Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Peoples of the empire: The Lydians

Geographical definition
Lydia (Lydian Śfard, O.P. Sparda) lay in the middle of western Anatolia, north of Caria, south of Mysia on the northern coast, and east of Ionia and Aeolia on the western coast.  Its capital Sardis is today the village of Sart.  The name Lydia derives from the Assyrian name for the region, Luddu.

Politically, Lydia postdates the Bronze Age collapse, but it occupied the area of a Luwian-speaking kindom called Mirâ and Lendering suggests that "there is considerable continuity between Mirâ and Lydia".  While agriculturally productive, Lydia contained few large cities and most people lived in smaller towns.

Much of Lydia's wealth and power was founded on gold mined from the river Pactolus (the modern Sart Çayı), which flows through Sardis and where King Midas was said in Greek mythology to have washed away his power of turning things into gold.  According to Herodotus, the Lydians invented gold and silver coins.

The late Lydian kings belonged to the Mermnad or Gygian dynasty, founded by the usurper Gyges, whom Herodotus says was obliged by the queen to murder her husband, King Candaules, after some funny business.  Others say otherwise, as others are wont to do.

In any event, the Mermnad dynasty expanded Lydian power considerably, so that by the end it was a sizable empire that ruled most of western Anatolia, including the Greek cities of Ionia.  Lydia was accidentally ended by King Croesus, who decided to attack Cyrus after the Persian prince overthrew Astyages, possibly wishing to reinstate Astyages (with whom Lydia had a treaty), or seize land for himself.  He did this, the historian says, after the Oracle of Delphi promised him that if he did, a great empire would fall.  Now, you and I could guess how that ends, but Croesus was, as Jamie Rieger put it, a "first time customer."

Together with the Egyptians, Babylonians and Spartans, the Lydians launched an invasion of formerly Median territory across the Halys River (modern Kızılırmak) in central Anatolia.  Traditionally, this event is said to have happened in 547 BC, but that's based on a misreading of a damaged part of the Nabonidus Chronicle which is actually more likely referring to Urartu, not Luddu.

In any case, the two kings fought inconclusively at the Battle of Pteria in Cappadocia, and with winter drawing on, Croesus dismissed his allies and returned to his capital, only to notice too late that Cyrus was standing right behind him.  According to the Greek poet Bacchylides, Croesus tried to immolate himself as his capital fell, but Apollo spirited him away.  Herodotus rewrites the story a bit and has Cyrus decide to burn Croesus alive because hey, you only king of the world once.  Then he thought better of it, but at that point the pyre was already raging and Croesus nearly died before Apollo sent a storm to extinguish it.

Per Herodotus, Cyrus appointed two officials to rule Lydia, a native named Pactyes as civil administrator and a Persian named Tabalus as satrap.  Upon Cyrus' departure, Pactyes rebelled.  Cyrus prepared to level Sardis, but Croesus entreated him to punish only those who had rebelled and to pacify Lydia by reordering the economy so that the Lydians became hedonistic girlymen (really).  Lydia, and particularly Sardis, was and remained a center of craftsmanship, famous for ceramics and goldwork.  Darius would later employ Lydian ivory carvers at Susa.  Lydians at the Persepolis apadana bear ornate beakers, bowls and small horses or donkeys in fancy harness drawing a chariot.

As for Pactyes, he fled to Aeolia and bounced around for a while before being captured on Chios just off the Aeolian coast.  Nothing is said of his death, but I think it's safe to assume that it was swift and squicky.

Lydia became a satrapy with its capital remaining at Sardis.  Around 530, Oroetus became its satrap, and in 522 murdered the Greek conqueror Polycrates of Samos.  Oroetus himself met a bad end because of Darius' distrust of him.  Bagaeus may have succeeded him; afterward came Otanes, one of Darius' six companions, who conquered Samos outright, and finally the great king's brother, Artaphernes.  Under his rule, Lydia was the site of intense fighting during the Ionian Revolt.  Much of Sardis was burned by the rebels, but Artaphernes held the citadel and led the Persian counterattack.

Artaphernes was apparently relieved of his post in 492 by his son, also called Artaphernes, who co-led the first invasion of Greece along with Datis in 492-490, and commanded the Lydians as infantry in Xerxes' 480 invasion.

During the fifth century, Lydia was settled by many foreigners, Persian and Ionian estate owners and foreign garrisons like the Hyrcanians on the rivers Caicus and Hermus (modern Bakırçay and Gediz).  Religion began to show Iranian influences; deities like Anahita were adopted, and the god Pldans was associated (according to Lendering) with Ahura Mazda.

The Greeks who are our main sources lose interest in Lydia after 480.  The next known news is the 440 attempt of the satrap Pissuthnes to take Samos after it revolted against the Athenian empire.  During the first decade of the Peloponnesian War, Pissuthnes backed Athens' rebellious holdings.

In 420, he himself rebelled against Darius II, but was arrested and executed by Tissaphernes, who was then given the satrapy around 415.  Tissaphernes had to continue fighting Pissuthnes' son Amorges, who lived in Iasus in Caria and had Athenian support.  Tissaphernes countered him by backing the Spartans, so the two Persians had become players in the Peloponnesian War.  As part of the treaty, the Spartans sailed to Iasus and arrested Amorges in the winter of 412-411.  The continued Persian support of Sparta probably hastened the defeat of Athens.

Having run out of common enemies, Persia and Sparta once again had to fight.  In 399, the Spartan Thibron or Thimbron invaded Asia Minor and captured some cities, but his siege of Larissa failed in its aim of gaining concessions from Tissaphernes.  Agesilaus II had considerably more success and raided as far as Sardis itself.  Tissaphernes was then (394) killed by a Persian courtier, Tithraustes, who may have acted on behalf of Parysatis for Tissaphernes' role in the defeat and death of her son Cyrus the Younger.

Tithraustes briefly replaced Tissaphernes and persuaded Agesilaus to attack Phrygia.  In 393, Tithraustes was replaced by Tiribazus, who began to funnel money to Sparta to counter Athens' growing power in the Corinthian War.  Artaxerxes II disagreed with this course and replaced Tiribazus in 392 with Struthas, who attacked the Spartans.  The Spartans in return began raiding Lydia once again.  In or before 387, Tiribazus returned to Lydia and renewed his cooperation with Sparta, bringing the Corinthian War to an end.

The next known satrap of Lydia was Autophradates, who fought for years in the Revolt of the Satraps, mainly on the king's side but at one point (362) defecting to the rebels.  Autophradates may have been the same commander who, together with Pharnabazus, commanded Persian operations in the Aegean after the death of Memnon of Rhodes.  He appears to have left his post before 334, by which time we hear of the Lydian satrap Spithridates fighting and dying against Alexander the Great at the Granicus.

With the satraps' failure to stop Alexander there, western Anatolia fell.  Sardis surrendered in the summer of 334.  It was given to Alexander's general Menander at the Partition of Babylon (323), then to Cleitus the White at the Partition of Triparadisus (321)   The satrapy was initially under the control of the empire of Antigonus, then Lysimachus, one of Alexander's bodyguards, from 301-281, and finally, when he was killed, Lydia passed to the Seleucids for 91 years until falling into the Roman sphere of influence.

Throughout the Hellenistic period, Lydia was settled by Greeks and became Hellenized.  In the first century BC, Strabo wrote that the Lydian language had become extinct in Lydia itself though still spoken in Kibyra to the south.  From this time, the country could perhaps be regarded as only a traditional placename.

Lydian was an Anatolian language, but differed in certain ways from its closest known relatives so that its exact line of descent is unknown.  While attested from the seventh to third centuries, the majority of the Lydian corpus dates to the Achaemenid period.  The Lydian alphabet was derived from or related to Greek.

Lydians were polytheists, but beyond the names of their gods, not much is known about their religious practices.  It appears that native Lydian altars were (or included) open-air structures.  Greek-style temples are known from Sardis, and the patronage described by Herodotus of Gyges, Alyattes and Croesus to the Oracle of Delphi may imply religious links with the Greeks.

The Lydian gods included Levs, a weather god who may or may not have been head of the pantheon (FWIW the Greeks interpreted him as Zeus), Baki (Dionysus) for whom they put on song and dance numbers, and Kuvava (Cybele) who had a temple at Sardis, but the most important goddess in Sardis was Artemis.  Many of their deities, including Kuvava, the vegetation goddess Kore (Greek for "young woman," perhaps implying an identification with Persephone), Santas (regarded by the Greeks as Heracles), and the moon god Pldans or Qldans, are or may be derived from much older Anatolian deities, particularly Hittite.

Candaules, whose name is thought to mean "dog throttler," may be connected with the discovery of dog bones in cooking pots at Sardis, which were perhaps cooked and buried as sacrifices to him.  The Greeks also documented temple prostitution in Lydia, as in other parts of the Mediterranean, though no fertility goddess of the sort usually connected with this practice is known here.

Lydians at the Persepolis apadana wear long, seemingly un-belted tunics with fine verical pleats and short, horizontally-pleated sleeves.  The texture reminds me of a linen tunic that a reenactor at Marathon wore; he said that it was produced by twisting the tunic up tightly while it was wet and allowing it to dry so the pleats were set, but I may be completely off-base in thinking that the effects are one and the same.  The Persepolis Lydians also wear pull-on boots that rise to just above the ankle, rounded conical hats with several broad horizontal pleats or seams, long cords with bead-like finials hanging from the head just behind the ears (these look like part of the hat but are also seen on those with no hats), and a flowing cloak pinned over the left shoulder and passing under the right arm.

Herodotus says simply that "Lydian armor was most similar to the Greek" (tr. Godley).  I have never seen depictions of Lydian weapons other than the figure at Naqs-e Rostam who wears a longsword on a sling, an image I am beginning to suspect is too consistent across the many nations on this table to be realistic.  Assuming Herodotus to be correct, an Argive shield and spear with a sauroter would probably be safe choices.  The famous Spangenhelm-like helmet found at Sardis may be either Lydian or Persian.

Note:  Much of the above information, particularly on religion, is culled from the long and detailed report by Annick Peyne to be found here.

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