From Croesus to Cyrus: Ionian social and cultural environment in the mid-sixth century B.C. – R. Gül Gürtekin Demir & Özlem Şimşek Özer

The zenith of Ionian enlightenment is marked by the sixth century B.C., yet it is the era that Ionia came under the shadows of two super powers of the ancient world. In canonical research of the region, there has been a tendency to treat Ionian revolutionary steps specifically evident in monumental architecture, sculpture and philosophical thought isolated from the social and cultural context of its day. Historically and archaeologically these were the periods that mark the most brilliant and prosperous times in the history of Ionia despite some remarks of ancient writers regarding Ionian enslavement first by Lydians and then by Persians.

Already by the seventh century B.C., Lydian connection was firmly established. Despite being a constant threat, King Gyges provided new ways of interactions for Ionians, and permitted Milesians to settle in Abydos in the Troad. This situation both implies a mutual but a Lydian-controlled relation with Milesians and a Lydian political control over Troad where nearby gold mines were exploited already during the early seventh century. Naturally, there was also occasional negative response from the middling values of the Greek world to the new emerging imperial power, as Archilochos says he has no interest of Gyges’ wealth, heroic deeds or rulership over others (Archilochos, fr. 19).

By the beginning of the sixth century B.C., the urbanization process of Ionian cities was completed. Tyranny was the regime, although there was a notion for individual rights. The society was open and intercommunicated with other cultures even without volunteering. This is also the time when Ionian cities came under a heavier Lydian pressure during the reign of Alyattes. They were even nominally subjected by Croesus (Herodotus, Histories, I.6.2, 26-28) although the prosperity of Ionian cities reached its zenith at this time. The prosperity must have reached to a point that it allowed intellectual and free thought. Despite the constant political struggle, a new elite class emerged by the sixth century B.C., perhaps finding some sort of comfort zone provided first by Lydia and then by Persia. Moreover, Ionian response to super powers, whether they were fully or not under their realm, has been quiet successful. Lydian experience was also beneficial for the Ionian strategies to deal with the Persians.

The desire for owning luxurious goods, much of it coming from Lydia described as habrosyne gained so much popularity that it became a lifestyle within the Ionian society by the middle of the century and this phenomenon seems to be related to urban cultural life.  It defined the new elite class who expressed themselves in expensive clothes and boots, elaborate hair-dressing, perfumes and also delicacies such as good wine and fine foods. It also found expression in burial grounds and sanctuaries where elite competition became evident. Although not explicitly cited in the ancient sources and not necessarily invented by Lydians other luxury items and customs, such as the custom of reclining banquet over kline may have gained popularity within the elite circles of Archaic Ionia via Lydia.

Lydia may have been a role model for Ionian societies for a century and the elites identified themselves with Lydia. They asked for fragrances and incenses “as used by Croesus” (Hipponax fr. 104.12). Was it a natural process formed by the growing interaction of Lydia and Ionia, or was it the wise political strategy of Lydians to manipulate the Ionians? Habrosyne might have been a useful tool for pacifying and ruling the others. In other words, cultural penetration seems to have been effective and influential as much as political penetration. The passage from the Histories of Herodotus (Herodotus, Histories, I.155) informs us with an interesting advice by Croesus to Cyrus on preventing Lydians from being rebellious and future threats by them. To save Sardis from destruction and to save his people, Croesus recommends Cyrus to prohibit Lydians possessing weapons, order them to wear tunics under their cloaks and soft boots, instruct them to play the lyre and the harp and tell them to educate their sons to be shopkeepers. Except from the latter advice, all others are related to luxury items. Lydian imperial policy might have served to prevent the formation of political unity and awareness of collective identity among Ionians. They were simultaneously free and dependent during both the Lydian and Persian control. That might have been the ideal climate for the emergence of rational thought. They had to adjust themselves to frequent changes of power and deal with changing political situations. It should not be a coincidence that the first Ionian philosopher Thales was also known for his wise political advice. (Diogenes Laertius Philosophoi Biol, 25) The lack of a strong established authority, occasional civil strives, power struggle within society co-existed with an outside authority, which served as protector, guide and sponsor. Both sides benefited mutually.

Adopting Lydian ways of behavior and owning Lydian luxurious goods not only took place in the Ionian cities that were within the close circle of Lydian Kingdom but also at some other regions in Asia Minor within the Lydian political and cultural sphere, such as Pisidia, Caria, Propontus and Phrygia. It is noteworthy that we also observe the Lydian influence in cities such as Miletos, Chios and particularly Samos that managed to stay out of the Lydian realm. Polycrates was educated by an Ionian lyric poet Anacreon from Teos who was very fond of Lydian habrosyne and he resided at the court of Aiakes and Polycrates in Samos (Himerios, Oration, 29). In accordance with Athaneus, “Polycrates collected everything that was worth speaking of everywhere to gratify his luxury” (Athaneus, Deiphosoptistae, 12.540.g). He imitated effeminate practices of Lydians, built a street named Laura styled after the one in Sardis named Ankon, full of common women, all kinds of food to promote enjoyment (Athaneus, Deiphosoptistae, 12.540.f). In this case, we can certainly sense that there was rivalry as well as envy.

This paper will be focusing on the Lydian luxurious goods and customs, their use and adoption by the Ionian society in a period where major political changes were taking place. We will explore the questions related to the time period: what was the definition of luxury for an Ionian living in the mid-sixth century B.C. and how much of it was related to Lydia. What was the Lydian view towards luxury and did the same items also mean luxury to Lydians? In this paper it is aimed to outline the luxury items defined by the ancient literary sources and to determine the factual evidence through archaeological remains. It is necessary to figure out to what extend the archaeological material culture defines the nature of the luxury items cited in the ancient literary sources both in central Lydia and its expression in Ionia. Thus it is intended to trace archaeological evidence that implies or illustrates the luxury items and customs defined and cited in the ancient testimonia.

A closer look at habrosyne will be taken through the perspective of social and economic processes, as well as through the remains of material culture in order to help our understanding of the environment, which ultimately leads to the intellectual revolution by the sixth century B.C. Habrosyne was regarded both as negative and positive influence over the non-Lydian nations; however the elements of Lydian life style may have been a distinct tool for cultural expansion along with or without imperial inclination.