Seals at Gordion

Gordion has so far produced 114 artifacts that have been classified as seals or seal impressions. The numbers by time period are as follows: seven seals and seven impressions of Bronze Age date; one seal of Early Iron Age date; one seal, one possible seal, and one impression from the Early Phrygian Iron Age; 12 seals, one possible seal, and one impression from the Middle Phrygian Iron Age; 22 seals and seven impressions, plus one object probably incorrectly catalogued as a seal, of Achaemenid date; 11 seals, nine engraved rings, two possible seals or moulds, and eleven impressions, from the Hellenistic period; and 12 rings with engraved bezels, four rings with decorated bezels that may have served as seals, and one large bronze stamp in the shape of a foot, from the Roman period. One seal and one more possible seal have not been assignable to specific dates at this time.

Bronze Age (ca. 3000–1200 BCE)

The seals from Bronze Age deposits at Gordion demonstrate close connections with other areas of central Anatolia. In the Middle and Late Bronze Ages, the Hittites were the prevailing influence on glyptic art and practice at Gordion. During the Middle Bronze Age, in particular, Gordion witnessed interactions with people and sites as far east as Alishar. The small number of Bronze Age seals excavated from Gordion reflects the small Bronze Age area explored so far.

Two of the Bronze Age seals were found in graves, both in situations that suggest they were used for multiple purposes, including amuletic. One of them (Dusinberre Cat. No. 2 [2434/B464]), an early Middle Bronze stalk seal, was found in a later Hittite-era tomb, strung as part of a necklace that included beads shaped like Hittite shoes as well as other forms. The seal might, of course, have been used as an administrative tool while strung around the neck, but its manner of wearing and the beads associated with it suggest an ornamental and perhaps amuletic function as well. The other (Dusinberre Cat. No. 3 [1924/SS70]), a stud seal, is a type that was made in the late Early and early Middle Bronze Age as an administrative tool, as its presence on Acemhöyük materials demonstrates. But the example from Gordion was found in a late Middle Bronze Age grave of a young child, and therefore probably not part of a bureaucratic apparatus. The imagery on the seal closely resembles Egyptian symbols for the deity Hathor, goddess of life, beauty, joy, music, and death: perhaps this connection was recognized in the later, Hittite, period, when Anatolians and Egyptians were much in contact. The image also resembles the Hittite ankh, symbolizing life. The grieving parents probably buried this seal with their dead child for its magical functions.

The Bronze Age seals from Gordion also serve as an example of the mobility of seals through time and through archaeological deposits. Two Petschaft seals from the Middle Bronze Age were found in much later deposits: one in the sterile clay overlying the Early Phrygian levels (Dusinberre Cat. No. 7 [3284/SS133]), and one in Hellenistic deposits (Dusinberre Cat. No. 8 [1373/SS53]). Both were terribly worn, either from extensive use or from weathering, perhaps in watery areas (e.g. the Sangarios riverbed). The latter seal was recarved with the kind of imagery common on locally made seals in the Hellenistic period, and thus seems to have been reused at that time. These seals serve as good illustrations of "wandering" or residual artifacts, which are well represented at Gordion. A case in point is a Middle Bronze Age example (Dusinberre Cat. No. 4 [10437/SS260]) recovered from Roman levels. 

Early Iron Age (ca. 1200–950 BCE)

The Early Iron Age at Gordion is represented by a single seal (Dusinberre Cat. No. 15 [7856/SS212]). This is a bright blue composition scarab with Egyptianizing imagery. Although there are Bronze Age seals from Gordion with imagery that may or may not reflect Egyptian iconographic ideas, this seal is different from the earlier ones. It is a vivid blue and in the shape of a scarab, like its Egyptian counterparts, and features a double uraeus on its flat face. The artifact was not made in Egypt—indeed its manufacturer seems to have had only a general idea of Egyptian scarabs—but its form and style show great departure from the seals of Bronze Age Gordion. 

Early Phrygian Iron Age (ca. 950–800 BCE)

The artifacts of Gordion's Early Phrygian period provide only the most minimal evidence for glyptic art and use at the site during this time of extraordinary centralized activity and development. One seal (Dusinberre Cat. No. 16 [2597/SS109]) is another Egyptianizing scarab, now very worn and almost unintelligible. Another object (Dusinberre Cat. No. 17 [1095/SS273]) was probably never used as a seal at all, but rather seems to be a small-scale attempt at the "doodles" on limestone that were found on Megaron 2 of the Early Phrygian period. One artifact (Dusinberre Cat. No. 18 [572/SS31]) is a stamped potsherd. 

Middle Phrygian Iron Age (ca. 800–550 BCE)

The Middle Phrygian levels yielded many more seals than the Early Phrygian, although their manner of use is still uncertain. Some of these seals are from good contexts and may even help us date the advent of the Middle Phrygian period. Two seals (Dusinberre Cat. No. 19 [7965/SS219] and Cat. No. 20 (8400/SS225]) both come from the South Cellar, a deposit that is now datable to the end of the eighth century BCE. Although one of these seals (Dusinberre Cat. No. 20) must be dated based on its context, rather than vice versa, its form and iconography demonstrate connections between Gordion and cultures to the south. The other seal (Dusinberre Cat. No. 19) is a Lyre Player seal, probably carved somewhere around North Syria, Cilicia, or the Levant (perhaps even Cyprus), and datable to ca. 740–720 BCE. The discovery of these seals in the South Cellar helps us understand not only the date but also the cultural milieu of Gordion at the beginning of the Middle Phrygian period, as the inhabitants were rebuilding their city after the conflagration that consumed the Old Citadel. The clear connections to artistic workshops at the south, demonstrated previously by the ivory horse trappings found in the Destruction Level, are borne out also by these two seals from the South Cellar of a few decades later.

A clearly Phrygian seal (Dusinberre Cat. No. 21 [10351/SS258]) should probably also be dated to the Middle Phrygian period: it is an elaborately grooved Phrygian stamp cylinder with an omega-shaped strap. Its shape might suggest a later date for it, perhaps in the Achaemenid (Late Phrygian) period, but the style of the quadruped that adorns its sealing face links it strongly to the Phrygian animals of Tumulus P, the "child's tomb," dated ca. 770 BCE. This seal is a particularly interesting one, as it supplies our only evidence for a glyptic workshop producing seals at Gordion during the Middle Phrygian period.

Another seal (Dusinberre Cat. No. 22 [10352/SS259]) is a glazed steatite import from Egypt, with a hieroglyphic inscription, "Shu, son of Ra," on it. Its closest parallel may date to the reign of Taharqo (Khunefertemra), 690–664 BCE. It was found directly on top of the clay layer above the Early Phrygian Destruction Level.

Interest in Egypt is demonstrated also by a seal from a burial, Tumulus I (Dusinberre Cat. No. 23 [889/SS41]). This is a composition head-scaraboid with an elaborate image of the Pharaoh-as-sphinx approaching a seated sun god. The tumulus dates to the sixth century BCE; the seal dates to the seventh or sixth century. The seal is again an Egyptianizing one, not an Egyptian import—indeed, the wings on the sphinx are decidedly Phoenician or Syrian rather than Egyptian. Thus it may attest to the mixture that was Phrygian material culture.

Of the remaining seven seals from the Middle Phrygian period, three share the schematic, linear imagery of a group of North Syrian seals called the "Horse Group," and add further evidence to support the notion of close connections between Gordion and lands to the south (Dusinberre Cat. Nos. 24–26 [596/SS33, 9369/SS240 and 7349/SS201]). One is an Egyptianizing scarab (Dusinberre Cat. No. 27 [8900/SS231]). Two more are apparently of local inspiration, tall stamps made of local stone with simple linear imagery on the sealing faces (Dusinberre Cat. Nos. 28 and 29 [3072/SS125, YHSF 94-181]). The remaining two artifacts are terracotta stamps of uncertain purpose (Dusinberre Cat. Nos. 30 and 31 [8362SS/224, 894/SS42]); one may not have been used as a seal at all (Dusinberre Cat. No. 31 [894/SS42]).

Overall, then, the Middle Phrygian period seals demonstrate that Gordion enjoyed contact with people in the area around North Syria and—perhaps even through these people—had some contact with the arts and notions of Egypt. They also demonstrate the presence at Gordion itself of seal manufacture. Fully half of the seals from the Middle Phrygian period are decorated with schematic linear carving, some of it bearing recognizable imagery, and some of it apparently just lines. 

Achaemenid ("Late Phrygian") (ca. 550–330 BCE)

In the Achaemenid or "Late Phrygian" period the use of seals explodes. During the time of the Achaemenid empire, scarcely more than two centuries, fully 29 seals and impressions were left at Gordion in deposits that have been uncovered by archaeologists. It is important to note that most of the Achaemenid period seals from Gordion were found in Hellenistic deposits—the number is probably too great to be accounted for by residuals, and suggests that a number of Achaemenid tombs may perhaps have been found and looted during this period.

The materials from which the seals were made during the Achaemenid period are remarkably varied, unlike the earlier eras. These include glass, bone, ivory, agate, lapis lazuli, chalcedony, faience, rock crystal, meerschaum, and more. They come from a wide geographic area—as far east as Afghanistan and as far south as Egypt; the wildly banded agate is found near Sardis to the west and in the heartland of the Achaemenid empire itself.

The iconography that decorated the Late Phrygian seals was as varied as the materials available for use. Some of the more glamorous imported sealstones include an Achaemenid period Neo-Babylonian style worship scene on a chalcedony conical stamp seal (Dusinberre Cat. No. 38 [1962/SS73]), and a red agate cylinder carved in "Graeco-Persian" style with an Achaemenid worship scene (Dusinberre Cat. No. 33 [2342/SS100]). It is inscribed in Aramaic: "Seal of Bn', son of Ztw..." These seals have precise parallels elsewhere in the Achaemenid empire and situate Gordion solidly in the middle of glyptic practice throughout the empire. This statement gains additional strength from a series of other seals found at Gordion, including the lapis lazuli scaraboid with pacing lion (Dusinberre Cat. No. 45 [9347/SS239]) and various pyramidal stamp seals with such mixed monsters as griffins adorning them (e.g. Dusinberre Cat. Nos. 47 and 48 [2626/SS113, 1024/SS44]) or lions (Dusinberre Cat. No. 50 [1975/SS75]). They give an idea of an Achaemenid administration at Gordion, a taste for Achaemenid imagery, and perhaps even ethnic Persians at the site.

Other imported seals show a wide range of styles and influences. One (Dusinberre Cat. No. 36 [9784/SS246]) is a genuine Egyptian imported scarab with scaly crocodiles on its underside, and the ivory monkey (Dusinberre Cat. No. 37 [YHSF 94-130]) seems to be another Egyptian import. Two others (Dusinberre Cat. Nos. 41 and 42 [2654/SS114, 199/SS9]), both carved of meerschaum, probably stem from the meerschaum quarries in northwestern Anatolia. Also from western Anatolia is a seal (Dusinberre Cat. No. 44 [3404/SS134]) carved of swirling agate that comes from the area near modern Küle, close to Sardis, and was also used in stone dish manufacture during the Achaemenid period. Western Anatolian in style and execution is a red jasper seal with a gorgeous grazing stag (Dusinberre Cat. No. 43 [4492/SS153]). These seals demonstrate that the inhabitants of Gordion had access to the glyptic tastes and practices of other parts of the Achaemenid empire to the west and far south, as well as to the southeast.

Finally, two sealings that date to the Achaemenid period underscore the variety of artistic styles and images at Gordion during the Late Phrygian period. One (Dusinberre Cat. No. 55 [4536/SS156]) is an impression left by a cylinder seal with a goat hunt on it, which is Achaemenid in imagery, shape, and style. The other (Dusinberre Cat. No. 56 [10902/SS272]) is an impression left by a bezel ring, preserving a surprisingly sensuous image of a nude female arching her back and turning her head in three-quarter view as she looks out toward the viewer. It is Greek in concept, execution, and form.

Even the seals that appear to have been made at Gordion, or at least show Phrygian artistic influence, are quite eclectic during the Achaemenid period. So, for example, one seal (Dusinberre Cat. No. 40 [6546/SS187]) is a variation on a standard Phrygian shape, but with heraldic lions at a central vegetal element in a manner that is strongly Achaemenidizing. Another (Dusinberre Cat. No. 34 [7287/SS199]) is a real tour de force, a cylinder seal with Phrygianizing animals participating in a standard Achaemenid chariot hunt scene, complete with woven basket on the chariot and with a winged disk hovering overhead. Its style links it to Phrygian production, but its imagery is wholly Achaemenid.

A particularly vibrant and unusual seal (Dusinberre Cat. No. 39 [4083/SS150]) is of a style that may be local. It is a scaraboid of a jet-black stone carved with a scene showing a chariot drawn by two horses, in which stands the king under a parasol with a charioteer and an attendant behind him. The rearmost figure holds a spear. Although Achaemenid glyptic abounds with chariots, the images are almost all hunt scenes carved on cylinder seals. The Gordion seal shows the chariot rendered on a different form, a stamp seal, and with different imagery than was common in the heartland. Some aspects of its style link it to Phrygian precedents. It may thus represent new local developments that incorporate local traditions of sealing practice and artistic style.

Hellenistic (330 BCE – first century BCE)

The Hellenistic period demonstrates the continued desire of Gordion's inhabitants for seals—a point that is all the more interesting because of the new ethnic mix at Gordion during the Hellenistic period. Gordion's inhabitants during this period seem to have been using seals carved with simple linear images that were different from those of the Achaemenid period. The Hellenistic period also sees the renewal of local seal production at Gordion. Seven seals of the 12 are apparently local products and are all carved with simple linear designs. One composition seal shows Greek imagery, with a figure that may be Herakles (Dusinberre Cat. No. 70 [1932/SS71]). A few metal and stone stamps may have been used for stamping bread (Dusinberre Cat. No. 73 [10811/SS271]) or pots (Dusinberre Cat. Nos. 71 and 72 [1729/SS63, 4595/SS159]).

A new development in the Hellenistic period is the engraved ring. A gold ring with a round flat bezel (Dusinberre Cat. No. 74 [3166/J94]) is engraved with a naiskos and abbreviated Kybele figure. It is paralleled by a gold ring with a naiskos (Dusinberre Cat. No. 75 [5792/J120]), and by a silver version of the same (Dusinberre Cat. No. 76 [5870/J123]). The cross-in-square motif that decorates several further rings seems to be an adaptation of this naiskos theme (Dusinberre Cat. Nos. 77–80 [6205/J125, 6345/J129, 6754/J142, 7707/J146]). Two bronze rings with elongated bezels have strongly Hellenized imagery: one (Dusinberre Cat. No. 81 [1615/SS60]) shows a winged lion or griffin, and another (Dusinberre Cat. No. 82 [1619/SS61]) has a table amphora with laurel leaves around it. Perhaps the Galatians brought with them not only additional contacts with and taste for Hellenic culture, but also an appreciation for the Hellenized version of this Phrygian goddess.

The seal impressions from the Hellenistic period fall into three major categories. The first is that of stamped potsherds; the second comprises a group of grey-ware ribbon handles, each deeply stamped with a triskeles; and the third consists of stamped disk-shaped loomweights. Three stamped loomweights have been catalogued (Dusinberre Cat. Nos. 85–87 [7228/SS198, 5397/SS166, 9692/SS243]), each of them identical, apparently made of imported clay from Ionia or the Aegean, and stamped in their center with an impression left by a round bezel. Other loomweights of identical shape and fabric but not stamped have also been recovered from the site. The image shows a voluptuous nude female emerging from a delicate rose, with her arms outstretched to rest on its petals while she turns her head upward and to the side. In the field is an epsilon, with a small adjoining kappa. They probably date to the late fourth and early third centuries BCE.

Roman (first century BCE – ca. 600 CE)

Most of the seals are in the form of rings with engraved bezels. Probably in the first or second century, two rings were carved with Graeco-Roman goddesses of good fortune: one (Dusinberre Cat. No. 96 [3036/J91]) has an image of the goddess Fortuna, while another (Dusinberre Cat. No. 97 [6571/SS189]) shows Nike raising victory fillets above an offering table. The glyptic evidence corroborates Andrew Goldman's proposal that there was activity at the site from the mid-second century on. In the late second or (more likely) third century of Goldman's Phase 4, we may see the hopes of Gordion's inhabitants taking a military expression: dating to the second–third century are two more rings, one (Dusinberre Cat. No. 98 [2411/J79]) with a soldier or the god Mars; the other (Dusinberre Cat. No. 99 [6974/B1376]) with a dextrarum iunctio that could symbolize marriage or the links of brothers-in-arms.

Between the third and fourth centuries CE, seal wearing apparently takes off at Gordion. This corresponds to a suspected increase in population beginning in the late third century. Goldman's more recent work posits a decline in population by the late fourth century, although the community that survived seems to have been an active one.

A ring with an image of the goddess Fortuna (Dusinberre Cat. No. 100 [5386/J113]) probably dates to the late third century.  A series of three seals with octagonal bezels have been dated to the third–fourth centuries and were perhaps made in nearby Cappadocia to the south of Gordion. One (Dusinberre Cat. No. 101 [7000/ILS355]) is an iron ring with a bezel showing Athena Parthenos; another (Dusinberre Cat. No. 102 [7130/J144]) is a silver ring with an eagle holding a laurel wreath in its beak, and the third (Dusinberre Cat. No. 103 [7129/J143]) is a silver ring, the bezel of which has a hand holding an ear and an inscription enjoining the reader to remember (something).

Two more rings are a little more enigmatic: one (Dusinberre Cat. No. 105 [2368/J76]) inscribed "PARASKEUHS," and the other (Dusinberre Cat. No. 104 [2364/J75]) with an anchor and the inscription "ACN," are almost certainly both Christian and may date as late as the fourth century. These rings show contact with nearby seal makers, and attest to central Anatolia's complex religious complexion. Two further rings may also be linked to Christians at the site: a small bronze ring with a fish on its bezel that dates to the third century (Dusinberre Cat. No. 106 [7121/B1415]) and a third century silver ring with a winged fisherman catching a fish that resembles the previous one (Dusinberre  Cat. No. 107 [YHSF 94-262]). The picture is further complicated by a ring with a Hebrew inscription (Dusinberre Cat. No. 108 [680/B100]) that may suggest Jewish presence at the site in the fourth century as well. This mix of Christian, pagan, and possibly Jewish influence at Gordion is abundantly demonstrated by the ring insignia worn by the site's inhabitants in the third and fourth centuries CE.

Further reading

Dusinberre, E. R. M. 2005. Gordion Seals and Sealings: Individuals and Society. Philadelphia.
Güterbock, H. G. 1980. "Seals and Sealings in Hittite Lands," in From Athens to Gordion: The Papers of a Memorial Symposium for Rodney S. Young, ed. K. DeVries, Philadelphia, pp. 51-63.