The introduction of coined money by Gyges was a momentous event which, together with other unusual aspects of his rule, stirred the imagination and the emotions of the Greeks, with the result that what they recounted of him belongs to the realm of tales. These tales proved to be of an unusual appeal and vitality, and they became the subject of many elaborations of which the last outcome are the Biblical tale of Susanna at the Bath and the tale of Aladdin in the Arabian Nights. These tales are complex; nevertheless, if they are carefully examined one can arrive at their historical nucleus.

The Greeks were particularly impressed by the fact that Gyges legitimized his position as ruler of Lydia by marrying the widowed queen of the Maionian king he had slain. It will be shown below that this is not an entirely correct description of the events, but it is the way they looked to Greek eyes. Gyges' action was in conformity with the social institutions of Lydia which had many matriarchal traits, but was repugnant to the Greeks who put a great stress on the patriarchal practices they had rather recently adopted.

The less dramatic version of Gyges' ascent to power is told by Plutarch:1 Gyges was a member of King Candaules' retinue (etairoi) who revolted against their master and defeated his retinue with an army that included a body of Carian mercenaries.

In Plato Gyges appears as a mythical character, the type of the perfect villain who, having discovered a ring that gave invisibility, felt free from all moral scruples.2 With the help of this ring Gyges seduced the king's wife and then in agreement with her killed the king and seized the throne.

Herodotos (I. 8-14) relates the same tale in a version that tries to exclude the miraculous element and also presents Gyges in a better light. Gyges, son of Daskylos, was the favorite among the hoplite bodyguards of King Kandaules. He was forced by the king to look at the naked queen from a place where he could not be seen. The queen, upon discovering the fact, felt outraged and proceeded to win the bodyguards to her side; then she forced Gyges under threat of death to join in her plot and married him after he had killed the king. More historically reliable is the further information that the Lydians resented Gyges' usurpation of the throne and took up arms against him. According to Herodotos the Lydians ceased resistance when the oracle of Delphoi confirmed Gyges in power. Gyges, having succeeded Kandaules as tyrannos of the Lydians, sent his famous gold and silver offerings to Delphoi.

Nikolaos of Damaskos3 relates a long and confused story which, however, can be clarified when one recognizes that it contains a duplication of the same event, that is, the establishment of the Mermnad dynasty of Lydia. This duplication is the result of an effort to extend backwards the list of kings of Lydia which should have started with Gyges. The chronographers list four Lydian kings before Gyges, even though all other sources agree on the fact that he was the first king. Nikolaos also lists four Lydian kings as having preceded Gyges, but his names do not agree with those of the chronographers. The number of four for Gyges' predecessors was probably derived from that of his successors who were actually four.

According to Nikolaos, Adyattes, king of Lydia, left his power to his two sons Kadys and Ardys who ruled together and were popular with the Lydians. But Kadys' wife, Damonno, had an adulterous relation with Spermos, cousin of her husband, and because of it organized a plot in which the ability to make an underground hollow invisible had a part. When Kadys died Damonno with her bounties won a great number of Lydians to her side and, in agreement with Spermos, expelled Ardys. She married Spermos and proclaimed him king. Ardys fled to Kyme where he made a living as a chariot-maker. Ardys foiled Spermos' attempts to dispatch him, succeeded in causing the death of Spermos, and was called back to the throne by an embassy of Lydians "among which there were some Herakleidai." But, after having been restored to the throne, Ardys in his old age allowed all power to fall into the hand of his favorite Daskylos, son of Gyges. Fearing that Daskylos might seize the throne at the king's death, Ardys' son Adyattes (II) killed Daskylos. The son of Daskylos, also called Daskylos (II), fled to Phrygia and thence to the area of Pontic Syria near Sinope. The murderer of Daskylos did not become king; the next king was a Meles who, however, went into exile in order to expiate Daskylos' murder. There followed the reign of Myrsos and then of Sadyattes. At this time Gyges, son of the second Daskylos, returned to Lydia where he was adopted by an Ardys who introduced him to the king. King Sadyattes made him one of his bodyguards, but a Lixos, member of the family of the Tylonidai, intrigued against Gyges' power; the Adyattes (II) who had killed Daskylos also belonged to the family of the Tylonidai. Gyges fell in love with Queen Tudo, raped her, and then, in order to escape punishment, won part of the bodyguard to his side and killed the king. Supported by this body of hoplites, he confronted the assembly of the Lydians who at first were hostile, but then, cowed by the presence of Gyges' troops, decided to consult the oracle of Delphoi. Gyges was confirmed in power by the oracle and married the queen who had earlier called for vengeance against him. Lixos was removed from the court and Gyges vowed that he would kill him if he ever met him. But, as a result of an adventure in which chariots played a part, Lixos' life was spared.

A piece of information that must be linked with Nikolaos' story is provided by Aristotle in .us The Constitution of the Kymeans, as preserved in Herakleides' .us Epitome: the Lydians, who were badly oppressed by somebody's despotic rule, learned that somebody was in Kyme and decided to call him to the throne; but this somebody was working as a slave in a chariot-making shop and could not be released.

Nikolaos' account gives two parallel versions of Gyges' usurpation and presents them as having taken place in different generations: Gyges is called Spermos in the first version and the queen's name, too, is changed. The two versions agree in the main lines, except for the final detail in the first version according to which the exiled king succeeded in causing the death of the usurper. In Nikolaos' narrative, even though the kings are described as Lydian kings, it is said that the enemies of Daskylos and Gyges, that is, Adyattes and Lixos, were Tylonidai. Leigh Alexander has shown that Tylon was the native name of the divinity identified by the Greeks with Heracles, and that hence the Tylonidai are the Herakleid dynasty of Maionia.4 Nikolaos reveals the fact that the original story dealt with the overthrow of the Herakleidai by Gyges when he relates that the exile of Kyme was called back by an embassy of Lydians "among which there were some Herakleidai."

By collapsing together the two versions of the usurpation of the throne, one can reconstruct with reasonable approximation what must have been the actual course of events. A Heraclid king of Maionia left his throne to two sons who ruled together. During their rule all actual power was assumed by a member of the Mermnad family, Daskylos, commander of the king's hoplite bodyguards. In discussing Gyges' usurpation, Plutarch relates that the last Herakleid king had entrusted the royal double-ax to a member of his retinue. As has been pointed out by Alexander (p. 63), this Daskylos was one and the same person with the Askalos whom Nikolaos (fr. 16-18) describes as a successful general of the Lydian kings. Askalos after a long seige seized a city of Syria called Krabos or Nerabos (the mss. are corrupt); the city was actually Daskyleion, formerly called Bryllion, on the Propontis near Kyzikos.5 Nikolaos states that the son of the murdered Daskylos fled to Pontic Syria from which Gyges returned to Lydia. Nikolaos states (fr. 16) that Daskylos "is said to have led many campaigns and to have acquired great reputation among the Lydians for his valor and justice." From this we may conclude that a Daskylos, general of the Maionian kings, acquired power and reputation by his campaigns in the Propontis; when he was killed, because his power was a threat to the legitimate rulers, his son Gyges fled to the Propontis where he could find support among his father's soldiers. All narratives stress the role played by the hoplite bodyguards in Gyges' usurpation. Gyges, who was member of the bodyguard himself, won at least a part of it to his cause. With the bodyguards and possibly with more mercenaries hired from Ionia and Karia, he was able to avenge his father by killing one of the kings. He seized power and maintained it thanks to the mercenary hoplites, but tried also to make his rule legitimate by marrying the widowed queen. His rule was further legitimized by a favorable decision of the oracle of Delphoi. The other king of Maionia fled to Kyme where Gyges tried in vain to have him assassinated. The exile of Kyme was expected to attempt a restoration of the legitimate Herakleid dynasty and was invited to do so by an embassy of disgruntled Lydians. The tradition seems to imply that the exile was not very active in asserting his claims to the throne and was more interested in the sport of charioteering. Or perhaps the traditional information should be interpreted in the sense that the exiled king while in Kyme made a display of the aristocratic art of chariot-racing and chariot-fighting in opposition to the upstart Gyges whose power was based on the less respectable skill of fighting in hoplite armor. In any case the one of the two kings of Maionia who had succeeded in fleeing to Kyme died of natural causes, but did not succeed in restoring the monarchy of Maionia and in avenging his brother.

On the shores of the Gygaian Swamp near Sardis there was located the sanctuary of the Nymph Gygaia, the Mother Goddess of the Lydians, called by the Greeks Artemis. Around this holiness that was the national sanctuary of the Lydians, there were located the tombs of King Gyges and his successors together with those of their queens. These tombs consisted of a mound of earth piled up in a circular area, with a stone marker on the top. These tumuli are still visible today, but have been the object of only cursory explorations. There are more than one hundred of them in an area of two miles. Some have the huge proportions of the one described as the tomb of King Alyattes by Herodotos (I 93). As to the tomb of Alyattes, Strabo (XIII 627) reports that it was known as the "memorial of the prostitute" (pornh|s| mnhma) and Herodotos says that it had been built by the work of prostitutes. This information becomes comprehensible in the light of the statement by Klearchos of Soloi that "Gyges, king of Lydia, became famous not only because he entrusted himself and his power to his loved one during her life, but also because he gathered all the people from the country of Lydia to heap up earth for what is still today call the memorial of the hetaira" (th|s| etaira|s| mnhma). This passage reveals that the legitimacy of the power of the Mermnad Kings of Lydia, who had usurped the throne of the Tyloniadae, was based on a marriage with the Nymph Gygaia in the person of her priestess. The tombs of the Lydian kings at the Gygaian swamp were first of all the tombs of their .us hetairai, their religious wives. This fact has been already suspected by Gelzer who maintains that the marriage by Gyges of Kandaules' wife was just one of the many examples of Oriental rulers legalizing their power by taking the widow of their predecessor as a wife or as a mystical wife (Gotterweib).

Strabo (XVIII 808) states that the Third Pyramid became the "tomb of the hetaira" (th|s| etaira|s| tafo|s) because Psammetichos who had married the courtesan Rhodopis of Naucratis, called Doricha by Sappho, after her death made this pyramid the tomb of his loved one. It is clear that Strabo is echoing the story told by Klearchos about Gyges' wife. The legend of the construction of a pyramid by Rhodopis is the product of a contamination of the story of Psammetichos' hetaira with that of Gyges' hetaira. The tombs of the Gygaian Swamp were constructions similar to the Egyptian pyramids and could be confused with them.

Herodotos remarks that only in Egypt and in Babylon could one find buildings comparable to the tombs of the Lydian kings. Ktesias of Knidos, who adapted the tale of Gyges' wife and out of it concocted the tale of Semiramis of Babylon, ascribes to the latter the construction of several monumental buildings of Babylon. The tale of Gyges is the origin of the tale of Aladdin in the Arabian Nights in which there is also question of the construction of a palace of miraculous proportions. The historical courtesan Phryne of Tempe, the one defended by Hypereides, became in the legend the embodiment of all hetairai and there were told about her tales which are a combination of what was told about Gyges' wife and about Rhodopis. Because of her association with Rhodopis, a statue of Phryne was erected in Delphoi next to the roasting spits. Phryne was believed to have accumulated an immense fortune by her charm and to have spent it on erecting various buildings such as the walls of Thebai. An offshoot of Phryne's tale is the Biblical story of Susanna at the bath. The motif of the bath appears in the tale of Aladdin who from a concealed place sees the Sultan's daughter as she is going to bathe. It appears in Rhodopis' tale combined with the Aphrodite's slipper motif: while Rhodopis is bathing, and eagle steals her slipper and drops it into the lap of King Psammetichos. The root of these tales is the fact that the kings of Lydia were assumed to have intercourse with the nymph of the Gygaian Swamp who was invisible to everybody else.


1. Moralia I. 302; .us Quaest. Graik. 45.

2. Republic II.359C

3. Fragmenta Historicorum Graecorum fr. 44-47.

4. The Kings of Lydia, Dissertation (Princeton, 1913), p. 54.

5. The historical tradition changed the name of the city from Daskyleion to Askalon, because of a confusion between Syria on the Pontos (Leukosyria) with the more famous Syria on the Mediterranean in which there is a town of Askalon; the name of the conquering general was accordingly changed from Daskylos to Askalos.