When we say, as the ancient Greeks did, that a man is as rich as Croesus,
we are using the name of the last King of Lydia (560-546 B.C.). As a
result of his conquests and trade, King Croesus was regarded by the Greeks
as the wealthiest man on earth, his riches proverbial even at that time.
Croesus probably minted the first gold and silver coins. Although he had
subjugated the Ionian cities of Asia Minor, he was friendly to the Greeks,
making spectacular offerings to their oracles. According to a legendary
story told by Herodotus, the Athenian Solon once advised Croesus that no
man could be deemed happy, despite his riches, until he finished his life
happily. Later, after Croesus had been defeated by Cyrus the Great and
condemned to be burned alive, he cried out Solon’s name three times from
the pile. Cyrus, moved by his explanation and perhaps reflecting on his
own fate, spared his captive’s life and they became great friends. The
tale, however, is chronologically impossible and only one of a number of
legends concerning this very real Midas.