King kingdom

How King Midas’ golden touch turned a river to gold

The real story behind the legend of King Midas

Andrea Vaccaro König Midas by Andrea Vaccaro (1670). Image source: WikimediaCommons.

HHThis is where it all began, in the walkway where east meets west. The Anatolia region, although located in one of the driest regions of modern Turkey and surrounded mainly by steppe vegetation, has remarkably fertile soil, alongside forested areas in the southern part of the country. This culturally rich region has seen a long line of important civilizations, including several great empires. It is in this land of honey, pears, musk grapes and gold that the story begins.

The Phrygian civilization and its kings quickly understood that the western plateau of Asia Minor was endowed with several important assets. Thanks to its fertile lands, its strategic position (between the Persians and the Greeks) and the skilled and relentless metalworkers and potters, it quickly became an empire.

In ancient times, the region of Anatolia (including Phrygia), as well as Assyria were famous for the manufacture of brass and other metals since 3000 BC. To make brass, they mixed zinc with copper.

Regional map of Asia Minor in the 2nd century BC. J.-C. (2009). Image source: WikimediaCommons.

Zinc was obtained by heating a metal called calamite. As brass is obtained by combining zinc and copper by mixing and grinding these metals, Anatolian workers ground the ore using wheels and simple mechanical mixers.

Nevertheless, the Phrygians had a secret for their manufacture of brass. Their brass was brighter, brighter and more unique than the rest of the brass in the area. It was surprisingly similar to gold. The manufacture of Phrygian brass was famous, and Phrygia flourished.

Faded brass finds from the Great Tumulus of Gordion, Phrygian period. Image source: Flickr.

In these prosperous times, the king of Phrygia, sick and in poor health, still lacked a successor. He informed his advisers that he intended to give the throne to the first man to pass through the city gates in a cart drawn by three oxen.

Time passed and finally a man appeared in a cart drawn by three oxen. This man was known as Gordian, and when asked, he accepted the offer. He was exceedingly grateful for the trust placed in him and as a sign of gratitude to the king and as a promise to the people, he tied a knot in his chariot.

It was a special and very complicated knot, he said then; as a sign of gratitude, I made a connection between myself and the citizens of Phrygia. Whoever is able to untie the knot wins rule and is destined to rule Asia.

This is where the expression comes from “tie the Gordian knot”.

This is how Gordian, a commoner, became emperor. Under his rule, the already prosperous Phrygia flourished. The citizens in turn wanted to show their gratitude to Gordian and named their capital “Gordium” in his honor.

Gordian ordered the construction of many impressive palaces, fortification walls, buildings and burial mounds in Gordium. He married a woman named Cybèle and they conceived at least one son, known as Midas.

The Great Mound of Gordion. Image source: Flickr.

In addition, he refined the already impressive brass workmanship so that it became the best in the world at that time. It is also accredited for the development of gold embroidery on garments and fabrics.

First, the clothes were dyed in gurtiti, or ocher, to obtain an ocher or yellowish color. Yellow dresses were exceptionally popular with women at the time. These garments were then embroidered with gold threads, they gained so much popularity that they became a status symbol for the upper class of the region.

Golden embroidery. Image source: WikimediaCommons.

At the age of sixty, Gordian died of natural causes and was laid to rest. After a generous funeral feast, the remains of which were found in his burial chamber, along with sumptuous bronze pottery vessels and bronze fibulae, he was placed in a wooden chamber, the oldest standing wooden structure in the world. world. The wood was counted by bell and was dated to 740 BC.

Phrygian funeral ceremony before the burial of the MM Tumulus at the Gordion site by Greg Harlin. Image source: Flickr.

The wooden chamber was found inside a burial mound, one of the largest in Anatolia, which took 1,000 people almost two years to build. The tomb was later found in 1957 by a group of archaeologists.

Gordian and the Phrygian Empire had been strong allies of Troy during the famous “Trojan War”. Gordian had fought alongside the Trojans against the Achaeans. Now it was Midas’s turn to pursue his father’s dreams.

Inscriptions at Gordium indicate that Midas was crowned here shortly after his father’s death. Midas was undoubtedly the greatest, richest and most famous of all Phrygian kings and emperors of all time. He was also to be the last independent ruler of Phrygia. He was the king with the golden touch.

Midas ruled over his people from a lavish Gordian castle surrounded by a beautiful garden of wild roses. The famous Greek Herodotus wrote in his book:

“The garden of Midas, son of Gordian, where the roses grew wildly and each bore sixty flowers of incomparable fragrance” – Herodotus

Herodotus claimed to have met King Midas and personally seen his garden of wild roses.

Rose garden. Image source: Unsplash.

The Phrygian emperor also founded at least two cities, “Midaeum” which he named after himself and the town of Angora.

The city was named Angora until 1930, It was then named Ancyra, and lastly, it become known as Ankara.

Angora or Ankara is the origin of both Angora wool (from Angora rabbits) and mohair wool (from Angora goats). Unrelated to wool, Angora cats also have their origins in the same city.

Undoubtedly Midas’ greatest achievement was the development and production of coins, one of the oldest in the world. This invention was then passed on to the empires of Lydia, Persia and finally to the Roman empire which spread the use of coins throughout Europe.

Coin with the head of Attis (right), wearing a Phrygian headdress. Image source: WikimediaCommons.

Credit for this historic invention and how it changed history goes to Midas. The origins of the entire coin-making process can be found in the Pactolus River (known as Sart Çayı in Turkish).

The river of gold

The river originates on Mount Tmolus, passes through the ruins of the city of Sardis and later empties into the Gediz Nehri River, known as “Hermus” by the ancient Greeks.

The Pactolus River contained electrum, an alloy of gold with at least 20% silver, used to make coins. In alchemy, the transmutation of an object into gold is known as Chrysopea.

To obtain electrum from the river, Midas and his people placed sheepskins, which were left for a few days and then collected.

Pactolus River. Image source:

Midas continued to rule the Empire in the same way and with the same values ​​as his father. Continuous wars were waged against his sworn enemies the Assyrians and Urartus.

The Assyrians called it “Mita of Mushki”. The reason was that the Phrygians originated from a place in Macedonia with that name.

For long periods, these conflicts hindered his access to the Mediterranean Sea which was of utmost importance for Phrygian trade. To solve this problem, Midas married a Greek princess named Damodice, daughter of Agamemnon of Cumae. With this, the problem was solved; he gained permanent access to the Mediterranean, an ally and a trading partner at the same time.

However, in the latter part of 600 BC, Phrygia was attacked by the Cimmerians who plundered, destroyed and burned Gordian. After the fall of Phrygia, the region fell under Lydian rule, it was then taken by the Persians, followed by the Seleucidians (a general in the army of Alexander the Great), and finally it fell under Roman rule.

What happened to Midas in the midst of all this is unclear, but there are rumors that he drank poisoned ox blood and died. Others say he lived for a short time after the invasion and died of natural causes after that.

The story of King Midas, popularly known as a children’s book, is based on Greek mythology. The Greek philosopher Aristotle of Stagira (384-322 BC) tells the story of King Midas.

According to the myth; King Midas was walking through his famous rose garden when he encountered a satyr, a silenus or a drunken silenus. Midas helped him and gave him a meal and a bed to rest on.

Later, the master of the Satyrs, Dionysus (the Greek god of wine), found him with Midas. The god was grateful that Midas took good care of his friend, and in return granted Midas a wish.

Midas’ wish was that everything he touched would turn to gold. Much to his disappointment, he discovered that even the food he was about to eat had turned to gold before he could eat it. Aristotle goes on to say that King Midas starved to death as a result of the wish and died a slow and painful death.

According to the Romans, the story has a different ending.

Publius Ovidius Naso (43 BC – 17 AD) recounts that King Midas repents of his greed and begs Dionysus to take back the gift of the golden touch. Dionysus agrees and orders Midas to wash his hands or bathe in the Pactolus River (now Sart Çayı). Midas followed his instructions and the golden key disappeared. For centuries the waters were filled with gold, making the last rulers of Phrygia fabulously wealthy.

King Midas was a historical king of the Kingdom of Phrygia in Asia Minor. He ruled a very powerful country and a rich empire. He couldn’t literally turn things to gold, but figuratively and symbolically he could.

The Phrygian Brass looked like goldtheir gold embroidery was the first and finest in history, moreover, they were one of the first countries to produce gold coins.

The stories that he wished he could turn everything he touched into gold came from Greek mythology based on the alleged fabulous riches of Phrygia.

Tie. Image source: Unsplash.

The ox cart was still in the palace of Phrygia in the 4th century when Alexander the Great arrived. Alexander wanted to untie the knot but struggled to do so.

He felt that it wouldn’t matter how loose the knot was, so he drew his sword and cut the knot in half with a single blow.

Even if his solution is disputed, we have since known that cut the Gordian knot means; find a quick solution to an unsolvable problem.

Alexander the Great cuts the Gordian knot of Jean-Simon Berthélemy (1743-1811). Image source: WikimediaCommons.