The Lydian Empire was a fascinating period in ancient history and was the genesis for a number of groundbreaking firsts. Here Rory Brown, Managing Partner of Nicklaus Brown & Co., presents eight of the most interesting facts about this lesser-known culture that had an outsized effect on antiquity.
1. The Lydians Introduced the World's First True Coins
The Lydian King Alyattes introduced coins of specific weights, denominations, and known metallic composition, backed by a government seal, which guaranteed the value of each coin produced. The Lydians invented the world's first true coinage system, one that has been imitated ever since.
2. Dice Were a Lydian Invention
The Greek historian Herodotus noted that dice were created by the Lydians as a way to keep themselves occupied during times of famine. They would take their minds off their hunger on days when they didn't receive rations by playing games.
3. Retail Markets Were a Lydian Creation
Lydian currency was valued by cultures around ancient Western Asia Minor, which brought fleets of merchants to the capital city, Sardis. As a result, their market square swelled to an unprecedented size and created the first true retail market.
4. Lydia Was Connected to the Mythical King Midas
Lydia prospered because of its ample mineral reserves, most importantly gold, which was found flowing freely through the river Pactolus. This was the same river that King Midas, of "the Midas Touch" was said to have washed away his gold touch curse, creating the gold reserves the river was famous for.
5. Dogs Figured Prominently in Lydian Religious Life
Not a lot is known about Lydian mythology, but there appears to be numerous connections to dogs. There is evidence of a ceremonial meal that included immature canids, as well as protective wards buried below fortifications, which consisted of full place settings, a cooking pot, and a canid skeleton.
6. Lydia's Downfall Was a Misinterpreted Prophecy
Lydia's King Croesus, Alyattes's son and successor, was growing nervous at the mounting power in Persia. He sought advice from the Oracle at Delphi, asking if he should attack. The response read, "If Croesus goes to war, he will destroy a great empire." Croesus took this as a good sign but soon learned that the Empire he was destroying was his own.
7. King Croesus Was Saved by the Gods
King Croesus was sentenced to death when the Persian king Cyrus the Great sacked Lydia in 546 BC. Croesus was to burn alive on a pyre, but legend holds that a freak rainstorm extinguished the flames after Croesus called out to Apollo for aid.
8. Lydia Changed Hands Numerous Times
Lydia was an independent country for roughly 650 years before the Persians conquered it. After that, it became a Persian province. When Alexander the Great took Persia, Lydia became a part of Macedonia.
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.