Subsequent to the downfall of Gordion, the Phrygian capital that was obliterated by the Cimmerian hordes in 676 B.C., the Lydians took control of the Meander plains and Gediz, which had been heavily influenced by the Hittites and Phrygians. The Lydian state was soon established in Western Anatolia, with Sardis as its capital. During the reign of King Gyges, Lydia established trade and good relationships with other states, increasing its own wealth at the same time. It was he who had the famous royal road built from Ephesus, through Sardis to the east. Herodotus of Halicarnassos wrote in detail the history of the origins of this king in Caria, to which he himself belonged. His story reveals much about the Lydians. Herodotus also recounts the history of the rulers before Gyges, stating that these were of 22 generations, and ruled for a total of 505 years. This shows us that the Lydians lived within a principality in this region for a long time before establishing a state.
The reign of Gyges was indeed a remarkable one. Unfortunately, the Cimmerians, who had meanwhile conquered Phrygia, then attacked the Lydians. King Gyges managed to repulse the first attacks, but during the second onslaught, in 652 B.C., he died on the battlefield. The affluent and prospering Lydian towns were plundered and razed to the ground. The son of Gyges, Ardys took his place, who was succeeded by Sadyattes, who in turn was succeeded 12 years later by Alyattes. The latter was to restore Lydia to its former glory and to banish the Cimmerians from Anatolia. He captured cities such as Ephesos and Miletos, and extended the western frontiers as far as the Aegean Sea, and to the east as far as the Kizilirmak River and the western border of Persia. The Lydians and Persians then commenced a frontier struggle that was to go on for a very long time. In the middle of this long-lasting war, an agreement was reached in 585 B.C. By this time, the greatest of the hawk kings, Croesus (575-546 B.C.) was on the throne of Lydia. During his rule, the wealth of the state reached its peak. The treasury was filled with gold, and Lydia minted its own coins for the first time in history whereas trade was steadily increasing the wealth of the state. However, this wealth decreased the Lydian’s interest in defense, which was given over to mercenary soldiers.
As history recalls, the armies of the Persian ruler Cyrus the Great marched into Anatolia and confronted the troops of Lydia on the banks of the Kizilirmak. The Lydian monarch lost the battle and was forced to retreat to Sardis in order to regroup his forces. Not having estimated that the Persians would pursue them with such speed, they were forced to defend their capital. The Persians were ordered to swarm the city walls, and the camel-riding Persian soldiers charged the Lydian cavalry. The horses were frightened by the camels, and so the Lydians, deprived of their most powerful defense, the cavalry, retreated into the city. Just two weeks later, the finest city in the Near East was in the hands of the Persians and was looted and razed to the ground. Cyrus the Great had Croesus tied to a stake and gave orders for him to be burned. However, he later felt sorry for the monarch and tried to have the fire extinguisher. No attempts could put out the flames, but just then a downpour doused the fire. The Persian sovereign became convinced that Croesus was favored by the Gods, and had him called to his side. He asked, “Croesus, who told you to attack my land and meet me as an enemy instead of a friend?”
The King replied, “it was caused by your good fate and my bad fate. It was the fault of the Greek gods, who with their arrogance, encouraged me to march onto your lands. Nobody is mad enough to choose war whilst there is peace. During times of peace, the sons bury their fathers, but in war, it is the fathers who send their sons to the grave.” Cyrus liked these words, and having Croesus untied, he drew him near. Croesus looked at the city of Sardis, which was being looted at the time, and begged permission to speak. When Cyrus gave him permission, he asked what the mobs were doing. Cyrus replied that they were looting the city, whereupon Croesus replied, “The city is no longer mine, it is your city they are looting.” So, the dynasty of Lydia, the kingdom, and all its major cities was razed to the ground and the whole of Anatolia entered into a period of Persian rule. Burial mounds found along the shore of the Marmara Lake near Salihli belong to the Lydia Kings and are called “Bintepeler” (1000 hills). Ninety of these mounds are known to have been the burial sites of Lydian aristocracy and royal families. It is understood that a mound of 69 m (226 ft) high belonged to King Alyattes. The priceless works of art known as the Treasure of Karun, which were first smuggled to America and then returned to Turkey to be exhibited at the Usak Museum, show us how far Lydian art had advanced.