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Lydia was an ancient kingdom in Asia Minor, situated in what is now western Turkey. Lydia had a long history stretching back into the remote mythological past prior to the Trojan War. One of its early kings was Tantalus circa 1300 BC, whose crimes were of such magnitide—they included serving his eldest son up in a feast to the gods and hacking the limbs off his temple prostitutes—that in the afterlife he was punished with eternal thirst and hunger, hence our modern word "tantalise". At this point Lydia was called Maeonia, and its capital was at Sipylus, but this was destroyed in an earthquake and slipped into a lake.

The wandering hero Hercules engendered a new dynasty which established its capital at Sardis, and the country changed its name to Lydia. This dynasty lasted for five centuries, by the end of which Lydia had emerged into the light of history. Its last king, Candaules, was overthrown by his servant Gyges, who founded the third and final Lydian dynasty in 716 BC. This dynasty brought Lydia to new heights of prosperity, and it became the first nation in the world to issue coins. Finally its last king, Croesus, was so rich that his name has become a byword for wealth. In 546 BC Croesus sent a request to the Delphic Oracle in Greece, asking what would happen if he attacked the Persian Empire. The oracle replied that he would destroy a great nation. So Croesus attacked, and the great nation he destroyed was... his own. Lydia became a Persian province thereafter.