Gyges of Lydia

Gyges (Γύγης) was the founder of the third or Mermnad dynasty of Lydian kings and reigned from 716 BC to 678 BC (or from c. 680-644 BCE ). He was succeeded by his son Ardys II.

Authors throughout history have told differing stories of Gyges rise to power. Gyges was the son of Dascylus. Dascylus was recalled from banishment in Cappadocia by the Lydian king Sadyates, called Candaules, or "the Dog-strangler" by the Greeks, and sent his son back to Lydia instead of himself.

According to Nicolaus of Damascus, Gyges soon became a favourite of Sadyates and was dispatched by him to fetch Tudo, the daughter of Arnossus of Mysia, whom the Lydian king wished to make his queen. On the way Gyges fell in love with Tudo, who complained to Sadyates of his conduct. Forewarned that the king intended to punish him with death, Gyges assassinated Sadyates in the night and seized the throne.

According to Plutarch, Gyges seized power with the help of Arselis of Mylasa, the captain of the Carian bodyguard, whom he had won over to his cause.

In the account of Herodotus, which may be traced to the poet Archilochus of Paros, Candaules insisted upon showing Gyges his wife when unrobed, which so enraged her that she gave Gyges the choice of murdering her husband and making himself king, or of being put to death himself. In the novel The English Patient, Count Almásy (himself a disciple of Herodotus), falls in love with a married woman (Katherine Clifton) as she reads this Gyges story aloud around a campfire. The story is harbinger of their own tragic path.

Finally, in the more allegorical account of Plato, found in the Republic, II, a parallel account may be found. Here, the ancestor of Gyges was a shepherd, who discovered a magic ring by means of which he murdered the King and won the affection of the Queen. This account bears marked similarity to that of Herodotus.

In all cases, civil war ensued on the death of the King, which was only ended when Gyges sought to justify his ascendence to the throne by petitioning for the approval of the Oracle at Delphi.

According to Herodotus, he plied the Oracle with numerous gifts, notably six mixing bowls minted of gold extracted from the Pactolus river weighing thirty talents— an amount which would fetch over US$13 million at 2006 prices. The Oracle confirmed Gyges as the rightful Lydian King, gave moral support to the Lydians over the Asian Greeks, and also claimed that the dynasty of Gyges would be powerful, but due to his usurpation of the throne would fall in the fifth generation. This claim was later proven true, though perhaps by the machination of the Oracle's successor. Gyges 4th descendant, Croesus, lost the kingdom after misunderstanding a prophecy of the later Oracle, and fatefully attacking the Persian armies of Cyrus the Great.

Once established on the throne, Gyges devoted himself to consolidating his kingdom and making it a military power. The Troad was conquered, Colophon captured from the Greeks, Smyrna besieged and alliances entered into with Ephesus and Miletus.

The armies of Gyges beat back the Cimmerii, who had ravaged Asia Minor. An embassy was sent to Assur-bani-pal at Nineveh circa 650 BC in the hope of obtaining his help against the barbarians. The Assyrians were otherwise engaged, and Gyges turned to Egypt, sending his faithful Carian troops along with Ionian mercenaries to assist Psammetichus in shaking off the Assyrian yoke circa 660 BC.

Gyges later fell in battle against the Cimmerii under Dugdamme (called Lygdamis by Strabo i. 3. 21 — who probably mistook the Greek Delta Δ for a Lambda Λ), who took the lower town of Sardis. Gyges was succeeded by his son Ardys.

Many Bible scholars believe that Gyges of Lydia was the Biblical figure of Gog, ruler of Magog, who is mentioned in the Book of Ezekiel and the Book of Revelation.


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