1902 Encyclopedia > Lydia


LYDIA. It is difficult to fix the boundaries of Lydia very exactly, partly because they varied at different times, partly because we are still but imperfectly acquainted with the geography of western Asia Minor. 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 (ll.,\i. 865, v. 43,x. 431), and the place of the Lydian capital Sardes is taken by Hyde (//., xx. 385), unless this was the name of the district in which Sardes 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 Attys, in the mythical epoch which preceded the rise of the Heraclid dynasty. In historical times, however, the Mseones were a tribe inhabiting the district of the Upper Hermus, where a town called Maeonia (now Mennen) 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 Sardes 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 Ternnus, in the Boghaz, or pass, through which the Hermus forces its way from the plain of Magnesia into its lower valley." In an Homeric epigram the ridge north of the Hermus, on which the ruins of Temnus lie, is called Sardene. Northward the Lydians extended at least as far as the Gygaean Lake (Lake Coloe, now Mermereh), and the Sardene range (now Humanly Dagh). The plateau of the Bin Bir Tep6, on the southern shore of the Gygsean Lake, was the chief burial-place of the inhabitants of Sardes, and is still thickly studded with tumuli, among which the " tomb of Alyattes " towers to a height of 260 feet. Next to Sardes, Magnesia ad Sipylum was the chief city of the country, having taken the place of the ancient Sipylus, now probably repre-sented by an almost inaccessible acropolis discovered by Mr Humann not far from Magnesia on the northern cliff of Mount Sipylus. In its neighbourhood is the famous seated figure of " Niobe " (II, xxiv. 614-17), 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 Sale or Saloe, was the ancient name of Sipylus and " the capital of Mseonia" (Paus., vii. 24; Strabo, xii. p. 579).

Under the Heraelid dynasty the limits of Lydia must have been already extended, since according to Strabo (xiii. p. 590), the authority of Gyges reached as far as the Troad, and we learn from the Assyrian inscriptions that the same king sent tribute to Assur-bani-pal, whose dominions were bounded on the west by the Halys. But 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 Crcesus finally changed the Lydian king-dom into a Lydian empire, and all Asia Minor westward of the Halys, with the exception of Lycia, owned the supre-macy of Sardes. 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 iEgean 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 Tarne in the Tmolus mountains, through the centre of Sardes, 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 Catacecaumene or Burnt country, once a centre of volcanic disturbance. The Gygaean lake (where remains of pile dwellings have been found) still abounds with carp, which frequently grow to a very large size.

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 language, so far as can be judged from its scanty remains, was Indo-European, and more closely related to the western than to the eastern branch of the family. 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 as well.
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 Attys, as in Phrygia the chief object of the popular cult. He was at once the son and bridegroom of Cybele 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). Lie the Semitic Tammuz or Adonis, he was the beautiful youth who had mutilated himself in a moment of frenzy or despair, and whose temples were served by eunuch priests. Or again he was the dying sun-god, slain by the winter, and mourned by Cybele, as Adonis was by Aphrodite in the old myth which the Greeks had borrowed from Phoenicia. This worship of Attys was in great measure due to foreign influence. Doubtless there had been an ancient native god of the name, but the associated myths and rites came almost wholly from abroad. The Hittites in their stronghold of Carchemish on the Euphrates had adopted the Babylonian cult of Istar (Ashtoreth) and Tammuz-Adonis, and had handed it on to the tribes of Asia Minor. The close resemblance between the story of Attys and that of Adonis was the result of a common origin. The old legends of the Semitic East had come to the West through two channels. The Phoenicians brought them by sea and the Hittites by land. But though the worship of Makar or Melkarth on Lesbos (II., xxiv. 544) shows that the Phoenician faith had found a home on this part of the coast of Asia Minor, it could have had no influence upon Lydia, which, as we have seen, was cut off from the sea before the rise of the Mermnads. It was rather to the Hittites that Lydia, like Phrygia and Cappadocia, owed its faith in Attys and Cybele. The latter became "the mother of Asia," and at Ephesus, where she was adored under the form of a meteoric stone, was identified with the Greek Artemis. Her mural crown is first seen in the Hittite sculptures of Boghaz Keui on the Halys, and the bee was sacred to her. A gem found near Aleppo represents her Hittite counterpart standing on this insect. 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 prae-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 Hercules, Omphale takes the place of Cybele, and was perhaps her Lydian title. Hercules is here the sun-god Attys in a new form ; his Lydian name is unknown, since E. Meyer has shown (Z. D. M. G., xxxi. 4) that Sandon belongs not to Lydia but to Cilicia. By the side of Attys stood the moon-god Manes or Men.

According to the native historian Xanthus (460 B.C.) three dynasties ruled in succession over Lydia. The first, that of the Attyads, is wholly 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 Attys, led to Etruria. . Xanthus, however, puts Torrhebus in the place of Tyrsenus, and makes him the eponym of a district in Lydia. There was no connexion between the Etrurians and Lydians in either language or race, and the story in Herodotus rests solely on the sup-posed resemblance of Tyrrhenus and Torrhebus. It is doubtful whether Xanthus recognized the Greek legends which brought Pelops from Lydia, or rather Mseonia, and made him the son of Tantalus. The legends must have grown up after the Greek colonization of iEolis and Ionia, though Dr Schliemaun's discoveries at Mycenae have shown a certain likeness between the art of early Greece and that of Asia Minor, while the gold found there in such abundance may have been derived from the mines of Tmolus. 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 Hercules and Omphale, was, Herodotus tells us (i. 7), a son of Niuus 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 old theory which brought the Heraclids from Nineveh must be given up. But we now know that the case was otherwise with another Oriental people, which was deeply imbued with the elements of Babylonian culture. The Hittites had overrun Asia Minor and established themselves on the shores of the Aegean before the reign of the Egyptian king Ramses II

The subject allies who then fight under their banners include the Masu or Mysians and the Dardani of the Troad from Iluna or Ilion and Pidasa (Pedasus); and, if we follow Brugsch, Iluna should be read Mauna and identified with Maeonia. At the same time the Hittites left me-morials of themselves in Lydia. Mr G. Dennis has dis-covered 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 Ramses II.) carved on the cliff of Karabel, the pass which leads from the plain of Sardes to that of Ephesus. We learn from Eusebius that Sardes was first captured by the Cimmerians 1078 B.C.; and, since it was four centuries later before the real Cimmerians appeared on the horizon of history, we may perhaps find in the statement a tradition of the Hittite conquest. Possibly the Ninus of Herodotus points to the fact that Carchemish was called "the old Ninus" (Amm. Marc.,xiv. 8), while the mention of Belus may indicate that Hittite civilization came from the land of Bel (see Sayce, Trans. Soc. Biblical Arch., vii. 2). At all events it was when the authority of the Hittite satraps at Sardes began to decay that 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 atitle of the LydianHermes. Gyges, termed Gugu in the Assyrian inscriptions, Gog in the Old Testament, put him to death and established the dynasty of the Mermnads 690 B.C. (Euseb., 698 B.C.). Gyges initiated a new policy, that of making Lydia a maritime power; but his attempt to capture Old Smyrna was unsuccessful. Towards the middle of his reign the king-dom was overrun by the Cimmerians, called Gimirra? in the Assyrian texts, Gomer in the Old Testament, who had been driven from their old seats on the Sea of Azoff by an invasion of Scythians, and thrown upon Asia Minor by the defeat they had suffered at the hands of Esar-haddon. The lower town of Sardes was taken by them, and Gyges turned to Assyria for aid, consenting to become the tributary of Assur-bani-pal or Sardanapalus, and sending him among other presents two Cimmerian chieftains he had himself captured in battle (about 660 B.C.). At first no one could be found in Nineveh who understood the language of the ambassadors. A few years later, Gyges joined in the revolt against Assyria, which was headed by the viceroy of Babylonia, Assur-bani-pal's own brother. The Ionic and Carian mercenaries he despatched to Egypt en-abled Psammetichus to make himself independent. Assyria, however, was soon avenged. The Cimmerian hordes re-turned, Gyges was slain in battle after a reign of thirty-eight years, and Ardys his son and successor returned to «his allegiance to Nineveh. The second capture of Sardes on this occasion was alluded to by Callisthenes (Strabo, xiii. p. 627). Alyattes the grandson of Ardys finally succeeded in extirpating the Cimmerians, 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 owned his sway, and the six years' contest he carried on with the Medes was closed by the marriage of his daughter Aryenis to Astyages, and an intimate alliance between the two empires. 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 Crcesus, who had probably already for some years shared the royal power with his father, or perhaps grandfather, as Floigl thinks (Geschichte des semitischen Alterthums, p. 20). He reigned alone only fifteen years, Cyrus the Persian, after an indecisive battle on the banks of the Halys, marching upon Sardes, and capturing both acropolis and monarch before his allies could come to his help (Euseb., 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 which made 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 in a few years to carry it altogether into the plain below. The overthrow of Crcesus gave rise to many legends among both Lydians and Greeks, and he was held to have escaped death at the conqueror's hands through the intervention of the gods. 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 former warlike spirit was crushed. Sardes 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's death, Lydia passed to Antigonus ; then Achaeus made himself king at Sardes, but was defeated and put to death by Antiochus. The country was pre-sented by the Romans to Eumenes, and subsequently formed part of the proconsular province of Asia. By the time of Strabo (xiii. p. 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 j monarch were probably due the earliest gold coins of Ephesus | (Head, Coinage of Ephesus, p. 16). Mr Head has shown that 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," j as the Assyrians called it, which contained 8656 grains. Origin- ally 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 1 superseded by the Phoenician mina of 11,225 grains, and continued to survive only in Cyprus and Cilicia. 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, and the only specimen of their writ- ing we possess is on a marble base found by Mr Wood at Ephesus (Schliemann, llios, p. 698). They were celebrated for their music and gymnastic exercises, and their art formed a link between that of Asia Minor and that of Greece. A marble lion at Achmetly re- presents in a modified form the Assyrian type, and the engraved gems found in the neighbourhood of Sardes and Old Smyrna resemble the rude imitations of Assyrian workmanship met with in Cyprus and on the coasts of Asia Minor. 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 as displayed at Doghanly, Kumbet, and Ayazin, a necropolis lately discovered by Mr Ramsay. Phallic emblems, for averting evil, were plentiful ; even the summit of the tomb of Alyattes is crowned with an enormous one of stone, about 9 feet in diameter. The tumulus itself is 281 yards in diameter and about half a mile in circumference. It has been partially excavated by Spiegelthal and Dennis, and a sepulchral chamber discovered in the middle, composed of large well-cut and highly polished blocks of marble, the chamber being 11 feet long, nearly 8 feet broad, and 7 feet 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 nowr disappeared. (A. H. S.)

The above article was written by Rev. A. H. Sayce, M.A., Deputy Professor of Comparative Philology, University of Oxford.

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