In Greece, Cybele met with a mixed reception. She was partially assimilated to aspects of the Earth-goddess Gaia, her Minoan equivalent Rhea, and 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 essentially foreign, exotic mystery-goddess who arrives in a lion-drawn chariot to the accompaniment of wild music, wine, and 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, who was probably a Greek invention. In Greece, Cybele is associated with mountains, town and city walls, fertile nature, and wild animals, especially lions.
In Rome, Cybele was known as Magna Mater ("Great Mother"). The Roman state adopted and developed a particular form of her cult after the Sibylline oracle recommended her conscription as a key religious ally in Rome's second war against Carthage. Roman mythographers reinvented her as a Trojan goddess, and thus an ancestral goddess of the Roman people by way of the Trojan prince Aeneas. With Rome's eventual hegemony over the Mediterranean world, Romanized forms of Cybele's cults spread throughout the Roman Empire. The meaning and morality of her cults and priesthoods were topics of debate and dispute in Greek and Roman literature, and remain so 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, and 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 usually read as "Mother of the mountain", a reading supported by ancient classical sources, and 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, and was probably the highest deity of the Phrygian state.
In the 2nd century AD, the geographer Pausanias attests to a Magnesian (Lydian) 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, and 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, and may have been associated with or identical to Agdistis, Pessinos' mountain deity. This was the aniconic stone that was removed to Rome in 204 BC.