Bias of Priene (Βίας ὁ Πριηνεύς) lived in the 6th century BC. He was a Hellenic sage and renowned for his goodness. Like many of his peer sages, he was active in politics and he appeared in court as a lawyer and was very gifted at it. He also advised kings and generals about battle strategies and seems to have made very wise decisions here also.

His biography, written by Diogenes Laertius in the late second century CE holds a very cunning story that I wanted to share with you today.

Sadyattes, son of Ardys II, of the house of the Mermnadae was King of Lydia from 624 BC to 619 BC. He was succeeded by his son Alyattes II. Sadyattes began a twelve-year war with the Ionian maritime city of Miletus that was continued by Alyattes II. According to Herodotus in his 'Histories', Alyattes invaded Miletus annually to burn their crops over the course of several years. The troops left the horses and houses untouched so that the Milesians could plant a new crop, which the Lydians would then burn the following year. This continued until the end of the war eleven years later.

As part of this campaign, Alyattes also came to Priene, home of Bias. Priene wasn't doing too well--this was well into the war and Priene struggled under Alyattes' tactics. At that time, Bias was already a very respected figure in the city so it seems he was trusted to handle the situation--and he did (if we can believe Diogenes, of course, who wrote his work on Bias several years after the man's death). He states:

"A story is told that, while Alyattes was besieging Priene, Bias fattened two mules and drove them into the camp, and that the king, when he saw them, was amazed at the good condition of the citizens actually extending to their beasts of burden. And he decided to make terms and sent a messenger. But Bias piled up heaps of sand with a layer of corn on the top, and showed them to the man, and finally, on being informed of this, Alyattes made a treaty of peace with the people of Priene. Soon afterwards, when Alyattes sent to invite Bias to his court, he replied, "Tell Alyattes, from me, to make his diet of onions," that is, to weep."

In short: Bias tricked Alyattes' into believing Priene was doing so well that it would be better to trade with them than to conquer them. Alyattes believed him and signed a peace treaty with the city so they could open up negotiations--and then Bias revealed that the city had nothing to trade. But the peace stood, because Alyattes was honour bound to upkeep it. Ha! See? Brains over brawn any day!