Lydian Period

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IX. Lydian Period ( 900 - 547 BCE.)

As the Urartian kingdom in the east and the Phrygian kingdom in central Anatolia, were coming to their end, a new kingdom based in the city Sardis emerged in the western Anatolia. This was the Lydian Kingdom that ruled Western Anatolia in the 7th C. BCE, roughly from 690 to 546 BCE. As we can see from the above map, Lydians ruled a large territory in Anatolia, extending from the Black Sea and the Marmara Sea to the Lycian coast on the Mediterranean, and from the Aegean shores to the bend of the river Halys.

The origin of Lydians is a problem that is still awaiting to be settled. Scholars think, they might have entered Anatolia from East or North. We know that Lydians used a language of Indo-European origin. Much of the information about Lydians comes from the ancient Greek sources. Lydia was ruled by three dynasties from beginning to the end. These dynasties were Atyads, Heraclids-Tylonids in Lydian language- and the Mermnads who ruled from 2000 BCE to 546 BCE. A Hittite cuneiform from the time of Tudhaliya IV (1250-1220 BCE) confirms what Herodotus says about Atyad dynasty. So, this is enough evidence to believe that Lydians were among the Anatolian peoples as early as 13th C. BCE, even earlier. Herodotus, in his account, explains that the Atyad dynasty was replaced by Heraclids, during the destruction of Anatolian cities in the wave of migration among which Phrygians were available as well. According to Herodotus, Lydian state was founded by Heraclid dynasty and he adds this dynasty of Thracian origin ruled for 22  generations over a period of 505 years from 1185 BCE. We know a little about the first kings of Heraclid dynasty, but at the time of the first Olympic games in 776 BCE, Alyattes was the king of Lydia. The last king of Heraclid dynasty as known in Greek was Mursylos, and in Lydian language was Candaules whose name comes from a Lydian god and means "dog-strangler". Indeed, excavations have provided the remains of a feast in honor of the god "Candaules", and the skeletons of many puppies sacrificed to this god were found in 30 clay urns.  

In about 687 BCE, we see another change in dynasty from Heraclids to Mermnads. Gyges (ruled 687 to 652 BCE), the first king of this dynasty, with the help of a woman-probably the wife of Candaules-, killed Kandaules and took over both throne and queen. Also, with the change in dynasty, the name of the area was changed to Lydia, which was known earlier as Maionia and the name of their capital was changed to Sardis which was known as Hyde earlier. Lydian state under the Mernmad dynasty followed expansionist policies and took its place in the balance of power in the Near East and Mediterranean area. Gyges, to put an end to internal conflicts and to expand his borders launched military campaigns towards North first, and against the Ionian cities along the Aegean coast. He founded military bases and posts in Ionia area which served the Lydian benefits. By this time, as we have read in other chapters, Cimmerians were terrorizing this area, first they destructed Phrygian state and made their way towards the Lydians. The first Cimmerian attack was turned and their leader fell captive to Lydians. But, second attempt by the Cimmerians who fought with heavy iron weapons, succeeded and Lydians lost the battle. Gyges died at the battlefield. Almost all of Lydian cities and towns, except Sardis which the Cimmerians were not able to take, were sacked by barbarian Cimmerians. 

Ardys (ruled 652-621 BCE), who took over the throne, after his father Gyges' death, continued to struggle Cimmerians. Sometime, he was obliged to ask help and support from the Assyrian king, Asurbanipal. In 640 BCE, Cimmerians were defeated by the Assyrians in a decisive battle and Cimmerians have never been able to recover since and after wandering in Anatolia for some time they moved to Cappadocia and settled there. Ardys, following the years of terror in his country, started a big reconstruction project all over Lydia. Many cities and towns that were sacked and destroyed by the Cimmerians were rebuilt. After that, Ardys, marched towards the Ionian cities on the Aegean coastline and took Priene. Ardys was an able king and did a great job in re-establishing his country and also followed his father's expansionist policies.  

Following his death in 621 BCE, his son Sadyattes became the ruler of Lydia. However, the reign of Sadyattes brought almost nothing worthy to his people.  His death in 609 BCE, has brought a great opportunity for the Lydian people, his son Alyattes, one of the greatest kings became the ruler of Lydia.

Alyattes (ruled 610 to 560 BCE), the fourth of the Mernmad kings, brought Lydia great prosperity and extended his borders over a large territory. His diplomatic skills, arranging marriage alliances with neighboring states, reasserting Lydia's sway over Ionian and Carian cities made Lydia one of the most powerful states in the Near East. Meanwhile, the Medes in Persia following aggressive expansionist policies covered as far as the river Halys, and made this river a border between Medes and Lydians. Alyattes tried to reinforce his western borders knowing that Medes, one day, would be trouble for the Lydians. He developed his relations with the Greek world, invited Greek sculptors to his capital Sardis, built two shrines in Miletus ad sent gifts to the Oracle at Delphi. As a consequence of these close relations with the Greek world, Alyattes' reign saw an abrupt Hellenic influence in Lydian art and culture. The expected trouble came in in the year 585 BCE and Lydians and Medes set out to fight on the eastern bank of the river Halys. About noon time, a solar eclipse occurred and suddenly became dark. Taking this as a sign from the god, both armies put down their weapons on the ground and made a peace treaty. The conclusion of the war with neighbors and peace treaties with other kingdoms in the area brought a short lived balance of powers to be destroyed later in 547 BCE by the Persian Empire rising from the East. Alyattes, after a long successful reign, died and he was replaced by his son Croesus, another able king of Lydia. 

Croesus (ruled 560 to 546 BCE.), inherited a prosperous state and he also made his contribution to make Lydia even more powerful and wealthier. During his reign, Lydia reached the zenith in political and cultural development and wealth. And also during his reign, Lydian state came to its unexpected end. Croesus is the best known king of the Mernmad dynasty by the Greek and Roman writers. His name became synonymous with the wealth, you know the expression "as rich as Croesus". Croesus when he became king of Lydia, he set out to reinforce the western borders. First, he started a military campaign against Ephesus, and then other Aeolian and Ionian cities. He always found an excuse to attack his neighbors and put them under his hegemony. Almost all of western Anatolia, except the Lycians in southwest, came under the Lydian state. Croesus imposed heavy taxation on the Ionian and other cities in the area which was the main source of income for the Lydians. On the other hand, Croesus was also a great patron of arts; he financed the rebuilding of Ephesus, reconstruction of the Artemis Temple which was destroyed by Cimmerians earlier. Artemis Temple contained an inscription that recognizes Croesus as the main contributor to the rebuilding of this temple. 

Meanwhile, on the Persian frontier, some noticeable changes were taking place. Cyrus, from Persian stock, after a battle against Astyages of Medes dynasty-Cyrus' grandfather from mother side- took the throne and the power changed from Medes to Persians. Croesus, to expand his borders and include Cappadocia in his state launched a campaign against Persians. Croesus crossed the river Halys and arrived at the ancient Pteria-probably the Greek name for Hattusas. The war between two armies was near this town. Herodotus says the war between the Lydians and Persians was very severe, and countless soldiers died on the first day. Then night came in, and they stopped fighting. Next day, Croesus did not attack Cyrus, he thought he would go back home and get some support from his allies and strike back next spring. As he was getting close to his capital, Cyrus with his army appeared nearby Sardis. Cyrus was smart by placing the camels in front of his army. The idea here was that horses were afraid of camels and could not stand their smell either. Indeed, the horses of the Lydian army started wildly running away as soon as they saw the camels. Though Lydian army lost the battle in Gediz plain, they kept the order and retreated to their fortified acropolis at Sardis. On the 14th day of the siege by Persians, a hole in the city walls was noticed by a Persian soldier through which the Persians swept into the acropolis and put a heavy massacre on the Lydian soldiers. Herodotus explains that Cyrus first decided to burn Croesus on a pile of wood, but later changed his mind and made Croesus his consultant. However, some inscriptions from Babylon states that Cyrus went to Lydian war in April 547 BCE, and in May crossed the river Tigris and killed the king after defeating Lydians. A story goes like that, when Cyrus conquered Sardis, his soldiers started looting the wealth of this city. Cyrus told Croesus, pointing out to screams by the soldiers, "they sack you city", Croesus told him back, "not my city any longer, they sack your city". Then Cyrus ordered his assistant to stop looting in the city. That was the end of another great civilization of the past.

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Travels around Asia Minor 1976-2002
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Last Update : December, 2011