Herodotus – The Histories, Book 3, “Thalia”: Persian Conquest of Egypt (1-38)

Herodotus – The Histories, Book 3, “Thalia” (1-38)

  1. Cambyses, king of Persia, decided to go to war with the Egyptians. The reason was because an Egyptian upset with his king, Amasis, because he felt slighted by him for sending him to Persia to be Cyrus’s eye doctor. To get even, he urged Cambyses to ask Amasis for his daughter in marriage. Either a yes or a no could be a good pretext for war. But Cambyses didn’t want her as a wife, only a concubine. The previous Egyptian king, Apries, had a daughter, Nitêtis. So, Amasis sent her over claiming her to be his daughter. She eventually told Cambyses the truth & this angered him enough to declare war on Egypt.
  2. The Egyptians claim that Nitêtis was actually Cambyses’s mother & that Cyrus was the one who asked for her & she bore him Cambyses. Persians do allow bastards on the throne. Some say he was the son of Nitêtis while others say he was the son of Cassandané.
  3. Another unbelievable account was that a Persian lady visited with Cyrus’s wives & saw how tall & good-looking the children were & made mention of it. Cassandané said that she had been slighted by a new-comer from Egypt – Nitêtis. Cambyses heard this & said that he’d go to Egypt & wreck the place. That was big talk from a 10 year old. Not very likely though.
  4. One mercenary of Amasis, named Phanes, was upset with his boss & ran off to Cambyses & gave him all sorts of intelligence on Egypt. Amasis order him to be recovered. His man caught him in Lydia but Phanes outwitted him by getting the guards drunk & escaped to Persia. Phanes explained to Cambyses would have to cross a desert. He should try to get help crossing & secure safe passage from the Arab. Cambyses sent them an ambassador.
  5. The only way from Persia to Egypt was through this desert. They went down to the City of Cadytis. Through parts of Syria, you get to Lake Serbônis where Typhon the snake was said to have hidden from Zeus. Then Egypt only begins after crossing a desert.
  6. Twice a year, wine is brought into Egypt by Greeks & Phoenicians in earthen jars. But there are no earthen jars there. The mayor collects them & takes them to Memphis where they’re filled up with water & brought to the desert near Syria.
  7. This water story is how the Arabs knew the best way into Egypt. Cambyses asked the Arab king to guide them & vouch for their safety. He agreed with a special oath.
  8. Arabs take oaths by 2 men standing on either side of a 3rd man in the middle. The man in between takes a sharp stone & cuts the others on the palm of their hands & they dip each other’s clothes in the blood. They take that & drip it over 7 stones & call on Bacchus & Urania, their only 2 gods.
  9. The Arabian pledge his faith to Cambyses. He gave them camel skins filled with water & loaded live camels to carry across the desert. Another tale says that the River Corys in Arabia, which flows into the Erythraean Sea, is connected by a pipe made of camel skins going into the desert, depositing water into cisterns, a distance of a 12 day journey.
  10. Psammenitus, Amasis’s son, camped in the mouth of the Nile, waiting for Cambyses. His father, Amasis, had died. When Psammenitus sat on the throne, it rained in Egyptian Thebes – the only recorded instance of this.
  11. The Persian crossed the desert & camped out near the Egyptians. Mercenaries who were employed by the Egyptians, were Greeks from Caria, & were pissed off at Phanes for bringing the Persians into Egypt. The mercenaries found his children & killed them one by one. Then they drank their blood. The Persians fought the Egyptians, causing the Egyptians to turn & flee.
  12. After the battle, it was clear which skulls belongs to which side. Egyptian skulls are thick because in their childhood, their heads are shaved & so the skulls become thick & hard. This also prevents baldness. The Persians have weak skulls because they are shaded under Turbans.
  13. Egyptians ran off in disorder to Memphis. Cambyses sent a boat with a herald on board to ask the Egyptians to surrender. The Egyptians responded by destroying the ship & tearing the crew limb from limb. Memphis was besieged & in time, it surrendered. The Libyans heard this & gave themselves up, as did Cyrene & Barca. They offered him gifts. Cambyses liked those from Libya but not from Cyrene
  14. Cambyses decided to test Psammenitus. He dressed his daughter as a slaver with many other girls. The fathers, except Psammenitus, wept at seeing this. Cambyses took Psammenitus’s son along with 1000 other Egyptians of the same age & murdered them all. All but Psammenitus cried. Cambyses dragged out an old friend of Psammenitus’s, now reduced to begging for alms. Psammenitus cried at this. Later, Cambyses asked him why he cried at that & not at his daughter or son. He answered that his sorrows for his son & daughter were beyond expression but he was said to see a man who once had such a high place reduced to poverty.
  15. Cambyses allowed him to live.
  16. Cambyses went to Saïs to the palace of Amasis. He ordered Amasis’s body to be exhumed, scourged & burnt. This violated all Egyptian & Persian religious laws. To the Egyptians, fire is an animal, so he was feeding a King to an animal. To the Persians, fire is a god & it’s wrong to feed the dead to a god. The Egyptians claimed that Amasis had consulted an oracle & knew this would happen one day, so when he died he had his body hidden. Probably not likely to have happened.
  17. Cambyses planned 3 expeditions. One against Carthage. One against the Ammonians. One against the Ethiopians. He wanted to send the fleet to fight Carthage & the split the armies in 2 to fight the Ammonians & Ethiopians. He sent messengers to Ethiopia first, but it was really an espionage mission.
  18. “The Table of the Sun” in Ethiopia was a meadow outside the main city where they left boiled meat for all to eat. Apparently, the land brings forth all of this food.
  19. He hired Ichthyophagi (fish eaters) who knew the Ethiopian language to be the messengers. Then he ordered the fleet to Carthage but the Phoenician sailors wouldn’t fight against their kin in Carthage. Cambyses wasn’t going to force them to do it, so he decided to let the Carthage matter drop.
  20. The Fisheaters left with gifts for the Ethiopians – a purple robe, a gold chain necklace, armlets, an alabaster box of myrrh & a cask of palm wine. They say that the Ethiopians are the tallest & handsomest in the world. Their customs are very different. They choose their kings by finding the tallest, yet strongest man & make him their king.
  21. They delivered the gifts & the Ethiopian king spoke – I see Persia want to become our ally. Your king has sent me thing he himself likes. But I’m sure you’re really just spies. He isn’t an honest man. If he’s looking for a fight, he has only to come down here to get one. Thank God Ethiopia doesn’t go looking to invade lands it doesn’t own.
  22. He unstrung his bow & gave it to the messengers. He asked what the purple robe was & how it was made. They explained how it was dyed. The king said they were deceitful & so were their clothes. They explained the necklace & armlets. The king thought they were prisoner’s chains. They explained the myrrh was to be rubbed on the limbs. He asked about the wine. They gave him a drink. He loved it. He asked the Persians how old they usually live & what they ate. They answered maximum 80 & they eat bread. The king said – No wonder you only live to be 80, you only eat dirt.
  23. The Fisheaters asked him what they ate & how long they lived. He said on average they lived 120 years & they ate boiled meat & drank only milk. He showed them a fountain where they washed to give them good skin & make themselves smell like violets. They used gold for a lot of common things as it wasn’t scarce – but copper was extremely rare.
  24. They were shown Ethiopian coffins. Dead men were made up to look alive & were mummified like they are in Egypt, & placed in crystal pillars. They are displayed in the family’s home for one year & then set up outside of town.
  25. The spied returned & reported to Cambyses. He was pissed off. He wanted to march on the Ethiopians immediately, even without provisions. He hadn’t thought that he was going to the ends of the earth. He took Greeks with him & sent 50000 to fight the Ammonians, capture them all & burn their temple to Jupiter. He took the rest to Ethiopia. 1/5 the way down, their provisions ran out & they were force to eat their pack animals carrying their gear. Cambyses made them press on. The men started eating grass. Eventually they had to resort to cannibalism just to stay alive. When Cambyses heard this, he gave up the mission & went back North.
  26. The men who were to fight the Ammonians started from Thebes with guides & went into the desert, a 7 day trip. They never reached the Ammonians. It’s said they were caught in a sand storm & buried alive.
  27. Cambyses arrived in Memphis. The God Apis appeared to the Egyptians. The Greek version of him is Epaphus. The Egyptians held feasts in celebrations. Cambyses thought the feasts were to celebrate his failures. The officers told him about the God. Cambyses accused them of lying & put them to death.
  28. He called in the priests. He told them they’d soon know if a god had really come to Egypt. He told them to bring Apis to him. He is the calf of a cow that can never again bear young. They say fire falls from heaven on the cow & conceived Apis.
  29. They brought in Apis. Cambyses took out his dagger, tried to stab it in the belly but only hit its thigh. He said, “I’ll show you all who is a laughing stock now.” He had the priests beaten. Any Egyptian caught celebrating would be put to death. Apis was in the temple & priests buried him in secret.
  30. Cambyses found out about this & went crazy. He killed his brother, Smerdis. The story went that he sent him back to Persia. Cambyses had a dream that Smerdis would kill him & take his throne. So he sent a trusted servant, Prexaspes, to kill him. He either killed Smerdis during a hunting trip or drowned him in the Eruthraean Sea.
  31. The next crazy thing he dad was killing his sister. She came with him into Egypt as his wife. It was not normal for Persians to marry their sisters. Cambyses consulted with royal judges, asking if it was legal. They were afraid of him, so they told him that there was no law against it & since he was the king, he could do whatever he wanted. So he married her. He was also married to another sister left back in Persia.
  32. The Greeks say Cambyses made her watch a puppy fight a lion cub. The puppy was losing, so its littermate joined in & they won. She cried at this because it made her think of Smerdis & how he had no one to help him out. Then Cambyses put her to death. The Egyptians say she asked him if lettuce looked better who or stripped. He said whole. She commented that he had stripped the house of Cyrus bare. He killed her when she was pregnant.
  33. The story about Apis & Cambyses killing his whole family, among other stories got him the reputation of being crazy. They said he had epilepsy & his mind was messed up from that.
  34. Cambyses asked his friend, Prexaspes, what the Persian people thought of him. He responded that they liked him but thought he drank too much. Cambyses answered – “Oh, I drink too much, do I?!?! Is that what they think makes me crazy?!?!” Cambyses asked Persian advisors (with Croesus within earshot) how he compared to his father, Cyrus. They answered that he’d surpassed his father because he was lord of all that his father ruled & added Egypt to his kingdom. Croesus answered that he wasn’t equal because he had not yet had a son like Cyrus did. Cambyses really like that last answer.
  35. Cambyses told Prexaspes to judge for himself if the Persians were telling the truth when they said he was mad. He pointed at Prexaspes’s son & said – “If I shoot an arrow at him & it goes through his heart, the Persians were wrong. If I miss, the Persians were right.” He shot the boy straight through the heart to prove he wasn’t mad. Prexaspes tried to keep a straight face & said that God himself couldn’t shoot so well. Later Cambysis took 12 of the noblest Persians & buried them alive.
  36. Croesus scolded him for it & told him not to give into his emotions. Cyrus had left Croesus to advise Cambyses & this was his advice. Cambyses responded that advice from a man who squandered away his own empire & convinced Cyrus to lead an attack that led to his death wasn’t very good. He ran for his bow to shoot at Croesus but Croesus got away with the help of Cambyses’s servants. They did this so that when Cambyses calmed down & came to regret the fact that Croesus got away, they could bring him out & win his favor. If he hadn’t regretted what he’d done, they can pull him out & say they caught him. Later, Cambyses calmed down & expressed regret. They brought out Croesus. Cambyses was glad to have him back but angry at having disloyal servants & had them killed.
  37. He had committed many other atrocities in Egypt. He exhumed many bodied from their tombs. He defaced the images of Vulcan, mocked them in the temple & even burned them. This was highly illegal & impious of him.
  38. His outrages were worse than most other kings. When they did it, there was a point to it. Darius asked Greeks how much money it’d take for them to eat their newly died fathers. They said no amount. He showed them a tribe from Indian who thought it was the holiest thing that you could do. He asked the Indian tribe how much money it would take for them to burn their newly deceased fathers. They said no amount of money. From this, he concluded that religious law was more powerful than money.

Author: knowit68

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