Gordion (Gordium), Turkey

The impetuous Alexander the Great cut the Gordian Knot and went on to conquer Asia, but is this Gordion’sreal claim to fame?

No, it’s knot.

Gordion, 106 km (66 miles) west of Ankara and 21 km (13 miles NW of Polatlı near the village of Yassıhöyük (map), was the capital of Phrygia under its most renowned ruler, King Midas (725-675 BC).

The town and its fortress guarded the only practicable trade route between Troy and Antioch (Antakya) where it crossed the Sangarius (Sakarya) River. You had to get past the citadel of Gordion to trade with—or to conquer—Asia.

The flat terrain around Gordion is littered with tumuli, or mounds, about 80 of them. Archeologists have uncovered something like 18 layers of civilization from the Bronze Age through the HittitePhrygian, Persian, Greek and Roman periods.

In the largest tumulus they discovered a 2700-year-old tomb that may be Midas’s. The log-cabin-like tomb and its grave goods of coffin, furniture and food offerings, all buried beneath an arficial hill, are Gordion’s main attraction and the reason for you to visit.

As for the Gordian Knot, here’s the legend:

A man named Gordius, his wife, and their son Midas rode in an oxcart into the town that would soon be known as Gordion. A legend had foretold just such a coming by oxcart of a savior king, so Gordius was proclaimed ruler.

The cart that had brought them was put in a Temple to Zeus, and it was said that anyone who could untie the knot of cornel bark which fastened the cart pole to the oxen yoke would rule all of Asia.

The knot may in fact have been a religious knot-cipherguarded by Gordion’s priests and priestesses. It may have symbolized the ineffable name of Dionysus and its secret would have been passed on through generations of priests and revealed only to the kings of Phrygia.

In any case, Alexander the Great came along, defeated the Phrygians in battle, captured their fortress, and therefore had access to the remainder of Asia.

I see the episode of the Gordion Knot not so much as a symbol of Alexander’s impetuousness as of his clear-headedness: he had Gordion in the bag, so why waste time untying knots?

—by Tom Brosnahan


Transport for Gordion

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