XANTHUS THE LYDIAN, Greek historiographer, son of a certain Kandaules, probably born in Sardis, and a Hellenized Lydian. He lived sometime after Hecataeus of Miletus and was an older contemporary of Herodotus, but the information of the Suda (s.v.) that he was born at the time when Cyrus II the Great took Sardis, is not reliable.  The preserved fragments of Xanthus’s works, which seem to tell fewer historical facts than those of cultural history, do not provide any substantial information about him. 

In antiquity Xanthus was regarded as an important source and an authority for Lydia and the Lydians, owing to his knowledge of the country and its people.  His relevant work (in four books) is usually cited as Lydiaká by later authors who referred to it, but this title probably is not the original one.  Only few fragments of the Lydiaká are recorded (collected by Jacoby, no. 765), and only part of them are substantial extracts (one single piece, fragment 16, being a literal quotation), whereas the majority is found in the Ethniká of Stephanus Byzantius (fl. 6th cent.) as evidence for geographical names and ethnics.  Apart from those excerpts, the work must have been one of the major sources of historian Nicolaus of Damascus, who in a number of passages (concerning mainly Lydian history) extracted Xanthus, whose accounts he obviously embellished rather intensively (Diller; von Fritz).  That dependence is ascertained by closer reminiscences, but the differences between the simple, natural style of Xanthus as a typical exponent of Ionian historiography and the more narrative and emotional performance of Nicolaus (who never seems to mention Xanthus by name) make it difficult to judge the manner and extent of that adaptation.  Whether a Hellenistic epitome is involved here is still a matter of dispute.

As regards methodology, it may be remarked that Xanthus obviously introduced aspects of natural history into the historiographical description.  For instance, in fragment 12, he mentions a great drought during the reign of Artaxerxes I (apparently his own lifetime) and says that he himself saw fossilized mussel shells and the like far inland in Armenia and Phrygia, which caused him to think that there must have been a sea there in former times.  He referred also to linguistic phenomena that show that he had a knowledge of the Lydian language; thus he could maintain (in Frg. 16) that the languages of the Lydians and the related Torrhebians differed only a little and could compare this difference with that between the Ionian and Dorian dialects.  In fragment 23, he is given as the source of Sardis’ original name Xuáris, which form goes well with epichoric Lydian śfar(i)-.

The main concern of Xanthus’s Lydiaká is Lydian history from the earliest times up to the sixth century BCE, in all probability up to the capture of Sardis by Cyrus the Great.  The author may have chosen this topic in order to preserve the memory of the Lydian past, because he felt himself a proud Lydian, even if he was Hellenized.

Although Lydia (OPers. Sparda-) was part of the Achaemenian Empire since the reign of Cyrus, Xanthus provides virtually no information of relevance for Achaemenian Iran.  But, as far as we can establish, Xanthus is the first author to have mentioned Zoroaster in Greek.  Whether he actually had written a work about Persian religion, however, is not conclusively proven, although Magiká is recorded as the title of one of his books (Frg. 31) by Clemens of Alexandria (Stromateis 3, 11, 1). Due to the lack of adequate reliable documentation, scholars are undecided whether it is authentic at all, a work of its own, or part of book IV of the Lydiaká.  The only piece of information on Zoroaster explicitly connected with Xanthus’s name is that he lived 6,000 years before Xerxes’ crossing of the Hellespont, which date may be a mere round number as well as an echo of Iranian theories on cosmic periods (cf., e.g., Gnoli).  In any case, those speculations cannot be taken seriously.

Regrettably the transmission of Xanthus’s Lydiaká is rather unsatisfactory, so his significance for the development of Greek historiography cannot be judged with certainty.


Clemens of Alexandria, Stromateis, tr. Otto Stählin, as  Des Clemens von Alexandreia Teppiche wissenschaftlicher Darlegungen entsprechend der wahren Philosophie, Munich, 1936-38. 

Hans Diller, “Zwei Erzählungen des Lyders Xanthos,” in Navicula Chiloniensis: Studia philologa Felici Jacoby professori Chiloniensi emerito octogenario oblata, Leiden, 1956, pp. 66-78. 

Kurt von Fritz, Die Griechische Geschichtsschreibung I: Von den Anfängen bis Thukydides: Anmerkungen, Berlin, 1967, pp. 348-77. 

Gherardo Gnoli, Zoroaster in History, New York, 2000, esp. pp. 45-56.

Hans Herter, “Xanthos 25,” in Pauly-Wissowa, IX/2A, Stuttgart, 1967, cols. 1353-74.

Felix Jacoby, Die Fragmente der griechischen Historiker III C2, pp. 750-58, no. 765 (the now available online edition should not be used, because things are made worse now and then). 

Otto Lendle, Einführung in die griechische Geschichtsschreibung: Von Hekataios bis Zosimos, Darmstadt, 1992, pp. 25-28. 

Lionel Pearson, Early Ionian Historians, Oxford, 1939, pp. 109-38. 

Wilhelm Schmid and Otto Stählin, Geschichte der griechischen Literatur I/1: Die griechische Literatur vor der attischen Hegemonie, Munich, 1929, pp. 704-7.

(Rüdiger Schmitt)

Originally Published: November 15, 2016

Last Updated: November 15, 2016

Cite this entry:

Rüdiger Schmitt, “XANTHUS THE LYDIAN,” Encyclopædia Iranica, online edition, 2016, available at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/xanthus-lydian (accessed on 15 November 2016).