as I have heard from older men who saw
him on the plain of Hermos with his spear
routing the Lydian cavalry’s thick ranks.
Pallas Athena ne’er had cause to fault
his acid fury, when in the front line
he hurtled through the battle’s bloody moil
against the stinging missiles of the foe.
No warrior of the enemy remained
his better in the strenuous work of war,
so long as he moved in the swift sun’s light.
The Lydian troopers are referred to as hippomachoi, “horse-fighters” (that is, true cavalry in all likelihood). The reference to thick ranks (punikas phalaggas) suggests that they may even have operated in formation. Herodotus remarks that, later, at the time of Croesus, “no nation in Asia was more valiant and warlike than the Lydians. Their mode of fighting was from on horseback; they were armed with long lances, and managed their horses with admirable address” (Hdt. 1.79).
Despite the bravery of the inhabitants of Smyrna, the city nevertheless eventually succumbed to the imperial ambitions of Lydia’s kings. Around 600 BC, King Alyattes II besieged the city and eventually managed to conquer and sack it after building a large siege ramp to scale the walls. (Smyrna’s fortifications were impressive, and I have earlier mentioned that Greek settlements in Asia Minor may have built their fortifications in order to compete with fortified Lydian towns located further inland, and that the city walls of Sardis were very similar to those of Smyrna.)
After the death of Alyattes, his successor Croesus started a large-scale campaign aimed at subjugating the Ionian and Aeolian Greeks in Asia Minor. Once he had forced them all to pay tribute, he decided to build a large fleet in order to conquer the Greek islands.
According to Herodotus (Hdt. 1.27), either Bias of Priene or Pittacus of Mytilene came to Croesus and said that the men of the islands were hiring thousands of mercenary cavalry. Croesus scoffed, since no cavalry could possible hope to match the quality of Lydian horsemen. He then received the reply that the islanders likewise were hoping to catch the Lydian fleet at sea, since their own seamanship was unmatched. Croesus then decided to let the island-dwelling Greeks remain as they were.
The Greek cities in Asia Minor frequently came into conflict with the Lydians, who grew ever more imperialistic in the course of the Archaic period. But there were also plenty of friendly contacts between Greeks and Lydians. Aside from trade and cultural exchanges, there may even have been official alliances – summachia in Greek – between, for example, the Lydians and the Milesians in the seventh century BC (Hdt. 1.22).
Lydian warfare was very similar to Greek warfare, even if many details – such as battle tactics used – remain largely unknown and the Lydians fielded superior cavalry. It is clear that the peoples of the Aegean and Western Anatolia formed part of a cultural matrix with a free flow of ideas. The Lydians, like other peoples of Western Antolia, shared many similarities with the Greeks, including equipment and probably also modes of fighting: we can easily speak of a common cultural koine.
Suggestions for further reading are listed below:
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