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April 20, 2024 28 mins

This 2020 episode shares the story of the ridiculously wealthy Croesus, which was likely fictionalized in a number of ways. It has become sort of a cautionary tale about pride and hubris, and what really has value in life.

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Speaker 1 (00:02):
Happy Saturday. Crisus came up a couple of times in
our episode on the Battle of the Eclipse not too
long ago, so our episode on him is Today's Saturday Classic.
This originally came out September seventh, twenty twenty. Enjoy Welcome
to Stuff You Missed in History Class, a production of
iHeartRadio Hello, and Welcome to the podcast. I'm Holly Frye

and I'm Tracy V. Wilson. So, Crisus is a name
that is now most commonly referenced when someone wants to
shorthand that a person is ridiculously wealthy. That is a
thing that it happens sometimes in English language, but other
languages use it all the time, and I think possibly
a little bit more than English speakers. And he is
one of those historical figures who was both real and

has taken on a mythical status, also mythical. Aesop was
a member of his court, and there's all kinds of
mythical swirlings around him. But the story of the ridiculously
wealthy Cresus, which was likely fictionalized in a number of ways,
and we'll talk about that, also becomes this sort of
cautionary tale about pride and hubris and what really has

value in life. So Crisus was born into the royal
family of Lydia. Lydia was a kingdom that occupied the
western section of Anatolia. Roughly speaking in modern shorthand, we're
talking about the left half of the Asia Minor peninsula,
so it's part of modern day Turkey. To the west
sat the Greeks, and to the east or the lands

of Persia. The Lydia that Crisus was born into was
very prosperous. When Phrygia, which had been the dominant power
on the peninsula since around twelve hundred BCE, was attacked
by Samerians and fell from power circus seven hundred BCE,
Lydia became the most powerful kingdom in the region. It's
kind of filled that power vacuum at that point. It

was ruled by King Jaijis from the newly established Lydian
capital of Sardis. This also established the Merbnad dynasty after
Jaiji's came Artists in the mid seventh century BCE, followed
by Sidides and then Alioities. Aliities was Criesus's father, and
it's under Aliites that Lydia is said to have really

hit its apex in terms of power and prosperity. The
exact dates for the reigns of those kings are pretty fuzzy.
The main source that's used for them is from Herodotus,
but if you do the math based on the counts
of the years that he uses, that math is not
quite add up. Also, just in general, Herodotus sometimes would
like to say this is how I heard it, Yes,

one hundred percent. It's one of those things where he
is listed as a great historian. But as we'll discuss later,
there's definitely some flexibility with the record, like what serves
his purpose. But what is less fuzzy is the fact
that during the years from seven hundred BCE to Creases

becoming king circa five sixty BCE, Lydia had established itself
as a very prosperous commercial culture. It is one of
the earliest cultures known to have instituted the concept of
retail shops like permanent stores, and the Lydians were minting
coinage way ahead of the rest of the Western world.
There is evidence of Chinese coinage that predates the Lydians,

although the coins that were minted specifically under Creasus more
closely resemble what we would think of today as coinage.
When Aliantes died in five sixty BCE, Cresus became king
and he was thirty five at the time. And Cresus was,
like a lot of people in his day, very into
using things like dreams and oracles to predict the future.

He had two sons, one of them is described again
by Herodotus as having a very minor disability, and this
is treated just horribly within the text, says quote. Since
he is ruined, he doesn't exist for me. Yeah, there's
a whole side story about his son that I'm maybe
gonna save for our casual Friday chat. It's a weird thing.

But the other son that he had, Adis, was much
beloved and was the king's pride. And when Cresus had
a dream that showed Adis being killed by an iron spear,
Crisus then did everything in his power to shelter his son.
He arranged for a speedy marriage to give him a
home life, and he stopped tasking him with going out

into battle, and he basically tried to keep him safe
and at home all the time. But ultimately Crisus did
allow Addis to go on a hunt, and this was
at his son's request and after much debate, because Adis
was sort of feeling like, hey, I don't have anything
to be proud of in our culture at this point

because you won't let me go to war and I
can't even go outside the stinks. So he allowed him
to go on this hunt, and of course, an hunter's
spear missed the wild board that they were hunting and
killed Attis, and Creasus reportedly mourned this sun for two
full years. Lydia is usually cited as the first kingdom

to mint metal coinage. Under Creasus, the first silver and
gold coins for Lydia were made, And this is kind
of reminding us a little bit of the many episodes
where we have talked about the gold standard being challenged
by the silver standard in the United States and how
much strife came out of all that those precious metals
were part of tender going all the way back to

the sixth century BCE. Yeah, and the coin type known
as a cresad, featuring a face off between a lion
and a bowl was developed during this time, and the
representation of the lion actually served as a means to
indicate the purity and the value of the coin. So
a smaller piece of the lion's body would be stamped
on a coin to indicate that that coin was a

smaller denomination than one with a larger, more complete image
of a lion. And the Lydians really made great strides
under creases in the purification of gold, enabling them to
ensure accuracy in these different coins. This is basically the
beginning of the gold standard, and the wealth was incredible.

Another name that you've almost certainly heard in connection with
ridiculous levels of riches as King Midas, and Crisus's very
great wealth is said to have come from Midas. In
a way, the Mermnad dynasty allegedly got its extraordinary riches
in part by collecting it from the river Pactulus, where
Midas is said to have washed his hands. There were

also some taxes plundering other kingdoms, including enslaving people from
those kingdoms. Yeah, they actually gained their riches in a
number of ways, but that Midas story is one that persists,
and what defines much of what we know of the
rule of Cresus is war. And it's said that conflict
was ultimately what brought Cresus out of his mourning state

over his son. Once he was refocused on military leadership,
Creesus was eager to expand his power, and he could
be ruthless in this quest. Herodotus wrote this of him,
quote this, Crisus was the first foreigner whom we know
who subjugated some Greeks and took tribute from them and
won the friendship of others, the former being the Ionians,

the Aeolians and the Dorians of Asia, and the latter
the Lacedaemonians. Before the reign of Cresus, all Greeks were
free for the Samerian host which invaded Ionia before his
time did not subjugate the cities that raided and robbed them. Yeah,
so keep in mind as we talk about Cresus, and
he's an interesting figure, but he was very big on

enslavement as something new that was not a tradition, that
was something he instituted in his war making. So we
mentioned a moment ago that Cresus believed in oracles, but
he really wanted to run a test to ensure that
the oracle that he would patronize was going to be
the best one. So Herodotus wrote that Crisus sent men

out to various shrines, but after they left the palace
at Sartis, they had to bide their time for one
hundred days, so they didn't know what Crisus was doing
before going to these shrines. And then on the one
hundredth day, each oracle was supposed to be asked to
divine what Crisus was doing at that very moment, and
then all of these messengers would bring back the divinations

and it would be obvious which oracle or oracles were
the real deal. The men who had visited the Oracle
of Delphi at the Temple of Apollo came back with
the following verse quote, I know the number of the
grains of sand and the extent of the sea, and
understand the mute and hear the voiceless. The smell has
come to my senses of a strong shelled tortoise boiling

in a cauldron, together with a lamb's flesh under witch's
bronze and overwitch's bronze. We don't know what any of
the others divined, because this one was apparently spot on.
Crisus said that the oracle of Amphiarus had also given
a quote true answer, but we don't know the wording
of what that answer specifically was. But in an effort

to concoct a strange enough event that it would be
impossible to guess what he had been doing, Crisus had
cut up a tortoise and a lamb and boiled them
together in a covered bronze cauldron. So let's move along
from that less than pleasant image and take a quick
break and have a word from some of the sponsors
that keeps stuff you missed in history class going. So,

Crisus was devoted to the Oracle of Delphi after it
had successfully uh passed this test. He sacrificed literally thousands
of animals and burned almost every valuable thing he could
lay hands on. He also commanded the citizens of Lyddy
to do the same, and he sent so much gold

to the temple. There is a line in the translation
that I read that stated quote. Moreover, he dedicated his
own wife's necklaces and girdles, which I just found funny
as things to sacrifice to Apollo. So the goal of
all of these offerings was to ensure that Crisus got

good advice from the oracle regarding his military plans, and
the people he tasked with bringing his many gifts to
the temple were instructed to get this advice. Two points
came back. One was that if Criesus were to attack
the Persians, crossing a river to do so, he would
destroy a great empire, and two that he should make
friends with the most powerful Greeks. So, at this point

in time, the power of the Persians, led by Cyrus
the Second also known as Cyrus the Great, was expanding.
We actually talked at some length about Cyrus the Second
in our episode on the Achemenid Empire in twenty sixteen. Crisus,
of course wanted to curtail the expansion of the Persian Empire,
and he started a campaign of his own to make
sure that Cyrus the Second's forces did not get close

to Lydia. So Crisus asked the oracle to once again
tell him the future. They sent messengers to Delphi to
ask if his reign would be a long one, and
the reply was quote, when the medics have a mule
as king, just then, tenderfooted Lydian by the stone, shrewn
hermus flee and do not stay, and do not be

ashamed to be a coward. Crisus took this pretty literally,
and he thought, well, a mule is never going to
be a king, so this must be telling me that
my rule is going to be very, very long, and
I have a lot of power ahead of me. So,
bolstered and confident, he continued his military campaigning. Over the
course of his rule, Crisus had attacked Ephesus, than Ionian cities,

than the cities of Aeolia. According to Herodotus, all all
of these attacks were based on some sort of reason,
and in his words quote, he found graver charges where
he could, but sometimes alleged very pettygrounds of offence. Yeah,
the justified invasions were pretty lightly justified in some cases.

So next, Crisus set his sights on the islands of
Greece as a target, and he knew that he was
going to need to assemble a navy fleet to conquer them,
so he started up a shipbuilding project. But while this
was all under way, he was approached by a man
from the Lesbos capital of Middelein, whose name was either
Prianna or Pitcus, depending on the source that you read,

and this man told Crisus that the islanders were actually
amassing their own ground forces to attack Criesus at Sartis.
Crisus replied, essentially that he wished they would do that
because his troops would destroy the Islanders, who had no
experience in ground battle warfare. In response to this, the
emissary from Middelein pointed out that in starting a navy

from scratch, Cresus would be similarly disadvantaged if he tried
to take on the islander forces. So this put an
end to Crisus's navy project, and he opted instead to
form an alliance with the Ionian Islanders. This story cracks
me up back. Oh yeah, come at me on land,
and they're like, that's what we say about you coming

at us on sea. Dude, Yeah, you are not going
to manage this. During his time as king of Lydia,
Creesus eventually became the ruler of most of the nations
and peoples on the peninsula west of the Hallis River
that was the name of what is now known as
the Kaziller Mock River. Persians conquered the Median Empire in

five point fifty BCE, and this was a sobering event
for Creesus. It became immediately apparent that his own power
could also be challenged by the Persian forces. This led
him to try to fortify his own strength through an alliance,
and this goes back to that advice that he got
from the Oracle of Delphi, the most powerful Greek state.

So Crisus had already made an alliance with Amasus, the
king of Egypt, and he also got the Lacedaemonians and
then the Spartans, which he believed to be the most
powerful Greek state, to agree to stand with him. But
Crisus was not really content with waiting to see what
would happen with the Persians and getting all of these
alliances arranged, and he was very impatient, so he just

decided that he would go right on ahead and invade Anatolia.
He decided to invade Anatolia, specifically Cappadocia in the eastern
part of the territory, and that meant he had to
cross the Hallas River. And the battle that ensued at
Teria was not what anybody had hoped. It sort of
ended in a draw. After Teria, Criesus wanted to regroup,

so he had summoned all of those groups that he
had allied with to join him in the springtime, five
months after he sent these messages out to them, so
that they would have time to assemble their armies and
travel after the winter, and so then he took his
own troops and headed back to Sardis. But apparently he
didn't realize that Cyrus the second and his Persian troops

had followed him home. When Sartis was attacked by Persia,
it came just as a complete surprise to Creesus. The
Lydians scrambled to meet the Persians in battle, and according
to Herodotus, Cyrus was afraid of the Lydians, but on
the advice of a Median who was with him, Cyrus
put his cavalry on the pack camels. The camels drove

back the Lydian horses because apparently the horses were afraid
of the camels and their smell, and they retreated even
as their riders tried to move them forward into battle.
The Lydian army was forced to fight on foot, and
ultimately they were defeated by the Persians. Cresus sent word
to his allies to come and help, but efforts at
assistants were not enough or came too late. Criesus was

taken captive, and Sardis was taken by the Persians after
two weeks of this conflict. So when the Oracle of
Delphi had told Cries about crossing a river and destroying
a kingdom, oops, that was his own kingdom that would
be destroyed. And that story of the mule leading the
may DAEs empire. Cyrus the Second was half may Days

and half Persian, the child of two different groups of people,
So the mule reference was kind of a casual like
slurry representation. Cresus had in his literalism in interpreting all
of these words of the oracle, failed to catch any
of the actual meaning in the oracle's words. We will
talk about the varied accounts of the end of Creesus's

life after we pause and have a quick sponsor break.
In five point forty six BCE, with his defeat by
Cyrus the Second and the Persian army, the reign of
Cresus ended. But what happened after this invasion is something

that again is a little unclear, and that's because there
are a number of different versions of the story. The Chylides,
a poet from Greece, tells the story and the odes
of the Epenetians that Crisus built his own funeral pyre
and then tried to burn himself to death on it.
And this was, according to his writing, unsuccessful, because the

gods intervened before Criesus actually met his final end. Yes
in that history, it's written quote when he had come
to that unexpected day, Crisus had no intention of waiting
any longer for the tears of slavery. He had a
pyre built before his bronze walled courtyard, and he mounted
the pyre with his dear wife and his daughters with
beautiful hair. They were weeping inconsolably. He raised his arms

to the steep sky and shouted, overweening deity, where is
the gratitude of the gods? Where is Lord Apollo. So
just as Criesus had gotten a trusted servant to really
get the flames going, and as his wife and daughters
were looking on in tears, the Dao six machina arrives quote.
But when the flashing force of terrible fire began to

shoot through the wood, Zeus set a dark rain cloud
over it and began to quench the golden flame. Nothing
is unbelievable, which is brought about by the god's ambition.
Then Apollo shows up, scoops up Creasus and his family,
and carries them north to Hyperborea, the land of the Giants,
where they could live safely. So we know that this
particular version of the story became an important part of

Greek lore. This moment is represented on a piece of
art in the louver decorated by Mason, a painter who
decorated vases in Athens using what is known as red
figure technique, and Maison's work on the vase that depicts
this particular subject is dated in the five hundred to
four ninety BCE range, so we're talking fifty to sixty
years after Criesus's defeat would have happened. This vase shows

Crisus sitting on a throne, pouring out a libation onto
the servant Utamos, while Eutamos is lighting the pyre that
the throne has been placed upon. There's an inscription on
the vase that specifically names the king in the image
as Creesus, so it's not a case of like, well,
this could be Cresus. The opposite side of the vase
has a totally different and unrelated scene showing theseus abducting

the Amazon and Tiape. If you're ever in Paris and
you want to see it, it is part of the Greek,
Etruscan and Roman Antiquities collection and is on the first
floor in the celly wing room six fifty two. So
after this happened and Creesus was saved by the gods,
the story goes that Criesus became an ally of the
leader who followed Cyrus that was Kimbici's the second, and

along with Cambises, the second, Creesus in this version, then
traveled to Egypt. That is not the only version of
this story where Creesus ends up friends with his former
enemy state. The Persian doctor Cetisius, who was born in Greece,
wrote an account that suggests that Creesus actually became part
of Cyrus's court and eventually rose to a point of

good enough standing that he was appointed governor of Burini.
Part of what makes the Creasus story so tricky to
unravel is the fact that he was such a big
figure culturally that people essentially started writing fan fiction about him,
and now when we reference it hundreds of years later,
it's a little hard to know which is fan fiction versus,
which is actual historical record. And we mentioned one version

of his faith that was written by Herodotus just a
moment ago, but that was not the only writing that
Herodotus did featuring Creases as a protagonist. And another story
by Herodotus Crisus met with Solon, the lawmaker of Athens,
whose life ended just as Crisus's reign was starting. And
this is really a parable about values and happiness. There's

really no evidence that any of it actually took place
in the story. Solon, like a lot of important men
of the day, decided to visit Cresus when the Lydian
king was at the height of his power. So there's
actually sort of a fun side story here about why
Solon the lawmaker would have been out and about traveling.
This kind of, you know, justifies how this may have

worked in the writing of Herodotus. So this travel was
part of a ten year trip. The idea was that
once Solon had made all of the laws that he
believed Athens needed to be a fair and just society,
he promised to stay away from Athens for ten years
so that he would not be tempted to change or
repeal any of those laws. Athens wanted to live by

this set of laws that Solin had carefully penned, and
so they promised to do so, and they were not
themselves allowed to make any changes. An interesting governmental experiment,
to be sure, And yes, Solin is certainly on my
list for his own episode one day. No telling when
that might happen in any case. After receiving sullen, Cresus

basically spent the whole visit entertaining his visitor and then
making the household staff point out all the expensive things
that Cresus had just lying around the palace so that
Solan would understand just how rich and successful the king was.
And after this little exercise in wealth, show and tell
creases at soulan quote, my Athenian guest, we have heard

a lot about you because of your wisdom and of
your wanderings. How As one who loves learning, you have
traveled much of the world for the sake of seeing it.
So now I desire to ask you who is the
most fortunate man you have seen? And of course the
king expected that the lawmaker was going to say, Oh,
it's you, for sure, dude. You have everything like there's

no reason anybody could ever be any happier than you,
but he did not say that. Solan instead named an
Athenian called Tellus as the most fortunate man he knew.
King Criesus asked for an explanation of Solan's answer, and
the lawmaker told him that Tellus had been part of
a prosperous city, a good community, and that he had
children who grew up to be good people and all

gave him grandchildren, and that all of his progeny survived,
and then once Tellas died in battle against the people
of Eleusis, it was a good and honorable death, and
that he was honored in his burial. So, after hearing this,
apparently hoping that he would get a second place spot,
then asked Solan who he thought was the next most

fortunate man, and Solan gave two men's names in answer,
Klebus and Biton of Argive. These two brothers had a
stable home life, they were physically very strong, and they
both died after pulling their mother in a wagon five
miles to the festival of Hara in Argos, as the
oxen that were intended to convey her were not back

from the fields in time to do so. Before Klebus
and Biton died. Everyone present commented that their mother had
raised great children, and then she prayed to Hara to
grant her sons the best thing for a man, and
they both died in their sleep that night after the
evening's feast. Here's how Herodotus renders the speech about this quote. Crisus,

you ask me about human affairs, and I know that
the divine is entirely grudging and troublesome to us. Crisus,
man is entirely chance to me, you seem to be
very rich and be king of many people. But I
cannot answer your question before I learn that you ended
your life well. He explains in the story that wealth
is not what leads to happiness, and that one should

focus instead on good fortune in a more expansive sense.
So the advice that Solan allegedly gave to Creesus was quote,
count no man happy until his death. That story actually
feeds into a version of the tale of Cyrus having
creases burned alive, in which Cresus has a moment of
revelation related to Solan's teaching as he is being executed.

In this version, as Crisus begins to call out Solan's name.
While on the pyre, Cyrus asks why that was the
name he invoked, and he was moved by Criesus's realization
that wealth was meaningless in that moment. Cresus, then released
from his execution by Cyrus, then asks Cyrus what is
soldiers are doing. When Cyrus responds that they are sacking

the city, Creasus tells him, well, it's your city now,
they're destroying your kingdom, not mine, And then this leads
to the whole Now where best friends come hang out
in my court business. In this version, Cyrus the second
also says he will grant Crisus a request, any request,
and that the former king asked that his chains be
taken to Delphi, and that the Pithia be asked why

Apollo should have him sent to attack Persia since it
doomed him, and the oracle replied that quote, no one
may escape his lot, not even a god. Crisus has
paid for the sin of his ancestor of the fifth
generation before, who was led by the guile of a
woman to kill his master. Yeah, things he had no

part in. He was still paying for for the family dues,
and that was the whole thing. Ultimately in that story,
I should point out Crisus does kind of take personal
responsibility and recognize like, oh, I was the one that
got the information and acted on it. But here's the thing.
All of these stories of creases being saved at the
last minute are considered these days to be simply useful
didactic tale, and some versions of the story actually just

say that Criesus was killed when Lydia was defeated. Those
are like translations that have been done by other cultures,
not not the ones that would be descendants of the Lydians.
For example. The boring reality is that Crisus kind of
vanishes from the historical record after the fall of Lydia,

although his grandson Pytheas does show up later in the
work of Herodotus. He is also very wealthy, although he
gets in some very serious and ugly trouble with Xerxes,
but that is a whole other thing. As for Lydia,
it became a satrope under a Tabolus, but its treasury
money kept being managed by a Lydian, which was Pactius.
And if you play Assassin's Creed, that name may be

familiar to you as a newcomer to assassin's creed. It's
not in fact familiar to me. Yet with the leverage
of that Satrapi's wealth, Pactius was able to hire Greek
mercenaries in a move to revolt against Persian rule, and
that ultimately led up to the Persian Wars Oh crisis. Fascinating,

but I always got to remember, even in the stories,
you know, where it's like, and then he realized that
living in life is better, and I'm like, hey, we
got to address this slavery problem. Well never, it never
gets addressed. Also, there's a lot of stuff and a
lot of historical accounts from this time period that really
seemed to follow literary convention to a point that you're like,

you know, that's probably a little embellished. I think this
made a good yarn, but probably not. I mean, I
don't want to, you know, invalidate anybody's belief system, but
I do not believe that Zeus made a rain cloud
go just over creases as hire. Yeah. Maybe I know,

only that I know nothing. Thanks so much for joining
us on this Saturday. Since this episode is out of
the archive, if you heard an email address or a
Facebook RL or something similar over the course of the
show that could be obsolete now. Our current email address
is History Podcast at iHeartRadio dot com. You can find

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