuaries. However, the Phrygian ‘deposits’ can hardly be assigned to the mere aspiration to exotic elite items or occasional foreign visitors of the sanctuaries. The significant number of Phrygian votives suggests certain pattern of dedications (Ebbinghaus 2006, 207).

10.5 Purpose and Symbolism

Most of the Phrygian belts and the fibulae of East Greek provenance were found in sanctuaries of goddesses: that of Artemis in Ephesos, a goddess was worshipped at the Harbour Sanctuary on Chios (Boardman 1961/1962; Osborne 2004, 5), Hera in Samos (Boardman 1961/1962, 189), Aphrodite at Zeytintepe, Miletos (Donder 2002, 3; Senff 2003), a goddess at Old Smyrna. Apollo was worshipped together with his twin sister Artemis at Didyma (Boardman 1961/1962, 189; Boardman 1966, 194); there is an epigraphic evidence for a sanctuary of Artemis (Günter 1988, 316). Similar distribution can be observed in the rest of the Greek world. The belt fragment from Delphi originates from the sanctuary of Athena Pronaia in Marmaria, although a temple of Artemis is also a possibility (Völling 1998, 250; Diod. 22.9.5). The others come from the sanctuaries of Aenodia at Pherai (Kilian 1975, 151), of Athena Alea at Tegea (Voyatzis 1990), of Artemis Orthia at Sparta (Dawkins 1929, 399–406), from the Argive Heraion (Waldstein 1905), of Hera Limenia and Akraia at Perachora (Payne 1940). On Rhodes Phrygian fibulae were found at three sites, all of them sanctuaries of Athena: Lindos, Yalissos and Kamiros. They also come from the sanctuaries of Aphaia at Aegina and Artemis on Thassos (see the respective catalogue entries in Sapouna-Sakellarakis 1978). However, mainland Greece gives more examples of Phrygian bronze objects dedicated in temples of male deities compared to western Anatolia. According to their find places the belt buckles and fibulae in Olympia seem to be associated rather with Zeus than with Hera (Philipp 1981, 307–314; Völling 1998, 245–246). It was the sanctuary of Poseidon where Phrygian-type belts and fibulae were discovered (Raubitschek et.al. 1998, XXXIII–IV). On Lesbos they come from graves, on Paros—from the Delion, and on Samothrace—from the ‘Hall of Votive Gifts.’10

It is known from literary sources and epigraphic data that the Greek women dedicated their belts to Hera or Artemis before marriage, or as an offering for a successful childbirth.11 It has been noted that Artemis received the most numerous dedications of clothes according to the written evidence (Günter 1988, 233–237). It has been supposed that not only the Phrygian belts, but the entire dresses or garments were dedicated at the Greek sanctuaries (Jantzen 1972, 53; Boehmer 1973). As early as the epics, goddesses and immortal women wore belts whose sexual meaning has long been acknowledged (see Circe; Bennett 1997, 125, 157–159). However, this might not be the case with the Phrygian belts.

The evidence from the Phrygian burials suggests that the belts were mostly associated with men. Where anthropological analysis is possible, it was male individuals that had been buried with belts.12 A female burial is suspected in Tumulus D at Bayındır, Lycia, where the two silver belts were deposited (Mellink 1990, 140), but the excavations are not yet fully published. A young woman was buried with as much as 14 Phrygian-type fibulae in Assos, c. 600 BCE (Bischop 1996, 144). Together with the fibulae, they were special grave offerings of great value and not only adornment of the deceased. The bronze belts from the Gordion citadel are the only ones that do not come from burials (see above). The concentration of seven belts in one construction, the so-called “South Cellar”, could hardly be a coincidence. Bearing in mind the type of the City Mound itself, a royal citadel, I would assume a special ritual deposit (or re-deposit) for the belts from this context; those in the pits could have possibly had a similar fate. Maybe the situation in the “South Cellar” comes closer to that at the Greek sanctuaries.

Similarities between the geometric decorative designs on some of the belts, the patterns on the Phrygian rock-cut façades and on wooden inlaid furniture from the Gordion tombs have long been discussed (Simpson 1988, 34–35; Simpson 1998, 636; Vassileva 2001, 59–60). They are considered to have been related to the symbolism of Kybele’s cult and the goddess’ role in Phrygian burial custom has been acknowledged (Buluç 1988, 22; Roller 1999, 102, 104, 111–112). The rosette that appears on the belts, on the rock-cut façades and the wooden stands is also considered to be a goddess’ attribute/symbol.13

I would suggest that the bronze belts and the fibulae as shorthand for belts, were goddess’ attributes and were worn by the dead kings/aristocrats, put as grave offerings or dedicated as a mark of a special relation to the Mother goddess and her cult. Could they possibly be marks of initiation and their different number—a sign for different stages of initiation? As we know from the Greek literary sources, king Midas was a priest (or considered the son) of the Great Mother-Goddess and founder of her mystery rites.14 The literary evidence for his dedicating his throne in Delphi has often been quoted, as well as the text about Croesus dedicating his wife’s belts at Delphi (Hdt. 1.14; 51). Some scholars even suppose that Midas made dedications in other Greek sanctuaries where Phrygian objects were found.15

The choice of Phrygian objects, imports or imitations, strongly suggest a relation with a goddess of rather Anatolian nature. This is more obvious in the case of belts and fibulae, but other objects, like phialae, cauldrons, figurines, etc. might as well be considered in the same context. Artemis is the best Greek ‘translation’ of the Anatolian Great Goddess. Scholars suggest a worship of an indigenous female deity in earlier times with whom Artemis was later identified at Ephesos (Morris 2001b, 2001a; Işık 2008, 55–56). The features of the female statuettes of precious metals and ivory found in the Artemision suggest similarities and connection with the Phrygian cult of Kybele.16 The building of the monumental marble temple of Artemis there is associated with the Lydian king Croesus (Bammer and Muss 1996, 46; Bammer 2005, 180). Similarly to Phrygia and the Neo-Hittite kingdoms Lydian kings were intimately involved with the cult of the Goddess (most recently Munn 2006). In addition, there is both literary and archaeological evidence for the worship of Demeter and of celebration of Thesmophoria at Ephesos (Klebinder-Gauß 2007, 18).

Fig. 10.8: Two gold fibulae from the Artemision at Ephesos (Bammer and Muss 1996, 82, Abb. 99, and Muss 2008, 196, Abb. 168)

Fig. 10.8: Two gold fibulae from the Artemision at Ephesos (Bammer and Muss 1996, 82, Abb. 99, and Muss 2008, 196, Abb. 168)

In mainland Greece it seems that most of the Phrygian objects occur at sanctuaries of Hera and Athena, besides those of Artemis. It is worth noting that usually these were cults of goddesses with special local epithets. It has long been noted that in later inscriptions Artemis Orthia at Sparta was mentioned only by her epithet (Dawkins 1929, 401–402). The meaning of Orthia, “upright, straight,” referring to cult practices and the goddess’ function, has also provoked discussion (Dawkins 1929, 403–404). A hint could possibly be provided by the lead male ithyphallic figurines found at the sanctuary. A parallel with Samothrace could be suggested, where a Phrygian fibula was also found. The epithet Akraia of Hera at Perachora could possibly imply worship at a higher (mountainous) place. Rock-cut sanctuaries of Phrygian affinity are known in the vicinity of most of the Ionian sanctuaries discussed.17 The Ionian somewhat eclectic combination of lion’s heads and rosettes on the gold fibulae from the Artemision betray their association with the Phrygian Mother Goddess (Figure 10.8).

10.6 Conclusions

The above observations show that belts and fibulae, objects of special value for the Phrygian kings and aristocrats, for noble male personages, were dedicated in Greek sanctuaries, mainly of Goddesses. This practice had nothing to do with the Greek women dedicating their belts at marriage or successful childbirth. But these objects were important in the cult of the Phrygian Mother-Goddess and accompanied Phrygian royalty and nobles in their graves. Probably they occurred as royal or aristocratic gifts and offerings first in the Ionian and East Greek sanctuaries of Artemis, Hera and Athena to be further spread in mainland Greece. The majority of objects in mainland sanctuaries were East Greek imitations. Their original form and meaning became gradually elusive and thus Phrygian fibulae appeared in sanctuaries of male deities. It was probably Phrygian and Ionian nobles that were responsible for the initial spread of these votives further west. The peak of this “Phrygian fashion” was from the seventh until mid-sixth century BCE. Greeks knew certainly about Phrygian Kybele by the sixth century BCE and her cult was officially accepted in Athens in the fifth century BCE (Roller 1999, 162–169; Munn 2006). They were not just fascinated by exotic foreign accessories, but borrowed some major traits of Phrygian cult symbolism, thus producing “hybrid” results in cult practices. Phrygian objects and their imitations in Greek sanctuaries betray the Greek way of adaptation of an old Anatolian/Phrygian cult of the Great Goddess. The Greek adaptation and “hybridization” included transfer of metal wealth from graves to sanctuaries and sometimes change of gender positions: female versus male divinities, and male versus female burials. Could we speak about a ‘globalization through cult’ in the seventh century BCE Greek world?


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See (Kohler 1995, 57, 66); however, another function of the appliqués is also possible.

Around a hundred pieces: (Klebinder-Gauß 2007, Nos. 106–218), at Miletos (Donder 2002, 3–4, again around a hundred fibulae), on Samos (Jantzen 1972, 49–49, Taf. 44), Chios (Boardman 1967, Fig. 138), and Larisa (Boehlau and Schefold 1942, Taf. 10.25).

See the one at Delphi, for example: (Perdrizet 1908, 130, Fig. 486).

See the respective catalogue entries in (Sapouna-Sakellarakis 1978).

In TumMM, W, J and most probably in P and S at Gordion: (Young 1981, 101, 196–197; Kohler 1995, 57, 95).

Of Ishtar, Kubaba, and of Kybele: (Simpson 1998, 636–638).

Plut. Caes. 9.3; Hygin. Fab. 191.1; 274.6; Arnob. Adv. Nat. 2.73; Clem Protr. 2.13. 3; Ps.-Hesiod fr. 251 (47) Rzach (Vassileva 1997, 16–18; Vassileva 2005, 82–85).

See (Boehmer 1973, 166; Völling 1998, 251–252; Prayon 2004, 617); on the relation of Midas and the Phrygians with the Greek world: (Muscarella 1989).