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What was the kingdom of Lydia?

Updated on March 20, 2015

Why Learn About Lydia?

Lydia is a rather unknown place in the ancient world. It's mentioned in some of the ancient writings, especially by Herodotus, but it's rarely in the common history books, so how did I learn of it? Well, most people have great meanings of their names like Sarah (Princess in Hebrew) or Marcus (Warlike in Latin). My name is Lydia which means From Lydia in Greek. It isn't really surprising that I decided to do a research paper in my history class to learn more about the surprisingly important area in the ancient world.

I found this picture on Wikimedia Commons put there by the user Szajci and shows where Lydia was, although it's spelled Lidia.

Silver croesied © Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons
Silver croesied © Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons

Ancient Lydia

A powerful kingdom

Like most of the ancient world, our history of the Lydian kingdom is mostly from books written decades or centuries after the actual events so the dates and names are rather fluid. There are a number of artifacts that can be dated using modern scientific methods but they only tell what technology was used at rough dates and possibly names or pictures without written records attached.

Situated in what is now the edge of Turkey, Lydia became independent of the Hittite Empire when it fell in the twelfth century BCE (before current era). The Greek historian Herodotus claims that the descendants of Hercules, called the Heraclids, reigned from 1185-687 BCE. After twenty generations, the last king, Candules or Mursylos depending on what book you read, was assassinated and his old friend Gyges took the thrown and started the shorter-lived Mermnad dynasty.

King Gyges set about turning the current kingdom into a military might and it is thought that he moved the capital from Hyde to Sardis although Hyde may have been an older name for Sardis or the name of the citadel in Sardis. Very little is known of his son, Ardys II, but that he ruled for about thirty years and tried to expand the kingdom. His son, Sadyattes, ruled for nearly five years before he was replaced by his brother, not his children.

The brother was called Alyattes and there is debate among historians whether he was the first King Alyattes or if he was Alyattes II due to a Heraclid king. Either way, his reign was rather busy with war, as you can read at the link below. What I found interesting about his reign was that his war with the Medes ended because they were fighting during a solar eclipse. They decided that it was a sign to end the war and called a truce. Part of the truce was to set the Halys River as their border, which will be interesting in his son's reign.

After Alyattes II died, his son Croesus ruled. During this period the metallurgists in Sardis discovered how to purify gold, creating the first internationally accepted gold coins in the West. King Croesus let the wealth of the gold nuggets in the river running through Sardis and the technical advancements Lydia was known for go to his head. Seeing the threat of the Persian empire growing from beyond the Halys River, he decided to attack the empire. When he asked the oracle at Delphi for advice, he was told "If you cross the Halys River, a great empire will fall." He assumed it meant that the Persians would fall. It didn't. He laid siege to a Persian city but lost it soon after it surrendered to Cryus the Great, the current king of Persia. King Croesus broke up his army for the winter after the battle ended in a draw, which was common then in winter, but King Cyrus didn't. He attacked Sardis and Lydia fell, becoming a part of the huge Persian empire. History is unclear how Croesus died. stories put him as being saved from the funeral pyre by Apollo and going on to be an advisor to King Cyrus and his son. However, dates don't seem to add up so modern historians think he most likely died with his family when Sardis fell.

An interesting side note here is that the fall of Lydia was one of the cause of the Persian War made famous by current movies like 300. King Alyattes II conquered a number of Greek colonies in Ionia during his reign. When Lydia fell, those city-states became property of the Persians. About fifty years after Lydia was conquered a leader of one of those city-states incited all the others, backed by some Greek city-states like Athens, to revolt. The Ionian Revolt lasted about five years and Sardis was burned before it ended. However, the king of Persia at the time, Darius the Great, vowed vengeance on the interfering Greek city-states. Darius' attacks were unsuccessful but his son Xerxes was more successful leading to years of war on Greek soil and at sea.

Lydia Under Persia

A major Persian satrapy

When Cyrus the Great conquered Lydia, he made Sardis the end of the Royal Road, connecting it directly to his capital and setting it up as a politically powerful satrapy, which was their state.

Lydia Under Rome and Byzantine Rule

When the last Attalid ruler died, he willed Lydia to the Roman empire, thereby avoiding a bloody war. Although Lydia was part of many political reorganizations in the Roman Empire, it remained Roman or Byzantine until after 1204 CE (current era) when it was officially handed to the Ghazi emirs in a treaty in 1306 by the Byzantine ruler in Nicea. In 1390 it was absrobed into the Ottoman Empire and is now part of Turkey.

Further Reading - Online Resources

Want to read more about something I mentioned? Try these links:

Resources

At the moment my resources are Wikipedia articles and the items stated above so the facts may be a little off or incomplete. As I continue my research I will be adding to this article from more scholarly sources.

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