4, Herodotus, the Burnt Temple

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Burnt Temple

04, The Histories of Herodotus - The Burnt Temple.

Proofread & audio edited by Jana Elizabeth.
Read by Bertie.

Dedicated to Arcania and Serena

Hello this is Bertie,

Last time I told you about a country called Lydia that existed in ancient times in the place we now called Turkey. Much of what we know about Lydia comes from the Histories of Herodotus - but there is also evidence from archeology - which means digging into the ground to find relics of the past. For instance you can see gold coins from ancient Lydia. Some of them are now in the British Museum. The capital of Lydia was Sardis and if you go to Turkey you can explore the ruins of this ancient city. And not far from Sardis, archaeologists have found impressive tombs of the Lydian kings, including Gyges and his great grandson, Alyattes, who features in this story.

Alyattes became king of Lydia 610 years before the birth of Christ.
At that time Lydia was in the middle of a long war with the Greek city of Miletus, on the coast of Asia. It was situated in the mouth of the winding river Meander, from which we get the word “meander”, which means to wander this way and that.

Miletus owned a powerful navy. Its ships sailed freely to and from its port and out into the Mediterranean sea. But on the land, the empire of Lydia surrounded Miletus, and the kings of Lydia wanted to bring the city under their rule.

Alyattes tried to starve the Miletans into submission. Every year he marched the Lydian army into the fields around the city playing trumpets and drums. They burned all the crops to try and deprive the Miletans of food, but they did not touch any of the farmhouses. So the next year, they could repeat the whole thing again. In the 12th year of the war, his soldiers accidentally set fire to a temple dedicated to the Greek goddess, Athena. Not long after the temple’s destruction, King Alyattes fell ill. Coincidence? Well at the time, lots of people thought that his illness was the revenge of the goddess.

Now, if you offended a Greek goddess, the person you would ask for advice, would be the oracle at Delphi. We mentioned her last time - she was a priestess who claimed to be in touch with the gods. So the sick king Alyattes sent a messenger to Delphi asking how he could become well again. The oracle replied that she could say nothing until he repaired the burnt temple of Athena.

Next Alyattes, sent an ambassador to Miletus, asking for a truce or temporary peace, while his men fixed the temple. You will remember that for 12 years the Lydian army had been busy burning all the crops in the fields around Miletus, and the people were supposed to be starving - so you can imagine the surprise of the Lydian ambassador when he arrived in the city and found that everyone there was enjoying a giant party - dancing in the streets, and eating and drinking their hearts out like there was no tomorrow. When he returned to Lydia, he told Alyattes what he seen, and the king concluded that his plan was not working. So he called off the war and made a permanent peace with Miletus.

So what do you think had happened? Well although a Greek oracle was happy to take the gold of rich foreigners like the Lydians, when push came to shove, she was on the side of the Greeks. In fact, she was sharing information with Periander, tyrant of the Greek city of Corinth, not that far from Delphi - you may recall that Periander featured in the story of Arion and the Dolphin. And Periander was friends with his fellow Greek, the tyrant of Miletus, whose name was Thrasybulus. Even though Miletus was quite a long way away on the east side of the Mediterranean sea, Periander sent a messenger by ship to tip his friend off about what the Delphic oracle had said.

As a result, Thrasybulus was ready for the ambassador from Lydia. He ordered all the food and wine to be taken out of the stores, including his own, and for everyone to have a great party. That’s how the Greeks, with the help of their oracle of Delphi, tricked the Lydians.

After that King Alyattes became well again. What do you think happened? Was his illness and recovery just a coincidence? Or was it to do with the burning and rebuilding of the temple? As for Alyattes himself, he was so grateful to the oracle and the Greek goddess, that he built not one but two new temples to Athena.

And Herodotus tells us that he got this story from several sources, including the priests at the oracle of Delphi.

So this story is an early example of espionage, which is when you use spying and secret information against an enemy. Because the Greek leaders and the oracle were quietly working together, they were able to trick the powerful Lydian empire.

And I am delighted dedicate this story to Arcania and Serena who share their mum’s passion for stories and for writing.

And their mum, Alma, was born in China, and now lives in the USA. She tells us that we have loads of listeners in China where kids and adults like our stories for entertainment and for learning English. In fact, we are also aware that we have listeners around the world including in Russia, Iran, Korea, the Philippines and Vietnam, and other places too. And I would like to say a big hello to our global audience. Thanks for listening!

And also to say thank you again to Arcania and Serena and their mum, Alma for supporting us on Patreon.

Don’t forget, if you are listening on the podcast, you can visit our website, Storynory.com, for the full text, and for the illustration drawn by me, and to leave comments. All done anonymously and in a kid friendly manner.

For now, from me, Bertie, on Storynory.com, goodbye .