1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Lydia
LYDIA, in ancient geography, a district of Asia Minor, the boundaries of which it is difficult to fix, partly because they varied at different epochs. The name is first found under the form of Luddi in the inscriptions of the Assyrian king Assur-bani-pal, who received tribute from Gyges about 660 B.C. In Homer we read only of Maeonians (Il. ii. 865, v. 43, x. 431), and the place of the Lydian capital Sardis is taken by Hydē (Il. xx. 385), unless this was the name of the district in which Sardis stood (see Strabo xiii. p. 626). The earliest Greek writer who mentions the name is Mimnermus of Colophon, in the 37th Olympiad. According to Herodotus (i. 7), the Meiones (called Maeones by other writers) were named Lydians after Lydus, the son of Attis, in the mythical epoch which preceded the rise of the Heraclid dynasty. In historical times the Maeones were a tribe inhabiting the district of the upper Hermus, where a town called Maeonia existed (Pliny, N.H. v. 30; Hierocles, p. 670). The Lydians must originally have been an allied tribe which bordered upon them to the north-west, and occupied the plain of Sardis or Magnesia at the foot of Tmolus and Sipylus. They were cut off from the sea by the Greeks, who were in possession, not only of the Bay of Smyrna, but also of the country north of Sipylus as far as Temnus in the pass (boghaz), through which the Hermus forces its way from the plain of Magnesia into its lower valley. In a Homeric epigram the ridge north of the Hermus, on which the ruins of Temnus lie, is called Sardenē. Northward the Lydians extended at least as far as the Gygaean Lake (Lake Coloe, mod. Mermereh), and the Sardenē range (mod. Dumanli Dagh). The plateau of the Bin Bir Tepē, on the southern shore of the Gygaean Lake, was the chief burial-place of the inhabitants of Sardis, and is still thickly studded with tumuli, among which is the “tomb of Alyattes” (260 ft. high). Next to Sardis the chief city was Magnesia ad Sipylum (q.v.), in the neighbourhood of which is the famous seated figure of “Niobe” (Il. xxiv. 614–617), cut out of the rock, and probably intended to represent the goddess Cybele, to which the Greeks attached their legend of Niobe. According to Pliny (v. 31), Tantalis, afterwards swallowed up by earthquake in the pool Salē or Saloē, was the ancient name of Sipylus and “the capital of Maeonia” (Paus. vii. 24; Strabo xii. 579). Under the Heraclid dynasty the limits of Lydia must have been already extended, since according to Strabo (xiii. 590), the authority of Gyges reached as far as the Troad. Under the Mermnads Lydia became a maritime as well as an inland power. The Greek cities were conquered, and the coast of Ionia included within the Lydian kingdom. The successes of Alyattes and of Croesus finally changed the Lydian kingdom into a Lydian empire, and all Asia Minor westward of the Halys, except Lycia, owned the supremacy of Sardis. Lydia never again shrank back into its original dimensions. After the Persian conquest the Maeander was regarded as its southern boundary, and in the Roman period it comprised the country between Mysia and Caria on the one side and Phrygia and the Aegean on the other.
Lydia proper was exceedingly fertile. The hill-sides were clothed with vine and fir, and the rich broad plain of Hermus produced large quantities of corn and saffron. The climate of the plain was soft but healthy, though the country was subject to frequent earthquakes. The Pactolus, which flowed from the fountain of Tarnē in the Tmolus mountains, through the centre of Sardis, into the Hermus, was believed to be full of golden sand; and gold mines were worked in Tmolus itself, though by the time of Strabo the proceeds had become so small as hardly to pay for the expense of working them (Strabo xiii. 591). Maeonia on the east contained the curious barren plateau known to the Greeks as the Katakekaumenē (“Burnt country”), once a centre of volcanic disturbance. The Gygaean lake (where remains of pile dwellings have been found) still abounds with carp.
Herodotus (i. 171) tells us that Lydus was a brother of Mysus and Car. The statement is on the whole borne out by the few Lydian, Mysian and Carian words that have been preserved, as well as by the general character of the civilization prevailing among the three nations. The race was probably a mixed one, consisting of aborigines and Aryan immigrants. It was characterized by industry and a commercial spirit, and, before the Persian conquest, by bravery. The religion of the Lydians resembled that of the other civilized nations of Asia Minor. It was a nature worship, which at times became wild and sensuous. By the side of the supreme god Medeus stood the sun-god Attis, as in Phrygia the chief object of the popular cult. He was at once the son and bridegroom of Cybele (q.v.) or Cybebe, the mother of the gods, whose image carved by Broteas, son of Tantalus, was adored on the cliffs of Sipylus (Paus. iii. 22). The cult may have been brought westward by the Hittites who have left memorials of themselves in the pseudo-Sesostris figures of Kara-bel (between Sardis and Ephesus) as well as in the figure of the Mother-goddess, the so-called Niobe. At Ephesus, where she was adored under the form of a meteoric stone, she was identified with the Greek Artemis (see also Great Mother of the Gods). Her mural crown is first seen in the Hittite sculptures of Boghaz Keui (see Pteria and Hittites) on the Halys. The priestesses by whom she was served are depicted in early art as armed with the double-headed axe, and the dances they performed in her honour with shield and bow gave rise to the myths which saw in them the Amazons, a nation of woman-warriors. The pre-Hellenic cities of the coast—Smyrna, Samorna (Ephesus), Myrina, Cyme, Priene and Pitane—were all of Amazonian origin, and the first three of them have the same name as the Amazon Myrina, whose tomb was pointed out in the Troad. The prostitution whereby the Lydian girls gained their dowries (Herod. i. 93) was a religious exercise, as among the Semites, which marked their devotion to the goddess Cybele. In the legend of Heracles, Omphale takes the place of Cybele, and was perhaps her Lydian title. Heracles is here the sun-god Attis in a new form; his Lydian name is unknown, since E. Meyer has shown (Zeitschr. d. Morg. Gesell. xxxi. 4) that Sandon belongs not to Lydia but to Cilicia. By the side of Attis stood Manes or Men, identified later with the Moon-god.
According to the native historian Xanthus (460 B.C.) three dynasties ruled in succession over Lydia. The first, that of the Attiads, is mythical. It was headed by a god, and included geographical personages like Lydus, Asies and Meles, or such heroes of folk-lore as Cambletes, who devoured his wife. To this mythical age belongs the colony which, according to Herodotus (i. 94), Tyrsenus, the son of Attis, led to Etruria. Xanthus, however, puts Torrhebus in the place of Tyrsenus, and makes him the eponym of a district in Lydia. It is doubtful whether Xanthus recognized the Greek legends which brought Pelops from Lydia, or rather Maeonia, and made him the son of Tantalus. The second dynasty was also of divine origin, but the names which head it prove its connexion with the distant East. Its founder, a descendant of Heracles and Omphale, was, Herodotus tells us (i. 7), a son of Ninus and grandson of Belus. The Assyrian inscriptions have shown that the Assyrians had never crossed the Halys, much less known the name of Lydia, before the age of Assur-bani-pal, and consequently the theory which brought the Heraclids from Nineveh must be given up. But the Hittites, another Oriental people, deeply imbued with the elements of Babylonian culture, had overrun Asia Minor and established themselves on the shores of the Aegean before the reign of the Egyptian king Rameses II.
The subject allies who then fight under their banners include the Masu or Mysians and the Dardani of the Troad, while the Hittites have left memorials in Lydia. G. Dennis discovered an inscription in Hittite hieroglyphics attached to the figure of “Niobe” on Sipylus, and a similar inscription accompanies the figure (in which Herodotus, ii. 106, wished to see Sesostris or Rameses II.) in the pass of Karabel. We learn from Eusebius that Sardis was first captured by the Cimmerii 1078 B.C.; and since it was four centuries later before the real Cimmerii (q.v.) appeared on the horizon of history, we may perhaps find in the statement a tradition of the Hittite conquest. As the authority of the Hittite satraps at Sardis began to decay the Heraclid dynasty arose. According to Xanthus, Sadyattes and Lixus were the successors of Tylon the son of Omphale. After lasting five hundred and five years, the dynasty came to an end in the person of Sadyattes, as he is called by Nicolas of Damascus, whose account is doubtless derived from Xanthus. The name Candaules, given him by Herodotus, meant “dog strangler” and was a title of the Lydian Hermes. Gyges (q.v.) put him to death and established the dynasty of the Mermnads, 687 B.C. Gyges initiated a new policy, that of making Lydia a maritime power; but towards the middle of his reign the kingdom was overrun by the Cimmerii. The lower town of Sardis was taken, and Gyges sent tribute to Assur-bani-pal, as well as two Cimmerian chieftains he had himself captured in battle. A few years later Gyges joined in the revolt against Assyria, and the Ionic and Carian mercenaries he despatched to Egypt enabled Psammetichus to make himself independent. Assyria, however, was soon avenged. The Cimmerian hordes returned, Gyges was slain in battle (652 B.C.), and Ardys his son and successor returned to his allegiance to Nineveh. The second capture of Sardis on this occasion was alluded to by Callisthenes (Strabo xiii. 627). Alyattes, the grandson of Ardys, finally succeeded in extirpating the Cimmerii, as well as in taking Smyrna, and thus providing his kingdom with a port. The trade and wealth of Lydia rapidly increased, and the Greek towns fell one after the other before the attacks of the Lydian kings. Alyattes’s long reign of fifty-seven years saw the foundation of the Lydian empire. All Asia Minor west of the Halys acknowledged his sway, and the six years’ contest he carried on with the Medes was closed by the marriage of his daughter Aryenis to Astyages. The Greek cities were allowed to retain their own institutions and government on condition of paying taxes and dues to the Lydian monarch, and the proceeds of their commerce thus flowed into the imperial exchequer. The result was that the king of Lydia became the richest prince of his age. Alyattes was succeeded by Croesus (q.v.), who had probably already for some years shared the royal power with his father, or perhaps grandfather, as V. Floigl thinks (Geschichte des semitischen Alterthums, p. 20). He reigned alone only fifteen years, Cyrus the Persian, after an indecisive battle on the Halys, marching upon Sardis, and capturing both acropolis and monarch (546 B.C.). The place where the acropolis was entered was believed to have been overlooked by the mythical Meles when he carried the lion round his fortress to make it invulnerable; it was really a path opened by one of the landslips, which have reduced the sandstone cliff of the acropolis to a mere shell, and threaten to carry it altogether into the plain below. The revolt of the Lydians under Pactyas, whom Cyrus had appointed to collect the taxes, caused the Persian king to disarm them, though we can hardly credit the statement that by this measure their warlike spirit was crushed. Sardis now became the western capital of the Persian empire, and its burning by the Athenians was the indirect cause of the Persian War. After Alexander the Great’s death, Lydia passed to Antigonus; then Achaeus made himself king at Sardis, but was defeated and put to death by Antiochus. The country was presented by the Romans to Eumenes, and subsequently formed part of the proconsular province of Asia. By the time of Strabo (xiii. 631) its old language was entirely supplanted by Greek.
The Lydian empire may be described as the industrial power of the ancient world. The Lydians were credited with being the inventors, not only of games such as dice, huckle-bones and ball (Herod. i. 94), but also of coined money. The oldest known coins are the electrum coins of the earlier Mermnads (Madden, Coins of the Jews, pp. 19-21), stamped on one side with a lion’s head or the figure of a king with bow and quiver; these were replaced by Croesus with a coinage of pure gold and silver. To the latter monarch were probably due the earliest gold coins of Ephesus (Head, Coinage of Ephesus, p. 16). The electrum coins of Lydia were of two kinds, one weighing 168.4 grains for the inland trade, and another of 224 grains for the trade with Ionia. The standard was the silver mina of Carchemish (as the Assyrians called it) which contained 8656 grains. Originally derived by the Hittites from Babylonia, but modified by themselves, this standard was passed on to the nations of Asia Minor during the period of Hittite conquest, but was eventually superseded by the Phoenician mina of 11,225 grains, and continued to survive only in Cyprus and Cilicia (see also Numismatics). The inns, which the Lydians were said to have been the first to establish (Herod. i. 94), were connected with their attention to commercial pursuits. Their literature has wholly perished. They were celebrated for their music and gymnastic exercises, and their art formed a link between that of Asia Minor and that of Greece. R. Heberdey’s excavations at Ephesus since 1896, like those of D. G. Hogarth in 1905, belong to the history of Greek and not native art. The ivory figures, however, found by Hogarth on the level of the earliest temple of Artemis show Asiatic influence, and resemble the so-called “Phoenician” ivories from the palace of Sargon at Calah (Nimrud). For a description of a pectoral of white gold, ornamented with the heads of animals, human faces and the figure of a goddess, discovered in a tomb on Tmolus, see Academy, January 15, 1881, p. 45. Lydian sculpture was probably similar to that of the Phrygians. Phallic emblems, for averting evil, were plentiful; the summit of the tomb of Alyattes is crowned with an enormous one of stone, about 9 ft. in diameter. The tumulus itself is 281 yds. in diameter and about half a mile in circumference. It has been partially excavated by G. Spiegelthal and G. Dennis, and a sepulchral chamber discovered in the middle, composed of large well-cut and highly polished blocks of marble, the chamber being 11 ft. long, nearly 8 ft. broad and 7 ft. high. Nothing was found in it except a few ashes and a broken vase of Egyptian alabaster. The stone basement which, according to Herodotus, formerly surrounded the mound has disappeared.
Bibliography.—A. von Ölfers, Über die lydischen Königsgräber bei Sardes (1858); H. Gelzer in the Rheinisches Museum (1874); R. Schubert, Geschichte der Könige von Lydien (1884); G. Perrot and C. Chipiez, Histoire de l’art dans l’antiquité, v. (1890); O. Radet, La Lydie et le monde grec au temps des Mermnades (1893); G. Maspero, Dawn of Civilization, pp. 232–301 (1892) and Passing of the Empires, pp. 339, 388, 603–621 (1900); J. Keil and A. von Premerstein, Bericht über eine Reise in Lydien (1908). (A. H. S.)
- Pliny (v. 30) makes it the Maeonian name.
- See Sir W. M. Ramsay in the Journal of Hellenic Studies, ii. 2.