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Gyges of Lydia ( c. 680-645 BCE)

"The affairs of gold-laden Gyges do not interest me
zealousy of the gods has never seized me nor anger
at their deeds. But I have no love for great tyranny
for its deeds are very far from my eyes."

- Archilocus (frag. 19)

Introduction

Founder of the Mermnad Dynasty in Lydia, Gyges, son of Dascylus is known to have usurped the Lydian throne. There are conflicting tales as to how he came about it, the least likely of which is the tale of the "Ring of Gyges", passed down to us by Plato and covered adequately in another node. Another tale, through brief, is that of Plutarch, who says that he stormed the throne as a dissenter leading an army. The final story, is that of Herodotus, which is a bit longer, and a bit more interesting.

Gyges the Sneak

Herodotus tells us that Gyges was a royal guard and confidant to King Candaules. Candaules, whose vanity and stupidity seemed almost evenly matched, decided that Gyges did not believe his incessant tales of how beautiful the Queen was, and that it should be arranged for Gyges to see her naked. Gyges protested--although honestly one must wonder if it were only to maintain a facade of loyalty. Candaules insisted, but made a provision that Gyges should hide behind the door to the royal bedchamber so as not to cause a fuss.

Gyges reluctantly agreed, and that night, the King led him to the Queen's bedroom. And after he had seen her, he attempted to sneak away. His ruse was to no avail, however, since the Queen saw him and was terribly put-out. She told the sneak that now he would either have to kill the King, or die himself. I fail to grasp the logic of these choices, but Herodotus seems to think it was perfectly normal, so I'll proceed with my brief tale.

Gyges took no time thinking about it and decided to slay his Lord and friend. "It's not as if I want to kill my own master, but since you are forcing me..."1 That night, with grim determination, Gyges slew his King as he slept. With this act he inherited the Queen and the kingdom.

Miscellany

It is also commonly accepted that Gyges was the first person to mint coins. Primarily made of electrum, these coins were invented in order to easily pay mercenaries, which he needed very much to stave off the Kimmerians.

Although his kingdom lasted until the invasion of Cyrus the Great, it was constantly under threat from his neighbors. The Kimmerians had been raiding Lydia since before his ascension, and there is one scholar who says that Gyges died in battle with them. Despite this, Gyges managed to use his massive mercenary army to invade and swallow up Phrygia, which was the dominant country in the region before Gyges took power.


Notes:

The dates of his life are taken from Robin Waterfield's endnotes in Herodotus. There are a number of conflicting dates, some that put him dying at 652, and some that have him ascending to the throne at 687. If I were a better greek scholar, I could pick some with authority, but as I am not one, I'll just stick with easy numbers.

I welcome any other information on Gyges, with sources, as he is one of the more interesting leaders of his period.

Sources:

The Histories. Herodotus. Oxford Press, tr. Robin Waterfield.
Moralia. Plutarch. Project Gutenburg.
The Republic. Plato. Oxford Press, tr. Robin Waterfield.

Endnotes:

1. The Histories, Herodotus. I.11

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