Lydian diasporas: Herodotos, Timaios of Tauromenion, and others on legends of migration to Tyrrhenia (late fourth century BCE on)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Lydian diasporas: Herodotos, Timaios of Tauromenion, and others on legends of migration to Tyrrhenia (late fourth century BCE on),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified May 21, 2024,

Ancient author: Herodotos of Halikarnassos (late fifth century BCE), Histories, or Inquiries 1.94 (link); Timaios of Tauromenion on Sicily (early third century BCE), FGrHist 566 F62a (link to FGrHist), as cited by Tertullian, On Spectacles 5.2 (link); Strabo (early first century CE), Geography 5.2.2 (link); Velleius Paterculus, Compendium of Roman History 1.1.4 (link); Tacitus (ca. 109 CE), Annals 4.55 (link).

Comments: Herodotos, Timaios of Tauromenion, Strabo and others report on similar legends of migration from Lydia in western Asia Minor (Turkey) to Tyrrhenia or Etruria. This has Etruscans as Lydians, then. Still other legends suggested that Etruscans / Tyrhhenians were actually Pelasgian migrants, on which see the discussion of Dionysios of Halikarnassos (link).

Works consulted: T. Habinek, “Anonymous, On Etruria (706),” in Jacoby Online. Brill’s New Jacoby, Part III, edited by Ian Worthington. Brill: Leiden, 2010; J. Pinheiro, “Timaios (566)” In Jacoby Online. Brill´s New Jacoby – Second Edition, Part III, edited by Ian Worthington. Brill: Leiden, 2023.



[Lydian games and the migration to Tyrrhenia in Italy]

(1.94) The customs of the Lydians are like those of the Greeks, except that they make prostitutes of their female children. They were the first men whom we know who stamped and put into circulation coins made of gold and silver [i.e. the alloy electrum], and they were the first to sell by retail. (2) According to what they themselves say, the games now in use among them and the Greeks were invented by the Lydians: these games, they say, were invented among them at the time when they colonized Tyrrhenia.

This is their story: In the reign of Atys son of Manes there was great scarcity of food in all Lydia. For a while the Lydians bore this with what patience they could. Then, when there was no abatement of the famine, they looked for remedies. Diverse plans were devised by diverse men. Then it was that they invented the games of dice and knuckle-bones and ball, and all other forms of pastime except only draughts, which the Lydians do not claim to have discovered. Then, using their discovery to lighten the famine, they would play for the whole of every other day, so that they might not have to seek for food. The next day they stopped playing and they ate. This was their manner of life for eighteen years. But famine did not cease to plague them, and rather afflicted them even more seriously. Finally, their king divided the people into two portions and made them draw lots, so that the one part should remain and the other leave the country. The king himself was to be the head of those who drew the lot to remain there, and his son, whose name was Tyrrhenos, of those who departed. Then one part of them, having drawn the lot, left the country and came down to Smyrna and built ships. They loaded all their goods that could be carried onto the ship and sailed away to seek a livelihood and a country. Finally, after sojourning by many peoples in turn, they came to the Ombrikians [Umbrians], where they founded cities and have lived ever since. They no longer called themselves Lydians, but Tyrrhenians, after the name of the king’s son who had led them there. The Lydians, then, were enslaved by the Persians. . . . [omitted material].



[Tyrrhenos and other Lydians settle in Etruria]

(Timaios of Tauromenion, FGrHist 566 F62 = Tertullian, On Spectacles 5.2) Regarding the origins of the spectacles, as these are somewhat obscure and but little known to many among us, our investigations must go back to a remote antiquity, and our authorities are none other than books of literature of the peoples (ethnicalium). Various authors are extant who have published works on the subject. The origin of the games as given by them is the following:

Timaios tells us that immigrants from Asia, under the leadership of Tyrrhenos – who in a contest over his native kingdom had succumbed to his brother – settled down in Etruria. Among other superstitious practices under the name of ritual obligation, they set up in their new home public shows. The Romans, at their own request, obtain from them skilled performers — the proper seasons — the name too, for it is said they are called “Ludi“, from Lydi.  Even though Varro derives the name of Ludi from Ludus, that is, from “play,” as they called the Luperci also Ludii, because they ran about making sport; still that sporting of young men belongs, in his view, to festal days and temples, and objects of veneration. However, the origin of the name does not really matter when it is certain that the thing springs from idolatry.



[Tyrrhenians and Tarquinians in northwestern Italy, including the Lydian colonists theory and the sea-bandits characterization]

(5.2.2) The Tyrrhenians, then, are called among the Romans “Etruscans” and “Tuscians.” The Greeks, however, so the story goes, named them after Tyrrhenos son of Atys, who sent out colonists here from Lydia: At a time of famine and dearth of crops, Atys, one of the descendants of Herakles and Omphale, having only two children, by a casting of lots detained one of them, Lydos. Assembling the greater part of the people with the other, Tyrrhenos, sent them out. And when Tyrrhenos came, he not only called the country Tyrrhenia after himself, but also put Tarqo in charge as “coloniser,” and founded twelve cities. I am talking about Tarqo after whom the city of Tarquinia is named. On account of his wisdom since boyhood, the myth-tellers say he had been born with grey hair.

Now at first the Tyrrhenians, since they were subject to the orders of only one ruler, were very strong, but in later times, it is reasonable to suppose, their united government was dissolved, and the Tyrrhenians, yielding to the violence of their neighbours, were broken up into separate cities. For otherwise they would not have given up a happy land and taken to the sea for banditry (lēsteia), different groups turning to different parts of the high seas. Actually, in all cases where they acted in concert, they were able, not only to defend themselves against those who attacked them, but also to attack in turn and to make long expeditions. But it was after the founding of Rome that Demaratos arrived, bringing with him a host of people from Corinth. Since he was received by the Tarquinians, he married a native woman, by whom he begot Loukoumo. And since Loukoumo had proved a friend to Ancus Marcius, the king of the Romans, he was made king, and his name was changed to Lucius Tarquinius Priscus.

Be that as it may, he too adorned Tyrrhenia, as his father had done before him. The father did so by means of an ample supply of artisans who had accompanied him from home and the son by means of the resources supplied by Rome. It is further said that the triumphal and consular adornment, and, in a word, that of all the rulers, was transferred to Rome from Tarquinians, as also fasces, axes, trumpets, sacrificial rites, divination, and all music publicly used by the Romans. This Tarquinius was the father of the second Tarquinius, the “Superbus,” who was the last of the kings and was banished. Porsinas, the king of Clusium, a Tyrrhenian city, undertook to restore him to the throne by military force, but was unable to do so, although he broke up the personal enmity against himself and departed as friend, along with honour and large gifts. That is what can be said about the lustre of the Tyrrhenians.


Velleius Paterculus

[Tyrrhenios’ migration]

Around this time [after the Trojan war] two brothers, Lydos and Tyrrhenos, were joint kings in Lydia. Pressured by the unproductiveness of their crops, they drew lots to see which should leave his country with part of the population. The lot fell upon Tyrrhenos. He sailed to Italy, and the place where he settled [Tyrrhenia], its inhabitants, and the sea received their famous and their lasting names from him.



[Sardian ambassadors cite relation to Etruscans in bid for building an imperial cult temple under emperor Tiberius]

(4.55) To divert criticism, the Caesar [Tiberius] attended the senate with frequency, and for several days listened to the deputies from Asia debating which of their communities was to erect his temple.​ Eleven cities competed, with equal ambition but disparate resources. With no great variety each pleaded regarding the antiquity of their people and zeal for the Roman cause in the wars with Perseus, Aristonikos, and other kings.​ However, Hypaipa and Tralles,​ together with Laodicea and Magnesia, were passed over as inadequate to the task. Even Ilion, though it appealed to Troy as the parent of Rome, had no significance apart from the glory of its past. Some little hesitation was caused by the statement of the Halikarnassians that for twelve hundred years no tremors of earthquake had disturbed their town, and the temple foundations would rest on the living rock. The Pergamenes were refuted by their main argument: they already had a sanctuary of Augustus, and the distinction was thought ample. The state-worship in Ephesos and Miletos was considered to be already centred on the cults of Diana and Apollo respectively.

So the deliberations turned to Sardis and Smyrna. The Sardians read a decree of their “kindred country” of Etruria. “Owing to its numbers,” they explained, “Tyrrhenos and Lydos, sons of king Atys, had divided the population. Lydos had remained in the territory of his fathers, Tyrrhenos had been allotted the task of creating a new settlement. The Asiatic and Italian branches of the people had received distinctive titles from the names of the two leaders. A further advance in Lydian power had come with the dispatch of colonists to the peninsula which afterwards took its name from Pelops.” At the same time, they recalled the letters from Roman commanders, the treaties concluded with us in the Macedonian war, their ample rivers, tempered climate, and the richness of the surrounding country.. . [omitted Smyrna’s arguments, which win the competition].


Source of translations: A. D. Godley, Herodotus, 4 volumes, LCL (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1920-25); S. Thelwall, “On Spectacles,” in Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 3, edited by A. Roberts, J. Donaldson, and A.C. Coxe. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1885); H.L. Jones, Strabo, 8 volumes, LCL (Cambridge, MA: HUP, 1917-28), public domain (passed away in 1932); F.W. Shipley, Velleius Paterculus, Compendium of Roman History. Res Gestae Divi Augusti (Cambridge, MA: HUP, 1924), public domain (passed away in 1945); C.H. Moore and J. Jackson, Tacitus: Histories, Annals, 4 volumes, LCL (Cambridge, MA: HUP, 1925-37), all public domain, adapted by Harland.

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