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This page is part of the "tools" section of a site, Plato and his dialogues, dedicated to developing a new interpretation of Plato's dialogues. The "tools" section provides historical and geographical context (chronology, maps, entries on characters and locations) for Socrates, Plato and their time. By clicking on the minimap at the beginning of the entry, you can go to a full size map in which the city or location appears. For more information on the structure of entries and links available from them, read the notice at the beginning of the index of persons and locations.
Capital of Lydia, in Asia Minor
Sardis was the city of residence of Croesus, the Lydian king of the VIth century B. C. (he reigned from 561 to his death in 546), whose story is told by Herodotus in the first book of his Histories (Histories, I, 6-94). Lydia at the time was a very rich country, owing in particular to the gold of the Tmolus mountains that was carried down under the form of gold dust by the Pactolus river flowing through Sardis (Histories, I, 93 and Histories, V, 101). Herodotus depicts the court of Croesus as a brilliant place visited by all the Wise Men of Greece who lived in that time and tells the story of the visit of Solon there and his contempt for Croesus' wealth (Histories, I, 29-33).
Based on Herodotus' account, Sardis is linked in more than one way to the later history of Athens and Greece. By attacking Cyrus when he felt his kingdom in danger in the face of Persian expansion, and being defeated by him (Sardis was taken by Cyrus in 546, Histories, I, 79-84), Croesus led to the subjection of the Ionian cities he had himself earlier subjected, such as Miletus, to the dominion of Persia : eventually, Lydia became, under Darius, one of the satrapies of the Persian Empire and Sardis the city of residence of the Satrap of that province. And it is the uprising of the Ionian cities in 498 under the leadership of Aristagoras of Miletus, and the help it received from Athens and Eretria, leading to the destruction of Sardis by fire at the hands of the rebels that same year which was seen by many, starting with Herodotus, as the cause of the Persian Wars (Plato echoes this view at Menexenus, 240a, as might be expected in a dialogue that mimics the common view of writers of funeral orations at the time).
Herodotus puts the origin of Croesus' dynasty as kings of Lydia in a certain Gyges and tells us, at the very start of his Histories, the story of how that Gyges usurped power over Candaules (probably sometime in the early part of the VIIth century B. C.) (Histories, I, 7-14). Plato has Glaucon, in the 2nd book of the Republic (Republic, II, 359c-360b and see my comments on that section) tell us a slightly different story of that Gyges (there is no mention in Herodotus of a "ring of Gyges", which is at the heart of Glaucon's version). We may wonder if Plato didn't have some definite intention in the back of his mind in starting his criticism of the commonly held notion of justice with the same story that starts Herodotus' history of the Persian Wars, which were at the origin of the Athenian Empire and of the pretense of Athens, the winner of Marathon, to rule all of Greece.