Mythological Tantalus was a Lydian

The Lydians were a culture that lived on the west coast of Asia Minor near present-day Izmir. Occupying a small kingdom between the Greeks and Persians, they were traders and perfume makers and creators of the world’s first money. [Source: John Noble Wilford, New York Times, August 15, 2000]

The Lydians were skilled warriors and charioteers. They raided both small nomadic groups and settlements of the Persian Empire. The Greeks admired them for the wealth and their ability to stand up to the Persians. Greek historians described the Lydians as superficial and decadent and said they wore earnings and fancy tunics. Herodotus attributed the invention of dice to the Lydians, who he said introduced them during a time of famine so the masses could keep themselves entertained on days they were not allowed to eat.

The Lydians left behind only 115 texts, mostly unrevealing gravestone inscriptions. Jarrett A. Lobell and Eric Powell wrote in Archaeology magazine, “At the site of Sardis in Turkey, once the capital of the Lydian Empire (680-546 B.C.), excavators uncovered 26 small pits, each containing four pots — a cooking jug, deep cup, shallow bowl, and small pitcher, all used for common meals — along with an iron knife and the bones of a puppy. According to one of Sardis's long-time excavators, Crawford Greenewalt Jr. of the University of California, Berkeley, the burials are the remains of a ritual meal, perhaps dedicated to the Lydian version of the god Hermes. "I do not believe these deposits are evidence of cynophagy [eating dogs], which was not part of the normal ancient Mediterranean diet," he says. [Source: Jarrett A. Lobell and Eric Powell, Archaeology magazine, September/October 2010]

Harvard-Cornell Sardis Expedition led by Dr, Crawford H. Greenwalt Jr. and Dr. Andrew Ramage.

Sardis, the Capital of Lydia

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “Sardis in antiquity was one of the great cities of Asia Minor. As the capital of Lydia (a kingdom located in western Turkey, inland from modern Izmir), Sardis achieved fame and wealth especially under the last Lydian king, Croesus, before succumbing to the Persian conquest in the mid-sixth century B.C. Sardis lies at the foothills of Mount Tmolus in the valley of the Hermus River, a natural corridor that connects the Aegean and Anatolia. The city's wealth and prosperity can be attributed to its location, ideal for trade and commerce, and to its abundant source of water and mineral resources, most notably the legendary gold-bearing sands of the Pactolus stream. [Source: “Colette Hemingway, Independent Scholar, Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2004, \^/]


“The Greek historian Herodotus tells us that the Lydians were the first people to mint coins. Although the exact date of this invention is in dispute, coins of electrum, a natural alloy of gold and silver, apparently came into use at the end of the seventh century B.C. According to Herodotus, King Croesus, who ruled Lydia from 560 to 546 B.C., was the first person to issue pure gold and pure silver coins. Systematic exploitation of the region's rich mineral resources made Sardis a leading producer of gold in the eastern Mediterranean from the mid-seventh to mid-sixth century B.C., briefly lifting the kingdom to the world stage of economic and social history. Even today, a memory of that wealth lingers in the expression "rich as Croesus." Evidence for a gold refinery has been discovered near the Pactolus stream, where also stands a stone altar most likely dedicated to Cybele, the patron goddess of Sardis. \^/

“In 546 B.C., the Lydian empire was conquered by the Persians under Cyrus the Great, who made Sardis the chief western terminus of a major administrative route that originated at Susa in Iran. During Persian occupation, rulers and a class of entrepreneurs engaged in industry and commercial trade, making Lydia one of the richest kingdoms of the period, with a lifestyle famous for its splendor and luxury. Persian rule ended in 334 B.C., when Sardis surrendered to Alexander the Great. However, the archaeological record has revealed the impact of Greek and other cultures from as early as the Archaic period, long before the conquest of Anatolia by Alexander. One of the most important sculptural pieces from Sardis is a stone shrine to Cybele that depicts the mother goddess standing in an Ionic temple. Datable to the sixth century B.C., it is one of the earliest known representations of the Ionic style of architecture. \^/

“The city was for many centuries a significant point of juncture between the Greeks of the Aegean and the Persians. Traders and caravans, laden with riches of every description, must have passed through Sardis, and so it is little wonder that the Lydians acquired an international taste. During the Hellenistic era, which followed Alexander's death, Sardis was much coveted by the Seleucid dynasts and the kings of Pergamon. In 282 B.C., the city became a Seleucid capital, during which time it acquired status as a Greek city-state. The monumental temple to the goddess Artemis on the site dates to this period. \^/

“In 133 B.C., Sardis came under Roman rule and was distinguished as the principal city of a judicial district that included twenty-seven or more Lydian and Phrygian settlements. By the end of the first century B.C., it had become an important center of Christianity and home to a significant Jewish community. The synagogue at Sardis, discovered by chance in 1962 during excavations by Harvard and Cornell Universities, measures over 300 feet in length—the largest of its kind. Originally, the floors were paved with ornate mosaics and its walls covered with multicolored marble revetment, into which were set marble panels of floral and animal designs. After the sixth century A.D., Sardis declined in importance and size, although its prestige lingered for another 500 years. As late as the thirteenth century it was the site of a summit meeting between the Byzantine emperor and Turkish sultan. “\^/

Herodotus and the History of Lydia

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “Located in western Anatolia and bordered by the kingdom of Phrygia to the east and Ionia to the west, the kingdom of Lydia flourished during the first millennium B.C. Much of what is known about Lydia derives from the Greek historian Herodotus (fifth century B.C.). He records that King Gyges founded a dynasty (in the late eighth to seventh century B.C.) that flourished until the Achaemenid Persian period. Herodotus also records information about the political relationship between Lydia and its eastern neighbor Phrygia. He reports that Midas, son of King Gordios of Phrygia, was the first Near Easterner to dedicate gifts to the Greek oracle at Delphi, and that the second was Gyges of Lydia. Midas' dedication would have occurred in the late eighth century B.C., Gyges' in the late eighth or seventh century, an event likely prompted by knowledge of Midas' earlier dedication. [Source: Department of Ancient Near Eastern Art. "Lydia and Phrygia", Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2004, \^/]

“The precise chronological relationship between Gyges and Midas remains under debate. To Herodotus, the two monarchs were in part contemporary, but from Assyrian texts we know that Gyges also ruled at the time of the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal (r. 668–627 B.C.). The first Assyrian reference to Gyges was in the 660s and concerned attacks by the Cimmerians, nomadic invaders from the Caucasus who had previously ravaged Urartu and Phrygia. The Assyrian texts state that Gyges defeated the Cimmerians, but that a decade later he was defeated and killed by them. Whether Gyges was an old man at his death and had been a contemporary of Midas, or was a later, seventh-century king, remains unresolved.

Herodotus also provides a moving description of the Lydian king Alyattes' confrontation at Pteria in Central Anatolia with the Medes, who invaded from Iran, across the Zagros Mountains. In 585 B.C., following a surprise eclipse during a battle, a treaty was signed, and Alyattes' sister married the Median king. Herodotus also records a later event that links Lydia to Phrygia: Adrastus, a son of the Phrygian king Gordios, son of Midas, sought sanctuary at the Lydian court of King Croesus. Both kingdoms eventually and simultaneously succumbed to the successors of the Medes, the Persians, whose king Cyrus captured Sardis in 546 B.C. Phrygia and Lydia ceased to be independent kingdoms and became provinces (satrapies) of the Persians.

“The capital city Sardis is the prime source of Lydian cultural remains. It was first excavated in the early twentieth century and extensively from 1958 to the present. Given the massive overlay of post-Lydian settlements, little of the pre-seventh-century remains—and, indeed, relatively little of the kingdom's architectural and cultural remains—have been uncovered, except for parts of a monumental fortification wall. A large group of burials each placed under a tumulus exist here, a few of which have been investigated, but they had been robbed in the past; one of them is the largest in Anatolia (198 feet high), and may have held the body of Alyattes; another is claimed for Gyges. [Source: Department of Ancient Near Eastern Art. "Lydia and Phrygia", Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2004, \^/]

From limited inscriptions, scholars know that Lydian was an Indo-European, Anatolian language. Its culture was basically Anatolian but by the sixth century B.C., the state maintained strong contacts with Greek cities to its west. Local examples of Phrygian fibulae (ancient safety pins), pottery and metal vessel shapes, decorated roof tiles, and probably the tumulus burial custom also attest to contact with Phrygia. Indeed, a rich tumulus burial containing many typical Phrygian artifacts was excavated in 1986 at Bayandir, not far from Lydian territory.

Lydia was reputed to have much gold. Herodotus records the wealth and variety of Lydian gold artifacts, and a gold refinery has been excavated at Sardis. Lydia was credited to have been the first state to coin money. Lydian pottery is easily identifiable. Especially characteristic is a distinctive shape called a lydion that probably contained a cosmetic, and also a typical form of wavy decoration called marbling; examples of both have been found at many sites, including Gordion—helping to date specific architectural features.

Lydians and the Origin of the Etruscans

Etruscan Vase

Herodotus theorized the Etruscans — a people that dominated Italy before the ancient Romans “ originated from Asia Minor, where he said there was great famine in 1200 B.C. According to his account, a great king divided his people in two and asked a leader from each to draw lots. The group that stayed evolved into the Lydians, who remained in western Asia Minor, and the other group left for Italy and became the Etruscans. Archaeologists surmise that there may be some truth to Herodotus's story because of the similarity between Etruscans and Lydian tombs.

The long-running controversy about the origins of the Etruscan people appears to be very close to being settled once and for all. Professor Alberto Piazza, from the University of Turin, Italy , a geneticist, told a conference of the European Society of Human Genetics today that there is overwhelming evidence that the Etruscans were settlers from old Anatolia (now in southern Turkey). [Source:, June 18, 2007]

The origins of the Etruscans have been debated by archaeologists, historians and linguists since time immemorial. Three main theories have emerged: that the Etruscans came from Anatolia, Southern Turkey, as propounded by the Greek historian Herotodus; that they were indigenous to the region and developed from the Iron Age Villanovan society, as suggested by another Greek historian, Dionysius of Halicarnassus; or that they originated from Northern Europe.

Now modern genetic techniques have given scientists the tools to answer this puzzle. Professor Piazza and his colleagues set out to study genetic samples from three present-day Italian populations living in Murlo, Volterra, and Casentino in Tuscany, central Italy. "We already knew that people living in this area were genetically different from those in the surrounding regions", he says. "Murlo and Volterra are among the most archaeologically important Etruscan sites in a region of Tuscany also known for having Etruscan-derived place names and local dialects. The Casentino valley sample was taken from an area bordering the area where Etruscan influence has been preserved." The scientists compared DNA samples taken from healthy males living in Tuscany, Northern Italy, the Southern Balkans, the island of Lemnos in Greece, and the Italian islands of Sicily and Sardinia. The Tuscan samples were taken from individuals who had lived in the area for at least three generations, and were selected on the basis of their surnames, which were required to have a geographical distribution not extending beyond the linguistic area of sampling. The samples were compared with data from modern Turkish, South Italian, European and Middle-Eastern populations.

"We found that the DNA samples from individuals from Murlo and Volterra were more closely related those from near Eastern people than those of the other Italian samples", says Professor Piazza. "In Murlo particularly, one genetic variant is shared only by people from Turkey, and, of the samples we obtained, the Tuscan ones also show the closest affinity with those from Lemnos."

Scientists had previously shown this same relationship for mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) in order to analyse female lineages. And in a further study, analysis of mtDNA of ancient breeds of cattle still living in the former Etruria found that they too were related to breeds currently living in the near East.

Archaeologists and linguists are in agreement that the Etruscans had been developing their culture and language in situ before the first historical record of their existence. "But the question that remained to be answered was — how long was this process between pre-history and history"" says Professor Piazza. In 1885 a stele carrying an inscription in a pre-Greek language was found on the island of Lemnos, and dated to about the 6th century BC. Philologists agree that this has many similarities with the Etruscan language both in its form and structure and its vocabulary. But genetic links between the two regions have been difficult to find until now.

Lydian coin

Herodotus' theory, much criticised by subsequent historians, states that the Etruscans emigrated from the ancient region of Lydia, on what is now the southern coast of Turkey, because of a long-running famine. Half the population was sent by the king to look for a better life elsewhere, says his account, and sailed from Smyrna (now Izmir) until they reached Umbria in Italy.

"We think that our research provides convincing proof that Herodotus was right", says Professor Piazza, "and that the Etruscans did indeed arrive from ancient Lydia. However, to be 100 percent certain we intend to sample other villages in Tuscany, and also to test whether there is a genetic continuity between the ancient Etruscans and modern-day Tuscans. This will have to be done by extracting DNA from fossils; this has been tried before but the technique for doing so has proved to be very difficult."

"Interestingly, this study of historical origins will give us some pointers for carrying out case-control studies of disease today," says Professor Piazza. "In order to obtain a reliable result, we had to select the control population much more carefully that would normally be done, and we believe that this kind of careful selection would also help in studies of complex genetic diseases."

2,600 Year-Old Lydian Kitchen

In 2017, reported: “Turkish archeologists in Dascylium ancient city in Turkey’s western province of Balikesir have discovered a 2,600 year-old kitchen which belonged to the ancient Kingdom of Lydia in Anatolia. During the excavations, kitchenware including containers, mortars (made up of basalt stone) and some fish bones and seeds were discovered in the area where the age-old kitchen was discovered. [, January 9, 2017

The head of the excavation team Kaan Iren, who is a lecturer in the Department of Archeology in Mugla Sitki Koçman University in Turkey said: “Our findings including architectural structures, tablets, cult stuff and stoneware belong to the Kingdom of Lydia and Phrygians and date back to eight century B.C.,” he said. Six and a half-meter-long walls which were used to strengthen burial mound were also discovered during the excavation.

“In another point in the area, we found two kitchens which date back the 600 and 540 B.C.. We found one these kitchens on the top of the other. “Below one was collapsed due to fire then the second one was built on it but this one also collapsed due to another fire.” Iren said. This is the first time a fully-equipped kitchen belonging to the Kingdom of Lydia has been discovered in Anatolia.

World's First Money

20120209-Lydian gold coin of Croesus.jpg
Lydian gold coin of Croesus
The worlds' first money, scholars say, was circulated in the 7th century B.C. by the Lydians.. The thumb-nail-size coins were struck from lumps of electrum, a pale yellow alloy of gold and silver, that had washed down streams from nearby limestone mountains. The late Oxford scholar Colin Kray surmised that the Lydian government found the coins useful as a standard medium of exchange and merchants liked them because they didn't have to do a lot of weighing and measuring. [Source: Peter White, National Geographic, January 1993]

The Lydian “coins” were marked small lumps of electrum with consistence weights. Some scholars insist that spade money was made by Zhou dynasty in China in 770 B.C. is the world’s oldest money. What made the Lydian currency different was the fact it had inscriptions. Some coins had portraits of Lydian King Gyges. These have been found as far east as Sicily. Others were struck in denominations as small as .006 of an ounce (1/50th the weight of a penny). Electrum was panned from local riverbeds.

First unearthed at the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, the Lydian coins had many of the same features of modern coins: they were made of a precious metal, the were a specific measured size and they were stamped with images of rulers, animals and mythical beasts. Some think Lydians developed the scheme to pay mercenary soldiers.

The idea of coinage was popular that it was adopted by several Greek city-states only a few decades after the first coins appeared in Lydia. The Greeks made coins of various denominations in unalloyed gold and silver and the stamped them with images of gods and goddesses.

Lydian Gold

Hippocamp from the Lydian
Treasure from Usak
The Lydians also likely produced the first pure gold and pure silver coins during the kingdom of Croesus (561-547 B.C.) The problem with the electrum coins is that the amount of gold varied and thus the value of the coins varied.. This problem was solved by producing pure or nearly pure gold and silver coins.

The Lydians developed an innovative refining process for retrieving gold from the ore taken from the Pactolus River, which had a high copper and silver content: 1) They pounded the metal to increase its surface area. 2) Base metals like copper were removed through cupellation. Lead was melted with the metal and subjected to bursts of hot air from bellows. The heat separated the gold and silver alloy from the molten mass of lead oxide that absorbed the copper. 3) The Lydians hammered pieces of gold and silver and mixed them with salt and placed them in a small earthenware container. 4) The container was heated at a high temperature for several days. The salt, moisture and earthenware surface produced a corrosive vapor that penetrated the metal and removed the silver. 5) The pieces of pure gold were removed, melted and forged.

Archeologist have found a vase full of gold coins. But otherwise few god items have been found at Lydian sites.

The so-called “Lydian Hoard” refers to 636 gold and silver artifacts, including gold and silver jewelry, taken by looters from a Lydia tomb near Usuk in Turkey. It showed up on the international market and was obtained by Metropolitan Museum of Art through gifts. Some of the pieces had been secretly removed from tombs in the Usak region only months before the New York museum acquired them.

Turkey's Monuments and Museums Office filed a court case to have the “Lydian horde” returned to Turkey. In 1993, the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art gave back the 636 gold and silver artifacts from the "Lydian hoard" to Turkey after a settlement was reached out of court. The artifacts were displayed for a while at the Museum of Anatolia Civilization in Ankara. Later the provincial museum that was given the Lydian treasures managed to loss track of them.

King Croesus

Croesus (561-547 B.C.) was the greatest and last the last king of Lydia. He captured the major Greek cities of western Asia Minor (Turkey) and then was defeated by Cyrus the Great of Persia. He is said to have produced a lavish palace in his capital of Sardis and was regarded by some as one of the richest men that ever lived. The Lydians became so wealthy under Croesus the expression “rich as Croesus” became popular in antiquity. He was the first ruler to produce gold coins (before that they were made from the silver-alloy electrum) and certify the weight of gold in coins.

Blinded by his success Croesus arrogantly misinterpreted a pronouncement by the Oracle of Delphi: “If you attack Persia you will destroy a great empire.” Croesus thought the oracle was referring to the Persians but she was in fact referring to his own. Sardis was sacked by the Persians. According to Herodotus, Croesus asked Cyrus, “What is it that all these men of yours are so intent upon doing.” Cyrus replied: “They are plundering your city and carrying off your treasures.” Croesus then corrected him: “Not my city or my treasures. Nothing there any longer belongs to me. It is you they are robbing.”

Herodotus begins “Histories” with his account if Croesus and calls him “the first barbarian known who subjugated and demanded tribute from Hellenes.” The tale offers an introduction to a theme that would pervade the nine volumes of “Histories” — don’t overstep your bounds.

The fall of Croesus in 547 B.C. marked the beginning of the incorporation of the Ionian Greeks of Asia Minor into the Persian Empire. Half a century later, starting in 499 B.C. Ionian Greek states began rebelling against their Persian overlords, leading to the Persian invasion of Greece.

Croesus and Solon Encounter: from Herodotus’ Histories

Here, Herodotus's History tells a famous story about the encounter between Solon, the great wise Athenian, and the Lydian King Croesus, regarded as one of the richest men in the world at that time. Herodotus wrote in “Histories” (430 B.C.): “When all these conquests had been added to the Lydian empire, and the prosperity of Sardis was now at its height, there came thither, one after another, all the sages of Greece living at the time, and among them Solon, the Athenian. He was on his travels, having left Athens to be absent ten years, under the pretence of wishing to see the world, but really to avoid being forced to repeal any of the laws which, at the request of the Athenians, he had made for them. Without his sanction the Athenians could not repeal them, as they had bound themselves under a heavy curse to be governed for ten years by the laws which should be imposed on them by Solon.[Source: Herodotus “The History of Herodotus” Book VI on the Persian War, 440 B.C.E, translated by George Rawlinson, MIT]

“On this account, as well as to see the world, Solon set out upon his travels, in the course of which he went to Egypt to the court of Amasis, and also came on a visit to Croesus at Sardis. Croesus received him as his guest, and lodged him in the royal palace. On the third or fourth day after, he bade his servants conduct Solon. over his treasuries, and show him all their greatness and magnificence. When he had seen them all, and, so far as time allowed, inspected them, Croesus addressed this question to him. "Stranger of Athens, we have heard much of thy wisdom and of thy travels through many lands, from love of knowledge and a wish to see the world. I am curious therefore to inquire of thee, whom, of all the men that thou hast seen, thou deemest the most happy?" This he asked because he thought himself the happiest of mortals: but Solon answered him without flattery, according to his true sentiments, "Tellus of Athens, sire." Full of astonishment at what he heard, Croesus demanded sharply, "And wherefore dost thou deem Tellus happiest?" To which the other replied, "First, because his country was flourishing in his days, and he himself had sons both beautiful and good, and he lived to see children born to each of them, and these children all grew up; and further because, after a life spent in what our people look upon as comfort, his end was surpassingly glorious. In a battle between the Athenians and their neighbours near Eleusis, he came to the assistance of his countrymen, routed the foe, and died upon the field most gallantly. The Athenians gave him a public funeral on the spot where he fell, and paid him the highest honours."

“Thus did Solon admonish Croesus by the example of Tellus, enumerating the manifold particulars of his happiness. When he had ended, Croesus inquired a second time, who after Tellus seemed to him the happiest, expecting that at any rate, he would be given the second place. "Cleobis and Bito," Solon answered; "they were of Argive race; their fortune was enough for their wants, and they were besides endowed with so much bodily strength that they had both gained prizes at the Games. Also this tale is told of them:- There was a great festival in honour of the goddess Juno at Argos, to which their mother must needs be taken in a car. Now the oxen did not come home from the field in time: so the youths, fearful of being too late, put the yoke on their own necks, and themselves drew the car in which their mother rode. Five and forty furlongs did they draw her, and stopped before the temple. This deed of theirs was witnessed by the whole assembly of worshippers, and then their life closed in the best possible way. Herein, too, God showed forth most evidently, how much better a thing for man death is than life. For the Argive men, who stood around the car, extolled the vast strength of the youths; and the Argive women extolled the mother who was blessed with such a pair of sons; and the mother herself, overjoyed at the deed and at the praises it had won, standing straight before the image, besought the goddess to bestow on Cleobis and Bito, the sons who had so mightily honoured her, the highest blessing to which mortals can attain. Her prayer ended, they offered sacrifice and partook of the holy banquet, after which the two youths fell asleep in the temple. They never woke more, but so passed from the earth. The Argives, looking on them as among the best of men, caused statues of them to be made, which they gave to the shrine at Delphi."

“When Solon had thus assigned these youths the second place, Croesus broke in angrily, "What, stranger of Athens, is my happiness, then, so utterly set at nought by thee, that thou dost not even put me on a level with private men?" "Oh! Croesus," replied the other, "thou askedst a question concerning the condition of man, of one who knows that the power above us is full of jealousy, and fond of troubling our lot. A long life gives one to witness much, and experience much oneself, that one would not choose. Seventy years I regard as the limit of the life of man. In these seventy years are contained, without reckoning intercalary months, twenty-five thousand and two hundred days. Add an intercalary month to every other year, that the seasons may come round at the right time, and there will be, besides the seventy years, thirty-five such months, making an addition of one thousand and fifty days. The whole number of the days contained in the seventy years will thus be twenty-six thousand two hundred and fifty, whereof not one but will produce events unlike the rest. Hence man is wholly accident. For thyself, oh! Croesus, I see that thou art wonderfully rich, and art the lord of many nations; but with respect to that whereon thou questionest me, I have no answer to give, until I hear that thou hast closed thy life happily. For assuredly he who possesses great store of riches is no nearer happiness than he who has what suffices for his daily needs, unless it so hap that luck attend upon him, and so he continue in the enjoyment of all his good things to the end of life. For many of the wealthiest men have been unfavoured of fortune, and many whose means were moderate have had excellent luck. Men of the former class excel those of the latter but in two respects; these last excel the former in many. The wealthy man is better able to content his desires, and to bear up against a sudden buffet of calamity. The other has less ability to withstand these evils (from which, however, his good luck keeps him clear), but he enjoys all these following blessings: he is whole of limb, a stranger to disease, free from misfortune, happy in his children, and comely to look upon. If, in addition to all this, he end his life well, he is of a truth the man of whom thou art in search, the man who may rightly be termed happy. Call him, however, until he die, not happy but fortunate. Scarcely, indeed, can any man unite all these advantages: as there is no country which contains within it all that it needs, but each, while it possesses some things, lacks others, and the best country is that which contains the most; so no single human being is complete in every respect- something is always lacking. He who unites the greatest number of advantages, and retaining them to the day of his death, then dies peaceably, that man alone, sire, is, in my judgment, entitled to bear the name of 'happy.' But in every matter it behoves us to mark well the end: for oftentimes God gives men a gleam of happiness, and then plunges them into ruin."

“Such was the speech which Solon addressed to Croesus, a speech which brought him neither largess nor honour. The king saw him depart with much indifference, since he thought that a man must be an arrant fool who made no account of present good, but bade men always wait and mark the end.”

Solon Before Croesus

Croesus Has a Bad Dream After Meeting Solon

Herodotus wrote in “Histories” (430 B.C.): ““After Solon had gone away a dreadful vengeance, sent of God, came upon Croesus, to punish him, it is likely, for deeming himself the happiest of men. First he had a dream in the night, which foreshowed him truly the evils that were about to befall him in the person of his son. For Croesus had two sons, one blasted by a natural defect, being deaf and dumb; the other, distinguished far above all his co-mates in every pursuit. The name of the last was Atys. It was this son concerning whom he dreamt a dream that he would die by the blow of an iron weapon. When he woke, he considered earnestly with himself, and, greatly alarmed at the dream, instantly made his son take a wife, and whereas in former years the youth had been wont to command the Lydian forces in the field, he now would not suffer him to accompany them. All the spears and javelins, and weapons used in the wars, he removed out of the male apartments, and laid them in heaps in the chambers of the women, fearing lest perhaps one of the weapons that hung against the wall might fall and strike him. [Source: Herodotus “The History of Herodotus” Book VI on the Persian War, 440 B.C.E, translated by George Rawlinson, MIT]

“Now it chanced that while he was making arrangements for the wedding, there came to Sardis a man under a misfortune, who had upon him the stain of blood. He was by race a Phrygian, and belonged to the family of the king. Presenting himself at the palace of Croesus, he prayed to be admitted to purification according to the customs of the country. Now the Lydian method of purifying is very nearly the same as the Greek. Croesus granted the request, and went through all the customary rites, after which he asked the suppliant of his birth and country, addressing him as follows:- "Who art thou, stranger, and from what part of Phrygia fleddest thou to take refuge at my hearth? And whom, moreover, what man or what woman, hast thou slain?" "Oh! king," replied the Phrygian, "I am the son of Gordias, son of Midas. I am named Adrastus. The man I unintentionally slew was my own brother. For this my father drove me from the land, and I lost all. Then fled I here to thee." "Thou art the offspring," Croesus rejoined, "of a house friendly to mine, and thou art come to friends. Thou shalt want for nothing so long as thou abidest in my dominions. Bear thy misfortune as easily as thou mayest, so will it go best with thee." Thenceforth Adrastus lived in the palace of the king.

“It chanced that at this very same time there was in the Mysian Olympus a huge monster of a boar, which went forth often from this mountain country, and wasted the corn-fields of the Mysians. Many a time had the Mysians collected to hunt the beast, but instead of doing him any hurt, they came off always with some loss to themselves. At length they sent ambassadors to Croesus, who delivered their message to him in these words: "Oh! king, a mighty monster of a boar has appeared in our parts, and destroys the labour of our hands. We do our best to take him, but in vain. Now therefore we beseech thee to let thy son accompany us back, with some chosen youths and hounds, that we may rid our country of the animal." Such was the tenor of their prayer. But Croesus bethought him of his dream, and answered, "Say no more of my son going with you; that may not be in any wise. He is but just joined in wedlock, and is busy enough with that. I will grant you a picked band of Lydians, and all my huntsmen and hounds; and I will charge those whom I send to use all zeal in aiding you to rid your country of the brute."

“With this reply the Mysians were content; but the king's son, hearing what the prayer of the Mysians was, came suddenly in, and on the refusal of Croesus to let him go with them, thus addressed his father: "Formerly, my father, it was deemed the noblest and most suitable thing for me to frequent the wars and hunting-parties, and win myself glory in them; but now thou keepest me away from both, although thou hast never beheld in me either cowardice or lack of spirit. What face meanwhile must I wear as I walk to the forum or return from it? What must the citizens, what must my young bride think of me? What sort of man will she suppose her husband to be? Either, therefore, let me go to the chase of this boar, or give me a reason why it is best for me to do according to thy wishes."

“Then Croesus answered, "My son, it is not because I have seen in thee either cowardice or aught else which has displeased me that I keep thee back; but because a vision which came before me in a dream as I slept, warned me that thou wert doomed to die young, pierced by an iron weapon. It was this which first led me to hasten on thy wedding, and now it hinders me from sending thee upon this enterprise. Fain would I keep watch over thee, if by any means I may cheat fate of thee during my own lifetime. For thou art the one and only son that I possess; the other, whose hearing is destroyed, I regard as if he were not." "Ah! father," returned the youth, "I blame thee not for keeping watch over me after a dream so terrible; but if thou mistakest, if thou dost not apprehend the dream aright, 'tis no blame for me to show thee wherein thou errest. Now the dream, thou saidst thyself, foretold that I should die stricken by an iron weapon. But what hands has a boar to strike with? What iron weapon does he wield? Yet this is what thou fearest for me. Had the dream said that I should die pierced by a tusk, then thou hadst done well to keep me away; but it said a weapon. Now here we do not combat men, but a wild animal. I pray thee, therefore, let me go with them.” "There thou hast me, my son," said Croesus, "thy interpretation is better than mine. I yield to it, and change my mind, and consent to let thee go."

Croesus’s Son Dies While Hunting

Herodotus wrote in “Histories” (430 B.C.): “Then the king sent for Adrastus, the Phrygian, and said to him, "Adrastus, when thou wert smitten with the rod of affliction- no reproach, my friend- I purified thee, and have taken thee to live with me in my palace, and have been at every charge. Now, therefore, it behoves thee to requite the good offices which thou hast received at my hands by consenting to go with my son on this hunting party, and to watch over him, if perchance you should be attacked upon the road by some band of daring robbers. Even apart from this, it were right for thee to go where thou mayest make thyself famous by noble deeds. They are the heritage of thy family, and thou too art so stalwart and strong." [Source: Herodotus “The History of Herodotus” Book VI on the Persian War, 440 B.C.E, translated by George Rawlinson, MIT]

“Adrastus answered, "Except for thy request, Oh! king, I would rather have kept away from this hunt; for methinks it ill beseems a man under a misfortune such as mine to consort with his happier compeers; and besides, I have no heart to it. On many grounds I had stayed behind; but, as thou urgest it, and I am bound to pleasure thee (for truly it does behove me to requite thy good offices), I am content to do as thou wishest. For thy son, whom thou givest into my charge, be sure thou shalt receive him back safe and sound, so far as depends upon a guardian's carefulness."

“Thus assured, Croesus let them depart, accompanied by a band of picked youths, and well provided with dogs of chase. When they reached Olympus, they scattered in quest of the animal; he was soon found, and the hunters, drawing round him in a circle, hurled their weapons at him. Then the stranger, the man who had been purified of blood, whose name was Adrastus, he also hurled his spear at the boar, but missed his aim, and struck Atys. Thus was the son of Croesus slain by the point of an iron weapon, and the warning of the vision was fulfilled. Then one ran to Sardis to bear the tidings to the king, and he came and informed him of the combat and of the fate that had befallen his son. “If it was a heavy blow to the father to learn that his child was dead, it yet more strongly affected him to think that the very man whom he himself once purified had done the deed. In the violence of his grief he called aloud on Jupiter Catharsius to be a witness of what he had suffered at the stranger's hands. Afterwards he invoked the same god as Jupiter Ephistius and Hetaereus- using the one term because he had unwittingly harboured in his house the man who had now slain his son; and the other, because the stranger, who had been sent as his child's guardian, had turned out his most cruel enemy.

“Presently the Lydians arrived, bearing the body of the youth, and behind them followed the homicide. He took his stand in front of the corse, and, stretching forth his hands to Croesus, delivered himself into his power with earnest entreaties that he would sacrifice him upon the body of his son- "his former misfortune was burthen enough; now that he had added to it a second, and had brought ruin on the man who purified him, he could not bear to live." Then Croesus, when he heard these words, was moved with pity towards Adrastus, notwithstanding the bitterness of his own calamity; and so he answered, "Enough, my friend; I have all the revenge that I require, since thou givest sentence of death against thyself. But in sooth it is not thou who hast injured me, except so far as thou hast unwittingly dealt the blow. Some god is the author of my misfortune, and I was forewarned of it a long time ago." Croesus after this buried the body of his son, with such honours as befitted the occasion. Adrastus, son of Gordias, son of Midas, the destroyer of his brother in time past, the destroyer now of his purifier, regarding himself as the most unfortunate wretch whom he had ever known, so soon as all was quiet about the place, slew himself upon the tomb. Croesus, bereft of his son, gave himself up to mourning for two full years.

“At the end of this time the grief of Croesus was interrupted by intelligence from abroad. He learnt that Cyrus, the son of Cambyses, had destroyed the empire of Astyages, the son of Cyaxares; and that the Persians were becoming daily more powerful. This led him to consider with himself whether it were possible to check the growing power of that people before it came to a head.

Croesus' son saves hos father from the Persians

Croesus’s Seeks the Advise of Oracles

Herodotus wrote in “Histories” (430 B.C.): “With this design he resolved to make instant trial of the several oracles in Greece, and of the one in Libya. So he sent his messengers in different directions, some to Delphi, some to Abae in Phocis, and some to Dodona; others to the oracle of Amphiaraus; others to that of Trophonius; others, again, to Branchidae in Milesia. These were the Greek oracles which he consulted. To Libya he sent another embassy, to consult the oracle of Ammon. These messengers were sent to test the knowledge of the oracles, that, if they were found really to return true answers, he might send a second time, and inquire if he ought to attack the Persians. [Source: Herodotus “The History of Herodotus” Book VI on the Persian War, 440 B.C.E, translated by George Rawlinson, MIT] “The messengers who were despatched to make trial of the oracles were given the following instructions: they were to keep count of the days from the time of their leaving Sardis, and, reckoning from that date, on the hundredth day they were to consult the oracles, and to inquire of them what Croesus the son of Alyattes, king of Lydia, was doing at that moment. The answers given them were to be taken down in writing, and brought back to him. None of the replies remain on record except that of the oracle at Delphi. There, the moment that the Lydians entered the sanctuary, and before they put their questions, the Pythoness thus answered them in hexameter verse:
“I can count the sands, and I can measure the ocean;
I have ears for the silent, and know what the dumb man meaneth;
Lo! on my sense there striketh the smell of a shell-covered tortoise,
Boiling now on a fire, with the flesh of a lamb, in a cauldron —
Brass is the vessel below, and brass the cover above it.

“These words the Lydians wrote down at the mouth of the Pythoness as she prophesied, and then set off on their return to Sardis. When all the messengers had come back with the answers which they had received, Croesus undid the rolls, and read what was written in each. Only one approved itself to him, that of the Delphic oracle. This he had no sooner heard than he instantly made an act of adoration, and accepted it as true, declaring that the Delphic was the only really oracular shrine, the only one that had discovered in what way he was in fact employed. For on the departure of his messengers he had set himself to think what was most impossible for any one to conceive of his doing, and then, waiting till the day agreed on came, he acted as he had determined. He took a tortoise and a lamb, and cutting them in pieces with his own hands, boiled them both together in a brazen cauldron, covered over with a lid which was also of brass.

“Such then was the answer returned to Croesus from Delphi. What the answer was which the Lydians who went to the shrine of Amphiarans and performed the customary rites obtained of the oracle there, I have it not in my power to mention, for there is no record of it. All that is known is that Croesus believed himself to have found there also an oracle which spoke the truth.

“After this Croesus, having resolved to propitiate the Delphic god with a magnificent sacrifice, offered up three thousand of every kind of sacrificial beast, and besides made a huge pile, and placed upon it couches coated with silver and with gold, and golden goblets, and robes and vests of purple; all which he burnt in the hope of thereby making himself more secure of the favour of the god. Further he issued his orders to all the people of the land to offer a sacrifice according to their means. When the sacrifice was ended, the king melted down a vast quantity of gold, and ran it into ingots, making them six palms long, three palms broad, and one palm in thickness. The number of ingots was a hundred and seventeen, four being of refined gold, in weight two talents and a half; the others of pale gold, and in weight two talents. He also caused a statue of a lion to be made in refined gold, the weight of which was ten talents. At the time when the temple of Delphi was burnt to the ground, this lion fell from the ingots on which it was placed; it now stands in the Corinthian treasury, and weighs only six talents and a half, having lost three talents and a half by the fire.

“On the completion of these works Croesus sent them away to Delphi, and with them two bowls of an enormous size, one of gold, the other of silver, which used to stand, the latter upon the right, the former upon the left, as one entered the temple. They too were moved at the time of the fire; and now the golden one is in the Clazomenian treasury, and weighs eight talents and forty-two minae; the silver one stands in the corner of the ante-chapel, and holds six hundred amphorae. This is known because the Delphians fill it at the time of the Theophania. It is said by the Delphians to be a work of Theodore the Samian, and I think that they say true, for assuredly it is the work of no common artist. Croesus sent also four silver casks, which are in the Corinthian treasury, and two lustral vases, a golden and a silver one. On the former is inscribed the name of the Lacedaemonians, and they claim it as a gift of theirs, but wrongly, since it was really given by Croesus. The inscription upon it was cut by a Delphian, who wished to pleasure the Lacedaemonians. His name is known to me, but I forbear to mention it. The boy, through whose hand the water runs, is (I confess) a Lacedaemonian gift, but they did not give either of the lustral vases. Besides these various offerings, Croesus sent to Delphi many others of less account, among the rest a number of round silver basins. Also he dedicated a female figure in gold, three cubits high, which is said by the Delphians to be the statue of his baking-woman; and further, he presented the necklace and the girdles of his wife. These were the offerings sent by Croesus to Delphi. To the shrine of Amphiaraus, with whose valour and misfortune he was acquainted, he sent a shield entirely of gold, and a spear, also of solid gold, both head and shaft. They were still existing in my day at Thebes, laid up in the temple of Ismenian Apollo.

“The messengers who had the charge of conveying these treasures to the shrines, received instructions to ask the oracles whether Croesus should go to war with the Persians and if so, whether he should strengthen himself by the forces of an ally. Accordingly, when they had reached their destinations and presented the gifts, they proceeded to consult the oracles in the following terms:- "Croesus, of Lydia and other countries, believing that these are the only real oracles in all the world, has sent you such presents as your discoveries deserved, and now inquires of you whether he shall go to war with the Persians, and if so, whether he shall strengthen himself by the forces of a confederate." Both the oracles agreed in the tenor of their reply, which was in each case a prophecy that if Croesus attacked the Persians, he would destroy a mighty empire, and a recommendation to him to look and see who were the most powerful of the Greeks, and to make alliance with them.

“At the receipt of these oracular replies Croesus was overjoyed, and feeling sure now that he would destroy the empire of the Persians, he sent once more to Pytho, and presented to the Delphians, the number of whom he had ascertained, two gold staters apiece. In return for this the Delphians granted to Croesus and the Lydians the privilege of precedency in consulting the oracle, exemption from all charges, the most honourable seat at the festivals, and the perpetual right of becoming at pleasure citizens of their town.

“After sending these presents to the Delphians, Croesus a third time consulted the oracle, for having once proved its truthfulness, he wished to make constant use of it. The question whereto he now desired an answer was- "Whether his kingdom would be of long duration?" The following was the reply of the Pythoness:-
“Wait till the time shall come when a mule is monarch of Media;
Then, thou delicate Lydian, away to the pebbles of Hermus;
Haste, oh! haste thee away, nor blush to behave like a coward.

“Of all the answers that had reached him, this pleased him far the best, for it seemed incredible that a mule should ever come to be king of the Medes, and so he concluded that the sovereignty would never depart from himself or his seed after him. Afterwards he turned his thoughts to the alliance which he had been recommended to contract, and sought to ascertain by inquiry which was the most powerful of the Grecian states.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, The Louvre, The British Museum, Anatolian Civilizations Museum in Ankara

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Mesopotamia , National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, especially Merle Severy, National Geographic, May 1991 and Marion Steinmann, Smithsonian, December 1988, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, BBC, Encyclopædia Britannica, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “History of Warfare” by John Keegan (Vintage Books); “History of Art” by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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