Gyges of Lydia

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Gyges (Γύγης) was the founder of the third or Mermnad dynasty of Lydian kings and reigned from 716 BC to 678 BC (or from c. 680-644 BCE [1]). He was succeeded by his son Ardys II.

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Allegorical Accounts of Gyges' Rise to power

Authors throughout history have told differing stories of Gyges's rise to power. Gyges was the son of Dascylus. Dascylus was recalled from banishment in Cappadocia by the Lydian king Candaules and sent his son back to Lydia instead of himself.

According to Nicolaus of Damascus, Gyges soon became a favourite of Candaules and was dispatched by him to fetch Tudo, the daughter of Arnossus of Mysia, whom the Lydian king wished to make his queen. On the way Gyges fell in love with Tudo, who complained to Sadyates of his conduct. Forewarned that the king intended to punish him with death, Gyges assassinated Candaules in the night and seized the throne.

In his turn, the Lydian king took as his paidika Magnes, a handsome youth from Smyrna noted for his elegant clothes and fancy korymbos hairstyle which he bound with a golden band. One day he was singing poetry to the local women, which outraged their male relatives, who grabbed Magnes, stripped him of his clothes and cut off his hair.[2]

According to Plutarch, Gyges seized power with the help of Arselis of Mylasa, the captain of the Lydian bodyguard, whom he had won over to his cause.

In the account of Herodotus, which may be traced to the poet Archilochus of Paros, Candaules insisted upon showing Gyges his wife when unrobed, which so enraged her that she gave Gyges the choice of murdering her husband and making himself king, or of being put to death himself.

Finally, in the more allegorical account of Plato (Republic, II), a parallel account may be found. Here, Gyges was a shepherd, who discovered a magic ring by means of which he murdered the King and won the affection of the Queen. This account bears marked similarity to that of Herodotus.

In all cases, civil war ensued on the death of the King, which was only ended when Gyges sought to justify his ascendence to the throne by petitioning for the approval of the Oracle at Delphi.

According to Herodotus, he plied the Oracle with numerous gifts, notably six mixing bowls minted of gold extracted from the Pactolus river weighing thirty talents— an amount which would fetch over US$13 million at 2006 prices. The Oracle confirmed Gyges as the rightful Lydian King, gave moral support to the Lydians over the Asian Greeks, and also claimed that the dynasty of Gyges would be powerful, but due to his usurpation of the throne would fall in the fifth generation. This claim was later proven true, though perhaps by the machination of the Oracle's successor. Gyges's 4th descendant, Croesus, lost the kingdom after misunderstanding a prophecy of the later Oracle, and fatefully attacking the Persian armies of Cyrus the Great.

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