Cybele is an Anatolian mother goddess. Phrygia's only known goddess, she was its national deity. Greek colonists in Asia Minor adopted and adapted her Phrygian cult and spread it to mainland Greece and to the more distant western Greek colonies around the 6th century BC. In Greece, Cybele met with a mixed reception, she became assimilated to aspects of the Earth-goddess Gaia, of her Minoan equivalent Rhea, of the harvest–mother goddess Demeter. Some city-states, notably Athens, evoked her as a protector, but her most celebrated Greek rites and processions show her as an foreign, exotic mystery-goddess who arrives in a lion-drawn chariot to the accompaniment of wild music, a disorderly, ecstatic following. Uniquely in Greek religion, she had a eunuch mendicant priesthood. Many of her Greek cults included rites to a divine Phrygian castrate shepherd-consort Attis, a Greek invention. In Greece, Cybele became associated with mountains and city walls, fertile nature, wild animals lions. In Rome, Cybele became known as Magna Mater.

The Roman state adopted and developed a particular form of her cult after the Sibylline oracle in 205 BC recommended her conscription as a key religious ally in Rome's second war against Carthage. Roman mythographers reinvented her as a Trojan goddess, thus an ancestral goddess of the Roman people by way of the Trojan prince Aeneas; as Rome established hegemony over the Mediterranean world, Romanized forms of Cybele's cults spread throughout Rome's empire. Greek and Roman writers debated and disputed the meaning and morality of her cults and priesthoods, which remain controversial subjects in modern scholarship. No contemporary text or myth survives to attest the original character and nature of Cybele's Phrygian cult, she may have evolved from a statuary type found at Çatalhöyük in Anatolia, dated to the 6th millennium BC and identified by some as a mother goddess. In Phrygian art of the 8th century BC, the cult attributes of the Phrygian mother-goddess include attendant lions, a bird of prey, a small vase for her libations or other offerings.

The inscription Matar Kubileya/Kubeleya at a Phrygian rock-cut shrine, dated to the first half of the 6th century BC, is read as "Mother of the mountain", a reading supported by ancient classical sources, consistent with Cybele as any of several similar tutelary goddesses, each known as "mother" and associated with specific Anatolian mountains or other localities: a goddess thus "born from stone". She is ancient Phrygia's only known goddess, was the highest deity of the Phrygian state, her name, the development of religious practices associated with her, may have been influenced by cult to the deified Sumerian queen Kubaba. In the 2nd century AD, the geographer Pausanias attests to a Magnesian cult to "the mother of the gods", whose image was carved into a rock-spur of Mount Sipylus; this was believed to be the oldest image of the goddess, was attributed to the legendary Broteas. At Pessinos in Phrygia, the mother goddess—identified by the Greeks as Cybele—took the form of an unshaped stone of black meteoric iron, may have been associated with or identical to Agdistis, Pessinos' mountain deity.

This was the aniconic stone, removed to Rome in 204 BC. Images and iconography in funerary contexts, the ubiquity of her Phrygian name Matar, suggest that she was a mediator between the "boundaries of the known and unknown": the civilized and the wild, the worlds of the living and the dead, her association with hawks and the stone of the mountainous landscape of the Anatolian wilderness, seem to characterize her as mother of the land in its untrammeled natural state, with power to rule, moderate or soften its latent ferocity, to control its potential threats to a settled, civilized life. Anatolian elites sought to harness her protective power to forms of ruler-cult; as protector of cities, or city states, she was sometimes shown wearing a mural crown, representing the city walls. At the same time, her power "transcended any purely political usage and spoke directly to the goddess' followers from all walks of life"; some Phrygian shaft monuments are thought to have been used for libations and blood offerings to Cybele anticipating by several centuries the pit used in her taurobolium and criobolium sacrifices during the Roman imperial era.

Over time, her Phrygian cults and iconography were transformed, subsumed, by the influences and interpretations of her foreign devotees, at first Greek and Roman. From around the 6th century BC, cults to the Anatolian mother-goddess were introduced from Phrygia into the ethnically Greek colonies of western Anatolia, mainland Greece, the Aegean islands and the westerly colonies of Magna Graecia; the Greeks called her Mātēr or Mētēr, or from the early 5th century Kubelē. Walter Burkert places her among the "foreign gods" of Greek religion, a complex figure combining the Minoan-Mycenaean tradition with the Phrygian cult imported directly from Asia Minor. In Greece, as in Phrygia, she was a "Mistress of animals", with her mastery of the natural world expressed by the lions that flank her, sit in her lap or draw her chariot, she was readil

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