The impetuous Alexander
the Great cut the Gordian
Knot and went on to conquer
Asia, but is this Gordion's
real 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
The town and its fortress guarded
the only practicable trade route between Troy and
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 Hittite, Phrygian,
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
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-cipher guarded 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