You are here

Herodotus Reinscribed: The New Thebes Epigram and Croesus

Cameron Pearson

San Patricio, Toledo

In 2014 a new fragmentary epigram from the late sixth century BCE from Thebes was published that appears to record the retrieval of a shield dedicated by Croesus, the king of Lydia, an incident that is also mentioned in Herodotus 1.52 (Papazarkadas). A recent article argues, the offering was made by an Athenian Croesus, thought to be an Alcmaeonid, rather than the Lydian (Thonemann 2016). This paper reexamines the arguments for each possibility, as well as others, and argues that the remains of the grave monument of the supposed Alcmaeonid Croesus and the onomastic evidence for the distribution of the name lead to the conclusion that the dedication was made by the Lydian King.  This conclusion adds to the evidence for Herodotus’ autopsy of monuments (West). Additionally, the fact that the original epigram was recarved in the fourth century, suggests it had become famous due to its appearance in Herodotus’ Histories.

The inscription was first carved on a tapering, unfluted column drum in the sixth century BCE and then reinscribed with some minor alterations two centuries later next to the original inscription. Both versions are fragmentary but a readable text combining the two is provided by Papazarkadas with overlapping sections underlined:


([Dedicant’s name], supervisor of the shrine, having made a vow, here set up a thanks offering for you, O Apollo, having found by means of divination... the shining shield that Croesus set up as a beautiful gift: a memorial for the bravery and suffering of [Am]phiareos... which was stolen...  and an amazement for the Thebans... a god... [my trans.]).

If this inscription confirms the confusing story in Herodotus of a dedication for Amphiaraos that ended up at the Apollo Ismenion sanctuary it would be of significant historical importance. Thonemann, however, argues that Herodotus was misled and that the dedication was actually made by the Croesus who is known to us from the grave epigram associated with the Anavyssos Kouros from southern Attica and long thought to be an Alcmaeonid (IG I3 1240 = CEG 27; Jeffery: 144).

However, this is a doubtful thesis since the kouros above the Attic Croesus’ grave implies he died as a youth who would not have had the means nor the independence to dedicate a shield at Thebes, especially without any reference to who he was. Furthermore, recently published ostraka from the Kerameikos show that there are no known Alcmaeonid names from the southern part of Attica where Croesus was buried (Brenne: 229) and thus the Attic Croesus is much more likely to have been named after the Lydian King for the same reason that the Amasis painter was named after the Egyptian Pharaoh: his fame (Habicht: 121). An examination of LGPN shows that the name Croesus is a very rare one and only found in the Aegean Islands, Asia Minor, and Attica. None of these examples imply that Croesus was a name in circulation among elite families.           

We can conclude that the onomastic evidence points toward Herodotus’ story being quite plausible. King Croesus is the most likely person of that name to have made a dedication to Amphiaraos that ended up at the Ismenion. Later ancient readers of the inscription who knew their Herodotus would have had a deeper experience of the monument. Its renewal in the fourth century could have also been due its subsequent fame from the Histories. The epigram not only provides us with further evidence for Herodotus’ autopsy of monuments, it suggests that the Histories became part of the context for how some ancient readers experienced monuments. 

Session/Panel Title

Epigraphy and Civic Identity

Session/Paper Number


© 2020, Society for Classical Studies Privacy Policy