The Lydians and their World (2010)
by Michael Kerschner
The Lydians and their Ionian and Aeolian Neighbors
The Beginnings in the Early Iron Age
Ionians and Aeolians were the western neighbors of the Lydians since the beginning of the Early Iron Age at the end of the eleventh century BC, when immigrants from the Greek mainland had started to establish themselves on the Aegean littoral of Anatolia. They founded a chain of settlements along the west coast and on the offshore islands. The newcomers arrived in already inhabited territory, although there was no strong central power that could prevent the seizure. This situation was obviously conflict laden, and the foundation legends of many Ionian cities narrate clashes between Greeks and Anatolians. The immigrants designated the indigenous people using different ethnonyms, mostly as Carians and Lelegians, but also as Lydians.1 Yet, the ancient sources for this early period are vague and contradictory. There exist no contemporaneous records, since literacy had been lost in western Anatolia and the Aegean after the breakdown of the Hittite and the Mycenaean civilizations in the early twelfth century BC. This is why our notion of the historical events and conditions during these “Dark Ages” depends on the shaky foundations of traditional legends written down in much later periods on the one hand, the archaeological record on the other. These are not direct historical sources, but need critical analysis and interpretation.
During the first three centuries of the first millennium BC, Lydia was a small principality under the reign of the Herakleid dynasty. It was an inland power focused on the fertile Hermus plain north of Sardis, and its influence had, it seems, not yet reached the coast. The distance was not far, though, and the Hermus valley was an ideal trade route, as were the low passes of Belkahve and Karabel. Thus it is not surprising that the Lydians had economic and cultural contacts with their Greek neighbors from the outset, as is indicated by archaeological finds from Sardis. Already in the tenth century BC, potters at Sardis were inspired by the Greek Protogeometric style (Fig. 1). In terms of quantity, Greek imports—mostly painted pottery—are no more than a trickle until the Late Geometric period. Then, in the second half of the eighth century BC, contacts with the Aegean intensified, judging by the increasing amount of imported fine ware reaching Sardis from both Ionia and Corinth. It is not clear, however, what the Ionians got in exchange. Up to now there are no identifiable Lydian finds from (Proto)Geometric contexts in Ionia, but this may be a coincidence, as Early Iron Age deposits are still scarce in this region. Furthermore, painted pottery and metal objects, which are the main indicators of trade in the archaeological record, did not constitute the bulk of commodities. Most exports were perishable and therefore are invisible to archaeologists—for instance, perfumes, textiles, and furniture, three products for which Lydia was famous.
Lydia Under the Mermnad Dynasty (ca. 680–547/30 BC) and the East Greeks
The seventh and early sixth centuries BC saw the rapid rise of Lydia from a medium-scale regional kingdom to the supreme power in western Anatolia. The advancement started soon after Gyges had seized the throne and founded the new dynasty of the Mermnads around 680 BC. The economic basis was the systematic exploitation and processing of the gold from the Pactolus. After King Alyattes had driven the nomadic Cimmerians out of Asia Minor, the Lydian territory expanded quickly in all directions, including to the western littoral, where the Ionians and Aeolians lived (Fig. 2).
The heyday of the Lydian kingdom is much better documented by ancient sources than the preceding period. There already exist statements about Gyges by the Greek poets Archilochos of Paros and Mimnermos of Kolophon, both living in the seventh century BC. Our main source about the Mermnad kings and their relations with the Greeks, however, is Herodotus, who dedicated a long chapter of his ‘Iστορίαι (“Histories”) to Lydia, focusing on the time of Croesus.2 All extant texts are written by Greek authors mirroring the Greek perspective only. A remarkable exception is Xanthos of Lydia (fifth century BC), a contemporary of Herodotus, whose Λυδιακά —a history of Lydia—is one of the earliest history books written in Greek. It is, however, lost except for a few fragments.
Political Relations between the Mermnad Kingdom and the East Greek Poleis
The Greek authors relate a series of military assaults on Ionian cities (Fig. 2), starting with Gyges, who attacked Smyrna, Kolophon, and Miletos. His son Ardys captured Priene and again attacked Miletos, as did Ardys’ son Sadyattes, who, in turn, passed on this conflict to his son and successor, Alyattes. After having defeated the Cimmerians decisively, Alyattes took Smyrna, besieged Priene, and invaded Klazomenai, although in vain. It was Alyattes’ son, Croesus, the last of the Lydian kings, who finally conquered all of Ionia and Aeolia. At first he attacked Ephesus, “and subsequently each of the Ionian and Aeolian cities one by one, bringing different accusations against every township. [He brought] the Greeks in Asia into tributary status toward him ....”3 Only the East Greek islands remained beyond Lydian control, since Croesus was not in possession of a fleet to attack them. The Mermnads tried, however, to exert influence even on the offshore islands during civil strife by offering financial support to political factions, such as the group led by the poet Alkaios of Mytilene on Lesbos.4 Bribery as a means of politics was, according to Polyainos,5 used by Alyattes against the Kolophonians. Their proverbial wealth enabled the Mermnads to offer tempting sums.
One distinctive feature of the Lydian military expeditions against the Ionians was that they were always directed against one individual Greek city. Ionia was not a coherent political entity, but a loose confederation of twelve independent city-states (poleis) united in the Ionian League with its cultic center at the Panionion (Fig. 2). This league never acted as an effective military alliance, even in the face of a general threat like the campaigns of the Lydians or Persians. Further north, the situation in the twelve poleis on the Aeolian mainland was comparable.
Miletos, the southernmost of the Ionian cities, was the most frequent target of the Lydian campaigns, attacked by all of the Mermnad kings. Its prosperity and political influence as mother city of many α̉ποικίαι (colonies) in the Propontis (Marmara Sea) and Pontos (Black Sea) might have been two of the reasons for this. Before the reign of Croesus, the Lydians did not succeed in conquering Miletos, as far as we know. Even the long-term campaigns of Sadyattes and Alyattes turned out to be unrewarding: “For the Milesians ruled the seas, so that a siege was futile from the army’s point of view.”6 Alyattes therefore chose the tactic of destroying the trees and the crops in the Milesian countryside. Unintentionally, a fire set by Lydian soldiers burnt the Temple of Athena in the Milesian town of Assesos. This brought an illness upon the king, as Herodotus relates.7 In fulfillment of an order of Apollo at Delphi, Alyattes ordered that two temples be built for Athena rather than one and subsequently recovered his health. He and the tyrant of Miletos, Thrasybulos, concluded a treaty of friendship.
As the examples of Mytilene and Miletos illustrate, the Mermnads pursued diverse strategies in order to win and secure influence in Ionia and Aeolia. In the case of Ephesus, Alyattes sealed a marriage alliance with the city by marrying his daughter to the Ephesian tyrant Melas, whose son and successor, Pindaros, was overthrown later by Croesus, his own uncle.8 Another way the Mermnads chose to approach the Ionians was to impress them by honoring their gods with splendid and generous, if not profuse, votives, which will be further discussed below.
Economic and Cultural Relations
As neighbors, Lydians and East Greeks always had economic and cultural exchange. Naturally, the intensity and the frequency of these contacts varied during the centuries. A slow but steady increase of Greek imports at Sardis is noticeable from the second half of the eighth century BC onwards. A culmination was reached in the late seventh and first half of the sixth centuries BC, when, under the reign of Alyattes and his son Croesus, Lydia ranked among the leading political, military, and economic powers and was considered an important cultural center in the eastern Mediterranean. This was not only a period of more frequent military conflicts between the Ionian poleis and their Anatolian neighbors, which had grown much stronger now, but also of thriving trade. The Lydian kingdom united the western half of Asia Minor, thereby facilitating commerce. The trade routes from Ionia to the central Anatolian plateau through the long river valleys of the Hermos and the Maiandros gained in importance. The Lydians’ pioneering innovation of minted electrum as a means of payment9 was soon taken over by a number of Ionian poleis.
The Mermnad court and the wealthy aristocrats of Sardis—also of the provincial centers, as the rich grave goods from the tumuli near Bagis (Güre), in the upper Hermos valley, attest—were eager for prestige goods. This demand stimulated both imports and local artisan craftwork, and it is very probable that foreign artists and craftsmen came to the booming capital of Lydia in the hope of commissions. Alyattes and Croesus engaged the famous Ionian artisans Glaukos of Chios and Theodoros of Samos to create splendid silver kraters as votives to Apollo at Delphi,10 and they presumably were not the only such Greeks working for the Mermnad court and for the aristocracy at Sardis. The promising market potential for luxury goods must have also been a strong attraction for Phrygian metalworkers, whose conditions at Gordion were no longer as favorable as during ninth and eighth centuries BC. The golden age of the Phrygian capital had ended by the seventh century BC, when Lydia took over the leadership in western Anatolia; and under the reign of Alyattes at the latest, Phrygia was under the domination of the Lydians. Gordion's loss of importance must have had negative effects on the local demand for costly metal products. The skills of Phrygian bronze-workers, based on a long tradition, must have been in high demand in the west. The wide spread of Phrygian types of fibulae, belts, and bowls made in Lydia and Ionia during the seventh century BC might be explained by the immigration of Phrygian metalworkers, from whom Lydian and Ionian artisans adopted and modified models. Whether it was immigrating Phrygians or simply their exported products that stimulated the production of bronzes of the Phrygian type in Archaic Ionia, Lydia played the role of an intermediary.
In refining and working gold, Lydian craftsmen were leaders. The magnificent gold and silver jewelry deposited as grave goods in the Bagis (Güre) tumuli gives us a vivid impression of the splendor that the Lydian elite displayed (see Özgen, “Lydian Treasure”). These finds and the scarcer items from Sardis have close parallels among the gold votives excavated in the sanctuary of Artemis at Ephesus (e.g. boat-shaped and leech-shaped earrings (No. 144), certain types of appliqué plaques (No. 142), beads and pins (e.g. No. 143), ornaments in the form of recumbent rams (No. 140, cf. No. 136, 184, 185, 186, 194), as well as among grave goods from Smyrna (double-spools). Goldsmiths’ tools from Sardis and those among the grave goods from the Bagis tumuli (including Nos. 187, 188) prove local production in Lydia. Yet the sheer quantity of gold objects from the Artemision (up to now, 703 pieces) suggests local production at Ephesus, too. If so, who were the artisans: Lydians, Ionians, or both working together in the same workshop(s)? Or was the workshop a migrating one, as W. Rudolph proposed?11 These questions can hardly be solved by means of archaeology. But there is another result of these observations, which seems to me more important: Lydian and Ionian craftsmen were working closely together, perhaps even in the same workshops, and this resulted in an interchange of ideas and inventions, creating a new, specific style that is neither pure Lydian nor pure Ionian, but an amalgam of both.
Considering gold jewelry and ornaments, Ephesus and, to a lesser degree, Smyrna, show close links with Lydia. This geographic focus recurs and is expanded when we look at the evidence of pottery. The distribution of classes of Lydian pottery such as black-on-red, bichrome, marbled, and streaky wares (Fig. 3, Nos. 113, 114, 115, 116) shows again distinct concentrations at Ephesus and Smyrna. If we include in our investigation Lydianizing features adopted by potters in East Greek cities—like the Lydian variety of the kotyle or skyphos, with ovoid body, slightly incurved rim, and often a tall conical foot or the intentional streaky application of glaze—the zone of intensive interchange with Lydia extends even further northward to the Aeolian cities of Larisa and Pitane (and presumably also to others, like Kyme, the Archaic layers of which have not yet been excavated). Thus the area of regular economic and cultural contact between Lydians and East Greeks can be defined as a narrow, bow-shaped belt reaching from Ephesus in the south to the gulf of Pitane in the north. It adjoins like an arc the western border of the Lydian heartland and comprises the harbor cities that are situated closest to Sardis: Ephesus, Smyrna, and presumably also Kyme. Their importance for the commerce of the Lydians, which were famous as κάπηλοι (merchants),12 is obvious. Beyond this zone, Lydian and Lydianizing pottery is rare in East Greek cities, mainly restricted to occasional votives in sanctuaries at Samos, Miletos, and Didyma.
Important evidence for the local production of Lydianizing pottery in Ionia comes from Klazomenai. A potter’s workshop on the southern slope of the acropolis produced streaky ware of Lydian type decorated with added white, along with characteristic local North Ionian classes, during the second quarter of the sixth century BC. Y. Ersoy convincingly suggested that these Lydianizing ceramics, which are not canonical for the site, may have been produced by an immigrant Lydian craftsman.13
Among the earliest Greek city walls built in the Geometric and Archaic periods, a geographical concentration can be observed in Ionia and Aeolia. The latent menace exerted by the expansionism of the Lydian kingdom must have been a main cause for this early development of fortifications. The East Greeks, however, learned from their powerful neighbor: in the late seventh century BC, the Smyrnaeans surrounded their small city with a massive wall. The enormous width of 10–18 m at the base and the use of an extraordinarily broad, compact mass of mudbricks are so far unparalleled in the Greek world. Their best and nearest comparison are the colossal fortification walls of Mermnad Sardis, which undoubtedly were the inspiration. Imitating their opponent, however, did not protect the Smyrnaeans from being conquered by Alyattes soon afterwards.
Alyattes, who aspired to the status of the Near Eastern kings, inaugurated a building program to embellish Sardis on a grand scale. Under his reign, Near Eastern building techniques were introduced in Lydia and may have reached Ionia in this way, as C. Ratté suggests.14 In the second quarter and middle of the sixth century BC, Lydian and Ionian monumental architecture show parallel innovations, such as finely dressed, large ashlars of standard sizes with rusticated surfaces, finely bevelled edges and accurate joints. This fact points to close interaction among Lydian and Ionian masons. Lydian letters engraved as mason’s marks into semi-finished column drums from the Athena sanctuary at Smyrna suggest the collaboration of Lydian craftsmen. A huge building project, where both sides were involved, was the dipteral marble Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, which is named “Croesus Temple,” after the last Lydian king, who dedicated “many of the columns.”15This statement by Herodotus was confirmed by finds of fragments of column bases with inscriptions in Greek running “King Kroisos dedicated.” There is also a Lydian inscription on a straight architectural molding from the Artemision (Fig. 4), which G.M.A. Hanfmann read as “... son of Alyattes? Gave.” Hence it is very likely that Lydian masons were actually working side by side with Ionians. Furthermore, the participation of Cycladic craftsmen has recently been deduced by A. Ohnesorg from specific features of the workmanship.16 Thus it is conceivable that the building site of the Ephesian Artemision was a kind of experimental laboratory where experienced masons and builders from East and West met, exchanged their particular methods, and developed new solutions.
Croesus’ sponsorship of the Artemision at Ephesus continues a tradition of the Mermnad dynasty taken over from his father, Alyattes, but reaching back to the founder, Gyges. All three of them donated lavish votives in Greek sanctuaries of supra-regional importance (Fig. 5), most often to Apollo at Delphi, whose oracle loomed large at critical points of their lives. It gave its blessing to Gyges’ usurpation of the throne, it showed Alyattes the way out of a severe illness, and when Croesus asked if he should attack the Persian Empire, it gave the ambiguous reply that entailed the unfortunate war against Kyros, finally the capture of Sardis and the fall of Croesus.17 The most extraordinary and precious of the Mermnad votives at Delphi were vessels, statues, and bricks made of gold and silver. On display in the much-frequented Panhellenic sanctuary, they deeply impressed visitors like Herodotus, who described them in detail.18
His accounts of the Lydian royal donations in Ionian sanctuaries (Fig. 5) are, however, more laconic (Fig. 5). He mentions only briefly that “the dedications of Croesus at Milesian Branchidai (Didyma) were equal in weight and appearance to those at Delphi” (Herodotus 1, 92). He had not seen “these great treasures” personally, and he does not explicitly refer to the occasion of this abundant endowment.19 But he lists it among those that “were paid for out of the estate of an enemy who opposed him before he became king and who had exerted his efforts that Pantaleon should become the monarch. Pantaleon was also a son of Alyattes and half-brother of Croesus; for Croesus was Alyattes’ son by a Carian, and Pantaleon by an Ionian.”20Nikolaos of Damaskos relates more details of these events in Croesus’ youth.21 A rich Lydian, Sadyattes, refused to loan the prince money to hire mercenaries for a campaign that Alyattes planned against the Carians. Thereupon, Croesus went to Ephesus and vowed Sadyattes’ estate to Artemis if he became king. The Ephesian Artemis seems to have been his personal tutelary goddess. Finally, an Ionian named Pamphaes helped Croesus in this adversity. After his accession to the throne, he kept his pledge and donated from his enemy’s estate “the golden oxen and many of the columns,” some of them decorated in reliefs, of the marble temple in the Artemision of Ephesus.22
At Assesos, a small town in the territory of Miletos (Fig. 5), Alyattes erected two temples as compensation for the old cultic building of Athena Assesia, which had been destroyed by fire in the course of the above-mentioned war against the Milesians.23 The site of Assesos was discovered in 1992. Three years later, an ashy layer rich in pottery mainly dating to the late seventh century BC was excavated in a test trench near the steep crag at the northeast corner of the plateau, where the town is situated. H. Lohmann and G. Kalaitzoglou interpreted this deposit as debris from the destruction of the Athena sanctuary caused by Alyattes’ soldiers.24 Of the two temples mentioned by Herodotus,25 however, no architectural remains have been found yet. Hence, the column fragments of Croesus’ temple at Ephesus are the only surviving remnants of the splendid royal Lydian votives in East Greek sanctuaries.
In the light of the dedications of the Mermnad kings, one would expect that at least some of their subjects followed the royal example. This assumption is, however, difficult to prove for lack of literary records or inscriptions. Possible Lydian votives include a number of finds from Ionian sanctuaries that were either manufactured or at least common at Sardis and its surroundings. The most important and numerous among them are golden jewelry and appliqué plaques originally sewed on sumptuous garments, electrum coins, ivory carvings, and certain ceramic wares, as well as ointments and perfumes, which become visible in the archaeological record through a characteristic shape of container, the lydion. These Lydian and Lydianizing objects display again a distinctive concentration at Ephesus, in the Artemision, and at Smyrna, in the temenos of Athena. In South Ionia, they occur as scarce, quasi-exotic votives like the marbled ware vessels in the Heraion of Samos, in the Aphrodite temenos of Oikous in close vicinity to Miletos, and at Didyma (Nos. 113, 114, Fig. 3).
The mere occurrence of such objects in an Ionian sanctuary, however, does not necessarily prove that the dedication was made by a worshipper from Lydia. This is exemplified by a group of six vases—five omphalos bowls and one kotyle—that was excavated in 2005 in the extramural sanctuary of Aphrodite at Miletos. A graffito on the rim of one of the bowls (No. 114) says that a certain Drymon dedicated it to Aphrodite. Drymon is a Greek, presumably a Milesian, name, as N. Ehrhardt pointed out.26 Thus, in this specific case, it was an Ionian who dedicated Lydian vessels to a Greek goddess. Given the extreme rareness of Lydian pottery imports at Miletos, it is likely that Drymon had bought the marbled ware bowls somewhere in Lydia and dedicated them to Aphrodite, perhaps after his return from a successful journey.
Unlike Miletos, Ephesus and Smyrna show a noticeable frequency of Lydian and Lydianizing votives, so that an actual presence of Lydian worshippers is very likely—all the more likely, given that ancient sources relate particular religious ties between Ephesus and Sardis. Aristophanes tells of “Artemis, who holds the golden temple of Ephesus in which Lydian maidens honor you greatly.”27Artemis of Ephesus owned a branch sanctuary in the Lydian capital, which an Ephesian delegation visited in an annual procession in order to offer chitons to the goddess. A funerary inscription of the late sixth century BC provides the earliest written evidence for the cult of the Ephesian Artemis—“Artimu ibsimsis” in Lydian—at Sardis. Studying the animal bones from the Artemision at Ephesus, G. Forstenpointner detected residues of puppies, which can be paralleled with the Lydian (and Carian) ritual of puppy sacrifices.
The Close Neighbors of Sardis: Ephesus and Smyrna
The overview of the political, economic, cultural, and religious relations between Lydians and Ionians has shown that Ephesus and Smyrna, both close neighbors to Sardis, had much more intensive links with Lydia than the other Ionian poleis, where contacts occurred only occasionally. In these two cities, there is evidence that the Lydian language was spoken and understood by a part of the inhabitants. At Smyrna, some of the graffiti on domestic pottery was written in Lydian. At Ephesus, Hipponax (ca. 540 BC), whose satirical Iambic poems mirror the everyday language, uses a number of Lydian loanwords. Lydian language and culture were familiar to the Ephesians and Smyrnaeans, and it is very likely that there were Lydian residents in these two cities.
The Greek Perception of the Lydians
As we have seen, the interrelations of the Lydians and the East Greeks were numerous and manifold. Because they were neighbors, their contacts were steady and mostly advantageous for both sides. Martial episodes were temporary and also occurred among the individual East Greek poleis themselves. In any case, this did not cloud the generally positive perception of the Lydians as attested to by East Greek authors. Herodotus emphasizes the affinity of the neighbors, despite their different ethnic backgrounds: “The Lydians have customs which are close to those of the Greeks.”28The Greek poets of the Archaic period, from Archilochos29 onwards, perceived the Mermnad kingdom as the paragon of wealth, power, and luxury. The Greek tyrants, who seized power in many poleis during the seventh and sixth centuries BC, emulated the Lydian monarchs. Ionian aristocrats modeled themselves on the Lydian nobility, imitating their precious garments, hairstyle, and use of perfumes, as we learn from Xenophanes of Kolophon,30 who criticizes his fellow citizens for that reason. We can conclude from such criticism that the demand for Lydian luxury goods was considerable among those East Greeks who were able to afford them. The lifestyle of the rich Sardians was trendsetting for those Ionians, who tried to make their lives more comfortable and delightful. For Anakreon of Teos, Λυδοπαθής (“Lydian-living”) “is taken to be the same as ‘soft-living’.”31
The generally positive, often admiring, sometimes jealously critical perception of the Ionians and Aeolians changes after the fall of Croesus, when the splendid and proud Mermnad kingdom became a province of the Achaemenid Empire. Apprehending and partly experiencing the same fate, the Greeks were looking for a logical reason for the decay of Lydia and tried to explain it as a result of decadence. Only now did Croesus and Mermnad Lydia become a cautionary example of luxurious self-indulgence. Nevertheless, the admiration for the accomplishments of Lydian culture did not fade.
- 1Pausanias VII, 2, 6.
- 2Herodotus 1, 6–94.
- 3Herodotus 1, 26–27.
- 4Alkaios fr. 42 (Diehl).
- 5Polyainos 7, 2.
- 6Herodotus 1, 17.
- 7Herodotus 1, 17–22.
- 8Aelian, Varia historia 3, 26.
- 9Herodotus 1, 94.
- 10Herodotus 1, 25.51.
- 11Rudolph 1998.
- 12Herodotus 1, 94.
- 13Ersoy 2003.
- 14Ratté 1993.
- 15Herodotus 1, 92, 1.
- 16Ohnesorg 2008.
- 17Herodotus 1, 13; 1, 19; 1, 53
- 18Herodotus 1, 14; 1, 25; 1, 50–51.
- 19Herodotus 5, 36.
- 20Herodotus 1, 92, 2–3.
- 21FGrHist 90 F 65.
- 22Herodotus 1, 92.
- 23Herodotus 1, 17–22.
- 24Lohmann 1995; Kalaitzoglou 2008.
- 25Herodotus 1, 22, 4.
- 26Ehrhardt 2005.
- 27Aristophanes, Clouds 598–600.
- 28Herodotus 1, 94, 1.
- 29Archilochos fr. 19 West.
- 30Xenophanes fr. 3 West.
- 31Anakreon F 481 Page.