The story of king Croesus (1.1-1.94)
The Histories open with a prologue in which the author announces that he will describe the
conflict between the Greek and the non-Greek peoples (= Persians) and will explain how they
came into conflict. The man who was responsible for this, was, according to Herodotus,
kingCroesus of Lydia, a country in the west of modern Turkey. He was the first to subject the
Ionian Greeks (living in Asia). After several short stories about Croesus'
ancestors Gyges, Ardys, Sadyattes and Alyattes, and Croesus' court and the relations between
the Lydians and Ionians (a.o. the story of Arion), Herodotus returns to his main theme: the
conflict with Persia. Croesus is worried about the increasing power of his neighbors, and
decides to attack them.
The Spartans are too late to offer help and Cyrus captures Sardes. Croesus is taken prisoner,
and placed on a pyre, but is miraculously saved by Apollo. Seeing that Croesus is divinely
protected, Cyrus allows the former king to send an envoy to Delphi to ask the god 'if it is the
habit of Greek gods to be so unappreciative'. The god of Delphi replies that not even he can
escape destiny; and even though he had been eager that the downfall of the Lydian
monarchy occurred in the time of Croesus' sons rather than in his own, he had been unable
to divert the course of Fate. This logos ends with a digression on Lydian customs.
Lydia was well known for its gold; the wealth of Croesus, the first to mint gold, was
proverbial.Consequently, this country in western Turkey was a natural target of Cyrus'
A cuneiform text from Babylonia (year nine in the Chronicle of Nabonidus) may enable us to
assign a date to the end of the Lydian monarchy: 547 BCE. There is, however, a lacuna in the
text. It merely says that Cyrus went north along the Tigris, defeated the Ly..., killed their king
and took their capital. This has been interpreted as a reference to Lydia, and as evidence that
Croesus was executed, but this is certainly incorrect.
Twentieth logos: Persian preparations (7.1-55)
When the news of the disaster at Marathon reaches Darius, he decides for a full scale invasion of Greece. His goal
no longer is the punishment of Athens, but the subjugation of Europe. A rebellion in Egypt prevents him from
attacking at once, and the great king does not live to see his plans executed. He is succeeded by his son Xerxes
(picture), who first has to quell the Egyptian revolt, and gives no thought to the Greek expedition.
He changes his mind, however. Mardonius, the luckless commander of the first expedition to Greece (above),
the sons of Hippias, and the royal family of Thessaly (a Greek state) all urge him not to let Greece go unpunished.
Xerxes is persuaded to undertake the large scale invasion of Europe. His uncle Artabanus (a brother of Darius)
objects to the plan; the stakes are too high. Although Xerxes thinks the old man is a coward, he later admits that
he is right and has some second thoughts. This is not the end of his doubts. In a terrible nightmare, a man
announces that the king will be punished if he does not go to war. When Artabanus has the same nightmare, they
understand that the Greek war is the will of god.
The Persians prepare themselves very well. They start to cut a canal through the Athos peninsula, to avoid the
disaster that had befallen Mardonius. Herodotus considers this transformation of the natural environment
blasphemous. Worse is to come: the Persians build a long bridge across the Hellespont. When this construction
is destroyed by a storm, Xerxes orders the god Hellespont to be punished with three hundred lashes. A pair of
fetters is thrown in the waters. When the great king reaches the Hellespont a few weeks later, he sacrifices to the
god, leaving Herodotus confused about his intentions.
Xerxes -the biblical king Ahasverus, known from the book Esther- became king in november 486. The
rebellion of Egypt ended in January 484. In the summer, he suppressed a rising in Babylon - maybe the
one which Herodotus mentions in Book one, chapter 184 (this may be verified in section #4 of a text by
In one of the speeches in the debate at the Persian court, Xerxes mentions all his ancestors
(click here). This list has been corroborated in the prologue of theBehistun inscription.
Traces of the Athos canal are still visible. Its construction started in 483 and must have alarmed the Greek towns, as we will see below. Xerxes reached Sardes in October 481, assembled his army during
the winter, and crossed the Hellespont in June 480.
Twenty-first logos: the Persians cross to Europe (7.56-137)
This logos opens with evil omens, which Xerxes prefers to ignore. From the Hellespont, his army moves to the
west along the Thracian shores, until the soldiers reach Doriscus, where the great king counts all his troops.
Here, Herodotus inserts a marvelous catalogue of all troops that took part in Xerxes' invasion of Greece; he
admits that he does not know the precise number of men provided by the forty-something nations, but he
estimates the grand total at 1,700,000. The number of ships is1207, transport ships included. After his
inspection of the army and the navy, Xerxes discusses his prospectives with Demaratus, who a decade before
had been exiled by Cleomenes (see above) and had found asylum at the Persian court. The former king of Sparta
prophesies big difficulties, an answer that Xerxes turns off with a laugh.
The army and the fleet move into Macedonia along the coast. Finally, the entire force reachesthe town Therma
(modern Thessaloniki) at the boards of the river Axios. Here, all men can rest, while the great king sails along the
coast to the mouth of the river Peneus and to Tempe, the narrow gorge between the mountains Ossa and
Olympus through which this river runs (see picture below). At the same time, Persian engineers are preparing
roads through the Macedonian forests, and heralds demand "earth and water" (above) from the Greek towns.
Among those surrendering to Xerxes are the Thessalians and the Thebans.
To Athens and Sparta Xerxes does not send a request for submission, since these proud cities had refused to
listen to the heralds that Darius had sent to them eleven yearsbefore (above). In both cities, the messengers had
been thrown into a pit - if they wanted earth and water for their king, that was the place to get them from.
Probably, the catalogue goes back to a spies' report (click here for the story). In the first weeks of 480,
the Persians caught three Greek spies who were trying to find out all they could about the king's army,
which had assembled at Sardes. When Xerxes was told that they were about to be executed, he ordered
his guards to take them round and let them see the whole army, infantry and cavalry, and then, when
they were satisfied that they had seen everything, to let them return to Greece. Xerxes' clemency was
calculated: he was confident that the report of the spies would induce the Greeks to surrender before
the actual invasion took place, so that there would be no need to go to the trouble of fighting a war at
all. Herodotus' catalogue can be compared to contemporary Persian documents, like Xerxes' own list of
subject countries (click here).
Modern historians estimate the total of combatants and non-combatants in the Persian army at
220,000 soldiers, a rearguard of 22,000 men guarding the lines of communication, and some 408,000
men serving on the ships. We may believe Herodotus' statement that they drunk many a river dry; and
we understand why Xerxes postponed his attack until his Macedonian and Thessalian allies had stored
their harvests. Xerxes reached Therma in July, where he paused in the hot month of August.
Book I (Clio)
The rapes of Io, Europa, and Medea, which motivated Paris to abduct Helen. The subsequent Trojan War is
marked as a precursor to later conflicts between peoples of Asia and Europe. (1.1–5) 
The rulers of Lydia (on the west coast of
modern Turkey): Candaules, Gyges, Sadyattes, Alyattes, Croesus (1.6–7)
How Gyges took the kingdom from Candaules (1.8–13)
The singer Arion's ride on the dolphin (1.23–24)
Solon's answer to Croesus's question that Tellus was the happiest person in the world (1.29–33)
Croesus's efforts to protect his son Atys, his son's accidental death by Adr