News Release

UPM archaeologist asserts that enigmatic ivory statuette may be part of the throne of the famed King Midas

Peer-Reviewed Publication

University of Pennsylvania

UPM archaeologist Keith Devries asserts that enigmatic ivory statuette, uncovered in Greece in 1939, may be part of the throne of the famed King Midas

It isn’t made of gold, but a well-known and much-discussed ivory statuette of a lion-tamer, found in 1939 at Delphi, may very well be part of the throne given to the god Apollo by the famous King Midas of Phrygia.

So asserts Dr. Keith DeVries, Associate Curator, Mediterranean section of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, and former Field Director of the Museum’s long-term excavation project at the Phrygian capital of Gordion in Turkey. Dr. DeVries shares his intriguing argument, based upon archaeological finds from Turkey and ancient written evidence, Saturday, January 5th at the 103rd annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America, held this year in Philadelphia.

Dr. DeVries’ detective work made use of ancient Assyrian records that indicate that the powerful Phrygian King Midas ruled at least during the period between 717 and 709 B.C. The Greek historian Herodotos, writing several centuries later (circa 450-430 B.C.), mentions a throne, a gift from King Midas, in the Corinthian Treasury at Delphi; Herodotos understood it to be the very throne from which Midas rendered justice. No later mention of the throne is known.

Since its 1939 discovery, in one of two trash pits just about thirty feet away from where the Corinthian Treasury once stood, the elaborate ivory statuette of a lion-tamer has drawn much interest, and some controversy. The pits where it was uncovered were filled with discarded votive material, some of it burned, with the latest piece dating from 420 B.C. The unusual statuette has cuttings in its back that indicate it was attached to something, possibly furniture. Over the years, the style of the statuette has been debated; most scholars have supposed it Greek under Anatolian influence, but some have thought it possibly or definitely Anatolian.

According to Dr. DeVries, the accumulating evidence of finds from sites in Turkey, including recently discovered ivory figurines in a tomb near Elmali, allow for a confident identification of the statuette as non-Greek Anatolian, probably Phrygian. Also, the dramatic shift in the chronology of Phrygian art that recent radiocarbon dates from Gordion, along with the Elmali finds, now allow, make a date for the statuette in the late 8th or early 7th century B.C. plausible.

"While no single bit of evidence is conclusive in itself, the pool of evidence is compelling," noted Dr. DeVries. "There is the Anatolian, probably Phrygian, workmanship—the find-spot of the piece right near the Corinthian Treasury—the date of its dumping, soon after the time of Herodotos—and a plausible date of manufacture during the period of Midas. It all adds up to a strong case that this statuette once was attached to the king’s throne—which, by the way, Herodotos termed ‘well worth seeing.’"


The Archaeological Institute of America 103rd annual meeting, where Dr. DeVries will give his paper, will run from January 3rd to Sunday, January 6th at the Philadelphia Marriott. Jointly sponsored by the American Philological Association, this meeting offers a forum for scholars and professional archaeologists to discuss their latest discoveries and current issues in archaeology. It also offers several programs open to the general public. For further information about the programs, contact the AIA Meeting Department at or 617-353-9361.

The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, 33rd and Spruce Streets in Philadelphia, is dedicated to the study and understanding of human history and diversity. Founded in 1887, the Museum has sent more than 350 archaeological and anthropological expeditions to all the inhabited continents of the world. With an active exhibition schedule and educational programming for children and adults, the Museum offers the public an opportunity to share in the ongoing discovery of humankind's collective heritage. The Museum’s website is For general information, the phone number is 215/898-4000.


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