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[Anatolian Civilizations] [Ancient civilisations]


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Famous for being the first state in history to use money, Lydia was founded in western Anatolia 2700 years ago.

Bounded by Caria in the south, Phrygia in the east, Eolia and Ionia in the west and Mysia in the north, Lydia gets its name from the Lydis people living in the region. Thanks to the gold on the riverbanks carried by the Paktolos River, various mines, natural resources, fertile lands, and its position upon the Asian trade route, the state the Lydians founded in Sardis, 70 kilometers from Manisa, prospered and gained prominence. Lydians are claimed to have entered Anatolia with the Phrygians. Because of the similarities in the language, it is possible that they were Indo-Europeans that came from the east before the second millennium B.C.

After the Atyads and the Heraclids that reigned for 505 years starting in 1192 B.C., the kingdom of Lydia begins with the Mermnads around 700 B.C. A mermnad, or so-called eagle-king, Gyges killed Candaules, the last king of the Heraclids with the help of the king’s wife. He recognized Lydia’s position, importance and prosperity, helped improve trade and farming, and kept good relations with the neighbors in the east and west. He established buildings along the King’s road, and established the security of the road.

When everything was well, Cimmerians who had destroyed the Phrygian civilization before it attacked Lydia. All the cities and towns were sacked except Sardis. The king Gyges was killed in a battle with the Cimmerians, who were later driven out upon Gyges’s son Ardis’s call for help from the Assyrians. During the reign of Alyattes, the lands expanded as far as the Kizilirmak River. Meanwhile, while Lydians were at war with the Medes, relations with Ionia became stronger. Sardis became an important center of art and culture.

During the reign of the last eagle-king Croesus (560- 546 B.C.), Troy, Eolia, Ionia and Kayra were conquered, and Lydia started living its golden age with the combined wealth. The castles, palaces, shrines, treasuries of gold and ornaments in the splendid city of Sardis were dazzling. Tourists began thronging Lydia to see its magnificence. We owe the expression “rich as Croesus” to Croesus himself, who minted gold coins.

Upon Persian dangers in Anatolia, Croesus started a campaign and fought the Persians near the Kizilirmak River (Halys). When defeated, he went back to Sardis. However, the Persians led by Cyrus attacked this splendid Lydian city, and thus was the end of the Lydian state. In 547 B.C. the Persians conquered all Lydian lands. Sardis was plundered, and Lydia became a satrapy, part of the Persian Empire. The Lydian civilization continued under Persian rule until 334B.C.

Lydia, whose trade developed thanks to the coins minted in gold and silver casting facilities set up near the Sart River (Pactolos River), metal processing, glassmaking and textile production, had important cities such as Alasehir (Philadelphia), Gordes (Gordos) and Karaselen (Silandos). In the facilities near the Sart River gold was refined to purify it. Lydia was especially advanced in handicrafts, ivory carving, and production of ornaments. Gold badges, pins, ribbons and ornaments put on clothes are regarded as gorgeous today.

Skilled workmen in Lydia would go to Persian palaces, and their works decorated Greek shrines and palaces. Near the gold refinery facility was the shrine of goddess Cybele, on the four sides of which were the sculptures of lions. Besides Cybele, the goddess of nature, Artemis and Dionysus were also important in Lydian religion. Lydian king Croesus paid for the construction of a shrine to Artemis in Ephesus. In the Hellenistic era, the goddess cult Kybele Temple and also had a likeness of the temple built for Artemis.

Similarities are found between the Lydian and Hittite languages on the tablets recovered in Sardis. The city of Sardis is Sardana in Egyptian hieroglyphics and Sardis in Lydian language. The fact that the still un-deciphered Lydian language and the Etruscan language are close indicates that Lydians likely migrated to Italy.

The Yortan cemetery on the border of Lydia and Mysia is the earliest graveyard in Lydia region. Apart from Sardis necropolis and rock graves made built during the Lydian civilization, there are hundreds of tumuli in Bintepeler north of Sardis. Of these tumuli, those of Gyges, Ardis, and Ayyates are the biggest. The Alyattes tumulus is 355 meters in diameter and 69 meters in height. The graves where kings were buried with their most valuable treasury have been sacked throughout history with the works being taken abroad. The bodies were placed through the ceiling into the tumuli made from earth, clay and stone. The grave rooms are made from marble and clay stone. Stone workmanship and elaboration of the rooms prove that the Lydians placed importance on life hereafter.