THE GOLD OF GYGES
If mercenary troops are hired they must be paid and a medium must be found to pay them. Mercenary soldiers cannot be paid in objects that are difficult to carry and must be paid in media fit for the regular payment of small sums on a daily basis. Mercenary soldiers could not be paid in oxen or grain; they could not be paid by the oriental system of weighed metals which requires the use of scales and was conceived mainly for long distance traffic by big traders.
The key to the problem is given by the evidence pieced together in another part of this work, to the effect that Queen Nitokris, spiritual ruler of Egypt, dedicated a bundle of obelisks at the temple of Delphoi in order to affect the Greek system of currency. Greek trade was not of such importance to Egypt as to justify a direct intervention of Nitokris to regulate the Greek system of currency. It is rather the pay of Greek mercenary soldiers that would be of immediate concern to the Egyptian rulers, since Greek hoplites played a major part in establishing and defending the Saite Dynasty. When in 663 B.C. Psammetichos took up arms against Assurbanipal in order to unify Egypt and make it independent of foreign domination, Gyges came to his aid by sending him a body of Ionian and Karian hoplite mercenaries. Since Ephoros (I 66) reports that Psammetichos I sent for Greek mercenaries from Asia Minor and Assurbanipal's inscription records that help was sent by Gyges to Psammetichos, historians have concluded that it was Gyges who sent Greek hoplites to Egypt and initiated the Egyptian kings to their use. Apparently what Gyges did was to initiate his fellow upstart of Egypt into the use of such forces which were the mainstay of his power. The hoplite mercenaries proved effective and ever after the rulers of Egypt relied on them. When the first Greek "brazen men" were hired by Psammetichos I, he promised them land as reward (Her. I, 152; 154). Apparently the use of Greek mercenaries in Egypt required the establishment of a Greek city on the coast having a function similar to that of Kyme, Kolophon, and Ephesos, in relation to the kingdom of Phrygia, Maionia, and Lydia, respectively. This Greek settlement on the coast was the "Milesian Fort," later supplanted by the city of Naukratis. The allotment of land was the traditional Egyptian way of rewarding soldiers, but it was hardly the best way to pay foreign mercenaries who are usually persons driven abroad by poverty and aiming to amass enough wealth to be able to return to their native land. Even though Herodotos states that the Greek hoplites inhabited the parcels allotted to them "for a long time" (I. 154), the kings of Egypt must have been looking for a more attractive reward. The pay of foreign troops had to consist of something acceptable in their land of origin. The form of currency most commonly used in Egypt consisted of copper ingots measured by weight; even after the Greek conquest introduced silver coins in Egypt, the copper currency, now in the form of bronze coins, remained the most common medium of exchange. A copper ingot had the same value as an obelisk of the same weight. Once the weighed copper ingots had become acceptable in Greece, the Greek mercenaries could be paid in weighed bronze.
The dedication of the roasting spits to Delphoi must have taken place in a period in which Nitokris-Rhodopis was the spiritual ruler of Egypt. From epigraphical evidence we know that Nitokris was adopted by the Divine Votaress in 654 B.C., became Divine Votaress around 640 B.C., and died in 584 B.C. She is mentioned as Divine Consort in the reign of Psammetichos I (664-610 B.C.), but not in that of his successor Neko (610-594 B.C.). She adopted the daughter of king Psammetichos II in 593 B.C. and thereby entered into a relation of quasi-marriage with him.
The action of Queen Nitokris in setting up her obelisks at Delphoi may be linked with that of king Gyges of Lydia sending to the temple offerings of silver and gold. Both the Mermnad dynasty of Lydia and the Saite Dynasty of Egypt were dynasties of usurpers who based their power on the service of Greek mercenary hoplites and pursued a parallel foreign policy. Both monarchies had close relations with the sanctuary of Delphoi and were interested in reforming the Greek monetary system. In the Greek mind the figure of Gyges' wife and that of Psammetichos II's wife became combined; the reason was that they actually had common traits. Since Herodotos discusses Gyges in relation with his offering to Delphoi, he must have gathered his information about him at Delphoi, and hence it is there that there must have taken place the contamination between this figure and Nitokris.
Gyges must have met a problem in paying his mercenaries. According to Phainias of Eresos, as quoted by Athenaios (VI 231e f) through Theopompos, before the time of Gyges the temple of Delphoi did not possess any gold or silver, but only utensil-money of bronze cauldrons. By sending to Delphoi many silver offerings and gold bowls (Her. I 14), Gyges may have tried to introduce the Greeks to the use of a currency of weighed precious metals like the one used in the area of Babylonian-Assyrian culture; in other words Gyges was trying to obtain a result similar to that at which Nitokris' offering was aiming. The offerings of Gyges may have stimulated in Greece the use of silver for jewelry and for exchange, but since there were not gold mines in Greece, gold did not circulate in any form in Greece up to the time of Kroisos of Lydia, according to Phainias ( ). Kroisos was the first to coin pieces of pure gold, but gold continued to be rather rare in Greece up to the time of Hieron, tyrant of Syracuse (478-466 B.C.); according to the same source, Hieron, after searching though Greece, found the gold necessary to dedicate to Delphi a tripod and a Victory of "pure gold," that is, not of electrum, in the house of the Corinthian Architeles "who had been buying up small amounts for a long time." This passage indicates the relation between the offering to Delphoi and the monetary circulation of Greece.
The solution to the problem of the gold for the Greek mercenaries was finally found in the combination of the oriental system of currency of weighed metals with the Greek electrum character. It may be that when Gyges marched on Sardis at the head of a body of Karian mercenaries hired with the wealth provided by Melas of Ephesos, their pay consisted of electrum characters, since Ephesos was the center of production of these objects; but when Gyges repaid his debt to Melas, he used electrum in bulk. Already in the Odyssey (IV 526) a hired watchman is promised a salary (misjo|s) of two gold talanta|. The use of gold hair ornaments in Kolophon begins with the Kolophonian mercenary service for the Lydian kings;1 this may imply that the salary paid to the Kolophonians consisted in some sort of apotropaic jewelry.
Radet points out that the legend of Gyges' miraculous ring2 refers to the fact that the king had actually discovered a secret to achieve power: "Gyges and his successors had in their possession a marvelous talisman: economic science." But, as Ure rejoins, the talisman is something more specific than economic science, it is the seal . (sfragi|s) on the ring. On the basis of what has been said before on the relation between seals and plaquettes, it is possible to conclude that the real significance of the signet ring of Gyges lies in the royal imprint used on the first coins.
The invention of coined money is ascribed by Herodotos to the Lydians. Other sources list Pheidon of Argos, the Idaian Dactyls, and Demodike. The claims of Pheidon will be considered in Part II. By Idaian Dactyls one has to understand the priest of Kybele. Kybele is the old Mother-Goddess of Phrygia whose main cult center became Sardis after the establishment of the Lydian dynasty of the Mermnads.
The creation of mercenary armies stimulated the invention of coinage to provide a convenient and attractive way of payment: this is the link between coinage and tyranny. The Greek city states finally faced the new danger by training their citizen armies to the hoplite tactics and introducing service pay for the citizens. It is possible that the transformation of Sparta into a barracks state dates from this time and that the refusal to adopt coinage is one of the measures aimed at preventing the danger of tyranny, the main concern in Spartan internal and foreign policy. If there was such a person as Pheidon, tyrant of Argos, and he was the author of the first coinage of Greece proper, that of Aigina, he may have struck his coins at Aigina because in that trading center he was recruiting his mercenaries, just as the Lydian kings were recruiting theirs at Ephesos. It is perhaps not an accident that the Athenian coinage began between 610 and 600 B.C, shortly after what seems to have been the date of Kylon's attempt to establish a tyranny.
The secret of Gyges' power was his use of the electrum of Lydia to hire mercenaries. The electrum was found in the primary deposits of Mount Tmolos and in the secondary deposits of the river Paktolos; the capital of Sardis was set in the very heart of the electrum district. All tyrants depended on mines.
That the tyranny of Gyges was based on the use of wealth afforded by the electrum deposits of Mount Tmolos and the River Paktolos, is stressed by a long poetic tradition that begins with Homer and Archilochos.
Mireaux has pointed out that the following lines of the Odyssey referring to Aigisthos are intended as an innuendo to Gyges:
III 304 - 305
According to Mireaux there is a reference to Gyges' many precious offerings to Delphi in these lines:
The friendly relations between Gyges and Delphoi are probably the reason why the sanctuary is practically ignored in the Homeric poems.
The Sophist Hippias claims ( ) that the word .us tyrannos was not used by the Greeks before the time of Gyges, and he seems to imply that it was the famous lines of Archilochos (fr. 25 Edmonds) that spread its use:
These lines had a dramatic impact on Greek thought, as indicated by the long series of imitations in other poets:
Anth. Pal. IX 10
Ibid. VII 740,3
Greg. Naz. I, 1, 10, l. 31
But the meaning of the phrase is made clear by a passage of Pindar that echoes Archilochos .us (Pyth. XI 50):
The phrase .bi ta mesa|, "the middle social, or economic level," is opposed to ta Gugew|: by choosing the middle status that allows a greater enjoyment of wealth (olbos) one renounces "the lot of tyrants" reserved to those who have great wealth.
The phrase .bi ta Gugew has been understood as a reference to a supposed coinage of Gyges as translated as "the coins of Gyges."
These paraphrases prove among other things that ta Gugew does not mean "the coins of Gyges, as Hogarth believed, but "the wealth of Gyges," better "the power given by Gyges' wealth." The phrase corresponds in meaning to olbo|s, which does not mean wealth, but the enjoyment of wealth or rather, here, the power that wealth gives. This wealth is the wealth connected with tyranny as indicated also by this paraphrase of Archilochos, in which the word .bi turanno|s is translated by anac (Anac. 8 Edmonds):
The lines of Homer and those of Archilochos together are echoed by Bacchylides' epinikion for the tyrant Hiero of Syracuse. The tyrant is greeted with the words: "Ho for a thrice-blessed man who has received from Zeus the gift of being the supreme ruler (pleistarxon) of the Greeks and knows how to uncover the tower-high wealth hidden under the mantle of darkness"; these words are a complete reversal of Archilochos' thought. Then he echoes Homer in a reference to Hiero's many gold gifts to Delphi:
Rife are the shrines with festal offerings of oxen, and rife also the streets with hospitalities; and bright shines the flashing gold where high and rich wrought tripods have been set before the temple in Phoibos' great precinct. . . . (aristo|s| olbwn).
1. Phylarkhos, fr. Jacoby
2. Plato, .us Republic |II 359 D.