Relief of King Tuthaliyah within the rock shrine of Yazilikaya at Bogazkoy, Turkey. The relief is approximately contemporary with the Later Bronze Age settlement at Gordion. In the upper lefthand corner is the king's name written in the hierglyphic script employed at the Hittite capital H. of relief 2.95m. (Phot courtesy of M.M. Voight.)
Relief of King Tuthaliyah within the rock shrine of Yazilikaya at Bogazkoy, Turkey. The relief is approximately contemporary with the Later Bronze Age settlement at Gordion. In the upper lefthand corner is the king’s name written in the hierglyphic script employed at the Hittite capital H. of relief 2.95m. (Phot courtesy of M.M. Voight.)
Map of Anatolia, showing the Late Bronze and Iron Age sites discussed in the text.
Map of Anatolia, showing the Late Bronze and Iron Age sites discussed in the text.

The impetus to record a previously unwritten language must be powerful, since it requires adaptation to a new kind of com­municative device and thus must reflect and cause alterations in the group that becomes literate. Here I examine the process through which one illiterate society went when it confronted literate ones and the reasons why writing was adopted. The Phrygians, when they settled in central Anatolia in the early first millennium B.C., felt the need to record their language. The script of the Phrygians seems to have been modeled on Creek, so the driving force to write their language may be discerned by investigating sim­ilarities of usage between the two.

Phrygian writing is well repre­sented at the site of Gordion, where The University Museum has con­ducted archaeological research since 1950. The site is located approximately 60 miles southwest of Ankara in modern Turkey (Figs. 1, 2), the ancient Anatolia, on a major east-west transportation route which became part of the Persian Royal Road. Since Gordion was inhabited for nearly three thousand years, it received linguis­tic influences from many groups—Early Bronze Age settlers (whose language is not known), Hittites. Phrygians, Persians, Creeks, Ro­mans, and Galatians. The Phrygian script, however, derives directly from the Creek.

General aerial view of Gordion, 1950. The city mound of Gordion is located at the lower left, next to  the Sakarya (ancient Sangarios) River. The conical hill in the upper right is an artificial mound of earth, erected over a wooden tomb chamber (Tumulus MM). The body within the tomb may be that of King Midas. (Photo courtesy of the Gordion Project).
General aerial view of Gordion, 1950. The city mound of Gordion is located at the lower left, next to the Sakarya (ancient Sangarios) River. The conical hill in the upper right is an artificial mound of earth, erected over a wooden tomb chamber (Tumulus MM). The body within the tomb may be that of King Midas. (Photo courtesy of the Gordion Project).

Bronze Age Writing at Gordion

Group of Middle Phrygian pots found inside two large storage jars in 1989. The round-bodied jar and the exterior of the two bowls had non-alphabetic marks. A third bowl had an alphabetic inscription (fig 13a). (Photo by L. Foos, courtesy of the Gordion Project)
Group of Middle Phrygian pots found inside two large storage jars in 1989. The round-bodied jar and the exterior of the two bowls had non-alphabetic marks. A third bowl had an alphabetic inscription (fig 13a). (Photo by L. Foos, courtesy of the Gordion Project)
Mark incised on a late Bronze Age vessel from Gordion. This symbol was applied before firing, and probably refers to the potter rather than a (later) owner. (Roller 1987a: Fig 1:1A-1)
Mark incised on a late Bronze Age vessel from Gordion. This symbol was applied before firing, and probably refers to the potter rather than a (later) owner. (Roller 1987a: Fig 1:1A-1)
Late Bronze Age vessel from Gordion with mark incised before firing. This symbol may be a simplified form of the Hittite hieroglyph for "King". (Roller 1987a:Pl. 1:1A-5)
Late Bronze Age vessel from Gordion with mark incised before firing. This symbol may be a simplified form of the Hittite hieroglyph for “King”. (Roller 1987a:Pl. 1:1A-5)
Early Phrygian vessel from Gordion with mark scratched on the surface after firing. (Roller 1987a:fig.4:2A-3)
Early Phrygian vessel from Gordion with mark scratched on the surface after firing. (Roller 1987a:fig.4:2A-3)
Late Bronze Age vessel from Gordion, found in a stratum deposited in the 4th century B.C. The broad grooved lines that form the triabngle indicate that this mark was applied to the vessel before firing. The thin-lined Phrygian letters were scratched on the surface hundreds of years later. (Roller 1987a:pl.1:1A-4)
Late Bronze Age vessel from Gordion, found in a stratum deposited in the 4th century B.C. The broad grooved lines that form the triabngle indicate that this mark was applied to the vessel before firing. The thin-lined Phrygian letters were scratched on the surface hundreds of years later. (Roller 1987a:pl.1:1A-4)
View of excavations at Gordion, 1989. Most of the standing architecture dates to the time of the destruction of the Early Phrygian city of Midas, ca 700 B.C. The trenches in the foreground are being dug beneath this level to uncover the Late Bronze Age settlement. in the ditance, the massive Early Phrygian gateway is capped by fragments of a similar gate marking the reconstruction of the site in the Middle Phrygian period (6th century B.C.). (Photo by Laura Foos, courtesy of the Gordion Project)
View of excavations at Gordion, 1989. Most of the standing architecture dates to the time of the destruction of the Early Phrygian city of Midas, ca 700 B.C. The trenches in the foreground are being dug beneath this level to uncover the Late Bronze Age settlement. in the ditance, the massive Early Phrygian gateway is capped by fragments of a similar gate marking the reconstruction of the site in the Middle Phrygian period (6th century B.C.). (Photo by Laura Foos, courtesy of the Gordion Project)
The earliest writing at Gordion dates to the Late Bronze Age, 1400­1200 B.C. This phase of the settle­ment was contemporary with the Hittite Empire, and shared aspects of material culture suggest that Cordion was within the Hittite political and economic sphere. Several Bronze Age seals and seal impressions have been found at Cordion, including a jar handle with the impression of a seal con­taining Anatolian hieroglyphic char­acters, as yet undeciphered (Göter-bock, in DeVries 1980:51). This type of writing is usually called Hittite Hieroglyphic, although it actually represents a Luwian sister language of Hittite that was widely spoken in western and southern Anatolia (Hawkins 1986:368).

Also found in Bronze Age Gordion were pots bearing signs that had been incised before the vessels were fired. Two different signs occur, the arrow (Fig. 3) and the triangle with central line (Fig. 4), both of them several times. Proba­bly identification marks of some sort, these signs are not a form of actual writing, although one, the triangle with central vertical line, may be a simplified form of the Hittite hieroglyph for king. Such signs on pots are distributed widely throughout the Hittite Empire, for example, at Alaca Huyuk and Tarsus, as well as at the Hittite capital of Hattusha, the modern Bogazkay (Fig. 5).

The evidence for writing at Gor­dion during the Late Bronze Age is slight. The graphic symbols used were probably simple recording or identifying devices, and Hittite cuneiform texts on tablets compar­able to those found in the Hittite capital and some major Hittite cities are absent. Based on present evidence, therefore, Cordion was not literate in the way that, for example, Hattusha was. Neverthe­less, hieroglyphic writing was present at Cordion and may be related to scripts used in the Hittite Empire.

Development of Phrygian Script

The centuries immediately fol­lowing the collapse of the Hittite Empire in Anatolia (ca. 1200 B.C.) are called the Dark Ages, because we lack both written records and archaeological definition for the period. The Phrygians entered cen­tral Anatolia and settled at Cordion during this time, having come from Thrace and Macedonia according to the Creek historian Herodotos (7.73). They are recognized as a distinct people in part through their now-extinct language, which has been assigned to a linguistic group called Thraco-Phrygian, possibly related to the Hellenic branch of the Indo-European language fam­ily. Phrygian was only distantly related to languages of the same family that were spoken in Bronze Age Anatolia. It is not fully under­stood, largely because few long texts are available, so we do not know the extent to which it was affected by the languages with which it came in contact in central Anatolia.

Our knowledge of Phrygian script derives from two sources—early texts in Phrygian alphabet and neo-Phrygian inscriptions writ­ten in Creek characters. The early Phrygian alphabetic script has close affinities to the Greek alphabet. Since the earliest Phrygian writing does not occur until the 8th century B.C., considerably after the settle­ment of the Phrygian people in Anatolia, we must ask why these people adopted writing when they did, and why and how they chose an alphabetic script probably based on the Creek system.

The development of the Greek alphabetic system has been a much debated subject. It seems likely that the Greeks were exposed to writing through contacts with the Phoenicians in the northern Levant, and modified the consonantal script of the Phoenicians to create vowels and other characters which the Greek language required. The transmission, which probably took place no later than the first half of the 8th century B.C., could have been accomplished by Creek mer­chants living in the Levant who perceived the need for a recording system in order to keep up with their trading partners (Jeffery 1961:1-40). Among the earliest Creek writings are graffiti on pottery—words scratched onto a bowl or jar, usually proper names as forms of identification. But com­plex texts in Creek are equally betic script. The piece bears a mark incised after firing, a triangle with a central vertical line (Fig. 6). This, as we have noted, is the same mark that appears on several Late Bronze Age sherds at Cordion (e.g., Fig. 4), and is probably a form of the hieroglyph meaning king. Since the Iron Age mark was on a small vessel, it is unlikely to have had any real connection with royalty, but it must have had some meaning in the Phrygian context. A clearer demonstration of the Phrygians’ knowledge of the past occurs on another Late Bronze Age vessel, found in a mixed deposit of 5th and 4th century B.C. material (Fig. 7). This too has the Bronze Age sign, the triangle with the central vertical line, and beneath it is a graffito in Phrygian alphabetic script. The Hittite capital at Boazkoy was devastated around 1200 B.C. and may not have been reoccupied for some time, but Cordion may not have been so totally destroyed. The new Phrygian immigrants might have seen Hittite objects at Gordion, and some parts of the Bronze Age population in that area could have survived. Exposure through random chance (as illustrated by Fig. 7) to the Bronze Age practice of.

From Phrygian to  Greek

A second stage of Greek influ­ence on Phrygian writing occurred in the 4th century B.C., four hun­dred years after the introduction of the alphabet, when Creek letters and Creek orthography appear in graffiti on pottery. At this time, since there was still considerable overlap between the two writing systems, the actual evidence for the shift of script is subtle; the dis­tinctive Phrygian letter forms ^ and 4/ disappear, and several Greek letters not seen before this time, e.g., H, A , 4 , are found. Other Creek practices, such as the use of ligatures, occur for the first time. Eventually Greek script supplanted Phrygian, and Greek spelling was used in writing com­mon Phrygian proper names. Also from the 4th century are the earliest examples of texts with words and phrases in the Creek language, suggesting that the changes in the writing system resulted from the introduction of Greek speech as well as Greek script. By the end of the 4th century, texts in the Phryg­ian language had become rare, with most being written in Creek. By the 3rd century B.C. all the written documents at Cordian are in Creek language and Creek script (Roller 1987b:107). This linguistic shift is attributable to profound changes in the political organization of Ana­tolia after the conquests of Alexan­der and his legendary feat of cut­ting the “Cordian knot, by which he gained possession of Asia. The successor states formed from Alex­ander’s empire after his death were strongly Hellenized, so Greek passed from being a lingua franca to the mother tongue of many conquered peoples, the inhabitants of Gordion among them.

Vessel from the Middle Phrygian period at Gordion (6th century B.C.) with isolated marks incised after firing. The lower sign is a Phrygian letter, while the upper sign is non-alphabetic. (Roller 1987a: Fig 8:2A-39)
Vessel from the Middle Phrygian period at Gordion (6th century B.C.) with isolated marks incised after firing. The lower sign is a Phrygian letter, while the upper sign is non-alphabetic. (Roller 1987a: Fig 8:2A-39)
Exterior of a Middle Phrygian bowl with a combination of alphabetic and non-alphabetic marks after firing. (Roller 1987a: Fig. 16:2A-111)
Exterior of a Middle Phrygian bowl with a combination of alphabetic and non-alphabetic marks after firing. (Roller 1987a: Fig. 16:2A-111)

Conclusions

The Phrygian writing system drew upon two separate script systems—Anatolian hieroglyphs and the Creek alphabet. Each de­rived from outside Phrygia, but the reasons for their adoption seem to have varied. During the Late Bronze Age at Cordian, the writing system and the use of non-verbal graphic symbols appear to have been limited to recording owner­ship. Even this function was lost at the end of the Bronze Age, due to population movements which in­cluded that of the Phrygians. The desire to write the Phrygian lan­guage came several centuries later, as a result of exposure to Creek writing. The Phrygian alphabet seems to have been known to a larger percentage of the population than was Bronze Age writing, al­though the subject matter of extant Phrygian texts is limited in scope. An indigenous element persisted, as non-verbal symbols were fre­quently used in conjunction with alphabetic writing. The final shift in the writing system, from the Phrygian to the Creek alphabet, occurred when political changes in Anatolia in the 4th and 3rd cen­turies B.C. caused Greek to be­come the dominant language.

Bronze Bowl with Phrygian inscription on wax. Part of the grave goods deposited in Tumulus MM, this bowkl dates to the late 8th century B.C. (Young 1981: Fig. 84; MM68. Drawing by Grace Freed Muscarella)
Bronze Bowl with Phrygian inscription on wax. Part of the grave goods deposited in Tumulus MM, this bowkl dates to the late 8th century B.C. (Young 1981: Fig. 84; MM68. Drawing by Grace Freed Muscarella)
Polished black bowls from the Middle Phrygian period: a has both alphabetic and non-alphabetic marks applied to the exterior after firing. B) has non-alphabetic marks on the exterior and interior (Drawings by Hoffman, courtesy of the Gordion Project)
Polished black bowls from the Middle Phrygian period: a has both alphabetic and non-alphabetic marks applied to the exterior after firing. B) has non-alphabetic marks on the exterior and interior (Drawings by Hoffman, courtesy of the Gordion Project)