Like many cultures throughout history, the Lydians didn’t survive but were eventually assimilated into another society following defeat — in this case, by the Persian Empire. Even so, according to enthusiast Rory Brown, Lydians left a lasting mark on history during their roughly six centuries of existence, dating from about 1180 B.C.E. to the middle of the 6th century B.C.E.
While very little in the way of firsthand Lydian history remains, historians of the time, most notably Herodotus, wrote about Lydian culture and society, and artifacts unearthed from Iron Age burial mounds help to paint a picture of this once-thriving civilization. Here, Rory Brown explores the lasting influence and legacy of these ancient people.
Overlap With Greek Society
Greek and Lydian societies, both prominent during the Iron Age, shared a range of cultural features. While not well understood due to few existing samples, Lydian writing is similar to Greek, although it has distinctive characteristics.
Greeks and Lydians were both polytheistic, and Lydian religious figures like Artimu, Pldans, and Baki strongly resemble Greek counterparts Artemis, Apollo, and Dionysus, respectively. Sharing between the two cultures and limited first-hand historical accounts from Lydia makes it hard to know where some concepts originated and who adopted what.
Among the most notable exchanges was the Greek assimilation of Lydian commercial practices. Lydians are credited with being the first culture to establish retail shops and a monetary system featuring gold and silver currency in the form of coins. The Greeks adopted these practices in the 6th century B.C.E., sparking the Greek commercial revolution.
The royal emblem displayed on Lydian coins featured lion iconography, starting with two lion heads and later switching to just one. Some of the earliest archaic Greek coins also featured animals and images of religious figures like Athena.
Influence on the Persians
Croesus, the last of Lydian kings, was known for extravagant wealth and a penchant for war. Upon coming to power, he immediately started attacking the Greek empire, conquering the western half of Asia Minor before eventually setting his sights on the threat of the expanding Persian Empire.
Allying with Egypt, Babylonia, and Sparta, he launched an attack on Persia, which ultimately led to Lydian defeat. Lydia was then integrated into the Persian Empire, although the area would fall to Alexander the Great and Roman rule just two centuries later.
That said, the Persians adopted one aspect of the Lydian culture of particular interest to Rory Brown: Lydian use of rare metal coins as currency. Almost immediately following Persian success, Cyrus the Great introduced coinage to the Persian people. Interestingly, this was roughly a century after the Greeks adopted the practice.
Although the duration of the Lydian civilization was relatively short in the span of human history, there’s no denying the lasting contributions this society produced. Not only were Lydians an integral part of the ancient world, sharing concepts and customs with neighboring cultures, but their influence also remains in countries across the globe that still rely on coinage as a form of currency today.
About Rory Brown, Lydian Enthusiast
Rory Brown is a Managing Partner at Nicklaus Brown & Company. He is the Executive Chair of Goods and Services at Blueriver. Providing excellence in the industry for over two decades, Mr. Brown was chosen as the Financial Services Entrepreneur of the Year by Ernst & Young, and he has founded several companies in the Inc. 500. Mr. Brown researches the Lydian Kingdom and ancient currencies in his spare time.