previous next

Croesus

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

Croesus on the Pyre.

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.

hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: