The last royal dynasty in Lydia, the Mermnad dynasty, which ruled the Lydian Empire from around 680 B.C. until its ruin in 547 B.C., was associated with two major ambitions, wealth, and power.
The country’s great wealth derived from an abundance of natural resources, most notably the easily-accessible electrum deposits that flowed freely down the Pactolus River. These precious metal deposits allowed Lydia to create the world’s first true coins, and while this wealth was an end unto itself, it also helped fuel the Lydian king’s expansionary ambitions. Rory Brown, Managing Partner of Nicklaus Brown & Co., reveals the wars financed by Lydian wealth.
The first of the Mermnad line was King Gyges.
The Mermnads Were Born in Blood
Gyges was an officer in service to the last of the Tylonid kings, King Candaules, when his ambitions drove him to kill the king and then marry his widow, thus ascending the throne.
It took little time for Gyges to begin his military campaigns. His first priority involved driving the barbarian Cimmerians out of Phrygia to stop their relentless incursions into Anatolia. Gyges allied with King Ashurbanipal of Assyria and together they pushed the Cimmerians back, temporarily halting their advance.
Gyges then turned his army toward Ionia, where he attacked Miletus and captured the Greek city of Colophon. Previously a city of great wealth and military might, Colophon quickly went into decline after Lydia’s occupation.
Gyges’s ambition next took him into Egypt, where he sent troops to help aid a revolt with aims on the throne. This turned out to be a deadly misstep — the move lost Lydia its Assyrian ally, which left it exposed to the Cimmerians once again. Gyges’s troops couldn’t hold back the tide alone, and a second Cimmerian invasion captured Sardis, Lydia’s capital, killing Gyges in the battle.
Ardys, the Second Mermnad King
Gyges’s son Ardys assumed the throne upon his father’s death. Ruling for 49 years, the bulk of his military operations involved dealing with the Cimmerian problem. He was successful in ending their partial occupation of Sardis but was never able to defeat the barbarians fully.
He also continued his father’s pursuit of the Ionian Greeks. Like his father, he attempted to take the city of Miletus. While this attack was unsuccessful, he was able to expand Lydia’s territory with a winning campaign in Priene, where he captured the city.
The Cimmerians continued to be a major nuisance for the Lydians until Ardys’s successor, his son Sadyattes, took the throne.
Sadyattes Defeats the Cimmerian Threat
Sadyattes happily pursued the family business. He managed to complete his father’s campaigns against the Cimmerians, driving them out of Asia.
He then turned his eye toward the Ionians, once again invading the city-states Clazomenae and Miletus. He also began hostilities with the Medians, a conflict that would continue throughout his reign and spill over into his son’s when Alyattes took the throne.
Alyattes and Croesus Fulfill Lydia’s Destiny
Between King Alyattes’s military campaigns and his son’s, King Croesus, the Medes were driven back beyond the Halys river and the bulk of the Greek city-states, including Ephesus and Smyrna, were captured and sacked.
By the end of Croesus’s reign, Lydia occupied the entirety of the Anatolian plateau. Unfortunately, his ambitions grew too large, and when he attempted an advance on the growing Persian Empire, a major miscalculation caused a complete Lydian defeat by Persia’s King Cyrus the Great. After nearly 700 years of existence, and 130 years of expansion under the Mermnad kings, Lydia lost its sovereignty, becoming a Persian satrapy.
About: Mr. Rory Brown is a Managing Partner of Nicklaus Brown & Co., the Chairman of Goods & Services, Nearshore Technology Company, and a member of the board of directors of Desano. He is passionate about delving into the history of money and how our modern currency has evolved into what it is today. In his spare time, he writes about the history of the Lydians - the first civilization to use gold and silver coinage.