In the ancient world, mythologies cross-pollinated cultures. Just as the Romans borrowed much of the Greek pantheon, changing names and narratives, the Lydians borrowed gods, in whole or in part, from some of the older civilizations that surrounded them.
In some cases, these gods were pilfered by the Lydians themselves. In other cases, the gods were likely borrowed by an earlier, Lydian precursor culture, evolving into their Lydian forms as the culture changed.
The Lydian Pantheon
The Lydian pantheon was filled with deities that were peppered in from various Greek, Phrygian, and Anatolian cultures. Not much is known about Lydian religion, but evidence points to some of the rituals associated with their gods.
Kore, the Lydian goddess of vegetation, also associated with the Maiden, was loosely borrowed from the Greek goddess Persephone, who is associated with spring renewal. The cult built around Kore performed a fertility ritual that involved symbolic representations of the snake and the bull.
Kuvava was the Lydian mother goddess, a reimagining of Cybele, the Phrygian/Anatolian goddess of the same designation. She is frequently depicted accompanied by lions, an extremely important animal in Lydian culture as evidenced by its prominent featuring on the Lydian Stater coinage. The location of a small alter to Kuvava near gold and silver refining operations likely indicates thanks offerings were made to her for success in this endeavor.
Levs was the Lydian version of Zeus, the Greek father god. Like the Greek version that preceded him, Levs was associated with thunder and was the god of weather, though it’s unclear from the archaeological record whether Levs was the head of the pantheon as Zeus was for the Greeks (and Jupiter for the Romans).
The connection is debated, but many archaeologists agree that Candaules is related to the Greek god Hermes, as evidenced by their shared designation as a “dog-throttler.” There is evidence of a ceremonial meal eaten by Lydians in a celebration that seems to have included immature canids, likely dogs, which may have been consumed in honor of the god.
In one location a number of meal settings, which included a cup, plate, pitcher, knife, and either a cooking pot or jug containing a complete, often dismembered, immature canid skeleton were found buried around the remains of a defensive wall. It’s thought that these were offerings to Candaules in hopes that he would protect the buildings above.
Other borrowed members of the Lydian pantheon included Artimu, a version of the Greek Artemis, Pldans, the Lydian Apollo, and Baki, a Lydian version of Bachus, or Dionysus. How these gods figured into Lydian culture is largely unknown, gleaned mainly from their associations with the better-known versions from other cultures.
For more information about the Lydians and the history of money, visit Rory Brown’s website.
About Rory Brown: Mr. Brown is a Managing Partner of Nicklaus Brown & Co., the Chairman of Goods & Services, Nearshore Technology Company, and a member of the board of directors of Desano. He is passionate about delving into the history of money and how our modern currency has evolved into what it is today. In his spare time, he writes about the history of the Lydians – the first civilization to use gold and silver coinage.