The Grecian cities on the coast of Asia Minor were the neighbours of an Asiatic power which finally reduced them to subjection. This was the kingdom of Lydia, of which Sardis was the capital. Croesus, the last and most powerful of the Lydian kings, who ascended the throne B.C. 560, conquered in succession all the Grecian cities on the coast. His rule, however, was not oppressive, and he permitted the cities to regulate their own affairs. He spoke the Greek language, welcomed Greek guests, and reverenced the Greek oracles, which he enriched with the most munificent offerings. He extended his dominions in Asia Minor as far as the river Halys, and he formed a close alliance with Astyages, king of the Medes, who were then the ruling race in Asia. Everything seemed to betoken uninterrupted prosperity, when a people hitherto almost unknown suddenly became masters of the whole of western Asia.

The Persians were of the same race as the Medes and spoke a dialect of the same language. They inhabited the mountainous region south of Media, which slopes gradually down to the low grounds on the coast of the Persian gulf. While the Medes became enervated by the corrupting influences to which they were exposed, the Persians preserved in their native mountains their simple and warlike habits. They were a brave and hardy nation, clothed in skins, drinking only water, and ignorant of the commonest luxuries of life. Cyrus led these fierce warriors from their mountain fastnesses, defeated the Medes in battle, took Astyages prisoner, and deprived him of his throne. The other nations included in the Median empire submitted to the conqueror, and the sovereignty of Upper Asia thus passed from the Medes to the Persians. The accession of Cyrus to the empire is placed in B.C. 559. A few years afterwards Cyrus turned his arms against the Lydians, took Sardis, and deprived Croesus of his throne (B.C. 546). The fall of Croesus was followed by the subjection of the Greek cities in Asia to the Persian yoke. They offered a brave but ineffectual resistance, and were taken one after the other by Harpagus the Persian general. Even the islands of Lesbos and Chios sent in their submission to Harpagus, although the Persians then possessed no fleet to force them to obedience. Samos, on the other hand, maintained its independence, and appears soon afterwards one of the most powerful of the Grecian states.

During the reign of Cambyses (B.C. 529-521), the son and successor of Cyrus, the Greek cities of Asia remained obedient to their Persian governors. It was during this reign that Polycrates, tyrant of Samos, became the master of the Grecian seas. The ambition and good fortune of this enterprising tyrant were alike remarkable. He possessed a hundred ships of war, with which he conquered several of the islands; and he aspired to nothing less than the dominion of Ionia, as well as of the islands in the AEgean. The Lacedaemonians, who had invaded the island at the invitation of the Samian exiles, for the purpose of overthrowing his government, were obliged to retire, after besieging his city in vain for forty days. Everything which he undertook seemed to prosper; but his uninterrupted good fortune at length excited the alarm of his ally Amasis, the king of Egypt. According to the tale related by Herodotus, the Egyptian king, convinced that such amazing good fortune would sooner or later incur the envy of the gods, wrote to Polycrates, advising him to throw away one of his most valuable possessions and thus inflict some injury upon himself. Thinking the advice to be good, Polycrates threw into the sea a favourite ring of matchless price and beauty; but unfortunately it was found a few days afterwards in the belly of a fine fish which a fisherman had sent him as a present. Amasis now foresaw that the ruin of Polycrates was inevitable, and sent a herald to Samos to renounce his alliance. The gloomy anticipations of the Egyptian monarch proved well founded. In the midst of all his prosperity Polycrates fell by a most ignominious fate. Oroetes, the satrap of Sardis, had for some unknown cause conceived a deadly hatred against the Samian despot. By a cunning stratagem the satrap allured him to the mainland, where he was immediately arrested and hanged upon a cross (B.C. 522).