King Midas, with his magic hands of gold, was a popular figure in Greek mythology, but stories about his real life show his influence as the ruler of the Phrygian kingdom more than 3,000 years ago in the area now known as Turkey.
The Penn Museum exhibition “The Golden Age of King Midas,” traces a civilization in the ancient Near East over a nearly 500-year period and also showcases Penn’s contributions to the reconstruction of that history.
The exhibition opens on Saturday, Feb. 13, with a daylong public celebration featuring a Phrygian-inspired fashion show with costumes direct from Turkey, traditional Turkish music, short lectures by Gordian scholars, and activities for families.
As part of the festivities, the Museum’s Pepper Hall on the third floor has been transformed into a Turkish Kervansaray-inspired oasis, where visitors can get a taste of the Ottoman Empire. Guests can see textiles from the Silk Road, hand-knotted carpets from Turkey, and handcrafted metal trays, tiles, and hand-knotted saddlebags, all courtesy of Material Culture.
Through more than 120 artifacts that are on special loan from museums in Ankara, Istanbul, Anatalya, and Gordion—in addition to materials from the Museum’s own rich collections—visitors will learn about King Midas’ life and his reign.
“This will clarify what happened in the ancient Near East during the first millennium B.C.,” says C. Brian Rose, curator of the exhibition and the James B. Pritchard Professor of Archaeology at Penn. “This kind of scope has rarely been attempted before.”
Developed by the Penn Museum in partnership with the Republic of Turkey, the exhibit features artifacts such as bronze vessels that were found in the massive tomb; a decorative carved ivory furniture piece, elaborate gold jewelry and more, much being shown in North America for the first time.
The tomb dating to 740 B.C.E. was excavated by Museum researchers in 1957, and is believed to be that of King Midas’ father, Gordios. A Museum analysis of the sediment at the bottom of the bronze vessels revealed what the mourners ate and drank at the funerary feast.
“We know that there was a roast lamb or sheep, mixed with lentils and spices, as well as an alcoholic beverage that was a mixture of wine, beer, honey mead, and saffron,” says Rose.
Archaeologists from the Museum have been excavating at Gordion, an especially rich site for ancient history, since 1950. The Museum is also the headquarters of the American Research Institute in Turkey, which assists with American research in that country.
The exhibition runs through Nov. 27. Tickets are $20 for adults, $18 for senior citizens, $15 for children and students, $5 for active military, and free for Museum members, PennCard holders, and children under 5.