Lydians: Xanthos of Lydia on kings and luxurious customs (mid-fifth century BCE)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Lydians: Xanthos of Lydia on kings and luxurious customs (mid-fifth century BCE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified March 30, 2024,

Ancient authors: Xanthos of Lydia (mid-fifth century BCE), Lydian Matters = FGrHist 765 F4a-b, 14a, 15, 16, 17, 18a-b, 19a, as cited by Athenaios of Naukratis, Sophists at Dinner 12.515e-516c and 10.415c-d (link); Suda lexicon at Xanthos (link); Strabo, Geography 14.5.29; 12.8.3 (link); Dionysios of Halikarnassos, Roman Antiquities 1.28.2 (link); Excerpts on Virtues and Vices for Constantine Porphyrogennetos (link).

Comments: We know relatively little about Xanthos beyond that he was from Lydia, likely a Lydian himself, and wrote his Lydian Matters around 450-440 BCE, just before Herodotos finished his set of inquiries (see FGrHist 765 T1-9; Kingsley 1995). So in a way this may be a Lydian perspective on things, in which case it could be placed into category one to your right. However, the work itself was written in Greek and the surviving citations do not particularly reveal any Lydian pride beyond the attention to Lydia. The general lack of ethnographic sources about Lydia beyond Xanthos makes these passages all the more important.

Gathered in this post are a number of citations of Xanthos regarding Lydians specifically. In the first one, Athenaios briefly cites Xanthos with respect to the supposed introduction of the custom of sterilizing women who served Lydian royalty. Also included here is the citation of Klearchos of Soloi on the same topic, which is far more extensive and aims to demonstrate that Lydians lived in a disrespectfully luxurious way. It seems that book four of Klearchos’ Lives cited a variety of ethnic groups as negative examples of peoples who engaged in violent abuse and/or luxury.

Some citations from Strabo show that Xanthos was concerned with the issue of the migration of peoples into Lydia and with the ancestors of the Lydians. Many of the other citations involve the good or bad behaviour of Lydian kings (mostly preserved in the Excerpts on Virtues and Vices, compiled for Constantine Porphyrogennetos in the tenth century CE). Nonetheless, these discussions of kings sometimes indicate Lydian customs, involve actions by the Lydians as a people as well, or simply imply Lydian traits via kings.

For Xanthos’ comments on Persian Magians (F31-32), not included in this post, go to this link.

Works consulted: P. Kingsley, “Meetings with Magi: Iranian Themes among the Greeks, from Xanthus of Lydia to Plato’s Academy,” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 5 (1995): 173–209 (link).


[On Lydian kings’ luxury to the point of sterilizing women for sexual use]

(F4a = Athenaios, Sophists at Dinner 12.515e-516c) The Lydians went so far in unrestricted luxury that they were the first to sterilize women, as recorded by Xanthos of Lydia, or whoever is the author of the inquiries attributed to him. It is Dionysios Scytobrachion, according to Artemon of Kassandreia in his work On the Collecting of Books, who, however, ignores the fact that the writer Ephoros mentions Xanthos as being older and as having supplied sources for Herodotos. Anyhow, Xanthos says in the second book of his Lydian History that Adramytes, the king of Lydia, was the first to sterilize women and employ them in the place of male eunuchs.

Also, Klearchos in the fourth book of his Lives says:

“The Lydians in their luxury laid out parks, making them like gardens, and so lived in the shade, because they thought it more luxurious not to have the rays of the sun on them at all. Proceeding further in their disrespectful behaviour, they would gather the wives and young women of other men into the place called ‘The Place of Chastity’ (because of this action) and there abuse them. Finally, after becoming thoroughly effeminate in their souls, they adopted women’s ways of living. As a result, this way of life earned for them a woman tyrant, one of those who had been abused, named Omphale. She was the first to begin that punishment of the Lydians which they deserved. For the fact that they were ruled disrespectfully by a woman is proof of their own violence. Being a woman of uncontrolled passions and avenging herself for the abuses previously done to her, she gave in marriage the young daughters of the masters to the slaves of the city in the same place where she had been abused by them. Into this place, then, she forcibly collected the women and made the matrons lie with the slaves. Ever since, the Lydians cover over the bitterness of this act by calling the place ‘Sweet Embrace’.”

But it is not only the women of Lydia who were allowed casual encounters, but also those of the western Lokrians, also those of Cyprus, and all those who dedicated their daughters to prostitution. These cases seem to be, in point of fact, a reminder of some ancient abuse and revenge.

It was to gain revenge that the Lydian nobles, who had been oppressed by the rule of Midas, attacked him, since Midas in effeminate luxury reclined in his purple robes, or helped the women at their looms to work the wool, while Omphale killed all the strangers who had slept with her. So a noble man punished them both. Midas, who had become deaf through his stupidity, he pulled by the ears, because by his lack of sense he had acquired the name of the most senseless animal in the world. And as for Omphale. . . [remainder lost].

[On Lydian kings’ sterilizing women for sexual use]

(F4b = Suda lexicon, at Xanthos) Xanthos son of Kandaules, a Lydian from Sardis, an historian, born at the time of the capture of Sardis, who wrote Lydian Matters in four books. In the second book he reports that Gyges, the king of the Lydians, was the first to sterilize women so as to enjoy them in a permanently youthful condition (trans. Butrica, adapted).


[On migration of Phrygians from west of the Black Sea into Anatolia]

(F14a = Strabo, Geography 14.5.29) For instance, Xanthos the Lydian says that it was after the Trojan war that the Phrygians came from Europe and the western side of the Pontos [Black Sea], and that Skamandrios led them from the Berekyntes and Askania. [For the context regarding Strabo’s debate with Apollodoros over use of Homer, go to this link].

[On Mysians being Lydians]

(F15 = Strabo, Geography 12.8.3) The Lydians and the Maionians, whom Homer called the Meionians, are in some way confused both with these peoples [Mysians and Phrygians] and with one another, because some say that they are the same and others that they are different. They are confused with these people because some say that the Mysians were Thracians but others that they were Lydians, thus concurring with an ancient explanation given by Xanthos the Lydian and Menekrates of Elaia, who explain the origin of the name of the Mysians by saying that the oxya-tree is so named by the Lydians. The oxya-tree flourishes in the neighbourhood of mount Olympos, where they say that the decimated persons were put out and that their descendants were the Mysians of later times, so named after the oxya-tree, and that their language bears witness to this. For, they add, their language is, in a way, a mixture of the Lydian and the Phrygian languages, for the reason that, although they lived around mount Olympos for a time, when the Phrygians crossed over from Thrace and killed a ruler of Troy and of the country near it, those people settled there, whereas the Mysians settled above the sources of the Kaikos near Lydia. [For the full context of this passage in Strabo, go to this link].


[On the ancestors of the Lydians]

(F16 = Dionysios of Halikarnassos, Roman Antiquities 1.28) I am aware that many other authors also have given this account of the Tyrrhenian descent group, some in the same terms, and others changing the character of the colony and the date. For some have said that Tyrrhenos was the son of Herakles by Omphale, the Lydian. Coming into Italy, he dispossessed the Pelasgians of their cities, though not all of the cities but only those that lay beyond the Tiber toward the north. Others declare that Tyrrhenos was the son of Telephos and that after the taking of Troy he came into Italy. Xanthos of Lydia was as well acquainted with ancient history as anyone and may be regarded as an authority second to none on the history of his own country. Yet Xanthos neither names Tyrrhenos in any part of his history as a ruler of the Lydians nor knows anything of the landing of a colony of Maionians in Italy. Nor does he make the least mention of Tyrrhenia as a Lydian colony, though he takes notice of several things of less importance. Xanthos says that Lydos and Torebos were the sons of Atys. After dividing the kingdom they had inherited from their father, they both remained in Asia and, from them, the peoples over which they reigned received their names. Xanthos’ words are these: “From Lydos are sprung the Lydians, and from Torebos the Torebians. There is little difference in their language and even now each people scoffs at many words used by the other, even as do the Ionians and Dorians.” [For the full context of this passage in Dionysios’ discussion of migrations, go to this link].


[Actions of Moxos, king of the Lydians]

(F17c = excerpt for Constantine Porphyrogennetos) The Lydian Moxos, having achieved many good things and driven out the tyrant Meles, exhorted the Lydians to offer a tenth to the gods, in accordance with what he had vowed. They were persuaded and, taking an inventory of their possessions, they were offering a tenth of all their possessions. After this, a great drought overtook Lydia, and the people turned to divination. It is said that Moxos led many military campaigns, being renowned among the Lydians for both courage and justice. After these things, he set out again for Krabos and, besieging it for a long time, captured and plundered it. He took the people to the nearby lake and drowned them for being godless.


[On the terrible actions of Kambles, king of the Lydians]

(F18a = Athenaios, Sophists at Dinner 10.415c-d)

In Lydian Matters, Xanthos says​ that Kambles, the king of Lydia, was a hearty eater and hearty drinker, even a glutton. One night he butchered his own wife and ate her up. However, in the morning, finding his wife’s hand in his mouth, he cut his own throat, since the awful deed had become divulged.

(F18b = Excerpt for Constantine Porphyrogennetos)

Kamblitas was the king of Lydia. It is said that this king was such a glutton that he desired to eat his own wife. Believing that he had acted under the power of drugs, since word of the awful action had spread around, he took a sword and went out to the middle of the crowded marketplace and said: “O Zeus, if I have done these things by myself, may I be punished. But if I have done them under the power of some drugs, may those who gave me the drugs suffer.” He said these things and cut his own throat for all to see. While some people taunted him as a glutton, other people pitied him as being deranged by the drugs. They thought that Iardanos was responsible because of his hatred.


[On the Lydians’ praise for king Alkimos]

(F19a = Suda entry for Xanthos) This Xanthos reports that a certain Alkimos, a very reverent and most gentle man, was king of the land there, and that under him there was profound peace and much wealth, while everyone lived without fear and without guile. Then, when Alkimos was seven[ty ?] years old, the whole Lydian people came forward publicly and prayed and sought that such years be given to Alkimos for the good of the Lydians. This happened, and they lived in much good fortune and prosperity (trans. Butrica).


Source of translations: C.B. Gulick, Athenaeus: The Deipnosophists, 7 volumes, LCL (Cambridge, MA: HUP, 1927-41), public domain (passed away in 1962 and copyright expired); David Whitehead, ed., “Suda On Line (SOL),” 2024 <>. All adapted by Harland.

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