Monday, 19 December 2016

Gold of Croesus

Croesus was the king of Lydia from 560 to 547 BC until his defeat by the Persians. In Greek and Persian cultures the name of Croesus became a synonym for great wealth.

His wealth, it is said, came from the sands of the River Pactolus in which the legendary King Midas washed his hands to rid himself of the 'Midas Touch' (which turned everything he laid hands on into gold) and in so doing, the legend says, made the sands of the river rich with gold. Croesus is credited with issuing the first true gold coins with a standardized purity for general circulation. Coins were made from gold purified by heating with common salt to remove the silver.
Around 550 BC, near the beginning of his reign, Croesus paid for the construction of the temple of Artemis at Ephesus, which became one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world.

Although some have claimed that Croesus was largely a legendary figure, his signature at the base of one of the columns of the Temple of Artemis (now on display at the British Museum) is evidence that he was an actual historical king who ruled from the city of Sardis.

Marble column from the Temple of Artemis at Sardis

Tholos of Delphi
When Croesus was alerted that the Persians under Cyrus were gaining power he sent to the Oracle at Delphi to know whether he should go to war against the Persian Empire.

The oracle replied: "If Croesus goes to war he will destroy a great empire." Pleased by this answer, Croesus made preparations and met the Persian army at the Halys River. The battle at the Halys was a draw. Croesus marched his force back to Sardis where the army was disbanded for the winter. Croesus expected Cyrus to do the same, but Cyrus instead pressed the attack, massacred Croesus’ cavalry in the field by mounting his own cavalry on dromedaries (whose scent frightened the Lydian horses) and captured Croesus.

Herd of dromedaries

Croesus was dragged before Cyrus in chains
Cyrus ordered Croesus to be burned alive. When Croesus saw the flames of the pyre lapping toward him, he called out for aid from Apollo to rescue him and a sudden rain shower broke overhead and put out the fire. Croesus cried out, "O Solon! Solon! Solon!" Cyrus asked a translator what this word meant and Croesus told the story of Solon’s visit, how no man can be counted happy until after his death, and how he was misled by the Oracle at Delphi.

Cyrus was moved by this story and Croesus was released. He sent him to Delphi for an answer from the gods as to why he was betrayed. The answer came back that the Oracle had spoken only truth - a great empire had, in fact, been destroyed by Croesus – and it was not the fault of the gods if man misinterpreted his words.

Greek literature for generations held up Croesus as a symbol of enormous wealth but one whose gold could not assure him happiness or ultimate success.

Experts have determined it was definitely in ancient Sardis in the time of Croesus that the first coins of pure gold and pure silver were struck, an important step leading to a monetary economy.