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Lydia (Territory)

LYDIA (place), lĭd’ ĭ a (Λυδία, G3376). A large territory on the W of Asia Minor.


Lydia’s borders are difficult to define accurately. It was bounded on the N by Mysia, on the S by Caria, on the E by Phrygia, and on the W by the Aegean Sea. The southern boundary may have gone as far as the Maeander River (Strabo xii. 8. 15). The E boundary is confusing, for there is a dispute whether Catacecaumene, an inland volcanic area on the upper Hermus River, was a part of Lydia or Mysia (Strabo xiii. 4. 11) and because some of the territories were claimed by both Lydia and Mysia (Strabo xii. 8. 3, 18; xiii. 4. 12). It is a land mostly of fertile river valleys with the Hermus River in the N and the Cayster valley, which is between the Tmolus and Messogis mountain ranges, in the southern part of Lydia. Sardis served as Lydia’s capital.


The earliest reference to Lydia is in Genesis 10:22 (cf. also 1 Chron 1:17) where it refers to Lud as a son of Shem and Josephus refers to the Lydians as Lud’s descendents (Antiq. i. 6. 4 § 144). Herodotus (i. 7) does not preclude a Sem. origin of the Lydians. In Isaiah 66:19 Lud is listed with Tubal, Javan, and the distant coast line far off which would fit with Lydia in Asia Minor. In Ezekiel 27:10 and 30:5 Lud is listed as an ally with Tyre and with Egypt respectively. Lydia is mentioned also in the Neo-Babylonian annals.

The age of prosperity and strength for Lydia came with the Mermnad dynasty founded by Gyges (c. 685-657/52 b.c.) who murdered King Canduales and married his widow (Herodotus i. 8-12) Gyges gradually subdued the coastal cities Miletus, Smyrna, and Colophon and sent offerings to Delphi (Herodotus i. 14-15). Gyges made a pact with Ashurbanipal (669-633 b.c.) of Assyria against the Cimmerians. Gyges defeated the Cimmerians and broke his alliance with Ashurbanipal and in fact made an alliance with Psammetichus I (c. 663-609 b.c.) to help liberate the Egyptians from the Assyrian control. The Cimmerians made another attack on Lydia resulting in Gyges’ death. It was not until Alyattes (c. 610/5-560 b.c.), the fourth in the Mermnad dynasty, that the Cimmerians were finally driven out (Herodotus i. 16). Alyattes made war against Cyaxares the Mede and finally established peace in 585 b.c. whereby the Halys River served as a border between Lydia and Media. Hence, Lydia had extended its borders. In the peace agreement Alyattes’ daughter Arvenis and Cyaxares’ son Astyages were married, and from them a daughter was born whose name was Mandane who was Cyrus the Great’s mother (Herodotus i. 74).


The origins of the Lydian people are obscure, but there seems to have been an early Sem. influence (see above and Lud, Ludim). During Antiochus III’s reign (223-187 b.c.) many Jews were settled in Lydia (Jos. Antiq. xii. 3. 4 § 147-149). One can see the Anatolian influence quite strong early with more Gr. influence from Croesus’ reign onward. There was a constant tension between Greek and Anatolian influences. Fourth cent. inscrs. seem to indicate that the Lydian language was an idiom of the Indo-European family but by the beginning of the Christian era Gr. was the common language (Strabo speaks of an ancient writing, xiii. 4. 9).


Lydia was rich in natural resources. During Croesus’ reign it is told that gold was washed down the Pactolus River and Strabo mentions the existence of gold mines that were exhausted in his day (Strabo xiv. 5. 28). Lydia was known for its rich fertile land producing olives, figs, grapes, and grain. Its most well-known industry was the manufacture of textile fabrics and along with this Thyatira was well known for its dyeing processes (cf. Homer Iliad iv. 141) and its guild of dyers was known to be prosperous. One of those in the industry was the Thyatiran woman who was converted to Christianity at Philippi by Paul (Acts 16:14). One significant achievement of the Lydians was their invention of coinage (Herodotus i. 94). The first Lydian coinage had alloys mixed with gold, with 36-53 percent gold content. This variance of gold content shook the public confidence in coinage, and so this may be the reason for Croesus’ introducing coinage of pure gold and pure silver. The new invention was accepted by the Gr. cities of the coast and then by the whole world.

Importance in the NT.

As noted above, Lydia the seller of purple was Paul’s convert in Europe at Philippi (Acts 16). Also in Lydia is Ephesus, the place where Paul spent nearly three years (Acts 19). Moreover, out of seven churches addressed by John in Revelation 2, 3, five of them were in Lydia (see Ephesus, Smyrna, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia). New Testament writers never address the above churches as being in Lydia but in Asia in accordance with the Rom. provincial classification.


W. M. Ramsay, The Cities and Bishoprics of Phrygia, 2 pts. (1895-1897), passim; W. M. Ramsay, “Lydia,” HDB, III (1900), 177, 178; D. Magie, Roman Rule in Asia Minor (1950), I, 45-50; II, 807-817; M. J. Mellink, “Lydia (Place),” IDB, III (1962), 191, 192; G. E. Bean, Aegean Turkey: An Archaeological Guide (1966), 259-272, passim; B. Levick, Roman Colonies in Southern Asia Minor (1967), passim; A. H. M. Jones, The Cities in the Eastern Roman Provinces, 2nd ed. (1971), passim.

Additional Material

Source 1

An important country in the western part of Asia Minor bounded on the North by Mysia, on the East by Phrygia, on the South by Caria, and on the West by the Aegean Sea. Its surface is rugged, but along the valleys between its mountain ranges ran some of the most important highways from the coast cities to the distant interior. Of its many rivers the chief are the Cayster, the Lower Hermus, the Cogamos, the Caicus and, during a part of its course, the Meander.

Lydia was an exceedingly ancient and powerful kingdom whose history is composed chiefly of that of its individual cities. In 546 BC it fell into the hands of the Persians, and in 334 BC it became a part of Alexander’s empire. After the death of Alexander its possession was claimed by the kings both of Pergamos and of Seleucia, but in 190 BC it became the undisputed possession of the former (1 Macc 8:8). With the death of Attalus III, 133 BC, it was transferred by the will of that king to Rome, and Lydia, which then became but a name, formed, along with Caria, Mysia and Phrygia, a part of the Roman province of Asia (see Asia). Chief among its cities were Smyrna and Ephesus, two of the most important in Asia Minor, and Smyrna is still the largest and wealthiest city of that part of Turkey. At Ephesus, the seat of the goddess Diana, Paul remained longer than elsewhere in Asia, and there his most important missionary work was done (Ac 19). Hence, Lydia figures prominently in the early history of the church; it became Christianized during the residence of the apostle at Ephesus, or soon afterward (see also LUD).

Source 2

The feminine of Lydian, a native of Lydia, a large country on the West of Asia Minor, and the name of Paul’s first convert in Europe. This name was a popular one for women (compare Horace Odes i.8; iii.9; vi.20), but Ramsay thinks she "was familiarly known in the town by the ethnic that showed her origin" (H D B, under the word "Lydia"; compare Paul the Traveler, 214). It has always been and is still a common custom in the Orient to refer to one living in a foreign land by employing the adjective which designates the nationality. Renan thinks it means "the Lydian"; Thyatira is a city of Lydia. Lydia was (1) living in Philippi, (2) of the city of Thyatira, (3) a seller of the purple-dyed garments from her native town, (4) and "one that worshipped God." Her occupation shows her to have been a woman of some capital. The phrase which describes her religion (sebomene ton Theon) is the usual designation for a proselyte. She was in the habit of frequenting a place of prayer by a riverside, a situation convenient for the necessary ablutions required by the Jewish worship, and there Paul and his companions met her. After she had been listening to Paul (Greek imperfect), the Lord opened her heart to give heed to his teaching ("To open is the part of God, to pay attention that of the woman," Chrysostom). Her baptism and that of her household followed. To prove her sincerity she besought the missionaries to accept the hospitality of her home. Her house probably became the center for the church in Philippi (Ac 16:14,15,40). Lydia is not mentioned in Paul’s letter to the Philippians, but, if Ramsay be correct, she may have been Euodias or Syntyche (Php 4:2).