Kingdom of Lydia, Alyattes EL Trite - 1/3 Stater. Sardes, circa 610 BC. Lion's head right with open jaws and protruding tongue, solar-disk above forehead, confronting open jaws of lion's head left; between the two, upwards Lydian legend ALYA; granular field / Two square punch-marks. For similar issues with Lydian legends cf. Weidauer groups XVII ('VALVEL') and XVIII ('..KALIL..'); ATEC pp. 215-216, groups a and b; Kraay ACGC p. 24, 63 (WELVES) or (WELVET). 4.71g, 13mm.
Extremely Fine. Unpublished, and of the highest rarity and importance.
From a private German Collection.
The Lydians were commercial people, who, according to Herodotus, had customs like the Greeks and were the first people to introduce the use of gold and silver coins, and the first to establish retail shops in permanent locations (Herodotus I, 94). The kingdom reached its zenith during the reign of Alyattes, the fourth Lydian king of the house of Gyges, son of Sadyattes and father of Kroisos. He is seen as the founder of the Lydian Empire and continued the war begun by his father against powerful Miletos, though he was soon obliged to turn his attention towards the Medes and Babylonians. On 28 May 585 BC, during the Battle of Halys fought against Kyaxares, king of Media, a solar eclipse took place; hostilities were suspended, peace concluded, and the Halys fixed as the boundary between the two kingdoms. He proceeded to drive the Kimmerians out of Phrygia, thus securing the trade route with the east. In the west he was able to subdue the Karians, and took several important Ionian cities including Smyrna and Kolophon, enabling him to consolidate a Mediterranean trading outlet.
The earliest electrum coinage of Lydia has been the subject of much scholarly debate and variously attributed to the reigns of Gyges, Sadyattes and Alyattes. In a well thought out article 'KUKALIṂ, WALWET, and the Artemision deposit', in Agoranomia, Studies in Money and Exchange Presented to John H. Kroll, ANS New York 2006, R.W. Wallace not only corrects the reading of the two previously known legends, 'VALVEL' and '..KALIL..', but convincingly demonstrates that the two series, with their several die links, belong to the same period during the reign of Alyattes, datable to about 600 BC. However, Wallace's interpretation of WALWET as the Lydian name of Alyattes is put seriously in doubt by the appearance of the above ALYA issue, a legend much closer to the Hellenized form of Alyattes. WALWET may be connected to the Luwian word 'walwi' (lion) and 'KUKALIṂ' may be translated as 'I am of Kukas'. These legends are probably the names of moneyers, mint-officials or regal titles appertaining to Alyattes.
The ALYA issue was struck at 1/3 of a stater on the so-called Lydo-Milesian weight standard of 14.1 grams in alluvial electrum, a naturally occurring gold-silver alloy found in abundance in the washings of the Pactolos river which runs from the slopes of Mount Tmolos, through Sardis and empties into the Hermos. According to legend, King Midas divested himself of the golden touch by washing himself in the river (Ovid, Met. 11.140-144). The variable composition of electrum rendered it a difficult commodity to trade without a seal of guarantee of value, unlike pure gold or silver which had been merely weighed throughout the middle east for millennia.
The seal of guarantee initially chosen was the image of a lion's head, the personification of royal authority, strength, courage, wisdom, justice, protection, fire and gold ('subterranean sun'), all attributes that the ambitious kings of Lydia would have been keen to emphasise. The lion, with its golden-brown coat and radiate mane was principally the personification of the sun itself, and hence it is found as a symbol of eastern sun-gods such as Mithras. The zodiac sign Leo was occupied by the Sun in the hottest part of the year, July 22 to August 22, and it was probably on account of this that it was believed that the lion was able to gaze directly at the sun without blinking. In Egypt the male lions were the guardians of the eastern and western horizons, and hence sun-rise and sun-set.
It is not by chance that the head of the lion of this coin has a disk on the forehead, which can only be the solar disk, later replaced by a radiate setting or rising sun on the anonymous 1/3-staters (trites), usually attributed to Alyattes, hardly a wart 'Warz' as suggested by Weidauer for group XV. Indeed the very name of Anatolia (from the Greek Ἀνατολή, Anatolḗ) means the 'east' or [land of] 'sunrise'.