A 2,500 year old mystery based on a Herodotus story sometimes dismissed as a fable may have been solved.  The Persian Emperor Cambyses II has generally not received good press from historians.  Some of it comes from the difficulty of being the successor of Cyrus the Great, a man who turned a nation of goatherders subject to the Median Empire into what was the largest empire the world had ever seen.  Media, Babylon and Lydia with the famed wealth of Croesus fell before Cyrus.  Cambyses finished the job by conquering the last remaining empire of antiquity, Egypt.

This is when things started to go south and the legend of the lost army begins.  After his initial victory Cambyses failed to subdue Kush in the south and had to give up his plan to attack Carthage because his Phoenician subjects refused to fight their ethnic kin.  The frustrated emperor decided to vent his rage at the Oracle of Amun located in the Siwa Oasis which refused to recognize him as Pharaoh of Egypt.  According to Herodotus the army of 50,000 disappeared in a sandstorm.  An army that size generally leaves behind some traces.  But for 2,500 years nothing was found.  If true, this solves one of the two major location mysteries of Ancient Egypt (the other is the location of the tomb of Alexander the Great which disappears from the historical record in the early third century AD).

To sum up on poor Cambyses, he came to a sticky end.  Forced to leave Egypt to deal with the revolt of his brother Bardiya, he died suddenly.  His eventual successor Darius I would say it was suicide.  Darius, a cousin, who usurped the throne from Bardiya and ruled successfully for 36 years lavished a lot of effort in blackening the reputations of the sons of Cyrus.  Cambyses comes down as a bloodthirsty and moody tyrant who initiated a tradition of royal incest in violation of Persian norms.  Bardiya suffers a worse fate.  The man deposed by Darius was dismissed as an impostor, a Magi priest named Gaumata, who killed the real son of Cyrus.   All of this justified the bloody path of Darius to the throne, sealed by his marriage to the daughters of Cyrus.  As is often the case, the winner got to write history.  In this case the victor inscribed his version in stone.

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[…] dead.  There seems to be a pattern of solving ancient Egyptian mysteries of late.  See previous blog post.  Maybe the trifecta of finding the tomb of Alexander the Great is round the […]


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