Now that the Assyrian Empire had collapsed, and the Neo-Babylonians were not very strong, it was pretty easy for new countries to get started along the edges of the old empire. Gyges made his capital at the city of Sardis.
Coins and tyrants
From the time of Gyges (GUY-jeez) onward, the Lydians were pretty friendly with the Greek cities along the coast of Asia Minor (modern Turkey). The Greek word “tyrant” may be derived from the Lydian word for “king”, and coinage may also have gotten started here.
Probably Greek soldiers fought as mercenaries for the Lydian kings. In order to pay their soldiers, the Lydian kings may have made small lumps of gold. And then to certify that the lumps were the right size, the king stamped them with his image.
In 560 B.C., Croesus became the king of Lydia. Croesus (KREE-suss) was so rich that he has left us the expression “as rich as Croesus.” Herodotus talks a lot about King Croesus, who he says was a friend of the Athenian Solon.
According to Herodotus, King Croesus seems to be pretty much telling the Greek cities of Asia Minor what they can do. The Lydians seem to have had power over the Greek cities near them.
The Persians attack Lydia
The oracle said that if Croesus fought Cyrus, then “a great kingdom would be destroyed.” Croesus thought this meant that he would win, and so he fought Cyrus. But in fact Cyrus won, and Croesus realized that it was HIS kingdom that would be destroyed. (That’s just how oracles are.)
According to Herodotus, Cyrus took Croesus prisoner. He put Croesus on a big pile of wood – a pyre – and said he was going to set it on fire and burn Croesus up. But when he heard Croesus talking, he realized that Croesus was a really smart guy, like him, and he took Croesus off the pyre and made him his advisor.
Lydia in the Persian Empire
In the end, Croesus and Cyrus seem to have made some sort of truce. But after the death of King Croesus in 546 BC, the Persians really took over Lydia, and soon they began to control the Greek cities nearby too. In 499 BC the Greeks attempted to revolt, and succeeded in burning the city of Sardis, but by 491 the Greeks lost and came under Persian control.
Early Turkey: An Introduction to the Archaeology of Anatolia from Prehistory Through the Lydian Period, by Martha Sharp Joukowsky and Jean Blackburn (1996). Joukowsky is a well-known expert in West Asian archaeology.
Sardis from Prehistoric to Roman Times: Results of the Archaeological Exploration of Sardis, 1958-1975, by George Hanfmann (1983). Hanfmann is also a well-known expert on West Asia.
The Persian Wars, by Herodotus. Straight from the Greek historian himself.
Herodotus: And the Explorers of the Classical Age, by Ann Gaines (1993).