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Portrait of a Lydian man. Portrait of a Lydian man (©!!!)
Lydia: ancient kingdom in western Turkey. Its capital was Sardes. In Antiquity, this country was well known for its gold carrying river Pactolus; the wealth of the last Lydian king Croesus, who had been the first to mint gold, was and is proverbial.

The country

Lydia is the western part of Turkey. Its center consists of the city of Sardes and the lofty valley of the river Hermus. The country is fertile, but its greatest asset is the small river Pactolus, which carries gold.

To the north, the region was separated from Mysia and the Troad by the river Caicus; its most eastern point was the sacred mountain Dindymus, dedicated to the goddess Kuvav (Greek Cybele); in the south, we find Caria, which is on the other bank of the river Meander and south of Miletus.

As early as the thirteenth century BCE, the Aegean shores were occupied by Greeks. In the Archaic age, they were divided into three groups: the Aeolians in the north, the Ionians in the center (around Ephesus and Miletus) and the Dorians in the south, opposite Caria (main town Halicarnassus).

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The country
Early history
The Mermnads
Rock relief at Karabel, Turkey. Photo Jona Lendering.
The Karabel relief

Early history

In the thirteenth century BCE, the valley of the Hermus belonged to the powerful kingdom of Mirâ, with Abasa (Ephesus) as capital. The people spoke Luwian; one of their kings is represented on a relief in the Karabel pass between Ephesus and Sardes. Although Mirâ was conquered by the Hittites and disappears from the written record at the beginning of the twelfth century, there is considerable continuity between Mirâ and Lydia, because Lydia's borders are more or less identical and the Lydian language (which is known from some 100 inscriptions) resembles Luwian. It is interesting, although not very important, to notice that the Greeks were incapable of pronouncing Lydian; many names with a /d/, they render with an /l/ (e.g., Dugdammę > Lygdamis).

The first Lydian to be recorded after the Dark Ages is king Gyges, the founder of the Mermnad dynasty, who can tentatively be dated to 680-644. According to the Greek researcher Herodotus of Halicarnassus, the house of Gyges replaced an older dynasty, the Heraclids, which had ruled for twenty-two generations or 505 years. (This dynasty claimed to descend from the Kuvav's escort, the god Sandon, called Heracles by the Greeks.) Adding 680 to 505, we arrive at 1195, about the time of the disappearance of Mirâ, but this probably just coincidence. In fact, the history of Lydia between the early eleventh and seventh century is simply unknown, although the Hermus valley must have become, at some stage, part of the kingdom of Phrygia.

The river Pactolus. Photo Marco Prins.
The Pactolus

The Mermnads

In the first decade of the seventh century BCE, Phrygia was overthrown by the Cimmerians, who sacked the capital Gordium. Gyges was one of the men who rose to power. He overthrew Sadyattes, a vassal of the Phrygians, and after he had defeated the Cimmerians in 679, he was able to create a kingdom of his own, Lydia. Archaeologists have shown that at this time, the second quarter of the seventh century, Sardes became an impressive city with real houses, covered with roof tiles. One of the sources of Gyges' power must have been his control of the river Pactolus and its gold.

Tumuli at the Lydian royal cemetry at Bin Tepe. Photo Jona Lendering.
Tumuli at the Lydian royal cemetery at Bin Tepe. Gyges' tomb is to the right

After these successes, he moved to the west, where he conquered parts of the Troad and the Greek city of Colophon. From now on, Lydia had a harbor.

However, Gyges' success seemed temporary. Although the king of Lydia had allied himself to Assyria, he had to face a new invasion of the Cimmerians in 644. Gyges was defeated, Sardes was sacked, and the Greek cities in the west suffered. However, Gyges' kingdom was strong enough to survive the violent death of its founder. His son Ardys succeeded him and buried his father on the plain of Sardes at the Lydian royal cemetery at Bin Tepe.

Gold coin (stater) of king Croesus of Lydia.Gold coin from Lydia (©!!)

At first, Ardys continued his father's policy. He continued the struggle against the Greeks in the west, and captured Priene. However, he understood that he could not take Miletus, the largest city on the Aegean coast, because the Lydians had no navy. Therefore, he signed a peace treaty with the Milesians and allowed them to build colonies in the Troad. Abydus, where one can easily cross from Asia to Europe, is probably the most important of these Greek settlements.

Several numismatists think that Ardys was the first to mint coins. Although not everyone agrees on the date, it seems reasonably clear that the first coins were used to pay soldiers. Almost every coin shows a lion, probably the heraldic symbol of the Mermnads.

The Kizilirmak at Kirikkale. Photo Jona Lendering.
The Halys

In c.625, Ardys was succeeded by his son Sadyattes, who is hardly more than a name to us. The reign of his son and successor Alyattes is much better known. In the west, he fought an inconclusive war against Miletus but was able to capture Smyrna and concluded a treaty with Ephesus. He also advanced to the east, where he took Gordium, decisively defeated the Cimmerians, and reached the river Halys. Here, his army, which included the Greek scientist Thales of Miletus, met the armed forces of another empire on the rise, Media.

In 612, the Medes had descended from the Zagros mountains, where they lived, and had sacked Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrians. Their empire had been taken over by the Babylonians, and the Medes continued their raids to the east, south and northwest. So, in 585, the Median leader Cyaxares entered Armenia and invaded the country known as Cappadocia. On 28 May, he fought a battle against Alyattes of Lydia, but before a decision was reached, the sun eclipsed and the two kings decided to sign a peace treaty. The ties were strengthened even more when the Median crown prince Astyages married a Lydian princess. The Halys was to be the border. Herodotus describes the size of Alyattes' empire:

The tumulus of Alyattes at Bin Tepe. Photo Jona Lendering.
The grave mound of Alyattes at Bin Tepe

Except the Cilicians and Lycians, he kept all the people west of the Halys in subjection - Lydians, Phrygians, Mysians, Mariandynians, Chalybians, Paphlagonians, Thracians (both Thynian and Bithynian), Carians, Ionians, Dorians, Aeolians, and Pamphylians.
[Histories 1.28]
Alyattes bequeathed this empire to his son Croesus, whose reign started after a civil war against his half-brother Pantaleon.

The citadel of Sardes, seen from the west. Photo Jona Lendering.
The citadel of Sardes

Croesus finished the Greek war of his ancestors, capturing every town in Aeolia and Ionia, except for Miletus, but including Ephesus, where he rebuilt the famous sanctuary of Artemis - or Artimus, as the Lydians said. Croesus' court was famous for its luxury and splendor, and received many visitors: e.g., the Greek writer Aesopus and the Athenian statesman Solon.

However, the rich city of Sardes became a natural target for the armies of Cyrus, the king of Persia. He had overthrown his overlord, the Median king Astyages, and was rapidly expanding his territories. Croesus decided to strike first; after all, Astyages had been his brother-in-law, and if it were not possible to restore him to the Median throne, Croesus might, for example, conquer Cappadocia and Armenia. He allied himself to the pharaoh of Egypt, Amasis, and to the Spartans of Greece. Perhaps, king Nabonidus of Babylonia belonged to the same alliance.

Head of Croesus on a vase in the Louvre, Paris (France). Photo Jona Lendering.
Head of Croesus on a vase in the Louvre, Paris

The war is usually dated to the year 547 BCE, depending on a very uncertain reading of the Babylonian Chronicle #7 (more...). However, whatever the precise date, Cyrus defeated Croesus somewhere east of Ankara, besieged him in Sardes, and took the city before the Spartans or Egyptians could come to Croesus' assistance. His ultimate fate is variously described. According to Chronicle 7, Croesus was killed. The Greek poet Bacchylides, on the other hand, writes that when Croesus wanted to burn himself alive, the god Apollo intervened and took the last king of Lydia away to the mythical Hyperboreans in the extreme north. Herodotus rationalizes this story and says that Cyrus put Croesus on the pyre, regretted his act before it was too late, ordered the pyre to be extinguished, and made Croesus his adviser.

Whatever the precise circumstances of Croesus' death, Lydia had lost its independence. A part of the population appears to have been deported to Nippur in Babylonia, where a community of Lydians is recorded in the Murašu Archive.
ca. 680 - 644
644 - ca.625
ca.625 - ca.600

A Lydian. Relief from the eastern apadana stairs, Persepolis. Photo Marco Prins.
A Lydian offering tribute to the Persian king. Relief from the eastern stairs of the Apadana at Persepolis (more).


Cyrus appointed a man named Tabalus as governor, but the Lydians immediately revolted. However, the insurrection was quickly suppressed by general Mazares and his successor Harpagus. From now on, Lydia was known as the Persian satrapy (province) Sparda and governed by a viceroy or satrap. The new rulers improved the route that connected Sardes, Gordium and the capitals of Persia (Susa, Persepolis, Pasargadae), which became known as the Royal road.

We do not know how long Harpagus was ruler of western Anatolia, but it may have been quite a long time, because a local dynasty in Lycia claimed to descend from Harpagus, and often, these claims have turned out to be correct. Whatever the truth, when Cyrus died fifteen years later, the satrap of Lydia had been replaced by a man named Oroetus.

A Lydian vase from Iconium. Museum of Hierapolis, Pamukkale (Turkey). Photo Jona Lendering.
A Lydian vase from Iconium (Museum of Hierapolis, Pamukkale)

During the reign of Cambyses (530-522), Oroetus took care of Lydia, and during the chaotic period after the king's death, he conquered the Greek isle of Samos, killing its ruler Polycrates, an ally of Egypt and enemy of Persia. Oroetus may simply have done his duty, but as it turned out, he now owned the gold of Lydia and the navy of Samos, and was suddenly very powerful - too powerful for the new king Darius the Great (522-486). A man named Bagaeus made sure that Oroetus was killed and may briefly have been satrap; in any case, the next rulers in Sardes were Otanes (who restored order in Samos in 517) and Darius' younger brother Artaphernes (after 513).

In the first decade of the fifth century, Lydia was a frontier area, because the Greeks on the Asian west coast -or Yaunâ, as the Persians called them- revolted in 499 and sacked the lower city of Sardes. They held out for five years but the resurrection was eventually suppressed. Artaphernes surprised the Greek world by his lenient treatment of the defeated rebels, although it seems that rich Persian landlords took over many country estates.

From now on, many Iranians were living in Lydia, and we find indications for the worship of eastern gods (e.g., Anahita) and "persification" of Lydian deities. For example, the priest Artimus/Artemis at Ephesus became known as the megabyxus, "the one set free for the cult of the divinity", and the god Pldans (the Greek Apollo) was identified with Ahuramazda.

Sometimes, estates were given to loyal Greeks; on other sites, we find Iranian garrisons, like Hyrcanians in the valleys of the Caicus and Hermus. During the fifth century, the Lydians increasingly lost control of their country.

Artaphernes was succeeded in 492 by his son, also called Artaphernes, who is known to have served, together with Datis, as one of the commanders of the Persian expeditionary force that captured Eretria but was defeated by the Athenians at Marathon (490). Ten years later, the younger Artaphernes commanded the Lydians and Mysians when Darius' son Xerxes invaded Greece. The great king had to return before he had fully reached his goals, and Greece remained independent. Artaphernes must have seen how the Athenians liberated the Greek cities on the west Asian west coast in 479, but he is conspicuously absent from the written sources. Maybe, his troops were needed in Babylonia.
546 - 545
545 - ca. 544
ca. 544 - ?
before 530 - ca. 520
ca. 520 - ?
Artaphernes I
513 - 492
Artaphernes II
492 - after 480

In fact, we hardly know anything about Lydia in the four decades after 480, because most sources are in Greek and focused on the history of Athens, which had not much to do with Lydia after it had created a cordon sanitaire of Greek cities in Asia. It is only in 440 that Lydia returns to our sources, when the satrap Pissuthnes tried to reconquer Samos, which had revolted against Athens. It came to nothing. When Athens was involved in the Archidamian War against Sparta (431-421), Pissuthnes tried to expand his influence among the Yaunâ by supporting almost every rebel in the Athenian empire (e.g., Colophon, Lesbos).

In 420, Pissuthnes revolted against king Darius II Nothus. We do not know why. The king sent a nobleman named Tissaphernes to Lydia, who arrested, executed, and succeeded to the satrap of Lydia in ca.415. During his first years, he still had to fight against Pissuthnes' son Amorges, who continued the struggle with -perhaps surprisingly- help from Athens. It was probably this Athenian intervention that made king Darius side with Sparta in the Decelean or Ionian War (413-404). To facilitate negotiations, Darius sent his younger son Cyrus; Tissaphernes, although demoted, remained loyal, and was able to regain his position when Cyrus had unsuccessfully revolted.

By now, Sparta had defeated Athens, and as leader of the Greek world, it felt it had to intervene in Asia. Tissaphernes overcame the invasion of Thibron (399), but was defeated at Sardes by the Spartan king Agesilaus. The satrap was executed and replaced by Tiribazus, who restored order in Lydia and was responsible for the first of a series of treaties between the Persian king and the Greek city states, the King's Peace of 387/386.

The next satrap we know of is Autophradates, who was the great king's loyal supporter during the series of revolts that was started in 370 by Datames of Cappadocia, and continued by Ariobarzanes of Hellespontine Phrygia and Orontes of Mysia between 367 and 360. Autophradates was probably Tiribazus' direct successor, but if he is identical to the Autophradates who is mentioned as a naval commander in the 330's, we must probably insert a satrap between Tiribazus and Autophradates. 
before 440 - 415
ca. 415 - 408
Cyrus the Younger
408 - 401
400 - 395
395 - ?
? - until 334

The last satrap of Lydia was Spithridates, who was killed by the Macedonian conqueror Alexander the Great in the battle at the Granicus (spring 334). In the early summer, Sardes surrendered. From now on Lydia was to be ruled by Greek-speaking governors, first as part of the empire of Alexander, then controlled by Antigonus Monophthalmus, after 301 by Lysimachus, from 281 to 190 as province of the Seleucid Empire. Often, they did direct business with the cities, and as an administrative unit, Lydia became obsolete.

Again, many settlers moved to the old country. King Seleucus I Nicator, the first ruler of the empire that is named after him, founded Thyatira, his son Antiochus I Soter founded Stratonicea, and Antiochus III the Great resettled 2,000 Jewish families from Babylonia in Lydia. The Greek language spread across the country, many buildings were rebuilt according to Greek archaeological designs, and many towns invented myths to prove they had been founded by Greek heroes like Heracles or warriors from the Trojan War.

When the Romans had defeated the Seleucid king Antiochus III, they first gave Lydia to their ally, the kingdom of Pergamon, and added it to their own empire in 133. From now on, Lydia was officially known as the Roman province of Asia.

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