), the last king of Lydia, of the family of the Mermnadae, was the soi of Alvattes; his mother was a Carian.
At the age of thirty-five, he succeeded his father in the kingdom of Lydia. (B. C. 560.) Difficulties have been raised about this date, and there are very strong reasons for believing that Croesus was associated in the kingdom during his father's life, and that the earlier events of his reign, as recorded by Herodotus, belong to this period of joint government. (Clinton F. H.
ii. pp. 297, 298.) We are expressly told that he was made satrap of Adramyttium and the plain of Thebe about B. C. 574 or 572. (Nicol. Damasc. p. 243, ed. Cor., supposed to be taken from the Lydian history of Xanthus; Fischer, Griechische Zeittafeln, s. a.
572 B. C.)
He made war first on the Ephesians, and afterwards on the other Ionian and Aeolian cities of Asia Minor, all of which he reduced to the payment of tribute.
He was meditating an attempt to subdue the insular Greeks also, when either Bias or Pittacus turned him from his purpose by a clever fable (Hdt. 1.27
); and instead of attacking the islanders he made an alliance with them. Croesus next turned his arms against the peoples of Asia Minor west of the river Halys, all of whom he subdued except the Lycians and Cilicians. His dominions now extended from the northern and western coasts of Asia Minor, to the Halys on the east and the Taurus on the south, and included the Lydians, Phrygians, Mysians, Mariandynians, Chalybes, Paphlagonians, the Thynian and Bithynian Thracians, the Carians, Ionians, Dorians, Aeolians, and Pamphylians.
The fame of his power and wealth drew to his court at Sardis all the wise men (σοφισταί
) of Greece, and among them Solon. To him the king exhibited all his treasures, and then asked him who was the happiest man he had ever seen.
The reply of Solon, teaching that no man should be deemed happy till he had finished his life in a happy way, may be read in the beautiful narrative of Herodotus.
After the departure of Solon, Croesus was visited with a divine retribution for his pride.
He had two sons, of whom one was dumb, but the other excelled all his comrades in manly accomplishments. His name was Atys. Croesus had a dream that Atys should perish by an iron-pointed weapon, and in spite of all his precautions, an accident fulfilled the dream. His other son lived to save his father's life by suddenly regaining the power of speech when he saw Croesus in danger at the taking of Sardis. Adrastus, the unfortunate slayer of Atys, killed himself on his tomb, and Croesus gave himself up to grief for two years.
At the end of that time the growing power of Cyrus, who had recently subdued the Median kingdom, excited the apprehension of Croesus, and he conceived the idea of putting down the Persians before their empire became firm.
Before, however, venturing to attack Cyrus, he looked to the Greeks for aid, and to their oracles for counsel; and in both points he was deceived.
In addition to the oracles among the Greeks, he consulted that of Ammon in Lybia; but first he put their truth to the test by sending messengers to inquire of them at a certain time what he was then doing.
The replies of the oracle of Amphiaraüs and that of the Delphi at Pytho were correct; that of the latter is preserved by Herodotus. To these oracles, and especially to that at Pytho, Croesus sent rich presents. and charged the bearers of them to inquire whether he should march against the Persians, and whether there was any people whom he ought to make his allies.
The reply of both oracles was, that, if he marched against the Persians, he would overthrow a great empire, and both advised him to make allies of the most powerful among the Greeks.
He of course understood the response to refer to the Persian empire, and not, as the priests explained it after the event, to his own; and he sent presents to each of the Delphians, who in return granted to him and his people the privileges of priority in consulting the oracle, exemption from charges, and the chief seat at festivals (προμαντηΐην καὶ ἀτελείην καί προεδρίην
), and that any one of them might at any time obtain certain rights of citizenship (γενέσθαι Δελφόν
). Croesus, having now the most unbounded confidence in the oracle, consulted it for the third time, asking whether his monarchy would last long. The Pythia replied that he should flee along the Hermus, when a mule became king over the Medes.
By this mule was signified Cyrus, who was descended of two different nations, his father being a Persian, but his mother a Mede. Croesus, however, thought that a mule would never be king over the Medes, and proceeded confidently to follow the advice of the oracle about making allies of the Greeks. Upon inquiry, he found that the Lacedaemonians and Athenians were the most powerful of the Greeks; but that the Athenians were distracted by the civil dissensions between Peisistratus and the Alcmaeonidae, while the Lacedaemonians had just come off victorious from a long and dangerous war with the people of Tegea. Croesus therefore sent presents to the Lacedaemonians, with a request for their alliance, and his request was granted by the Lacedaemonians, on whom he had previously conferred a favour. All that they did for him, however, was to send a present, which never reached him. Croesus, having now fully determined on the war, in spite of the good advice of a Lydian named Sandanis (Hdt. 1.71
), and having some time before made a league with Amasis, king of Egypt, and Labynetus, king of the Babylonians, marched across the Halys, which was the boundary betweeen the Medo-Persian empire and his own.
The pretext for his aggression was to avenge the wrongs of his brother-in-law Astyages, whom Cyrus had deposed from the throne of Media.
He wasted the country of the Cappadocians (whom the Greeks called also Syrians) and took their strongest town, that of the Pterii, near Sinope, in the neighbourhood of which he was met by Cyrus, and they fought an indecisive battle, which was broken off by night. (B. C. 546.)
The following day, as Cyrus did not offer battle, and as his own army was much inferior to the Persian in numbers, Croesus marched back to Sardis, with the intention of summoning his allies and recruiting his own forces, and then renewing the war on the return of spring. Accordingly, he sent heralds to the Aegyptians, Babylonians, and Lacedaemonians, requesting their aid at Sardis in five months, and in the meantime he disbanded all his mercenary troops. Cyrus, however, pursued him with a rapidity which he had not expected, and appeared before Sardis before his approach could be announced. Croesus led out his Lydian cavalry to battle, and was totally defeated.
In this battle Cyrus is said to have employed the stratagem of opposing his camels to the enemy's horses, which could not endure the noise or odour of the camels. Croesus, being now shut up in Sardis, sent again to hasten his allies. One of his emissaries, named Eurybatus, betrayed his counsels to Cyrus [EURYBATUS], and before any help could arrive, Sardis was taken by the boldness of a Mardian, who found an unprotected point in its defences, after Croesus had reigned 14 years, and had been besieged 14 days. (Near the end of 546, B. C.) Croesus was taken alive, and devoted to the flames by Cyrus, together with 14 Lydian youths, probably as a thanksgiving sacrifice to the god whom the Persians worship in the symbol of fire.
But as Croesus stood in fetters upon the pyre, the warning of Solon came to his mind. and having broken a long silence with a groan, he thrice uttered the name of Solon. Cyrus inquired who it was that he called on, and, upon hearing the story, repented of his purpose, and ordered the fire to be quenched. When this could not be done, Croesus prayed aloud with tears to Apollo, by all the presents he had given him, to save him now, and immediately the fire was quenched by a storm of rain. Believing that Croesus was under a special divine protection, and no doubt also struck by the warning of Solon, Cyrus took Croesus for his friend and counsellor, and gave him for an abode the city of Barene, near Ecbatana.
In his expedition against the Massagetae, Cyrus had Croesus with him, and followed his advice about the passage of the Araxes.
Before passing the river, however, he sent him back to Persia, with his own son Cambyses, whom he charged to honour Croesus, and Croesus to advise his son. When Cambyses came to the throne, and invaded Egypt, Croesus accompanied him.
In the affair of Prexaspes and his son, Croesus at first acted the part of a flattering courtier, though not, as it seems, without a touch of irony (Hdt. 3.34
); but, after Cambyses had murdered the youth, Croesus boldly admonished him, and was obliged to fly for his life from the presence of the king.
The servants of Cambyses concealed him, thinking that their master would repent of having wished to kill him. And so it happened; but when Cambyses heard that Croesus was alive, he said that he was glad, but he ordered those who had saved him to be put to death for their disobedience. Of the time and circumstances of Croesus's death we know nothing.
A few additional, but unimportant incidents in his life, are mentioned by Herodotus. Ctesias's account of the taking of Sardis is somewhat different from that of Herodotus. (Hdt. 1.6
; Ctesias, Persica,
4, ed. Lion, ap. Phot. Bibl. 72
, p. 36, Bekker; Ptol. Hephaest. ap. Phot. Bibl. 190
, p. 146b. 21, 148, b. 31; Plut. Sol. 27
; Diod. 9.2
; Justin 1.7
.) Xenophon, in his historical romance, gives some further particulars about Croesus which are unsupported by any other testimony and opposed to that of Herodotus, with whom, however, he for the most part agrees. (Cyrop
1.5, 2.1, 4.1, 2, 6.2, 7.1-4, 8.2.)