The Lydians: History, Religion & Civilization

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  • 0:05 The Lydians
  • 0:51 Religion
  • 1:40 Significance
  • 2:35 Collapse of Lydia
  • 3:16 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Flint Johnson

Flint has tutored mathematics through precalculus, science, and English and has taught college history. He has a Ph.D. from the University of Glasgow

This lesson is about a kingdom called Lydia, which was located in what is modern-day Turkey during at least one of the Trojan Wars. Its history, religion, and importance to civilization will also be discussed.

The Lydians

If you've ever read Homer's ancient epic poem Iliad, you might remember that the Greeks brought a thousand ships to battle Troy during the Trojan War. But the Trojans had allies, too. One of these was a mythic Amazonian queen, Penthesilea, who was killed by the Greek hero Achilles. Troy also had the Lydians, sometimes called the Maeonians, fighting in their defense.

So who were these Lydians? Today, we know that the kingdom of Lydia, located in what is now Turkey, emerged after the fall of the Hittite Empire in around 1180. Lydians could have lived there all along, or maybe they took advantage of the confusion to invade the region. We know few concrete facts about their culture, but we do know they spoke an Indo-European language similar to Hittite.


We know of several of the gods the Lydians believed in, but we don't know much about the religion as a whole. Kore was the name of their vegetation goddess, and they also had a snake and bull cult that was probably related to fertility. There was also a mother goddess whose name might have been Kuvava, and the Lydian equivalents of Greek Zeus, known as Levs; Artemis, called Artimu; Apollo, known as Pldans; and Dionysius, referred to as Baki.

From these gods and the Lydians' Indo-European background, we can guess they probably had the same basic beliefs as the Greeks, with a worship of the sun, the moon, the mountain storm-god, a fertility goddess, and a mother of them all. Like all Indo-European gods, the Lydians' gods would have seemed to them like superhuman beings with very human personalities.


During the sixth century B.C.E. and under the rules of Alyattes and Croesus, Lydia would conquer most of modern Turkey. However, Lydia produced no great generals, lawmakers, or engineers among their rulers. Nor was the kingdom powerful for very long, maybe a half century. The most important thing they did was to introduce the minting of gold as money.

In fact, the Lydians were lucky to have been remembered as well as they were. If the Greeks had not included Lydia in their mythology, we might know almost nothing about them. As luck would have it, they were included, so we have three dynasties associated with the kingdom: the Tantalids (Atyads), the Heraclids (Tylonids), and the Memnads.

The most famous Tantalid was Tantalus, who offered his son Pelops to the gods during a feast. Agron son of Heracles was the legendary founder of the Heraclid dynasty, and the wealthy Croesus ruled during the Memnad dynasty.

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