Lydians, The History Of The
Author: Rollin, Charles
Date: 1731



The kings who first reigned over the Lydians, are by Herodotus called
Atyades; that is, descendants from Atys. ^1179 These, he tells us, derived
their origin from Lydus, the son of Atys; and Lydus gave the name of Lydians
to that people, who, before his time, were called Moeonians.

[Footnote 1179: Herod. l. i. c. 7-13.]



These Atyades were succeeded by the Heraclidae, or descendants of
Hercules, who possessed this kingdom for the space of five hundred and five
years.

Argo, great-grandson of Alcaeus, son of Hercules, was the first of the
Heraclidae who reigned in Lydia. ^1180

[Footnote 1180: A. M. 2781. Ant. J. C. 1223.]

The last was Candaules. This prince was married to a lady of exquisite
beauty, and being infatuated by his passion for her, was perpetually boasting
of her charms to others. Nothing would serve him but that Gyges, one of his
chief officers, should see and judge of them by his own eyes, ^1181 as if the
husband's own knowledge of them was not sufficient for his happiness, or the
beauty of his wife would have been impaired by his silence. For this purpose,
the king placed Gyges secretly in a convenient place; but, notwithstanding
that precaution, the queen perceived him when he retired, yet took no manner
of notice of it: judging, as the historian represents it, that the most
valuable treasure of a woman is her modesty; she studied a signal revenge for
the injury she had received, and to punish the fault of her husband, committed
a still greater crime. Possibly a secret passion for Gyges had as great a
share in that action as her resentment for the dishonor done her. Be that as
it will, she sent for Gyges, and obliged him to expiate his crime either by
his own death or the king's, at his own option. After some remonstrances to
no purpose, he resolved upon the latter, and by the murder of Candaules,
became master of his queen and his throne. By this means the kingdom passed
from the family of the Heraclidae into that of the Mermnades. ^1182

[Footnote 1181: Non contentus voluptatum suarum tacita conscientia - prorsus
quasi silentium damnum pulchritudinis esset. - Justin. l. i. c. 7.]

[Footnote 1182: A. M. 2386. Ant. J. C. 718.]

Archilochus, the poet, lived at this time, and, as Herodotus informs us,
spoke of this adventure of Gyges in his poems.

I cannot forbear mentioning, in this place, what is related by Herodotus,
that among the Lydians, and almost all other barbarians, it was considered
shameful and infamous even for a man to appear naked. These instances of
modesty, which are met with among pagans, ought to be greatly admired. We are
assured that, among the Romans, a son, who was come to the age of maturity,
never went into the baths with his father, nor even a son-in-law with his
father-in-law; and this modesty and decency were looked upon by them as a law
of nature, the violation of which was criminal. ^1183 It is astonishing, that
among us our magistrates take no care to prevent this disorder, which in the
midst of Paris, at the season of bathing, is openly committed with impunity; a
disorder so visibly contrary to the rules of common decency, so dangerous to
young persons of both sexes, and so severely condemned by paganism itself.

[Footnote 1183: Nostro quidem more cum parentibus puberes filii, cum soceris
generi, non lavantur. Retinenda est igitur hujus generis verecundia,
praesertim natura ipsa magistra et duce. - Cic. l. i. de Offic. n. 129. -
Nudare se nefas esse credebatur. - Val. Max. l. ii. cap. 1.]

Plato relates the story of Gyges in a different manner from Herodotus.
He tells us that Gyges wore a ring, the stone of which, when turned towards
him, rendered him invisible; so that he had the advantage of seeing others,
without being seen himself; and that by means of that ring, with the
concurrence of the queen, he deprived Candaules of his life and throne. This
probably signifies, that in order to compass his criminal design, he used all
the tricks and stratagems the world calls subtle and refined policy, which
penetrates into the most secret purposes of others, without making the least
discovery of its own. The story, thus explained, carries in it a greater
appearance of truth than what we read in Herodotus. ^1184

[Footnote 1184: Plato de Rep. l. ii. p. 359.]

Cicero, after having related this fable of Gyges's famous ring, adds,
that if a wise man had such a ring, he would not use it to any wicked purpose;
because virtue considers what is honorable and just, and has no occasion for
darkness. ^1185

[Footnote 1185: Hunc ipsum annulum si habeat sapiens, nihilo plus sibi licere
putet pecare, quam si non haberet. Honesta enim bonis viris, non occulta,
quaeruntun - Lib. iii. de Offic. n. 38.]

Gyges ^1186 reigned thirty-eight years. The murder of Candaules raised a
sedition among the Lydians. The two parties, instead of coming to blows,
agreed to refer the matter to the decision of the Delphic oracle, who declared
in favor of Gyges. The king made large presents to the temple at Delphos,
which undoubtedly preceded, and had no little influence upon the oracle's
answer. Among other things of value, Herodotus mentions six golden cups,
weighing thirty talents, amounting to near a million of French money. ^1187

[Footnote 1186: A. M. 3286. Ant. J. C. 718. Herod, l. i. c. 13, 44.]

[Footnote 1187: About $213,120.]

As soon as he was in peaceable possession of the throne, he made war
against Miletus, Smyrna, and Colophon, three powerful cities belonging to the
neighboring states.

After he had reigned thirty-eight years he died, and was succeeded by his
son,

Ardys, ^1188 who reigned forty-nine years. It was in the reign of this
prince that the Cimmerians, driven out of their country by the Scythian
Nomades, went into Asia, and took the city of Sardis, but not the citadel.

[Footnote 1188: A. M. 3324. Ant. J. C. 680. Herod. l. i. c. 15.]

Sadyattes ^1189 reigned twelve years. This prince declared war against
the Milesians, and laid siege to their city. In those days the sieges, which
were generally nothing more than blockades, were carried on very slowly, and
lasted many years. This king died before he had finished that of Miletus, and
was succeeded by his son.

[Footnote 1189: A. M. 3373. Ant. J. C. 631. Herod. l. i. c. 16, 22.]

Halyttes ^1190 reigned fifty-seven years. This prince made war against
Cyaxares, king of Media. He likewise drove the Cimmerians out of Asia. He
attacked and took the cities of Smyrna and Clazomenae. He vigorously
prosecuted the war against the Milesians, begun by his father, and continued
the siege of their city, which had lasted six years under his father, and
continued as many under him. It ended at length in the following manner:
Halyttes, upon an answer he received from the Delphic oracle, had sent an
ambassador into the city, to propose a truce for some months. Thrasybulus,
tyrant of Miletus, having notice of his coming, ordered all the corn, and
other provisions, collected by him and his subjects for their support, to be
brought into the public market, and commanded the citizens, that at the
appearance of a given signal, there should be general feasting and jollity.
The thing was executed according to his orders. The Lydian ambassador, at his
arrival, was in the utmost surprise to see such a plenty in the market, and
such cheerfulness in the city. His master, to whom he gave an account of what
he had seen, concluding that his project of reducing the place by famine would
never succeed, preferred peace to so fruitless a war, and immediately raised
the siege.

[Footnote 1190: A. M. 3385. Ant. J. C. 619. Herod. c. 21, 22.]

Croesus. ^1191 His very name, which is become a proverb, carries in it an
idea of immense riches. The wealth of this prince, to judge of it only by the
presents he made to the temple of Delphos, must have been excessively great.
Most of those presents were still to be seen in the time of Herodotus, and
were worth several millions. We may partly account for the treasures of this
prince, from certain mines that he had, situated, according to Strabo, between
Pergamus and Atarnes; as also from the little river Pactolus, the sand of
which was gold. But in Strabo's time this river had not the same advantage.
^1192

[Footnote 1191: A. M. 3442. Ant. J. C. 562]

[Footnote 1192: Strab. l. xiii. p. 625, and l. xiv. p. 630.]

It is worthy of notice that this uncommon affluence did not enervate or
soften the courage of Croesus. He thought it unworthy of a prince to spend
his time in idleness and pleasure. On the contrary he was constantly engaged
in war, made several conquests, and enlarged his dominions by the addition of
all the contiguous provinces, as Phrygia, Mysia, Paphlagonia, Bithynia,
Pamphylia, and all the country of the Carians, Ionians, Dorians, and Aeolians.
Herodotus observes that he was the first conqueror of the Greeks, who till
then had never been subject to a foreign power. Doubtless he must mean the
Greeks settled in Asia Minor. ^1193

[Footnote 1193: Herod. l. i. c. 26-28.]

But what is still more extraordinary in this prince, though he was so
immensely rich, and so great a warrior, yet his chief delight was in the
literature and the sciences. His court was the ordinary residence of those
famous learned men, so revered by antiquity, distinguished by the name of the
seven wise men of Greece.

Solon, one of the most celebrated among them, after having established
new laws at Athens, thought he might absent himself for some years, and
improve that time by travelling. He went to Sardis, where he was received in
a manner suitable to the reputation of so great a man. The king, attended with
a numerous court, appeared in all his regal pomp and splendor, dressed in the
most magnificent apparel, enriched with gold, and glittering with diamonds.
Notwithstanding the novelty of this spectacle to Solon, it did not appear that
he was the least moved at it, or that he uttered a word which discovered the
least surprise or admiration. On the contrary, people of sense might
sufficiently discern, from his behavior, that he looked upon all this outward
pomp as an indication of a little mind, which knows not in what true greatness
and dignity consist. This coldness and indifference in Solon's first
approach, gave the king no favorable opinion of his new guest. ^1194

[Footnote 1194: Herod. l. c. 29-33. Plut. in Solone, pp. 93, 94.]

He afterwards ordered that all his treasures, his magnificent apartments,
and costly furniture, should be exhibited to him; as if he expected, by the
multitude of his fine vessels, diamonds, statues, and paintings, to conquer
the philosopher's indifference. But these things were not the king; and it
was the king that Solon had come to visit, and not the walls or chambers of
his palace. He had no notion of making a judgment of the king, or an estimate
of his worth, by these outward appendages, but by himself, and his own
personal qualities. Were we to judge at present by the same rule, we should
find many of our great men wretchedly naked and destitute.

When Solon had seen all, he was brought back to the king. Croesus then
asked him, which of mankind, in all his travels, he had found the most truly
happy? "One Tellus," replied Solon, "a citizen of Athens, a very honest and
good man, who lived all his days without indigence, had always seen his
country in a flourishing condition, had children that were universally
esteemed, with the satisfaction of seeing those children's children, and at
last died gloriously in fighting for his country."

Such an answer as this, in which gold and silver were accounted as
nothing, seemed to Croesus to argue a strange ignorance and stupidity.
However, as he flattered himself of being ranked in the second degree of
happiness, he asked him, "who, of all those he had seen, was the next in
felicity to Tellus?" Solon answered, "Cleobis and Biton, of Argos, two
brothers, who had left behind them a perfect pattern of fraternal affection,
and of the respect due from children to their parents. Upon a solemn
festival, when their mother, a priestess of Juno, was to go to the temple, the
oxen that were to draw her not being ready, the two sons put themselves to the
yoke, and drew their mother's chariot thither, which was above five miles
distant. All the mothers of the place, filled with admiration, congratulated
the priestess on the piety of her sons. She, in the transports of her joy and
thankfulness, earnestly entreated the goddess to reward her children with the
best thing that heaven can give to man. Her prayers were heard. When the
sacrifice was over, her two sons fell asleep in the very temple, and there
died in a soft and peaceful slumber. ^1196 In honor of their piety, the people
of Argos consecrated statues to them in the temple of Delphos."

[Footnote 1196: The fatigue of drawing the chariot might be the cause of it.]

"What then," says Croesus, in a tone that showed his discontent, "you do
not reckon me in the number of the happy?" Solon, who was not willing either
to flatter, or exasperate him any farther, replied calmly: "King of Lydia,
besides many other advantages, the gods have given us Grecians a spirit of
moderation and reserve, which has produced among us a plain, popular kind of
philosophy, accompanied with a certain generous freedom, void of pride or
ostentation, and therefore not well suited to the courts of kings; this
philosophy, considering what an infinite number of vicissitudes and accidents
the life of man is liable to, does not allow us either to glory in any
prosperity we ourselves enjoy, or to admire happiness in others, which perhaps
may prove only transient or superficial." From hence he took occasion to
represent to him farther, "that the life of man seldom exceeds seventy years,
which make up in all six thousand two hundred and fifty days, of which no two
are exactly alike; so that the time to come is nothing but a series of various
accidents which cannot be foreseen. Therefore, in our opinion," continued he,
"no man can be esteemed happy, but he whose happiness God continues to the end
of his life; as for others, who are perpetually exposed to a thousand dangers,
we account their happiness as uncertain as the crown is to a person that is
still engaged in battle, and has not yet obtained the victory." Solon retired
when he had spoken these words, which served only to mortify Croesus, but not
to reform him.

Aesop, the author of the fables, was then at the court of this prince, by
whom he was very kindly entertained. He was concerned at the unhandsome
treatment Solon received, and said to him by way of advice, "Solon, we must
either not come near princes at all, or speak things that agreeable to them."
"Say rather," replied Solon, "that we should either never come near them at
all, or else speak such things as may be for their good."

In Plutarch's time, some of the learned were of opinion that this
interview between Solon and Croesus did not agree with the dates of
chronology. But as those dates are very uncertain, that judicious author did
not think this objection ought to prevail against the authority of several
creditable writers, by whom this story is attested.

What we have now related of Croesus is a very natural picture of the
behavior of kings and great men, who for the most part are seduced by
flattery, and shows us, at the same time, the two sources from whence that
blindness generally proceeds. The one is, a secret inclination which all men
have but especially the great, of receiving praise without any precaution, and
judging favorably of all that admire them, or show an unlimited submission and
complaisance to their humors. The other is, the great resemblance there is
between flattery and a sincere affection, or a reasonable respect; which is
sometimes counterfeited so exactly, that the wisest may be deceived, if they
are not very much upon their guard.

Croesus, if we judge of him by the character he bears in history, was a
very good prince, and worthy of esteem in many respects. He had a great deal
of good nature, affability, and humanity. His palace was a resort for men of
wit and learning, which shows that he himself was a person of learning, and
had a taste for sciences. His weakness was, that he laid a great stress upon
riches and magnificence, thought himself great and happy in proportion to his
possessions, mistook regal pomp and splendor for true and solid greatness, and
fed his vanity with the excessive submissions of those that stood in a kind of
adoration before him.

Those learned men, those wits, and other courtiers, who surrounded this
prince, eat at his table, partook of his pleasures, shared his confidence, and
enriched themselves by his bounty and liberality, took care not to differ from
the prince's taste, and never thought of undeceiving him with respect to his
errors or false ideas. On the contrary, they made it their business to
cherish and strengthen them in him, extolling him perpetually as the most
opulent prince of his age, and never speaking of his wealth, or the
magnificence of his palace, but in terms of admiration and rapture; because
they knew this was the sure way to please him, and to secure his favor. For
flattery is nothing else than a commerce of falsehood and lying, founded upon
interest on one side, and vanity on the other. The flatterer desires to
advance himself and make his fortune; the prince to be praised and admired,
because he is his own first flatterer and carries within himself a more subtle
and better prepared poison than any adulation can give him.

That saying of Aesop, who had formerly been a slave, and still retained
somewhat of the spirit and character of slavery, though he had varnished it
over with the address of an artful courtier; "that we should either not come
near kings, or say what is agreeable to them," shows us with what kind of men
Croesus had filled his court, and by what means he had banished all sincerity,
integrity, and duty from his presence. Therefore we see, he could not bear
that noble and generous freedom in the philosopher, upon which he ought to
have set an infinite value, as he would have done, had he but understood the
worth of a friend, who, attaching himself to the person, and not to the
fortune of a prince, has the courage to tell him disagreeable truths; truths
unpalatable, and bitter to self-love at the present, but that may prove very
salutary and serviceable for the future. Dic illis, non quod volunt audire,
sed quod audisse semper volent. These are Seneca's own words, where he is
endeavoring to show of what great use a faithful and sincere friend may be to
a prince; and what he adds farther seems to be written on purpose for Croesus:
"Give him," says he, "wholesome advice. Let a word of truth once reach those
ears, which are perpetually fed and entertained with flattery. You'll ask me,
what service can be done to a person arrived at the highest pitch of felicity?
It will teach him not to trust in his prosperity; it will remove that vain
confidence he has in his power and greatness, as if they were to endure for
ever; make him understand, that every thing which belongs to and depends upon
fortune, is as unstable as herself; and that there is often but the space of a
moment between the highest elevation and the most unhappy downfall." ^1199

[Footnote 1199: Plenas aures adulationibus aliquando vera vox intret; da
cousilium utile. Quaeris, quid felici praestare possis? Effice, ne
felicitati suae eredat. Parum in illum contuleris, si illi semel stultam
fiduciam permagnusae semper potentiae excusseris, docuerisque mobilia esse
quae dedit caus ac saepe inter fortunam maximam et ultimam nihil interesse. -
Sen. de Benef. l. vi. c. 33.]

It was not long before Croesus experienced the truth of what Solon had
told him. He had two sons; one of whom being dumb, was a perpetual subject of
affliction to him; the other, named Atys, was distinguished by every good
quality, and his great consolation and delight. The father dreamed one night,
which made a great impression upon his mind, that this beloved son of his was
to perish by iron. This became a new source of anxiety and trouble, and care
was taken to remove out of the young prince's way every thing made of iron, as
partisans, lances, javelins, etc. No mention was made of armies, wars, or
sieges, before him. But one day there was to be an extraordinary
hunting-match for the killing of a wild boar, which had committed great ravage
in the neighborhood. All the young lords of the court were to be at this
hunting. Atys very earnestly importuned his father, that he would give him
leave to be present, at least as a spectator. The king could not refuse him
that request, but let him go under the care of a discreet young prince, who
had taken refuge in his court, and was named Adrastus. And this very
Adrastus, as he was aiming to throw this javelin at the boar, unfortunately
killed Atys. It is impossible to express either the affliction of the father,
when he heard of this fatal accident, or of the unhappy prince, the innocent
author of the murder, who expiated his fault with his blood, stabbing himself
in the breast with his own sword, upon the funeral-pile of the unfortunate
Atys. ^1200

[Footnote 1200: Herod. l. i. c. 34, 35.]

Two years were spent on this occasion in deep mourning, the afflicted
father's thoughts being wholly taken up with the loss he had sustained. But
the growing reputation and great qualities of Cyrus, who began to make himself
known, roused him out of his lethargy. He thought it behoeved him to put a
stop to the power of the Persians, which was enlarging itself every day. As
he was very religious in his way, he would never enter upon any enterprise,
without consulting the gods. But, that he might not act blindly, and to be
able to form a certain judgment on the answers he should receive, he was
willing to assure himself beforehand of the truth of the oracles: For which
purpose, he sent messengers to all the most celebrated oracles both of Greece
and Africa, with orders to inquire, every one at his respective oracle, what
Croesus was doing on such a day, and such an hour, before agreed on. His
orders were punctually observed, and of all the oracles, none gave a true
answer but that of Delphos. The answer was given in Greek hexameter verses,
and was in substance as follows: I know the number of the grains of sand on
the sea-shore, and the measure of the ocean's vast extent. I can hear the
dumb, and him that has not yet learned to speak. A strong smell of a tortoise
boiled in brass, together with sheep's flesh, has reached my nostrils, brass
beneath, brass above. And indeed, the king, thinking to invent something that
could not possible be guessed at, had employed himself, on the day and hour
set down, in boiling a tortoise and a lamb in a brass pot, which had a brass
cover. St. Austin observes in several places, that God, to punish the
blindness of the pagans, sometimes permitted the devils to give answers
conformably to the truth. ^1201

[Footnote 1201: Herod. l. i. c. 46-56.]

Croesus, thus assured of the god's veracity, whom he designed to consult,
offered three thousand victims to his honor, and ordered an infinite number of
vessels, tripods, and golden tables, to be melted down, and converted into
ingots of gold, to the number of a hundred and seventeen, to augment the
treasures of the Delphic temple. Each of these ingots weighed at least two
talents; besides which, he made several other presents: among them Herodotus
mentions a golden lion, weighing ten talents, and two vessels of an
extraordinary size, one of gold, which weighed eight talents and a half, and
twelve minae; the other of silver, which contained six hundred of the measures
called amphoras. All these presents, and many more, which, for brevity's
sake, I omit, were to be seen in the time of Herodotus.

The messengers were ordered to consult the god upon two points; first,
whether Croesus should undertake a war against the Persians; secondly, if he
did, whether he should require the succor of any auxiliary troops. The oracle
answered upon the first article, that if he carried his arms against the
Persians, he would subvert a great empire; upon the second, he would do well
to make alliances with the most powerful states of Greece. He consulted the
oracle again to know how long the duration of his empire would be. The answer
was, it should subsist till a mule came to posses the throne of Media; which
he construed to signify the perpetual duration of his kingdom.

Pursuant to the direction of the oracle, Croesus entered into an alliance
with the Athenians, who at that time had Pisistratus at their head, and with
the Lacedaemonians, who were indisputably the two most powerful states of
Greece.

A certain Lydian, much esteemed for his prudence, gave Croesus on this
occasion very judicious advice. "O prince," says he to him, "why do you think
of turning your arms against such a people as the Persians, who, being born in
a wild, rugged country, are inured from their infancy to every kind of
hardship and fatigue; who, being coarsely clad, and coarsely fed, can content
themselves with bread and water; who are absolute strangers to all the
delicacies and conveniences of life; who, in a word, have nothing to lose if
you conquer them, and every thing to gain if they conquer you; and whom it
would be very difficult to drive out of our country, if they should once come
to taste the sweets and advantages of it? So far, therefore, from thinking of
commencing a war against them, it is my opinion we ought to thank the gods,
that they have never put it into the heads of the Persians to come and attack
the Lydians." But Croesus had taken his resolution, and would not be diverted
from it. ^1202

[Footnote 1202: Herod. l. i. c. 71.]

What remains of the history of Croesus will be found in that of Cyrus,
which I shall now commence.

Back to Main menu

A project by History World International

World History Center