; 595 BC c. 546 BC) was thekingofLydiawho, according toHerodotus, reigned for 14 years: from 560 BC until his defeat by the Persian kingCyrus the Greatin 546 BC
Croesus was renowned for his wealth; Herodotus andPausaniasnoted that his gifts were preserved atDelphi.3The fall of Croesus had a profound impact on theGreeks, providing a fixed point in their calendar. By the fifth century at least,J. A. S. Evanshas remarked, Croesus had become a figure of myth, who stood outside the conventional restraints of chronology.4
Aside from a poetical account of Croesus on the pyre inBacchylides(composed for Hiero of Syracuse, who won the chariot race at Olympia in 468), there are three classical accounts of Croesus:Herodotuspresents theLydianaccounts5of the conversation withSolon(Histories1.29.33), the tragedy of Croesus sonAtys(Histories1.34.45) and the fall of Croesus (Histories1.85.89);Xenophoninstances Croesus in hispanegyricfictionalized biography of Cyrus:Cyropaedia, 7.1; andCtesias, whose account6is also anencomiumof Cyrus. Croesus is a descendant ofGyges, of the Myrmnadae Clan, who seized power when Gyges killedCandaulesafter Candauless wife found out about a conspiracy to watch her disrobe, according to Herodotus.7
Reportedly, Croesus on the death of his fatherAlyattesfaced a rival claimant to the throne in Pantaleon, son of Alyattes by a different mother. Croesus prevailed, and a number of the opposite faction were executed, and their property confiscated.8As soon as his reign was secure, Croesus continued his sires wars against the Asian Greeks, bringing all theAeolianandIonianSettlements on the coasts ofAsia-Minorunder Lydian rule, from whom he exacted tribute;9However, he was willing to be friendly to European and Aegean Greeks, concluding various treaties with them, withSparta, in particular, later in life.10
Croesus is credited with issuing the first truegold coinswith a standardised purity for general circulation, theCroeseid(following on from his fatherAlyatteswhoinvented mintingwithelectrumcoins). Indeed, the invention of coinage had passed into Greek society throughHermodike II.1112Hermodike II was likely one of Alyettes wives so may have been Croesus mother because the bull imagery on the croeseid symbolises the HellenicZeus-seeEuropa (consort of Zeus).13Zeus, through Hercules, was the divine forefather of his family line.
While the pyre was burning, it is said that a cloud passed under Hercules and with a peal of thunder wafted him up to heaven. Thereafter he obtained immortality… by Omphale he had Agelaus, from whom the family of Croesus was descended…14
The dynasty which preceded that of Croesus on the throne of Sardes traced their descent fromAlcaeus, the son ofHerculesbyOmphale, Queen of Lydia, during her year of required servitude. Like his ancestor Hercules, Croesus attempted to burn himself on a pyre when the Persians captured Sardes. By emulatinging the Greek myth, he demonstrated he had – or believed he had – Greek heritage.
Moreover, the first coins were quite crude and made ofelectrum, a naturally occurring pale yellow alloy ofgoldandsilver. The composition of these first coins was similar toalluvial depositsfound in thesiltof thePactolusriver (made famous byMidas), which ran through theLydiancapital,Sardis. Later coins, including some in theBritish Museum, were made from gold purified by heating withcommon saltto remove the silver.15
In Greek and Persian cultures the name of Croesus became a synonym for a wealthy man. He inherited great wealth from his father who had become associated with theMidasmythology because Lydian precious metals came from the riverPactolusin which King Midas supposedly washed away his ability to turn all he touched into gold.16Aylettes tax revenue may be the real Midas touch financing his and Croesus conquests. Croesus wealth remained proverbial beyond classical antiquity: in English, expressions such as rich as Croesus or richer than Croesus are used to indicate great wealth to this day. The earliest known such usage in English wasJohn Gowers inConfessio amantis(1390):
According to Herodotus, Croesus encountered the Greek sage Solon and showed him his enormous wealth.18Croesus, secure in his own wealth and happiness, asked Solon who the happiest man in the world was, and was disappointed by Solons response that three had been happier than Croesus:Tellus, who died fighting for his country, and the brothersKleobis and Bitonwho died peacefully in their sleep after their mother prayed for their perfect happiness because they had demonstratedfilial pietyby drawing her to a festival in an oxcart themselves. Solon goes on to explain that Croesus cannot be the happiest man because the fickleness of fortune means that the happiness of a mans life cannot be judged until after his death. Sure enough, Croesushubristichappiness was reversed by the tragic deaths of his accidentally-killed son and, according toCritias, his wifes suicide at the fall of Sardis, not to mention his defeat at the hands of the Persians.
The interview is in the nature of a philosophical disquisition on the subject Which man is happy? It is legendary rather than historical. Thus the happiness of Croesus is presented as a moralisticexemplumof the fickleness ofTyche, a theme that gathered strength from the fourth century, revealing its late date. The story was later retold and elaborated byAusoniusinThe Masque of the Seven Sages, in theSuda(entry ᾶ ὁ ύ, which addsAesopand theSeven Sages of Greece), and byTolstoyin his short storyCroesus and Fate.
According to Herodotus,19Croesus desired to discover which of the well known oracles of his time gave trustworthy omens. He sent ambassadors to the most important oracles ordering that on the 100th day from their departure from Sardis they should ask what the king of the Lydians, Croesus, son of Alyattes was doing on this exact date. Then on the 100th day the envoys entered the oracle ofDelphiin order to ask for the omen, thePythiaanswered in verse:
I know the sands number and the measures of the sea.
I understand the mute and hear him though he does not speak.
The smell has come to my senses of a hard-shelled tortoise
Being cooked in bronze together with lambs meat;
There is bronze beneath it and with bronze it has been covered.
The envoys wrote down the answer and returned toSardis. Croesus read all the answers brought by his envoys from all the oracles. As soon as he read the answer of thePythiahe bowed, because he was persuaded that it was the only real oracle, along with that of Amphiaraus.20Indeed, on the specific date Croesus had put pieces of a tortoise and lamb to boil together in a bronze cauldron, covered with a bronze lid. Then, Croesus wanted to thank and take on his side the oracle of Delphi. He sacrificed three thousand of all kinds of sacrificial animals. Then he lit a bonfire and burned precious objects. After the sacrifice he melted down gold and made golden blocks, each one 2.5 talents. He ordered his artists to make the copy of a lion out of pure gold, weighing ten talents. At the time of Herodotus this was situated at theTreasury of the Corinthiansin Delphi, but 3.5 talents lighter, as the priests had melted down part of it. Croesus also sent along two enormouskrateres(wine-mixing bowls), one made of gold and one made of silver, situated on one side and the other of the entrance to the temple of Apollo. After the fire which destroyed the temple, thesekratereswere transferred elsewhere: the golden one was transferred to the treasury of the Klazomenians, whereas the silver one was placed again in the vestibule of the new temple. Within thiskratertook place the mixing of water and wine during the Theophania. In Delphi they used to say that this one had been made by Theodorus of Samos. The votive offerings of Croesus comprised also four silverpithoi(storage jars), situated at the Treasury of the Corinthians, and twoperirrhanteria(basins for purification water) made of precious metals and a statue of a woman made of gold; they said that it depicted the woman who kneaded Croesus bread. Finally, he dedicated the pendants and belts of his wife as well as other simpler and smaller liturgical objects and a golden shield which he offered to the Archaic temple of Athena Pronaia, later on melted by the Phocians in the course of theThird Sacred War.
According to legend, Croesus gave refuge at one point to the Phrygian princeAdrastus. Herodotus tells that Adrastus exiled himself to Lydia after accidentally killing his brother. Croesus later experienced a dream for which he took as prophecy in whichAtys, his son and heir, would be killed by an iron spearhead. Taking precautions against this, Croesus kept his son from leading in military expeditions and fighting in any way. However, according to Herodotus, a wild boar began to ravage the neighboring province ofMysia, which soon begged Croesus to send a military expedition led by Atys to kill the boar. Croesus thought this would be safe for his son, as Atys would not be fighting an enemy that could throw a spear. However, he sent Adrastus with Atys as a bodyguard in case they would be waylaid by bandits on the expedition. While fighting the boar, Adrastus accidentally hit Atys with his spear, killing him. Croesus absolved Adrastus for his sons death; however, Adrastus later committed suicide.21
Croesus uneasy relations with the Ionian Greeks obscures the larger fact that he was the last bastion of theIonian citiesagainst the increasing Persian power in Anatolia. He began preparing a campaign againstCyrus the Greatof Persia.
Before setting out, he turned to theand the oracle ofAmphiarausto inquire whether he should pursue this campaign and whether he should also seek an alliance. The oracles answered, with typical ambiguity, that if Croesus attacked the Persians, he would destroy a great empire this would become one of the mostfamous oracular statements from Delphi.
The oracles also advised Croesus to find out which Greek state was most powerful and to ally himself with it.22Croesus, now feeling secure, formed an alliance withSparta23in addition to those he had withAmasis IIofEgyptandNabonidusofBabylonia,24and launched his campaign against the Persian Empire in 547 BC. (The scholar Evans in 1978 examines the conflicting dates implied in Herodotus.4) Croesus was intercepted near theHalys Riverin centralAnatoliaand an inconclusive battle was foughtat Pteria. It was the usual practice in those days for the armies to disband for winter and Croesus did so accordingly. Cyrus did not, however, and he attacked and defeated Croesus inThymbriaand later inSardis, eventually capturing him. It became clear that the powerful empire destroyed by the war was Croesuss own.
By 546 BC, Croesus was defeated at theBattle of Thymbraunder the wall of his capital city of Sardis. After theSiege of Sardis, he was then captured by thePersians.According to various accounts of Croesuss life, Cyrus ordered him to be burned to death on a pyre, but Croesus escaped death. Accounts of his escape vary considerably:
In Bacchylides ode,25Croesus with his wife and family mounted the funeral pyre, but before the flames could envelop the king, he was snatched up byApolloand spirited away to theHyperboreans.
Herodotus tells us that in the Lydian account, Croesus was placed upon a greatpyreby Cyrus orders, for Cyrus wanted to see if any of the heavenly powers would appear to save him from beingburned alive. The pile was set ablaze, and asCyrus the Greatwatched he saw Croesus call outSolonthree times. He asked the interpreters to find out why he said this word with such resignation and agony. The interpreters returned the answer that Solon had warned Croesus of the fickleness of good fortune (seeInterview with Solonabove). This touched Cyrus, who realized that he and Croesus were much the same man, and he bade the servants to quench the blazing fire as quickly as they could. They tried to do this, but the flames were not to be mastered. According to the story, Croesus called out toApolloand prayed to him. The sky had been clear and the day without a breath of wind, but soon dark clouds gathered and a storm with rain of such violence that the flames were speedily extinguished. Cyrus, thus convinced that Croesus was a good man, made him an advisor who served Cyrus well and later Cyruss son by Cassandane,Cambyses.26
The Cambridge History of Iranargues that there is no evidence that Cyrus the Great killed Croesus, and in particular rejects the account of burning on a pyre. It interprets Bacchylides narration as Croesus attempting suicide and then being saved by Cyrus.27
Recently, Stephanie West has argued that the historical Croesus did in fact die on the pyre, and that the stories of him as a wise advisor to the courts of Cyrus and Cambyses are purely legendary, showing similarities to the sayings ofAhiqar.28
After defeating Croesus, the Persians adoptedgoldas the main metal for their coins.2930
It is not known when exactly Croesus died, although it could be aligned with the traditional date for Cyrus conquest of Lydia in 546 BC. In theNabonidus Chronicleit is said that Cyrus marched against the country, killed its king,31took his possessions, put there agarrisonof his own. Unfortunately, all that remains of the name of the country are traces of the firstcuneiformsign. It has long been assumed that this sign should be LU, so that the country referred to would be Lydia, with Croesus as the king that was killed. However, J.Cargill has shown that this restoration was based upon wishful thinking rather than actual traces of the sign LU.32Instead, J.Oelsner and R.Rollinger have both read the sign as , which might imply a reference toUrartu.33With Herodotus account also being unreliable chronologically in this case, as J. A. S. Evans has demonstrated,34this means that we currently have no way of dating the fall ofSardis; theoretically, it may even have taken place after the fall ofBabylonin 539 BC. Evans also asks what happened after the episode at the pyre and suggests that neither the Greeks nor the Babylonians knew what really happened to Croesus.35
References to Croesus legendary power and wealth, often as a symbol of human vanity, are numerous in literature. The following, byIsaac Watts, is from the poem titled False Greatness:
Are far inferior to their show.3637
Other literary examples areCroesus and Fate, a short story byLeo Tolstoythat is a retelling of the account of Croesus as told by Herodotus and Plutarch; and Crœsus, King of Lydia, a tragedy in five parts byAlfred Bate Richards, first published in 1845.
Croesus. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online
Among them a lion of gold, which had tumbled from its perch upon a stack of ingots when thetempleatDelphiburned but was preserved and displayed in the Treasury of the Corinthians, where Pausanias saw it (Pausanias 10.5.13). The temple burned in the archonship of Erxicleides, 548-47 BC.
Evans, J. A. S. (October 1978). What Happened to Croesus?.
Herodotus credits his Lydian sources for the fall of Croesus in
Lost: what survives is a meager epitome byPhotius.
, (Penguin Books, Suffolk, England, 1983), I., p. 79
, (Houghton Mifflin Company Boston, 1952), chap. II.
1912-1996., Grimal, Pierre, (1991). The Penguin dictionary of classical mythology. Kershaw, Stephen. ([Abridged ed.] ed.). London, England: Penguin Books.
Perseus 1:2.7 – to Hdt. 1.7 the dynasty which preceded that of Croesus on the throne of Sardes traced their descent from Alcaeus, the son of Herakles by a slave girl. It is a curious coincidence that Croesus, like his predecessor or ancestor Herakles, is said to have attempted to burn himself on a pyre when the Persians captured Sardes. See Bacch. 3.24-62, ed. Jebb. The tradition is supported by the representation of the scene on a red-figured vase, which may have been painted about forty years after the capture of Sardes and the death or captivity of Croesus. See Baumeister, Denkmäler des klassischen Altertums, ii.796, fig. 860. Compare Adonis, Attis, Osiris, 3rd ed. i.174ff. The Herakles whom Greek tradition associated with Omphale was probably an Oriental deity identical with the Sandan of Tarsus. See Adonis, Attis, Osiris, i.124ff.
A History of the World-Episode 25 – Gold coin of Croesus. BBC British Museum.Archivedfrom the original on 2010-02-27.
(3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005.
(Subscription orUK public library membershiprequired.)
Herodotus, 1.49: As to the reply which the Lydians received from the oracle of Amphiaraus when they had followed the due custom of the temple, I cannot say what it was, for nothing is recorded of it, except that Croesus believed that from this oracle too he had obtained a true answer.
Lalliance lydo-spartiate, in Ktma, 39, 2014, p. 271-288.
Just such an intervention in extinguishing a funeral pyre was adapted byChristian hagiographersas a conventionalliterary
Fisher, William Bayne; Gershevitch, I. (1968).
. Cambridge University Press. pp.413414.ISBN
Stephanie West, Croesus Second Reprieve and Other Tales of the Persian Court,
The verb is annihilate; F. Cornelius, Kroisos,
(1967:34647) notes that the verb can also mean destroy [as a military power] as well as kill.
J. Cargill, The Nabonidus chronicle and the fall of Lydia: Consensus with feet of clay,
Herodots babylonischer logos: Eine kritische Untersuchung der Glaubwrdigkeitsdiskussion
(Innsbruck: Institut fr Sprachwissenschaft 1993),
(1999/2000:378-80); R. Rollinger, The Median empire, the end of Urartu and Cyrus the Great campaign in 547 BC (Nabonidus Chronicle II 16),
Horae lyricae: poems, chiefly of the lyric kind … /
. New York: Printed and sold byHugh Gaine.
Lalliance lydo-spartiate, in Ktma, 39, 2014, p. 271-288by Kevin Leloux
Herodotus account of Croesus; 1.6-94from the Perseus Project, containing links to both English and Greek versions). Croesus was the son ofAlyattesand continued the conquest ofIoniancities ofAsia Minorthat his father had begun.
An in-depth account of Croesus life, by Carlos Parada
Gold Coin of Croesusfrom the series: A History of the World in 100 Objects
Articles containing Ancient Greek-language text
Wikipedia articles incorporating a citation from the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica with Wikisource reference
Wikipedia articles with WorldCat-VIAF identifiers
This page was last edited on 14 March 2019, at 11:04