The Gods of Lydia

Crawford H. Greenewalt, jr.

Introduction

Lydian religion was polytheistic, with a pantheon in the seventh and sixth centuries BC that was partly Anatolian and partly Greek (like much else in Lydian culture). Some gods and goddesses worshipped by Lydians were fundamentally Anatolian, others were partly or wholly Greek. Evidence from the time of Croesus and his predecessors is slight; the more abundant information from later eras often may be relevant, but always should be used with caution.1

Female Gods

A major goddess was Cybele, or Kuvava, closely related to Phrygian Cybele, or matar (mother), and to other important female divinities of Anatolia. She was represented as a female figure, often accompanied by lions (like Phrygian Cybele; Nos. 34, 35, Figs. 1, 2, 3). Sculpture of the sixth century BC showing her and her lions, perhaps also her temple at Sardis; and marble blocks from a Classical or Hellenistic metroon, were reused as building material in the Late Roman Synagogue at Sardis (Figs. 4, 5, 6, 7) and presumably were brought there from her sanctuary, perhaps located nearby. The destruction of her sanctuary/temple (the word hieron, which can mean both, is used by Herodotus) by Greeks in 499 BC was a pretext for the subsequent destruction of Greek sanctuaries/temples by the Persians.

A small sanctuary in an extramural part of Sardis is implied by an altar of modest size, materials, and construction (of roughly trimmed brown-grey coarse stone), which may be identified with Cybele from its decorative statues of lions (Nos. 13, 14, Figs. 8, 9, 10, 11) and from a pottery fragment painted with her name (Kuvav[..); that altar is located near installations for refining gold and silver (see Greenewalt, “Gold and Silver Refining at Sardis”) and may represent a thank offering for success in refining.2

Artemis (No. 35, Fig. 3), who received fabulous offerings from King Croesus and perhaps also from Lydians of much less elite status in her great sanctuary at Ephesus, also had a sanctuary at Sardis, which reportedly was founded from Ephesus and, like Artemis’s sanctuary there, was extramural. Its existence in the sixth century BC is indicated by a few sculptural dedications and architectural features. Later, the sanctuary received a monumental altar, begun ca. 500 BC, and a huge temple, begun in the third century BC (Figs. 12, 13; see Yegül, “The Temple of Artemis at Sardis”). Artemis had another major sanctuary located 7 km north of Sardis, close to tombs of Lydian kings (at Bin Tepe) and on the south shore of the lake called Gygaea or Koloë. Artemis of Koloë is attested in late-Persian times; whether her lakeshore sanctuary existed in Lydian times is unclear.3

Another goddess with a claim to cult in Lydian times is Kore, i.e. the Maiden. Her image in a primitive form that conventionally signified venerable age appears on coins of Sardis and other Lydian cities, gems, and other art of the Roman era (Fig. 14), at which time she was identified with Persephone. The use of that image to symbolize Sardis on coins commemorating alliances between Sardis and other cities (Fig. 14) shows her importance; the occasional representation of it in a temple implies the existence of a formal sanctuary; and games honoring Kore were celebrated at Sardis. Did she have a cult in Lydia in the time of Croesus and his predecessors (promoted or revived in Roman imperial times)? Archaeology has as yet to provide direct evidence.4

  • Fig. 1

    Cybele Monument, No. 34, overall view (Courtesy of the Vedat Nedim Tör Museum, Istanbul)

  • Fig. 2

    Cybele Monument, No. 34, drawing (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 3

    Naiskos with Artemis, Cybele, and worshippers, No. 35 (Courtesy of the Vedat Nedim Tör Museum, Istanbul)

  • Fig. 4

    Cybele Monument, as discovered reused in the Late Roman Synagogue at Sardis, with excavator David Mitten (No. 34) (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 5

    Cybele Monument, as discovered reused in the Late Roman Synagogue at Sardis, with excavator David Mitten (No. 34) (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 6

    Sculpture of a lion found reused near the Synagogue at Sardis, perhaps originally associated with the sanctuary of Cybele (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 7

    Pair of addorsed lions found in the Synagogue, 5th-4th C. BC in date but reused in Late Roman times (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 8

    View of altar of Cybele at sector Pactolus North (PN) (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 9

    Drawing of altar of Cybele at Pactolus North (PN) (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 10

    One of the sculptures of lions, Nos. 13, 14, as found embedded in the altar of Cybele at sector Pactolus North (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 11

    One of the sculptures of lions from the altar of Cybele at sector Pactolus North, Nos. 13, 14 (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 12

    View of the Temple of Artemis at Sardis (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 13

    View of the Altar of Artemis at Sardis (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 14

    Bronze coin of Sardis commemorating an alliance between Sardis and Ephesus; showing the head of Emperor Marcus Aurelius, on the obverse, Kore of Sardis and Artemis of Ephesus on the reverse (from Sardis) (Photograph by Crawford H. Greenewalt, jr.)

Male Gods

Gods of the Lydian era are more elusive than goddesses. Zeus, Levs/Lefs in Lydian, is cited in Lydian votive and funerary texts of the later fourth century BC (he is benevolent in the former, punitive – for grave desecration – in the latter); and his name may appear on a fragmentary pottery jug of the sixth century BC (Fig. 15). His hieratic image (standing, holding eagle and scepter), designated Lydian Zeus (Zeus Lydios), on Roman coins of Sardis (Fig. 16), may imply that his cult, like that of Kore, existed much earlier; similarly, a tradition of Zeus’s birth in Lydia have existed in the Lydian era. A cult center of Zeus at Sardis may have been located in or near the Sanctuary of Artemis: two Greek inscriptions of Roman date that were recovered in and near that Sanctuary refer to a sanctuary or temple (hieron) of Zeus the City Guardian (Polieus) and of Artemis and to a statue of Zeus erected in the reign of Persian King Artaxerxes; and a fragmentary marble basin of Classical or Hellenistic date, inscribed in Lydian with Levs’ name, probably comes from the Artemis Sanctuary. (A temple and an altar of Zeus Olympios at Sardis were ordered by Alexander the Great in the location of the palace of the Lydians (location unknown) after he had considered having it built on the Acropolis.)5

Apollo received sumptuous offerings from Lydian kings (Gyges, Alyattes, Croesus) in his sanctuaries at Delphi and Didyma, and according to popular Greek tradition saved Croesus after his capture by the Persians. Apollo’s Lydian name was once thought to be qldans, a word that appears in Lydian funerary epitaphs of the Classical era, but recent studies have rejected Apollo in favor of other meanings (the moon god, an epithet of Artemis, the Lydian word for Lydian). A sanctuary/temple (hieron) of Apollo at Sardis that was visited by Croesus is cited by Greek historian Ktesias (fourth century BC), whose intimate familiarity with the Persian Empire should make him a valuable authority, but whose information is frequently problematic. Nevertheless, the existence of a sanctuary of Apollo at Sardis in the time of Croesus, if not earlier, is highly probable in the light of Herodotus’s information.6

Bacchus or Dionysos is the Lydian Baki-, cited and implied in Lydian texts, which in nature and number suggest that Baki-’s cult existed in the Lydian era, although the date of the texts is Classical and Hellenistic. Satyrs, the followers of Dionysos, are depicted at Sardis in the sixth century BC on the marble naiskos of Cybele (No. 34, Figs. 1, 2). Lydia is Dionysos’ homeland in Euripides’ Bacchae. Lydian coins with Dionysos’ image and ancient references to wines of specific Lydian locations are attested in Roman times.7

Hermes’ presence in the Lydian pantheon largely depends on a fragmentary verse of Hipponax, Ephesian poet of the sixth century BC, whose vocabulary included Lydian and other Anatolian words. In Hipponax’s verse, Hermes “Dog-throttler” is identified with Kandaules of the Maeonians, the latter being either synonymous with Lydians or the Lydians’ predecessors in Lydia. Whether Kandaules is being identified with Hermes or only with his epithet, Dog-throttler, is unclear. If Kandaules was a Lydian divinity who overpowered dogs, he might be associated with ritual meals of the sixth century BC that have been recovered at Sardis and that included skeletons of immature canids (further, below). Other evidence for Hermes in Lydia before the Hellenistic era includes his image (holding kerukeion, wearing winged shoes and an oriental (?) cap) on a Greco-Persian stamp seal, of a type common at Sardis (Fig. 17).8

  • Fig. 15

    Fragment from the shoulder of a Black-on-Red Lydian jug, with a painted inscription in Lydian, “Levs/Lefs” (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 16

    Bronze coin of Sardis showing Zeus Lydios (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 1

    Cybele Monument, No. 34, overall view (Courtesy of the Vedat Nedim Tör Museum, Istanbul)

  • Fig. 2

    Cybele Monument, No. 34, drawing (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 17

    Pyramidal stamp seal of blue chalcedony, showing Hermes holding cadeuceus and flower, with bird; now in New York (The Metropolitan Museum of Art no. 81.6.3) (© The Metropolitan Museum of Art (Credit line: Gift of Jon Taylor Johnston, 1881))

Rituals

Sanctuary ritual of two kinds is attested at Sardis in the archaeological record of the Lydian era. Interment of stone lions within corners of the altar of Cybele, located near refining installations for precious metal (Nos. 13, 14 ; Figs. 10, 11; see also Greenewalt, “Gold and Silver Refining at Sardis”), is probably associated with alterations to the altar structure, because the lions rested (upright) at exactly the level from which altar height was increased in a secondary construction phase.

Another ritual is attested by dinner offerings of the sixth century BC that seem to have been buried in small pits, a few feet below occupation surfaces near buildings of modest size and materials in extramural residential or commercial quarters of the city. Each offering typically included a cup (skyphos), pitcher, plate (ring-footed or with stemmed foot), iron knife, and either a cooking pot (chytra) or a jug shaped like a cooking pot; and the last regularly contained the skeleton of an immature canid, most probably a dog (Nos. 3846 ; Figs. 18, 19, 20). Twenty-six or more of those “place setting” assemblages were recovered over a distance of 220–300 m outside the western lower city defenses (mostly in excavation sector HoB; also in sector PN, and perhaps in sector PC). The skeletons were essentially complete, including very small bones; cut marks on the bones indicate that the animals had been dismembered. Whether or not they had been cooked is unclear; several of the jugs (including Nos. 38 and 42) that contained skeletons were not made of cooking-ware fabric. If a Lydian Hermes existed and was a chthonic god associated with thievery like Greek Hermes, the dinner offerings might have been buried to enlist his protection of the buildings above; alternative recipient possibilities might include Hekate, to whom dogs are known to have been sacrificed.

A later parallel to those offerings was uncovered in a Hellenistic level near the Temple of Artemis at Sardis, by the Butler Expedition:

“…more than a dozen ovoid cups with rims slightly drawn in, having each a small moulded handle. These were found at the base of walls, and usually outside of buildings; several of them behind the row of stele-bases on the north side of the Lydian Building [i.e., Altar of Artemis]. Each cup contained a coin, the shell of an egg, and a small bronze instrument the nature of which could not be determined because all had corroded badly, apparently consisting of twisted wire. Several of these cups were broken accidentally by the pick, but seven are still perfectly preserved, and in one the egg-shell is whole but for a small hole in one end.”9, 10
  • Fig. 10

    One of the sculptures of lions, Nos. 13, 14, as found embedded in the altar of Cybele at sector Pactolus North (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 11

    One of the sculptures of lions from the altar of Cybele at sector Pactolus North, Nos. 13, 14 (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 18

    Excavating a ritual dinner at Sardis (Photograph by Crawford H. Greenewalt, jr.)

  • Fig. 19

    Ritual dinner assemblages as exposed in excavation; drawings by F. L’Hoir, based on photographs (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 20

    Remains of a ritual dinner, including plate, cup, jug, cooking pot, knife, and skeleton of a young puppy (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

Notes

  • 1Authoritative accounts of the gods and cults of Lydia are given in Keil 1923; Hanfmann 1983, 90–95; Hanfmann 1983; Johnston in Buttrey et al. 1981, 7–11.
  • 2For derivation of the names Kybele and Kuvava, see Munn 2006, 120–125. For sculptural votives of Archaic and Classical eras reused as spoils in the Synagogue and nearby, see Hanfmann and Ramage 1978, 41–51, 57–60, 68–69, nos. 4, 6–7, 19–20, 31–32; Mitten and Scorziello 2008; for inscribed antae blocks from a Metroon of the Classical or early Hellenistic era reused as spoils in the same Synagogue, see Hanfmann 1983, 110; Gauthier 1989; Greenewalt et al. 1994, 22. Destruction of the Sanctuary/Temple at Sardis at the beginning of the Ionian Revolt is cited by Herodotus 5.102. For the Altar of Cybele at PN, see Ramage and Craddock 2000, 72–79; and its lion statues, Hanfmann and Ramage 1978, 66–67 nos. 27–29. “The altar, in contrast to the houses (i.e., nearby) was built of roughly trimmed rectangular pieces of bedrock from the mountains just to the south of Sardis.…” (Ramage and Craddock 2000, 72). Might that material be related to the common Anatolian association of Cybele with mountains?
  • 3For Croesus’s offerings at Ephesus, see Herodotus 1.92; Buxton 2002; for Lydian offerings at Ephesus that imply dedicants of more modest social and economic status (Kerschner 2006). The existence of the Sanctuary of Artemis at Sardis in the sixth century BC is attested by sculptural dedications and architectural fragments of Archaic style (Hanfmann and Ramage 1978, 158–160 nos. 235–236, 238, possibly no. 237, cf. Boardman 2000, 37, 39 and fig. 2.20; Hanfmann and Waldbaum 1975, 94, figs. 208–210), and by the foundation for a cult image or shelter for same (Butler 1922, 65, 74–76; Butler 1925, 23). The founding of Artemis’s sanctuary at Sardis from Ephesus is recorded in an inscription of the fourth century BC from Ephesus; see Knibbe 1961-1963; Hanfmann 1987. For the lakeside Sanctuary of Artemis, see Strabo 13.4.5 (626); the earliest evidence for Artemis Koloëne (i.e. of Koloë) is a funeral epitaph dated to the reign of King Artaxerxes (Gusmani 1964, 250 no. 1; see also 63 [artimu-] and 156 [kulumsi-]).
  • 4For Kore, see Head 1901, cx, 391; Fleischer 1973, 187–191; Johnston in Buttrey et al. 1981, 7–10; Hanfmann 1983, 92–93; Hanfmann 1983. The identification of her coin images with Persephone is supported by a small marble statue of Roman times, now in Padova, which shows the abduction by Hades on her pectoral; see Balestrazzi 1984; and R. Fleischer, personal communication, 1985 (Fleischer previously had identified her with Artemis; Fleischer 1973, 187–191). For the games (Chrysanthina, Koraia Aktaia), see Head 1901, cx; Johnston in Buttrey et al. 1981, 8–10, 13. Statues of her children were dedicated by Roman Emperors Caracalla and Geta in the Bath-Gymnasium complex at Sardis (Hanfmann and Ramage 1978, 178–179 no. 277; Yegül 1986, 170–171 no. 4). She may be depicted on a pilaster capital from the Bath-Gymnasium complex and in relief sculpture near marble quarries south of Sardis (Hanfmann and Ramage 1978, 139–140 no. 194 (pilaster capital) and 126–127 no. 156 (quarry relief); Yegül 1986, 105 (pilaster capital)).
  • 5For the dipinto, see Gusmani 1975, 38–39 no. A III 2; excavation inventory nos. IN64.015 = P64.043). For Levs/Lefs, see Gusmani 1964, 160, 251 no. 3, 267 no. 50; 1986, 158 no. 107. A tradition of Zeus’s birth in Lydia was credited to Eumelus, poet of the eighth or seventh century BC, by Johannes Lydus, who wrote (in the sixth century AD) that a summit of Mount Tmolus west of Sardis had formerly been called “the begettings of Zeus the Rain God”; De Mensibus 4.71; see Huxley 1969, 77. For the sanctuary of Zeus Polieus and Artemis in an inscription of 6–5 BC, see Buckler and Robinson 1932, 19, 23, no. 8.133. For the statue of Zeus erected in the reign of Artaxerxes (probably Artaxerxes II (404–359 BC), see Robert 1975; Herrmann 1996, 321–341. For the inscribed marble basin, see Gusmani 1985, 74–77; Greenewalt et al. 1986, 23. For Alexander’s contemplated temple and altar, see Arrian, Anabasis Alexandri 1.17.5; Hanfmann 1977: 147.
  • 6For royal Lydian offerings at Delphi and Didyma, see Herodotus 1.50–51, 92; Buxton 2002. For qldans, see Gusmani 1964, 63–64, 188–189 and nos. 4 and 23 in the corpus of Lydian texts; Hawkins 2004, 330. Reference to Apollo’s sanctuary/temple (hieron) in Ktesias’s Persika (fragment 4, ed. König) is known from Photius’s extract written in the ninth century AD. The case for a sanctuary of Apollo at Sardis is eloquently made by Hanfmann 1983, 94. For Apollo cults in and near Sardis in later antiquity, see Herrmann 1996.
  • 7In Lydian texts, forms of Baki- occur in association with a priest, as the name of a month, and as a theonym (Gusmani 1964, 74–75 nos. 1, 10, 20, 22, 51; 1986, 128, 158 no. 108). For Dionysos’s Lydian homeland, see Euripides’ Bacchae 464; also 13–14, 55–56, 64–65, 135–141, 152–155, etc. For Dionysos on Roman coins issued by twenty-two Lydian cities and townships, see Head 1901, 387; for wines of Lydia, see Greenewalt 1978a, 36 n. 10.
  • 8Hipponax fragment 3a (ed. Gerber). Scholarly comment on the verse and on the word Kandaules is thoroughly reviewed and analyzed by Hawkins 2004, 290–318. The stamp seal is in New York in The Metropolitan Museum of Art (Boardman 1970, 351 and pl. 845).
  • 9Butler 1922, 127–128. For the ritual dinners of the sixth century BC, see Pedley 1974; Greenewalt 1978b; Robertson 1982. For Hittite parallels, see Collins 1992; Hawkins 2004, 315–316.
  • 10During the 2013 excavation season two similar groups of artifacts were found, each consisting of a pottery vessel and lid, metal implements including a bronze nail, a bronze needle, other pointed metal artifacts, a coin, and an egg: figs. 21, 22. The coins from these groups date to the reign of Nero. See Cahill 2014 (NDC).
  • Fig. 21

    Votive assemblage at F49 13.1 during excavation, 2013 (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 22

    Votive assemblage from trench F49 13.1, 2013 (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)