Lydia is a historic region of western Asia Minor, congruent with Turkey's modern provinces of İzmir and Manisa. Its traditional capital was the city of Sardis. However, at its greatest extent, the Kingdom of Lydia covered all of western Anatolia. Lydia was later the name for a Roman province. Coins were invented in Lydia around 660 BC.


Early history: Maeonia and Lydia

Lydia arose as a Neo-Hittite kingdom following the collapse of the Hittite Empire in the twelfth century BC.

In Hittite times, the name for the region had been Arzawa, a Luwian-speaking area. According to Greek source, the original name of the Lydian kingdom was Maionia (Maeonia): Homer (Iliad ii. 865; v. 43, xi. 431) refers to the inhabitants of Lydia as Maiones (???????). Homer describes their capital not as Sardis but as Hyde (Iliad xx. 385); Hyde may have been the name of the district where Sardis stood.[2] Later, Herodotus (Histories i. 7) adds that the "Meiones" were renamed Lydians after their king, Lydus (?????), son of Attis, in the mythical epoch that preceded the rise of the Heracleid dynasty. This etiological eponym served to account for the Greek ethnic name Lydoi (?????). The Hebrew term for Lydians, Lû?îm (?????), as found in Jeremiah 46.9, is similarly considered to be derived from the eponymous Lud son of Shem; in Biblical times, the Lydian warriors were also famous archers.

Some Maeones still existed in historical times in the upland interior along the River Hermus, where a town called Maeonia existed, according to Pliny the Elder (Natural History book v:30) and Hierocles.

Lydia in Greek mythology

Lydian mythology is virtually unknown, and their literature and rituals lost, in the absence of any monuments or archaeological finds with extensive inscriptions; therefore those myths involving Lydia are mainly in the realm of Greek mythology.

For the Greeks, Tantalus was a primordial ruler of mythic Lydia, and Niobe his proud daughter; her husband Zethos linked the affairs of Lydia with Thebes, and through Pelops the line of Tantalus was part of the founding myths of Mycenae's second dynasty.[3]

In Greek myth, Lydia was also the first home of the double-axe, the labrys[4].

Omphale, daughter of the river Iardanos, was a ruler of Lydia, whom Heracles was required to serve for a time. His adventures in Lydia are the adventures of a Greek hero in a peripheral and foreign land: during his stay, Heracles enslaved the Itones, killed Syleus who forced passers-by to hoe his vineyard; slew the serpent of the river Sangarios; [5] and captured the simian tricksters, the Cercopes. Accounts speak of at least one son born to Omphale and Heracles: Diodorus Siculus (4.31.8) and Ovid (Heroides 9.54) mention a son Lamos, while pseudo-Apollodorus (Bibliotheke 2.7.8) gives the name Agelaus, and Pausanias (2.21.3) names Tyrsenus son of Heracles by "the Lydian woman".

All three heroic ancestors indicate a Lydian dynasty claiming descent from Heracles: Herodotus (1.7) refers to a Heraclid dynasty of kings who ruled Lydia, yet were perhaps not descended from Omphale. He also mentions (1.94) the recurring legend that the Etruscan civilization was founded by colonists from Lydia led by Tyrrhenus, brother of Lydus. However, Dionysius of Halicarnassus was skeptical of this story, pointing out that the Etruscan language and customs were known to be totally dissimilar to those of the Lydians.

Later chronographers also ignored Herodotus' statement that Agron was the first to be a king, and included Alcaeus, Belus, and Ninus in their list of kings of Lydia. Strabo (5.2.2) makes Atys, father of Lydus and Tyrrhenus, to be a descendant of Heracles and Omphale. All other accounts place Atys, Lydus, and Tyrrhenus among the pre-Heraclid kings of Lydia.

The gold deposits in the river Pactolus that were the source of the proverbial wealth of Croesus (Lydia's last historical king) were said to have been left there when the legendary king Midas of Phrygia washed away the "Midas touch" in its waters.

First coinage

According to Herodotus, the Lydians were the first people to introduce the use of gold and silver coin, and the first to establish retail shops in permanent locations.[6]

It is believed that these first stamped coins were minted around 650-600 BC. The first coin was made of electrum, a naturally occurring alloy of gold and silver. It was made in the 1/3 stater (trite) denomination, meaning that it weighed 4.76 grams. It was stamped with a lion's head, the king's symbol.

14.1 grams of electrum was one stater (meaning "standard"). A stater was about one month's pay for a soldier. To complement the stater, fractions were made: the trite (third), the hekte (sixth), and so forth, including 1/24 of a stater, and even down to 1/48th and 1/96th of a stater. The 1/96 stater was only about 0.14 to 0.15 grams.

The name of Croesus of Lydia became synonymous with wealth. Sardis was renowned as a beautiful city. Around 550 BC, Croesus paid for the construction of the temple of Artemis at Ephesus, one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world. Croesus was beaten by Cyrus II of Persia in 546 BC, and the kingdom became a satrapy.