People - Ancient Greece: Croesus
The son of King Alyattes of Lydia and last of the
Croesus in Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities
（Κροῖσος). The son of Alyattes, king of Lydia, and born about B.C. 590. He was the fifth and last of the Mermnadae, a family which began to reign with Gyges, who dethroned Candaules (q.v.). According to the account of Herodotus, Croesus was the son of Alyattes by a Carian mother, and had a half-brother, named Pantaleon, the offspring of an Ionian woman. An attempt was made by a private foe of Croesus to hinder his accession to the throne and to place the kingdom in the hands of Pantaleon; but the plot failed (Herod.i. 92), although Stobaeus informs us that Croesus, on coming to the throne, divided the kingdom with his brother. Plutarch states that the second wife of Alyattes, wishing to remove Croesus, gave one of the cooks in the royal household a dose of poison to put into the bread she made for Croesus. The woman informed Croesus, and gave the poisoned bread to the queen's children; and the prince, out of gratitude, consecrated at Delphi a golden image of this cook three cubits high. Croesus ascended the throne on the death of his father, B.C. 560, and immediately undertook the subjugation of the Greek communities of Asia Minor (the Aeolians, Ionians, and Dorians), whose disunited state and almost continual wars with one another rendered his task an easy one. He contented himself, however, after reducing them beneath his sway, with merely imposing an annual tribute, and left their forms of government unaltered. When this conquest was effected, he turned his thoughts to the construction of a fleet, intending to attack the islands, but was dissuaded from his purpose by Bias of Priené (Herod.i. 27). Turning his arms, upon this, against the nations of Asia Minor, he subjected all the country lying west of the river Halys, except Cilicia and Lycia; and then applied himself to the arts of peace, and to the patronage of the sciences and of literature. He became famed for his riches and munificence. Poets and philosophers were invited to his court, and, among others, Solon, the Athenian, is said to have visited his capital, Sardis. Herodotus relates the conversation which took place between the latter and Croesus on the subject of human felicity, in which the Athenian offended the Lydian monarch by the little value which he attached to riches as a means of happiness (Herod.i. 30), and by his saying that no man should be called happy until his death.
Not long after this, Croesus had the misfortune to lose his son Atys, who was accidentally killed by Adrastus (q.v.), leaving him with only a dumb child as his heir; but the deep affliction into which this loss plunged him was dispelled in some degree, after two years of mourning, by a feeling of disquiet relative to the movements of Cyrus and the increasing power of the Persians. Wishing to form an alliance with the Greeks of Europe against the danger which threatened him, a step which had been recommended by the oracle at Delphi (Herod.i. 53), he ad
dressed himself, for this purpose, to the Lacedaemonians, at that time the most powerful of the Grecian communities; and having succeeded in his object, and made magnificent presents to the Delphic shrine, he resolved on open hostilities with the Persians. The art of the crafty priesthood who managed the machinery of the oracle at Delphi is nowhere more clearly shown than in the history of their royal dupe, the monarch of Lydia. He had lavished upon their temple the most splendid gifts—so splendid, in fact, that we should be tempted to suspect Herodotus of exaggeration if his account were not confirmed by other writers—and the recipients of this bounty, in their turn, put him off with an answer of the most studied ambiguity when he consulted their far-famed oracle on the subject of a war with the Persians. The response of Apollo was, that if Croesus made war upon this people “he would destroy a great Empire”; and the answer of Amphiaraüs (for his oracle, too, was consulted by the Lydian king) tended to the same effect (Herod.i. 53). The verse itself, containing the response of the oracle, is given by Diodorus (Excerpt. vii. 28), and is as follows: Κροῖσος, Ἅλυν διαβὰς, μεγάλην ἀρχὴν καταλύσει, “Croesus, on having crossed the Halys, will destroy a great empire”—the river Halys being, as already remarked, the boundary of his dominions to the east. Croesus thought that the empire thus referred to was that of Cyrus; the issue, however, proved it to be his own.
Having assembled a numerous army, the Lydian monarch crossed the Halys, invaded the territory of Cyrus, and a battle took place in the district of Pteria, but without any decisive result. Croesus, upon this, thinking his forces not sufficiently numerous, marched back to Sardis, disbanded his army, consisting entirely of mercenaries, and sent for succour to Amasis of Egypt and also to the Lacedaemonians, determining to attack the Persians again in the beginning of the next spring. But Cyrus did not allow him time to effect this. Having discovered that it was the intention of the Lydian king to break up his present army, he marched with all speed into Lydia, before a new mercenary force could be assembled, defeated Croesus (who had no force at his command but his Lydian cavalry) in the battle of Thymbra, shut him up in Sardis, and took the city itself after a siege of fourteen days and in the fourteenth year of the reign of the son of Alyattes.
With Croesus fell the Empire of the Lydians. Herodotus relates two stories connected with this event—one having reference to the dumb son of Croesus, who spoke for the first time when he saw a soldier in the act of killing his father, and, by the exclamation which he uttered, saved his parent's life, the soldier being ignorant of his rank; and the other being as follows: Croesus having been made prisoner, a pile was erected, on which he was placed in order to be burned alive. After keeping silence for a long time, the royal captive heaved a deep sigh, and with a groan thrice pronounced the name of Solon. Cyrus sent to know the reason of this exclamation, and Croesus, after considerable delay, acquainted him with the conversation between himself and Solon. The Persian king, relenting upon this, gave orders for Croesus to be released. But the flames had already begun to ascend on every side of the pile, and all human aid proved ineffectual. In this emergency Croesus prayed earnestly to Apollo, the god on whom he had lavished so many splendid offerings. That deity heard his prayer, and a sudden and heavy fall of rain extinguished the flames (Herod.i. 86 foll.). Croesus, after this, is said to have stood high in the favour of Cyrus, who profited by his advice on several important occasions; and Ctesias declares that the Persian monarch assigned him for his residence a city near Ecbatana, and that in his last moments he recommended Croesus to the care of his son and successor Cambyses; and entreated the Lydian, on the other hand, to be an adviser to his son. Croesus discharged this duty with so much fidelity as to give offence to the new monarch, who ordered him to be put to death. Happily for him, those who were charged with this order hesitated to carry it into execution; and Cambyses, soon after, having regretted his precipitation, Croesus was again brought into his presence and restored to his former favour. The rest of his history is unknown. As he was advanced in years, he could not have long survived Cambyses (Herod.iii. 36 foll.). The wealth of Croesus has passed into a proverb in all languages. See Lydia.
Croesus in Wikipedia
Croesus (pronounced /ˈkriːsəs/, CREE-sus; Greek: Κροῖσος) (595 BC – c. 547? BC) was the king of Lydia from 560 to 546 BC until his defeat by the Persians in about 547 BC. The fall of Croesus made a profound impact on the Hellenes, providing a fixed point in their calendar. "By the fifth century at least," J.A.S. Evans remarked, "Croesus had become a figure of myth, who stood outside the conventional restraints of chronology." Croesus was renowned for his wealth—Herodotus and Pausanias noted his gifts preserved at Delphi.
Wealth and coinage
In Greek and Persian cultures the name of Croesus became a synonym for a wealthy man. 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. The earliest known such usage in English was John Gower's in Confessio amantis (1390):
That if the tresor of Cresus
And al the gold Octovien,
Forth with the richesse Yndien
Of Perles and of riche stones,
Were al togedre myn at ones...
Croesus is credited with the issuing the first true gold coins, in about 643 to 630 BC, with a standardised purity for general circulation. They were quite crude, and were made of electrum, a naturally occurring pale yellow alloy of gold and silver. The composition of these first coins was similar to alluvial deposits found in the silt of the Pactolus river, which ran through the Lydian capital, Sardis. King Croesus' gold coins follow the first silver coins that had been minted by King Pheidon of Argos around 700 BC. In 546 BC, Croesus was defeated and captured by the Persians, who then adopted gold as the main metal for their coins.
Aside from a poetical account of Croesus on the pyre in Bacchylides, there are three classical accounts of Croesus. Herodotus presents the Lydian accounts of the conversation with Solon (Histories 1.29-.33), the tragedy of Croesus' son Atys (Histories 1.34-.45) and the fall of Croesus (Histories 1.85-.89); Xenophon instances Croesus in his panegyric fictionalized biography of Cyrus: Cyropaedia, 7.1; and Ctesias, whose account is also an encomium of Cyrus.
Born about 595 BC, Croesus received tribute from the Ionian Greeks but was friendlier to the Hellenes than his father had been. Croesus traditionally gave refuge at one point to the Phrygian prince Adrastus. Herodotus tells that Adrastus exiled himself to Lydia after accidentally killing his brother. King Croesus welcomed him but then Adrastus accidentally killed Croesus' son, Atys. (Adrastus then committed suicide.)
Croesus' uneasy relations with the Greeks obscures the larger fact that he was the last bastion of the Ionian cities against the increasing Persian power in Anatolia. He began preparing a campaign against Cyrus the Great of Persia. Before setting out he turned to the Delphic oracle and the oracle of Amphiaraus to 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 most famous oracular statements from Delphi.
Croesus was also advised to find out which Greek state was most powerful and to ally himself with it. Croesus, now feeling secure, formed an alliance with Sparta in addition to those he had with Amasis II of Egypt and Nabonidus of Babylonia, and launched his campaign against the Persian Empire in 547 BC. He was intercepted near the Halys River in central Anatolia and an inconclusive battle was fought. As was usual in those days, the armies would disband for winter and Croesus did accordingly. Cyrus did not, however, and he attacked Croesus in Sardis, capturing him. It became clear that the powerful empire Croesus was about to destroy was his own.
In Bacchylides' ode, composed for Hiero of Syracuse, who won the chariot race at Olympia in 468, Croesus with his wife and family mounted the funeral pyre, but before the flames could envelop the king, he was snatched up by Apollo and spirited away to the Hyperboreans. Herodotus' version includes Apollo in more "realistic" mode: Cyrus, repenting of the immolation of Croesus, could not put out the flames until Apollo intervened.
Herodotus tells us that in the Lydian account, Croesus was placed upon a great pyre by Cyrus' orders, for Cyrus wanted to see if any of the heavenly powers would appear to save him from being burned alive. The pile was set ablaze, and as Cyrus watched he saw Croesus call out "Solon" three 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: see Interview with Solon below. 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 to Apollo and 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, convinced by this that Croesus was a good man, made Croesus an advisor who served Cyrus well and later Cyrus's son by Cassandane, Cambyses. 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 adviser' to the courts of Cyrus and Cambyses are purely legendary, showing similarities to the sayings of Ahiqar.
It is not known when exactly Croesus died, although it is traditionally dated 547 BC, after Cyrus' conquest. In the Nabonidus Chronicle it is said that Cyrus "marched against the country -- , killed its king, took his possessions, put there a garrison of his own." Unfortunately, all that remains of the name of the country are traces of the first cuneiform sign. It has long been assumed that this sign should have been 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. Instead, J. Oelsner and R. Rollinger have both read the sign as Ú, which might imply a reference to Urartu. With Herodotus' account also being unreliable chronologically in this case, as J.A.S. Evans has demonstrated, this means that we have no way of dating the fall of Sardis; theoretically, it may even have taken place after the fall of Babylon. 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."
Interview with Solon
The episode of Croesus' interview with Solon reported by Herodotus is in the nature of a philosophical disquisition on the subject "Which man is happy?" It is legendary rather than historical. Croesus, secure in his own wealth and happiness, poses the question and is disappointed by Solon's response: that three have been happier than Croesus, Tellus, who died fighting for his country, and Kleobis and Biton, brothers who died peacefully in their sleep when their mother prayed for their perfect happiness, after they had demonstrated filial piety by drawing her to a festival in an oxcart themselves. Croesus' hubristic happiness was reversed by the tragic deaths of his accidentally-murdered son and, in Critias, his wife's suicide at the fall of Sardis. Thus the "happiness" of Croesus is presented as a moralistic exemplum of the fickleness of Tyche, a theme that gathered strength from the fourth century, revealing its late date.
The story was later retold and elaborated by Ausonius in The Masque of the Seven Sages, in the Suda (entry "Μᾶλλον ὁ Φρύξ," which adds Aesop and the Seven Sages of Greece), and by Tolstoy in his short story "Croesus and Fate".
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