In our on-going review of the ancient text, The Histories
by the ancient Greek Historian Herodotus written possible between 464 BC to around 449 BC and starting with events in 560 BC; events that will eventually lead up to the mega-war between Persia and Greece, we are up to the destruction of King Croesus of Lydia at the hands of the Persians. Here’s my take on the back story: https://gregole.com/2014/11/05/herodotus-the-early-years/
Also if you will recall, some time earlier while King Croesus was still wealthy and powerful, he was paid a visit by a certain Solon, a wise and intelligent lawgiver of Athens who refused to flatter King Croesus with the title “Happiest Man in the World“, which King Croesus expected Solon to nominate him as, since according to Solon, one can never take stock of another’s happiness quotient until after their life is over; because who knows… bad things can happen to good people at any time and if they do, you won’t be happy much longer!
Pretty much as soon as King Croesus kicks Solon out of his court at his capital city of Sardis, bad things start happening to him. His son and heir is killed in a hunting accident. King Croesus gets over it, but decides the upstart Persians to the east are getting too uppity and need invading. Naturally he consults the oracle at Delphi prior to the invasion. If you haven’t heard of the oracle at Delphi, we need to cover that.
At Delphi in Greece, there was a crack in the rocky ground where weird, noxious, hallucinogenic vapors seeped up; and it was legal to sniff them. But only if you were:
…an older woman of blameless life chosen from among the peasants of the area (known as a “sibyl”). She sat on a tripod seat over an opening in the earth. When Apollo slew Python, its body fell into this fissure, according to legend, and fumes arose from its decomposing body. Intoxicated by the vapors, the sibyl would fall into a trance, allowing Apollo to possess her spirit. In this state she prophesied. It has been speculated that a gas high in ethylene, known to produce violent trances, came out of this opening, though this theory remains debatable.
While in a trance the sibyl “raved” – probably a form of ecstatic speech – and her ravings were “translated” by the priests of the temple into elegant hexameters.
After some preliminary oracle consultations to establish the word was legit; the Delphi oracle said basically: “If you invade Persia, a great empire will be destroyed.” What was lacking in the translation was that the empire to be destroyed would be Lydia, and King Croesus.
He ends up besieged by the King Cyrus and the Persians, his back-up the Spartans were late as they usually were and of no help, Sardis falls, his lovely queen commits suicide and King Croesus is on the Pyre about to be immolated. So much for fancying you are the Happiest Man in the World! Date was 546 BC.
He had been warned not to attack the Persians by his adviser Sandanis:
71. … “King you preparing to march against men who wear breeches of leather, and the rest of their clothing is of leather also; and they eat food not such as they desire but that as they can obtain, dwelling in a land which is rugged; and moreover they make no use of wine but drink water; and no figs have they for dessert, nor any other good thing. On the one hand, if you shall overcome them, what will you take away from them, seeing they have nothing? and on the other hand, if you shall be overcome, consider how many good things you will lose; for once having tasted our good things, they will cling to them fast and it will not be possible to drive them away. I for my own part fell gratitude to the gods that they do not put it into the minds of the Persians to march against the Lydians.” Thus he spoke, but he did not persuade Croesus. The Persians before they subdued the Lydians had no luxury nor any good thing.
It is important to note that at this time, 546 BC, the Persians were not the powerful and sophisticated Persians that attacked Greece, but it didn’t take long for them to come up to speed though. 67 years later in 480 BC they would fight the Spartan 300 at the battle of Thermopylae.
The Lydians, though they dominated the Greek states in Asia Minor, were pretty much Greek allies in one form or another; and recall that King Croesus was waiting for Greek reinforcements to fight the Persians.
With Lydia politically destroyed, the Persians and Greeks started going head-to-head. In 500 BC the Greek states in Asia Minor revolt against the Persians; the Persians invade the Greek Island of Naxos; the Greeks capture and burn Sardis King Croesus’ old digs now in Persian hands; in 497 Greeks and Persians fight battles in Cyprus; in 494 the Persians capture and destroy the city of Miletus; in 490 King Xerxes of Persia invades Greece. The Persian war begins.
Herodotus repeats the legend that King Croesus was actually spared on the funeral pyre by King Cyrus and becomes a kind of adviser; but probably not. He was probably burned alive because Cyrus is historically known to be a ruthless blood-thirsty type who himself comes to a bad end. But it makes for some good storytelling if Croesus had been spared.
One story I like is that Cyrus is having trouble subduing a certain group of Lydians and tells Croesus he’s just going to kill every male. Croesus says basically, well yes you could try that, but hey, it might play havoc with the tax base – you know all those widows and children. How about this though – take away all weapons and replace them with harps (lyres) and and encourage everyone to open up shops. In no time at all interest in rebellion and warfare will vanish. Seems to have worked.