The New Chronology of Iron Age Gordion

The New Chronology of Iron Age Gordion

The New Chronology of Iron Age Gordion

The New Chronology of Iron Age Gordion


The New Chronology of Iron Age Gordion argues that the history and archaeology of the site of Gordion, in central Turkey, have been misunderstood since the beginning of its excavation in the 1950s. The first excavation director, Rodney Young, found evidence for substantial destruction during the first decade of fieldwork; this was interpreted as proof that Gordion had been destroyed ca. 700 B.C. by the Kimmerians, a group of invaders from the Caucusus/Black Sea region, as attested in several ancient literary sources. During the last decade, however, renewed research on the archaeological evidence, within, above, and below the destruction level indicated that the catastrophe that destroyed much of Gordion occurred 100 years earlier, in 800 B.C., and was the result of a fire that quickly got out of control rather than a foreign invasion.

This discovery requires a reassessment of Anatolian history during the entire first millennium B.C. and has serious implications for our understanding of the surrounding regions, such as Assyria, Syria, Greece, and Urartu, among others. The New Chronology of Iron Age Gordion is the product of a multidisciplinary research program, with dendrochronology and radiocarbon dating working hand in hand with textual and artifact analysis, each of which is treated in a separate chapter in this volume. All of these categories of evidence point to the same conclusion and demonstrate that we need to look at Gordion, and much of the ancient Near East, in a completely new way.


Gordion has long been considered one of the most important sites in the Near East because of its chronology. With a well-preserved destruction level that seemed safely linked to a key moment in history, Gordion appeared to provide a stable stratigraphic framework that could be tied to other sites whose chronologies were less secure. the site has yielded an extensive body of archaeological evidence that spans at least five millennia, from the Early Bronze Age (ca. 3000 BC) to modern times, and well-preserved stratified deposits mark a long series of construction, demolition, and destruction events over the millennia (Table 0.1).

But it is Gordion’s Iron Age phases, dating to the first half of the 1st millennium bc, that have attracted the most attention. During this period the site was the center of a large and powerful polity— the kingdom of Phrygia—and its excavated material culture constitutes a prime reference point for those who study the history of the Anatolian Iron Age (Fig. 0.1). in recent years, however, the chronology of Gordion’s Iron Age sequence has been the subject of radical re-evaluation, modification, and dispute. the purpose of the present volume is to explain in detail the genesis, nature, and rationale of these chronological adjustments, and to summarize their impact on Gordion’s Iron Age sequence. Their implications for the Anatolian Iron Age in general are considerable, though it will be the task of others to evaluate them.

The remains of Gordion were first recognized in the late 19th century, when the German classical philologist Alfred Körte learned that railroad engineers building the Berlin–Baghdad railway had come across an interesting ancient site at the village of Pebi (Bebi),1 near the junction of the Sakarya and Porsuk rivers in Central Anatolia. He investigated the site himself in 1893, amplifying his fieldwork with a detailed examination of pertinent ancient Greek and Latin documentary sources. From this research Körte concluded that the site must have been Gordion, capital of Iron Age Phrygia, home of kings Gordios and Midas, and the place where Alexander the Great had cut the legendary Gordian Knot (Körte 1897). the site was located on the ancient Sangarios River (the modern Sakarya), at a point roughly halfway between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, and at a particular distance by horse from the ancient site of Pessinous (modern Ballıhisar). the mounded remains, visible in the river plain and on the sides of the valley, indicated a large settlement surrounded by an unusually high number of elite burial mounds (tumuli)—an archaeological topography befitting the capital of a once mighty kingdom.

In 1900 Alfred Körte returned to the site to excavate, this time accompanied by his archaeologist brother, Gustav (Fig. 0.2). Their one season of digging effectively confirmed that the large mound in the plain—the Yassıhöyük, or “flat-topped settlement mound” now referred to as the Citadel Mound—was indeed a settlement occupied in the 1st millennium bc, and that the surrounding smaller mounds included Iron Age tumuli with wooden tomb chambers and elaborate grave goods (Körte and Körte 1904).

The Körte brothers’ excavations had demonstrated the archaeological potential of this site, and their identification of Bebi/Yassıhöyük with Gordion was widely accepted. Consequently, though many years later, the University of Pennsylvania Museum decid-

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