Before the burial chamber of King Midas was covered with a huge mound of clay and stone around 700 B.C.E., his mourners held an elaborate funerary feast. Soon afterward, the bronze vessels containing the remains of the repast were stacked in large cauldrons and carried into the tomb, where they rested alongside the king’s coffin for 2,700 years.

When Midas’s tomb was uncovered in 1957, the leftovers stored in hundreds of bronze drinking cups, vats and pottery jars were chemically analyzed at the University of Pennsylvania Museum, but the results were inconclusive. Recently, however, archeochemist Patrick McGovern and his colleagues at the museum reexamined the food remnants using new scientific techniques, such as infrared spectroscopy, and were able to reconstruct the banquet’s menu.

Their findings, reported in the December 23, 1999, issue of Nature, were surprisingly detailed, thanks to the well-preserved organic residues adhering to the vessels. Around 100 mourners (as we surmise from the number of quart-sized drinking bowls found in the tomb) shared a meal that was truly fit for a king. The Phrygian cooks apparently marinated mutton or goat in olive oil, honey and wine, barbecued the meat and then stewed it along with lentils seasoned with anise or fennel.

The University of Pennsylvania scientists also determined that the Phrygians washed down this savory stew with a rich drink. Three large bronze cauldrons mounted on iron tripods found near Midas’s coffin had a combined capacity of nearly 120 gallons; they once held a brew of grape wine, barley beer and mead (fermented honey). This fermented concoction was similar to a drink called kykeon that was quaffed in parts of Late Bronze Age Greece (1400–1200 B.C.E.). In the Iliad, Homer mentions a drink that combined wine, barley meal, honey and goat’s cheese (Book 11.628–643).

The similarity in Phrygian and Greek drinking habits provides further evidence of the Phrygians’ European origins. These people likely crossed the Hellespont from Greece toward the end of the 13th century B.C.E., following the collapse of the Hittite empire. Their kingdom flourished in Anatolia until the time of Midas’s death, when the Cimmerians invaded from the east.