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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Posted on 25-10-2009
Filed Under (History, Politics & Propaganda) by Rashtrakut

The previous post on this topic delved back into ancient Indian history.  This one deals with a person still alive and of far more recent vintage.  The underlying thesis of this post is not as likely to be as uncontroversial.  The presidency of his son has done wonders for the image of George Herbert Walker Bush.  However, most of the praise has been directed to his wise decision not to invade Iraq without knowing what regime he would install to replace Saddam Hussein.

The problem with the 41st President was that unlike his predecessor and successor he struggled to connect emotionally with the American people.  Since the Great Depression the failure to capture the emotive aspect of the American presidency can make or break an American President.  With his aristocratic Yankee upbringing and ivy league background, George H. W. Bush never  managed to be a man of the people.  Coming from the now largely defunct centrist wing of the Republican party he also struggled to connect with the religious right and other hard right conservatives who increasingly constituted the true believers of the Republican Party.  The failure to connect with the public and the lukewarm relations with his base resulted in his failure to reap the benefits of the major successes in his term.

On domestic issues his term saw the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Clean Air Act, neither of which did much to endear him with his base.  However, the act that caused him the most grief was his sensible decision to raise taxes to combat the rising deficit.  This required reneging on his unfortunate pledge at the 1988 Republican Convention to not raise taxes and was the straw that broke the camel’s back with the increasingly vocal contingent of supply-siders in his party.  And then there came the recession.  This is where his inability to relate and provide assurance to the public haunted him.  When he protested loudly at the end of the presidential campaign that the recession was over, he was mocked.  The first jobs report after his presidency would show that he was right and that must have stung.  The failure to relate would result in him being the first Republican to not win re-election since Herbert Hoover (ironically Bill Clinton would be the first Democrat to be re-elected since Hoover’s successor Franklin Delano Roosevelt). Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted on 26-09-2009
Filed Under (History, India, Politics & Propaganda) by Rashtrakut

Many successful rulers and administrators have often failed to grasp the importance of good public relations.  As a result, an otherwise competent or successful tenure in office has been marred by rising unpopularity. Others have excelled far too well on the propaganda side of governance until the inevitable disclosure that the emperor wore no clothes. Very few rulers have managed to find a fine blend of the two and the very success of the public relations campaign makes an honest appraisal difficult.

This is the first in a series of appraisals of rulers through history and whether their reputations are deserved, undeserved or over inflated.

The Emperor Ashoka is a fine example of this. The Wikipedia entry on his life contains a list of the usual platitudes about his reign and how his reign was a golden age of peace and prosperity. The only problem is that almost all the extant data of his reign comes from pillars and rock inscriptions placed by Ashoka across his vast empire. The third Mauryan emperor knew the value of propaganda. Read the rest of this entry »

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