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BC 727 - BC 546 - Lydian Empire

The original population of the larger part of Asia Minor may perhaps have been akin to the original population of Greece and Crete. If so, it was of "Mediterranean" race. Or it may have been another branch of those still more generalized and fundamental darkish peoples from whom arose the Mediterranean race to the west and the Dravidians to the east. Remains of the same sort of art that distinguishes Cnossos and Mycenae are to be found scattered over Asia Minor. But just as the Nordic Greeks poured southward into Greece to conquer and mix with the aborigines, so did other and kindred Nordic tribes pour over the Bosphorus into Asia Minor. Over some areas these Aryan peoples prevailed altogether, and became the bulk of the inhabitants and retained their Aryan speech. Such were the Phrygians, a people whose language was almost as close to that of the Greeks as the Macedonian. But over other areas the Aryans did not so prevail.

In Lydia the original people and their language held their own. The Lydians were a non-Aryan people speaking a non-Aryan speech, of which at the present time only a few words are known. Their capital city was Sardis. Their religion was also non-Aryan. They worshipped a Great Mother goddess. The Phrygians also, though retaining their Greek-like language, became infected with mysterious religion, and much of tbe mystical religion and secret ceremonial that pervaded Athens at a later date was Phrygian (when not Thracian) in origin.

At first the Lydians held the western seacoast of Asia Minor, but they were driven back from it by the establishment of Ionian Greeks coming by the sea and founding cities. Later on, however, these Ionian Greek cities were brought into subjection by the Lydian kings.

The Lydians (Maeonians) were a branch of the Carian tribe. The history of this country is not clearly known, and were it known it would scarcely be of sufficient importance to be related in great detail. According to Herodotus, three dynasties ruled in Lvdia; the Atyads down to 1232; the Heraclidae down to 727; and the Mermnadae down to 557 : the two first are almost wholly fabulous, and the proper history of Lydia may be said to commence with the last dynasty.

Of the dynasty of the Atyadae nothing is known, but that they began to reign about the sixteenth century before the Christian era. National legends placed at their head the two mythical heroes, Lydus and Tyrrhenus, the latter personifying the Lydian colony that migrated westward by sea to the coasts of Italy, and became the progenitors of the aristocracy of Etruria, imposing themselves on the original Pelasgic inhabitants of that country.

The accession of the dynasty of the Heraclidae, according to the statements of Herodotus, who had access to native authorities, took place somewhere about 1200 BC. The Lydian traditions, very precise as to all that related to that dynasty, attributed to it an Assyrian origin. It was said, according to Herodotus, to have been founded by Agron, son of Belus, son of Alcaeus, son of Hercules, who came from the banks of the Tigris. We believe, with M. Oppert, that this tradition has an historical foundation; Agron is a purely Assyrian word, meaning fugitive, and the names Herodotus gives for his three ancestors, Belus, Alcaeus, Herakles, are translations of the name and titles of the Chaldaeo-Assyrian Hercules, surnamed Samdan, " the strong, the powerful," who was sometimes assimilated with Bel, Bel-Adar Samdan. The founder of the Heraclide dynasty in Lydia is, therefore, clearly pointed out in the traditions collected by the father of history as an exiled and fugitive Assyrian prince, sprung from a family that regarded the god Adar as its author and special protector.

In the eighth century BC one monarch, named Gyges, becomes noteworthy. The country under his rule was subjected to another Aryan invasion ; certain nomadic tribes called the Cimmerians came pouring across Asia Minor, and they were driven back with difficulty by Gyges and his son and grandson. From this period followed almost uninterrupted wars with the Greek settlements on the seacoast. Gyges takes Colophon. Ardys down to 640. He takes Priene. Under his reign, an irruption of the Cimmerians. Sardis was twice taken and burnt by these barbarians. And it is on record that Gyges paid tribute to Sardanapalus, which serves to link him up with the history of Asryria, Israel, and Egypt. Later Gyges rebelled against Assyria, and sent troops to help Psammetichufl I to liberate Egypt from its brief servitude to the Assyrians.

It was Alyattes, the grandson of Gyges, who made Lydia into a considerable power. He reigned for seven years, and he reduced most of the Ionian cities of Asia Minor to subjection. The country became the center of a great trade between Asia and Europe; it had always been productive and rich in gold, and now the Lydian monarch was reputed the richest in Asia. There was a great coming and going between the Black and Mediterranean Seas, and between the East and West. We have already noted that Lydia was reputed to be the first country in the world to produce coined money, and to provide the convenience of inns for travellers and traders. The Lydian dynasty seems to have been a trading dynasty of the type of Minos in Crete, with a banking and financial development.

To begin with, metals were handed about in ingots and weighed at each transaction. Then they were stamped to indicate their fineness and guarantee their purity. The first recorded coins were minted about 600 BC in Lydia, a gold-producing country in the west of Asia Minor. The first-known gold coins were minted in Lydia hy Croesus, whose name has become a proverb for wealth.

Before the reign of Croesus all the Hellenes were free ; for the expedition of the Cimmerians, which came upon Ionia before the time of Croesus, was not a conquest of the cities but a plundering incursion only. In vain Thales of Miletus advised the Ionians to nominate one common senate, to sit at Teos, a central position, and thence to govern all Ionia as one city; they were not willing to renounce their municipal independence, and thus permitted their cities to fall, one by one, before Croesus. Croesus did not give up the idea of making fresh conquests. At this time, Cyrus had just destroyed the Median Empire, and was carrying out his victorious expeditions in the vast regions between the Hindoo Koosh and the river Halys.

Cyrus the Persian was ruling over an empire that reached from the boundaries of Lydia to Persia and perhaps to India. Nabonidus, the last, of the Babylonian rulers, was digging up old records and building temples in Babylonia, But one monarch in the world was alive to the threat of the new power that lay in the hands of Cyrus. This was Croesus, the Lydian king. His son Atys had been killed in a very tragic manner while hunting (in 547). Says Herodotus: "For two years then, Croesus remained quiet in great mourning, because he was deprived of his son; but after this period of time, the overthrowing of the rule of the son of Cyaxares by Cyrus, and the growing greatness of the Persians, caused Croesus to cease from his mourning, and led him to care of cutting short the power of the Persians if by any means he might, while yet it was in growth and before they should have become great."

Croesus thought it wise to assume the offensive, before the power of the Persian conqueror became even more formidable, and before Cyrus came to seek him out. Croesus then made trial of the various oracles. "To the Lydians who were to carry these gifts to the temples Croesus gave charge that they should ask the Oracles this question: whether Croesus should march against the Persians, and, if so, whether he should join with himself any army of men as his friends. And when the Lydians had arrived at the places to which they had been sent and had dedicated the votive offerings, they inquired of the Oracles, and said: 'Croesus, king of the Lydians and of other nations, considering that these are the only true Oracles among men, presents to you gifts such as your revelations deserve, and asks you again now whether he shall march against the Persians, and, if so, whether he shall join with himself any army of men as allies.'

Croesus and Cyrus fought an indecisive battle at Pteria, from which Croesus retreated. Cyrus followed him up, and he gave battle outside his capital town of Sardis. The chief strength of the Lydians lay in their cavalry; they were excellent, if undisciplined, horsemen, and fought with long spears. Herodotus relates that Cyrus " set the camels opposite the horsemen for this reason-because the horse has a fear of the camel and cannot endure either to see his form or to scent his smell: for this reason then the trick had been devised, in order that the cavalry of Croesus might be useless, that very force wherewith the Lydian king was expecting most to shine. And as they were coming together to the battle, so soon as the horses scented the camels and saw them, they turned away back, and the hopes of Croesus were at once brought to nought."

Croesus was conquered in 546, by that same Cyrus who took Babylon in 539 BC. In fourteen days, Sardis was stormed, and Croesus taken prisoner and brought before Cyrus. Herodotus relates that Croesus explained his decision to go to war against Cyrus thus: "O king, I did this to thy felicity and to my own misfortune, and the causer of this was the god of the Hellenes, who incited me to march with my army. For no one is so senseless as to choose of his own will war rather than peace, since in peace the sons bury their fathers, but in war the fathers bury their sons. But it was pleasing, I suppose, to the divine powers that these things should come to pass thus.'"

So Croesus became a councillor of Cyrus, and lived in Babylon. Asia Minor becomes a province of the Persian empire. The Persians, before they subdued the Lydians, had no luxury nor any good thing.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:06:50 ZULU