The Lydian Lion, first stamped by King Alyattes, and the dueling lion and bull motif popularized by his son King Croesus, are two of the most famous symbols in ancient coinage.
The Lydian stater was the first true coin, and Croesus’s bi-metallic system, which was the first to abandon electrum in favor of pure gold and silver coins of a known value, became the basis for trade in the sixth century BC Western Asia Minor.
The currency was so well-received that its use significantly outlived its creator. Here Rory Brown, Managing Partner of Nicklaus Brown & Co., reveals how the Persian empire adopted the Lydian coinage system.
The Fall of Croesus and the Rise of the Persian Stater
King Croesus was always leery of Persia’s King Cyrus and the empire’s rising power in the region. He tolerated them for a time, but in 547 BC, buoyed by an imagined prediction of victory from the Oracle of Delphi, Croesus moved to put Cyrus in his place.
His troops sailed to a nearby Persian outpost and captured the fort. When Cyrus’s troops arrived to reclaim the lost territory, the resulting battle caused a high death toll on both sides. Croesus, certain the Persian army was in a better position, retreated to Sardis, the Lydian capital. Unexpectedly, Cyrus followed Croesus, caught his army by surprise, and defeated the Lydian empire.
Once Sardis was under Cyrus’s heal, he could have wiped out the entirety of Lydian culture, but he recognized the value of Lydian coins. He understood how firmly entrenched their use was in the region. Cyrus instructed Sardis to continue minting the coins of his defeated enemy, using the same design. But these coins were no longer Lydian staters. They were Persian staters.
King Darius and the End of the Lydian Lion
Persian staters with the familiar Lydian imprints continued to be minted and used for over 30 years, a lifetime for early coinage systems. And while it was Persia’s King Darius I that finally brought the lion and bull motif to an end, it had been gradually dwindling in quality for some time.
The softened, flowing edges of the design were replaced with a harder, more mechanistic aesthetic. The currency system, once featuring a great number of denominations, both of the gold and silver coins, was gutted and reduced to a single large denomination gold coin and a smaller denomination silver coin.
Persian influences eventually took their toll, as did Darius’s vanity. Around 515 BC, the classic Croeseid design was finally retired, and the dance of the lion and bull were replaced by an image of King Darius, bow and arrow in hand. The stater became the daric, and the visual legacy of Lydian coins came to an end.
The legacy of Lydian currency is still felt today, as the Lydian stater influenced nearly every major coinage system throughout history.
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.