Readings in Early European History


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Crœsus and Cyrus


Sardis was taken by the Persians, and Crœsus himself fell into their hands, after having reigned fourteen years. . . . Thus, too, did Crœsus fulfill the oracle, which said that he should destroy a mighty empire — by destroying his own. Then the Persians who had made Crœsus prisoner brought him before Cyrus. Now a vast pile had been raised by his orders, and Crœsus, laden with fetters, was placed upon it, and with him twice seven of the sons of the Lydians. I know not whether Cyrus was minded to make an offering to some god or other, or whether he had vowed a vow and was performing it. Perhaps, as may well be, he had heard that Crœsus was a holy man, and so wished to see if any of the heavenly powers would appear to save him from being burnt alive.1 . . .

Crœsus was already on the pile, when it entered his mind in the depth of his woe that there was a divine warning in the words which had come to him from the lips of Solon. . . . When this thought smote him he fetched a long breath, and breaking his deep silence, groaned out aloud, thrice uttering the name of Solon. Cyrus caught the sounds, and bade the interpreters inquire of Crœsus on whom it was he called. They drew near and asked him, but he held his peace, and for a long time made no answer to their questionings. At length, forced to say something, he exclaimed, "One I would like much to see converse with every monarch." Not knowing what he meant by this reply, the interpreters begged him to explain himself. As they pressed for an answer . . . he told them how, a long time before, Solon, an Athenian, had come and seen all his splendor, and made light of it; and how whatever he had said to him had fallen out exactly as he foreshowed. . . .

Meanwhile, as Crœsus thus spoke, the pile was kindled, and the outer portion began to blaze. Then Cyrus, hearing from the interpreters what Crœsus had said, relented. For Cyrus considered that he too was a man, and that it was a fellow-man, and one who had once been as blessed by fortune as himself, that he was burning alive. . . . So he bade them quench the blazing fire as quickly as they could, and take down Crœsus and the other Lydians, which they tried to do, but the flames were not to be mastered.

Then . . . Crœsus, perceiving by the efforts made to quench the fire that Cyrus had relented, and seeing also that all was in vain, and that the men could not put out the fire, called with a loud voice upon the god Apollo. He besought Apollo, if he had ever received at his hands any acceptable gift,1 to come to his aid, and deliver him from his present danger. As thus with tears he cried to the god, suddenly . . . dark clouds gathered, and a storm burst over their heads with rain of such violence, that the flames were speedily extinguished. Cyrus, convinced by this that Crœsus was a good man and a favorite of heaven, asked him after he was taken off the pile, "who it was that had persuaded him to lead an army into his country, and so become his foe rather than continue his friend?" To this inquiry Crœsus made answer as follows: "What I did, O king, was to thy advantage and to my own loss. If there is blame, it rests with the god of the Greeks, who encouraged me to begin the war. No one is so foolish as to prefer to peace, war, in which, instead of sons burying their fathers, fathers bury their sons. But the gods willed it so."

3 Herodotus, i, 86–87.

1 Another and more probable story of the burning of Crœsus describes it as a voluntary act, not as a punishment inflicted on him by his Persian conqueror. Oriental history contains several references to defeated monarchs who, unable to endure the thought of slavery, consigned themselves and their families to the flames.

1 In the days of his prosperity Crœsus had enriched the oracle of Apollo at Delphi with many presents.


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Chicago: "Crœsus and Cyrus," Readings in Early European History in Readings in Early European History, ed. Webster, Hutton (Boston: Ginn and Company, 1926), 17–18. Original Sources, accessed July 12, 2020,

MLA: . "Crœsus and Cyrus." Readings in Early European History, Vol. i, in Readings in Early European History, edited by Webster, Hutton, Boston, Ginn and Company, 1926, pp. 17–18. Original Sources. 12 Jul. 2020.

Harvard: , 'Crœsus and Cyrus' in Readings in Early European History. cited in 1926, Readings in Early European History, ed. , Ginn and Company, Boston, pp.17–18. Original Sources, retrieved 12 July 2020, from