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Religion in Phrygia - Cybele

The main and perhaps only deity in ancient Phrygia appears to be the Great Mother, named Cybele by the Greek and Roman authors. She is only known as the MATAR in old Phrygia, sometimes qualified by an epithet like Kubileya, this epithet leading certainly to the later Cybele name.

Her Functions :

She is the goddess of the mountains and of wild nature. As such, she is worshipped in remote and inhospitable parts of the country. Her role is very motherly : she gives life by the fertility of the crops and welcomes the dead in her earthly breast. She also protects mankind from the beast and is a poliad goddess, the guardian of the cities.

Her paredros :

She is sometimes represented with a young man, Attis, who is her son and her lover in the same time. He betrays the goddess who emasculates him in a crisis of mania (=fury), then he dies. The succession of his death and rebirth symbolizes the eternal rebirth of nature. This story became famous in the later cult. This companion doesn’t exist in the 8-6th c. BC and only appears in later images.

Her representation :

Her typical representation in Phrygia is in the figuration of a building’s façade, standing in the doorway. The façade itself can be related to the rock-cut monuments of the Highlands of Phrygia. She is wearing a belted long dress, a head polos (high cylindrical hat), and a veil covering the whole body. In Phrygia, her usual attributes are the bird of prey and a small vase. Lions are sometimes related to her, in a aggressive but tamed manner. Her older representation has nothing to do with the later Agoracritos version of Cybele, showing her seated on a throne, her hand resting on the neck of a perfectly still lion and the other holding a tympanon (= big circular drum), giving a much stiffer and matronal idea of the goddess.

Her cult :

We have no Phrygian written sources and archaeology doesn’t give much information on cult. According to Greek authors of the 5th c. , we can say that the cult took place at night, in the mountains. Music was performed by percussion instruments, songs and screams, all likely to provoke mania. Dances strengthens this ecstatic and orgiastic aspect.


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