Several sub-groups of the coinage of the Lydian kingdom (7th-6th century BC) have written legends that can be related to individual kings. The project aims to reconstruct the sequence of these coins and consequently also of the coin legends and, in a second step, to specify the chronology of the Lydian rulers on the basis of further findings - written sources and find contexts.

The kingdom of Lydia, a province in Western Asia Minor, was a neighbour of the Ionian Greeks settling along the West Coast of what is Turkey today. The coinage of the Lydian kingdom is known mostly for the coins of its last king, Croesus (561–546 BC). Croesus’ bimetallic coinage consisted of two parallel series in gold and silver. His forefathers, however, had issued electrum coins. Electrum is an alloy of gold and silver with a low admixture of copper (to harden the coin). Lydian electrum coins were found in excavations together with the earliest electrum coins minted by the Greek cities of Ionia. Thus the royal Lydian coinage emerged among the earliest coins altogether, perhaps forming the first series of coins from the Western hemisphere.

The birth of coinage is still shrouded in mystery, as the majority of the early electrum coinages cannot be attributed to specific mints. The coins of Ephesos can be identified by the emblem of a bee, likewise those of Miletos by the reclining lion, or the coins of Phokaia by the seal. However, there are some 400 series of early electrum coins: many of them can be roughly classified and dated, yet we do not know who had them minted, not to mention the particular occasion and historical circumstances.

In this confusing situation the royal Lydian coinage stands out by its distinct style and consistency. Throughout their material culture, the Lydians displayed a liking for lions. Hence, heads of aggressively roaring lions make the emblem of royal Lydian coins. In the beginning, it was two confronted lion heads; later on, this scheme was abandoned in favour of a single lion head facing right.

A special feature of the earliest group provides a clue for the overall chronology: there are coin legends between the confronted lion heads. The legends are written in archaic Lydian letters; both reading and translation have been debated since a long time. It is agreed that the legends refer to certain names, but details are controversial. The most frequent coin legend, FAΛFET, has often been related to the Lydian king Alyattes, the father of Croesus. Another legend, KVKAΛIM, might refer to king Gyges, an ancestor of Alyattes.

Other evidence must also be taken into account. There are the archaeological contexts in which coins of this kind have been found. Paradoxically, the stratigraphy of relevant findings seemingly turns things—the sequence of kings—upside down and needs to be confronted with the numismatic evidence.

This project is designed to examine the first groups of the royal Lydian coinage, both those bearing coin legends and those unepigraphic, by various kinds of approach. A die-study to ascertain the sequence of issues will form the backbone of the project; metal analyses will provide another important parameter. Various ancient sources—Lydian, Greek, and Assyrian— as well as archaeological records must be reconsidered. The aim is to reconstruct Lydian chronology from the coins.


Principal investigator

Wolfgang Fischer-Bossert





FWF P33483-G