Ancient Empires; Greco-Mesopotamian (Part 1)

Elsewhere we come upon the outlines of a draped female form, sometimes alone, sometimes accompanied by two lions, or of a man clothed in a short tunic, holding a sort of straight sceptre in his hand, and we fancy that we have the image of a god before our eyes, though we cannot say which of the deities handed down by tradition it may represent. The religion of the Phrygians is shrouded in the same mystery as their civilization and their art, and presents a curious mixture of European and Asiatic elements. The old aboriginal races had worshipped from time immemorial a certain mother-goddess, Ma, or Amma, the black earth, which brings forth without ceasing, and nourishes all living things. Her central place of worship seems, originally, to have been in the region of the Anti-taurus, and it was there that her sacred cities–Tyana, Venasa, and the Cappadocian Comana–were to be found as late as Roman times; in these towns her priests were regarded as kings, and thousands of her priestesses spent lives of prostitution in her service; but her sanctuaries, with their special rites and regulations, were scattered over the whole peninsula. She was sometimes worshipped under the form of a meteoric stone, or betyle similar to those found in Canaan;[N1] more frequently she was represented in female shape, with attendant lions, or placed erect on a lion in the attitude of walking.

[N1: E.g. at Mount Dindymus and at Pessinus, which latter place was supposed to possess the oldest sanctuary of Cybele. The Pessinus stone, which was carried off to Rome in 204 B.C., was small, irregular in shape, and of a dark colour. Another stone represented Ida.]

A moon-god, Men, shared divine honours with her, and with a goddess Nana whose son Atys had been the only love of Ma and the victim of her passion. We are told that she compelled him to emasculate himself in a fit of mad delirium, and then transformed him into a pine tree: thenceforward her priests made the sacrifice of their virility with their own hands at the moment of dedicating themselves to the service of the goddess.[N2]

[N2] Nana was made out to be the daughter of the river Sangarios. She is said to have conceived Atys by placing in her bosom the fruit of an almond tree which sprang from the hermaphrodite Agdistis. This was the form–extremely ancient in its main features–in which the legend was preserved at Pessinus.]

The gods introduced from Thrace by the Phrygians showed a close affinity with those of the purely Asianic peoples. Precedence was universally given to a celestial divinity named Bagaios, Lord of the Oak, perhaps because he was worshipped under a gigantic sacred oak; he was king of gods and men, then-father,[N3] lord of the thunder and the lightning, the warrior who charges in his chariot.

[N3: In this capacity he bore the surname Papas.]

He, doubtless, allowed a queen-regent of the earth to share his throne,[N4] but Sauazios, another, and, at first, less venerable deity had thrown this august pair into the shade.

[N4: The existence of such a goddess may be deduced from the passage in which Dionysius of Halicarnassus states that Manes, first king of the Phrygians, was the son of Zeus and Demeter.]

Drawn by Faucher-Gudin, from a photograph by Perdrizet. The last figure on the left is the god Men; the Sun overlooks all the rest, and a god bearing an axe occupies the extreme right of the picture. The shapes of these ancient aboriginal deities have been modified by the influence of Graeco-Roman syncretism, and I merely give these figures, as I do many others, for lack of better representations.

The Greeks, finding this Sauazios at the head of the Phrygian Pantheon, identified him with their Zeus, or, less frequently, with the Sun; he was really a variant of their Dionysos. He became torpid in the autumn, and slept a death-like sleep all through the winter; but no sooner did he feel the warmth of the first breath of spring, than he again awoke, glowing with youth, and revelled during his summer in the heart of the forest or on the mountain-side, leading a life of riot and intoxication, guarded by a band of Sauades, spirits of the springs and streams, the Sileni of Greek mythology. The resemblances detected by the new-comers between the orgies of Thrace and those of Asia quickly led to confusion between the different dogmas and divinities. The Phrygians adopted Ma, and made her their queen, the Cybele who dwells in the hills, and takes her title from the mountain-tops which she inhabits–Dindymene on Mount Dindymus, Sipylene on Mount Sipylus. She is always the earth, but the earth untilled, and is seated in the midst of lions, or borne through her domain in a car drawn by lions, accompanied by a troop of Corybantes with dishevelled locks. Sauazios, identified with the Asianic Atys, became her lover and her priest, and Men, transformed by popular etymology into Manes, the good and beautiful, was looked upon as the giver of good luck, who protects men after death as well as in life.

This religion, evolved from so many diverse elements, possessed a character of sombre poetry and sensual fanaticism which appealed strongly to the Greek imagination: they quickly adopted even its most barbarous mysteries, those celebrated in honour of the goddess and Atys, or of Sauazios. They tell us but little of the inner significance of the symbols and doctrines taught by its votaries, but have frequently described its outward manifestations. These consisted of aimless wanderings through the forests, in which the priest, incarnate representative of his god, led after him the ministers of the temple, who were identified with the Sauades and nymphs of the heavenly host. Men heard them passing in the night, heralded by the piercing notes of the flute provoking to frenzy, and by the clash of brazen cymbals, accompanied by the din of uproarious ecstasy: these sounds were broken at intervals by the bellowing of bulls and the roll of drums, like the rambling of subterranean thunder.

A Midas followed a Gordios, and a Gordios a Midas, in alternate succession, and under their rule the Phrygian empire enjoyed a period of prosperous obscurity. Lydia led an uneventful existence beside them, under dynasties which have received merely passing notice at the hands of the Greek chroniclers. They credit it at the outset with the almost fabulous royal line of the Atyadae, in one of whose reigns the Tyrseni are said to have migrated into Italy. Towards the twelfth century the Atyadae were supplanted by a family of Heraclido, who traced their descent to a certain Agron, whose personality is only a degree less mythical than his ancestry; he was descended from Heracles through Alcseus, Belus, and Ninus. Whether these last two names point to intercourse with one or other of the courts on the banks of the Euphrates, it is difficult to say. Twenty-one Heraclido, each one the son of his predecessor, are said to have followed Agron on the throne, their combined reigns giving a total of five hundred years.[N5] Most of these princes, whether Atyadae or Heraclidae, have for us not even a shadowy existence, and what we know of the remainder is of a purely fabulous nature. For instance, Kambles is reported to have possessed such a monstrous appetite, that he devoured his own wife one night, while asleep.[N6]

[N5:The number is a purely conventional one, and Gutschmid has shown how it originated. The computation at first comprised the complete series of 22 Heraclidae and 5 Mermnadae, estimated reasonably at 4 kings to a century, i.e. 27 X 25 = 675 years, from the taking of Sardes to the supposed accession of Agron. As it was known from other sources that the 5 Mermnadae had reigned 170 years, these were subtracted from the 675, to obtain the duration of the Heraclidae alone, and by this means were obtained the 505 years mentioned by Herodotus.

 [N6: Another version, related by Nicolas of Damascus, refers the story to the time of Lardanos, a contemporary of Hercules; it shows that the Lydian chronographers considered Kambles or Kamblitas as being one of the last of the Atyad kings.]

The concubine of Meles, again, is said to have brought forth a lion, and the oracle of Telmessos predicted that the town of Sardes would be rendered impregnable if the animal were led round the city walls; this was done, except on the side of the citadel facing Mount Tmolus, which was considered unapproachable, but it was by that very path that the Persians subsequently entered the town. Alkimos, we are told, accumulated immense treasures, and under his rule his subjects enjoyed unequalled prosperity for fourteen years. It is possible that the story of the expedition despatched into Palestine by a certain Akiamos, which ended in the foundation of Ascalon, is merely a feeble echo of the raids in Syrian and Egyptian waters made by the Tyrseni and Sardinians in the thirteenth century B.C. The spread of the Phrygians, and the subsequent progress of Greek colonisation, must have curtailed the possessions of the Heraclidas from the eleventh to the ninth centuries, but the material condition of the people does not appear to have suffered by this diminution of territory. When they had once firmly planted themselves in the ports along the Asianic littoral–at Kyme, at Phocae, at Smyrna, at Clazomenae, at Colophon, at Ephesus, at Magnesia, at Miletus–the Æolians and the Ionians lost no time in reaping the advantages which this position, at the western extremities of the great high-road through Asia Minor, secured to them. They overran all the Lydian settlements in Phrygia–Sardes, Leontocephalos, Pessinus, Gordioon, and Ancyra. The steep banks and the tortuous course of the Halys failed to arrest them; and they pushed forward beyond the mysterious regions peopled by the White Syrians, where the ancient civilization of Asia Minor still held its sway. The search for precious metals mainly drew them on–the gold and silver, the copper, bronze, and above all iron, which the Chalybae found in their mountains, and which were conveyed by caravans from the regions of the Caucasus to the sacred towns of Teiria and Pteria.[N7]

[N7: The site of Pteria has been fixed at Boghaz-keui by Texier, an identification which has been generally adopted; Euyuk is very probably Teiria, a town of the Lcucosyrians, mentioned by Hecatsous of Miletus in his work.]

The friendly relations into which they entered with the natives on these journeys resulted before long in barter and intermarriage, though their influence made itself felt in different ways, according to the character of the people on whom it was brought to bear.

They gave as a legacy to Phrygia one of their alphabets, that of Kyme, which soon banished the old Hittite syllabary from the monuments, and they borrowed in exchange Phrygian customs, musical instruments, traditions, and religious orgies. A Midas sought in marriage Hermodike, the daughter of Agamemnon the Kymsoan, while another Midas, who had consulted the oracle of Delphi, presented to the god the chryselephantine throne on which he was wont to sit when he dispensed justice.

This interchange of amenities and these alliances, however, had a merely superficial effect, and in no way modified the temperament and life of the people in inner Asia Minor. They remained a robust, hardworking race, attached to their fields and woods, loutish and slow of understanding, unskilled in war, and not apt in defending themselves in spite of their natural bravery. The Lydians, on the contrary, submitted readily to foreign influence, and the Greek leaven introduced among them became the germ of a new civilization, which occupied an intermediate place between that of the Greek and that of the Oriental world. About the first half of the eighth century B.C. the Lydians had become organized into a confederation of several tribes, governed by hereditary chiefs, who were again in their turn subject to the Heraclidae occupying Sardes.[N8] This town rose in terraces on the lower slopes of a detached spur of the Tmolus running in the direction of the Hermos, and was crowned by the citadel, within which were included the royal palace, the treasury, and the arsenals. It was surrounded by an immense plain, bounded on the south by a curve of the Tmolus, and on the west by the distant mountains of Phrygia Katake-kaumene. The Maeonians still claimed primacy over the entire race, and the family was chosen from among their nobles. The king, who was supposed to be descended from the gods, bore, as the insignia of his rank, a double-headed axe, the emblem of his divine ancestors. The Greeks of later times said that the axe was that of their Heracles, which was wrested by him from the Amazon Hippolyta, and given to Omphale.[N9]

[N8: Gelzer was the first, to my knowledge, to state that Lydia was a feudal state, and he defined its constitution. Radet refuses to recognise it as feudal in the true sense of the term, and he prefers to see in it a confederation of states under the authority of a single prince.]

 [N9: Gelzer sees in the legend about the axe related by Plutarch, a reminiscence of a primitive gynocracy. The axe is the emblem of the god of war, and, as such, belongs to the king: the coins of Mylasa exhibit it held by Zeus Labraundos.]

SOURCE: History Of Egypt, Chaldaea, Syria, Babylonia, and Assyria, Volume 8 (of 12), by G. Maspero/Translated by M. L. McClure

Deiokes; Rise of the Medes; Ancient Empires


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