Would You Like to Try the King Midas Feast? Chemical Analysis Revealed it was a Slap-up Meal
King Midas was a legendary figure in Greek mythology who ruled over Phrygia in western Anatolia. He is best-known for his ‘golden touch’, i.e. that everything he touched turned to gold. Behind this mythical figure, however, is a real person who lived during the 8th century BC. His tomb (or that of his forefathers) was discovered during the 1950s. One of the most intriguing finds in the tomb was the remains of the funerary feast. That luxurious feast has been recreated.
Who Was the Real King Midas?
The real King Midas is probably less well-known than his legendary counterpart. According to Assyrian texts, there was a king by the name of Mita-ta-a who ruled an area known as Muški. The Assyrians recorded that this king had requested Assyrian support in 710/709 BC. It has been generally accepted that Mita-ta-a refers to Midas. It has been questioned, however, if Muški was Phrygia.
The legendary King Midas in ‘Apollo and King Midas’ (1634) by Simon Floquet. (Public Domain)
The Tomb and Feast of King Midas…Or His Royal Ancestor
In 1957, a tomb designated as the Great Tumulus (known also as Tumulus MM, and the Tomb of Midas) was excavated by archaeologists from the Penn Museum at the site of Gordium (the ancient capital of Phrygia). The tomb was once thought to belong to the historical King Midas. More recent radiocarbon dating of the tomb, however, suggests that it dates to around 740 BC, several decades before the Mita-ta-a of the Assyrian sources came to power. It has been suggested that whilst the tomb probably did not belong to King Midas, it may have been built for his father or grandfather.
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The Midas Mound as seen from the excavation area in Gordium. (gamsiz/CC BY 2.0)
The tomb was lined with wood and its owner was laid inside a wooden coffin on a pile of blue and purple-dyed textiles, both of which were the colors of royalty in the ancient Near East. Whilst the tomb did not contain the gold associated with the legendary King Midas, it did contain a large number of bronze vessels, totaling at 157 pieces. The vessels included drinking bowls, jugs, and large vats, which experts believe would have been used for the funerary feast prior to the king’s burial. When the king was placed in the tomb, these vessels, along with their contents, were left with him, so as to provide him with nourishment in the afterlife.
Reconstruction of the tomb of King Midas; found at Gordium; late 8th c. BC; Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, Ankara, Turkey. (Public Domain)
Recreating the ‘Midas Touch’
By chemically analyzing the organic remains inside these vessels, archaeologists were able to determine their contents. It was found that wine, beer and mead were mixed together and drank during the funerary feast. The drink has been recreated by Dogfish Head Brewery, a Delaware based brewery company, and aptly named ‘Midas Touch’.
In addition, the archaeologists were able to ascertain the king’s diet whilst he was alive. The most direct way to do this would be to analyze the level of the stable isotopes of nitrogen in the king’s bones. A meat-rich diet would result in a high level of the said isotopes, whereas a diet consisting mainly of vegetables would show the opposite. As one organism is eaten by another, the level of stable nitrogen isotopes would increase. Samples from the bones, however, could not be obtained for the analyses.
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Fortunately, the wood in the tomb was found to have decayed due to a microorganism known as soft rot fungus. This fungus fed on the king’s corpse, which gave it enough fuel to colonize the rest of the tomb. Thus, the fungus could be used as to provide information about the king’s diet. The isotopic analysis of the fungus showed that it contained a high level of stable nitrogen isotopes, which in turn indicates that the king enjoyed a meat-rich diet during his lifetime.
The remains of “King Midas”. (imagina65)
In 2000, a replica King Midas feast was held at the Penn Museum. Apart from the recreated ‘Midas Touch’, barbequed lamb and a lentil stew were served, food that may have been served to those attending the king’s funerary feast more than 2500 years ago.
Top image: King Midas's Feast in Honor of Bacchus and Silenus. Source: Public Domain
By Wu Mingren
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