CROESUS, last king of Lydia, of the Mermnad dynasty, (560-546 B.C.), succeeded his father Alyattes after a war with his half-brother. He completed the conquest of Ionia by capturing Ephesus, Miletus and other places, and extended the Lydian empire as far as the Halys. His wealth, due to trade, was proverbial, and he used part of it in securing alliances with the Greek states whose fleets might supplement his own army. Various legends were told about him by the Greeks, one of the most famous being that of Solon's visit to him with the lesson it conveyed of the divine nemesis which waits upon overmuch prosperity (Hdt. i. 29 seq.; but see Solon). After the overthrow of the Median empire (549 B.C.) Croesus found himself confronted by the rising power of Cyrus, and along with Nabonidos of Babylon took measures to resist it. A coalition was formed between the Lydian and Babylonian kings, Egypt promised troops and Sparta its fleet. But the coalition was defeated by the rapid movements of Cyrus and the treachery of Eurybatus of Ephesus, who fled to Persia with the gold that had been entrusted to him, and betrayed the plans of the confederates. Fortified with the Delphic oracles Croesus marched to the frontier of his empire, but after some initial successes fortune turned against him and he was forced to retreat to Sardis. Here he was followed by Cyrus who took the city by storm. We may gather from the recently discovered poem of Bacchylides (iii. 23-62) that he hoped to escape his conqueror by burning himself with his wealth on a funeral pyre, like Saracus, the last king of Assyria, but that he fell into the hands of Cyrus before he could effect his purpose. A different version of the story is given (from Lydian sources) by Herodotus (followed by Xenophon), who makes Cyrus condemn his prisoner to be burnt alive, a mode of death hardly consistent with the Persian reverence for fire. Apollo, however, came to the rescue of his pious worshipper, and the name of Solon uttered by Croesus resulted in his deliverance. According to Ctesias, who uses Persian sources, and says nothing of the attempt to burn Croesus, he subsequently became attached to the court of Cyrus and received the governorship of Barene in Media. Fragments of columns from the temple of Artemis now in the British Museum have upon them a dedication by Croesus in Greek.
See R. Schubert, De Croeso et Solone fabula (1868); M. G. Radet, La Lydie et le monde grec au temps des Mermnades (1892-1893); A. S. Murray, Journ. Hell. Studies, x. pp. 1-10 (1889); for the supposition that Croesus did actually perish on his own pyre see G. B. Grundy, Great Persian War, p. 28; Grote, Hist. of Greece (ed. 1907), p. 104. Cf. Cyrus; Lydia.