Stories of the East From Herodotus - Alfred J. Church

The Persians Conquer Egypt

Cambyses, King of Persia, made war against King Amasis, and led a great army into Egypt, having with him many from the nations which he and his father Cyrus had subdued, and especially Greeks, men of Ionia and olia. Now the cause wherefore he made war was this. He sent a herald to King Amasis, demanding that the King should give him his daughter to wife. And this he did by the counsel of a certain Egyptian who had a grudge against King Amasis. And this grudge the man had because the King had chosen him out of all the physicians of Egypt, taking him away by force from his wife and children, to send him to Cyrus, King of Persia, for Cyrus had asked of Amasis that he should send him a physician of the eyes, the most skilful that there was in the land of Egypt. For this cause the man would do King Amasis an injury, and counselled Cambyses that he should ask the King's daughter in marriage. But when the King heard the words of the herald he was in a great strait, for it troubled him to give the maiden to Cambyses, and yet knew not how he should deny her to him, fearing his anger, for the Persians were a mighty people. Yet he would willingly have denied her, for he knew that she would not be a chief wife to Cambyses, for such the Kings of Persia take only from their own people. But at the last he devised this device. There was a daughter of Apries that had been king before him. She only remained alive of the house of Apries; and the maiden was of great stature, and fair exceedingly, and her name was Nitetis. This Nitetis, King Amasis caused to be arrayed in goodly apparel and ornaments of scold, and sent her to Cambyses as if she were his own daughter. And it came to pass after a time when Cambyses would call her by her name that he said to her, "Daughter of Amasis." But when the woman heard these words, she answered, "O my lord the King, Amasis hath deceived thee, and thou knowest it not. For he caused me to be arrayed in royal apparel, and sent me to thee as though I were his daughter. But in truth I was daughter to Apries, whom this man slew, rebelling against his master." When Cambyses heard this, he was very wroth with Amasis, and made war upon him. This is what the Persians say.

But the Egyptians say otherwise. For they would fain make Cambyses to be one of their own nation. Wherefore they affirm that he was the son of this same daughter of Apries, whom she bare to Cyrus. For they say that it was Cyrus that sent the herald to King Amasis, demanding his daughter in marriage. But they speak not the truth in this matter, and moreover know that they speak it not, for the Egyptians have perfect knowledge of the customs of their Persians. Now among the customs is this, that no bastard may be king if there be a true son, and they hold that the children of a woman that is not a Persian, though she be a king's daughter, are bastards. But in truth Cambyses was the son of one Cassandane, that was a woman of the royal house of the Persians. Also the Egyptians tell this story, but neither is this to be believed. One of the women of Persia, coming to the chamber where the wives of King Cyrus were assembled, saw this same Cassandane, and her children standing by her, being very fair and tall. And when she saw them, she fell in great admiration of them, and praised their beauty. But Cassandane said, "Yet though I be the mother of these children, Cyrus holdeth me not in honour, giving my place to a stranger from Egypt." This she said, taking it ill that the King loved Nitetis. And when Cambyses, that was the elder of the two children, heard these words of his mother, he said, "Mother, when I am grown to be a man, I will turn Egypt upside down for thy sake." When Cambyses said this he was ten years old, and the women marvelled at the saying. Nevertheless when he was full grown and had the kingdom of his father, he remembered these words and made war against Egypt.

There is also another thing to be told about this matter. Among the hired soldiers of King Amasis there was a certain man of the city of Halicarnassus, whose name was Phanes. And the man was wise in council and valiant also in battle. This Phanes, thinking that he had suffered some wrong from the King, took ship secretly, and fled from the land of Egypt, desiring to have speech with Cambyses. But as the man was of great account among the hired soldiers, and knew all that concerned the land of Egypt as did none other, King Amasis was exceedingly desirous to take him. Therefore he pursued after him, giving the charge of the matter to one of his ministers whom he judged to be most faithful. And this man, sailing in a three-banked ship, pursued after him, and caught him in the land of Lycia. Nevertheless he brought him not to King Amasis, as he would fain have done, for Phanes prevailed over him by craft, making the guards that should have kept him drunk with wine, and so escaping to the Persians.

And when Cambyses was minded to march into Egypt, but knew not how he should do so, having to cross a great region that was without water, Phanes came to him, and made known to him how things stood with King Amasis, and also how he might best make his march. And his advice was that he should send to the King of the Arabians, and ask of him that he should give him a safe passage through his country, for the only entrance into Egypt is by the desert. And this desert is three days' journey across, in which whole space there was not so much as a drop of water to be found. About this matter there is a thing worth telling. Twice every year wine is brought into Egypt from every part of Greece, and from Phnicia also; and this wine is in earthen jars. Nevertheless a man will not find even one jar in the whole land of Egypt. And if he would know why this is so, the cause is this. The chief magistrate in each city has a command laid upon him to gather all the jars that are to be found in his own city, and to cause them to be taken to the city of Memphis. And the people of Memphis fill them with water and carry them to the desert parts of Syria. This is done with the jars year after year. But the beginning of this custom was with the Persians, who would thus provide for themselves an easy passage into Egypt; but in the days of King Amasis it was not begun, and the land was yet without water. So Cambyses listened to the counsel of this Phanes of Halicarnassus, and sent messengers to the King of the Arabians, asking that he might have safe passage through his country. This thing the Arabians granted to him, and they pledged their faith the one to the other.

There is no nation in the world that keepeth faith more righteously than do the Persians. And their manner of pledging it is this. When two men would make a covenant between them, there stands another between the two, who cuts with a sharp stone the palm of the hand of each close by the longest of the fingers. After this he taketh a piece from the garment of each, and dippeth the piece in blood, and anoints therewith seven stones that lie between them, calling in the meantime on Dionysus and Urania. After this the man that hath made the covenant commendeth him with whom he hath made it, whether he be stranger or citizen, to all his friends, and these also hold themselves to be bound to him.

Now when the King of the Arabians had made a covenant with the messengers that came to him from Cambyses he did this. He filled with water a great store of camel skins, and loaded the skins on all the live camels that he had in his country, and caused these to be driven into the desert till the army of Cambyses should come. This is the more credible of the stories which are told of this matter; but there is another also, of which, though it be less credible, mention shall be made. There is a great river in Egypt, which men call the Corys, and it flows into the Red Sea. They say that the King of the Arabians caused them to sew together the skins of oxen and of other beasts, and so made a great conduit, which reached over the whole way from the river Corys to the desert, and this is a journey of twelve days. Also in the desert he had great cisterns dug to receive the water. Of these cisterns, they say there were three, and to each its own conduit.

But before Cambyses came into Egypt, King Amasis was dead. Forty and four years had he reigned over the land of Egypt, nor in all that time had there befallen him any great misfortune. And the Egyptians buried him in his own sepulchre, even that which he had made for himself in the temple which he built to Athene, as hath been said before. And Psammenitus his son reigned in his stead. This Psammenitus gathered his army together and pitched his camp in Pelusium, awaiting Cambyses. In his days there happened a great marvel. There fell rain in Thebes, which thing had not been seen before, and hath not been since. But in the days of Psammenitus there fell rain in small drops.

It came to pass when the Persians, having crossed the desert by help of the King of the Arabians, had set their battle in array against the Egyptians, that the hired troops of the Egyptians, being Greeks, and men of Caria, did a very dreadful thing. They were very wroth with Phanes because he had brought the army of the stranger against Egypt; wherefore they took his children which he had left behind him when he fled, and brought them into the space between the two armies. After this they set up a great bowl, and slew the children, one after the other, over the bowl, before the eyes of their father. And when they had slain all the children they brought water and wine, and poured them into the bowl, and drank there-from all of them. When they had done this they joined battle with the Persians. And the battle was very fierce, and many were slain on either side, but at the last the Egyptians fled before the Persians.

About them that were slain in this battle there is told a strange thing by the people of the country. The bones of them that were slain lie apart, the Persians by themselves, and the Egyptians by themselves. Now the skulls of the Persians are so thin, that if a man hit them only with a pebble he will break them easily, but the skulls of the Egyptians so strong that scarcely with a great stone will a man break through them. And the people of the country say that the cause of this difference is this that shall be told, and indeed it seems a reasonable thing. An Egyptian hath his head shaved even from a child, and the bone grows thick, the sun beating upon it. But with the Persians it is not so, for they have their heads covered from childhood, wearing turbans and hats.

Now the Egyptians, when they were worsted in the battle, fled without order, and came to Memphis, where they shut themselves within the walls. Then Cambyses sent up the river a ship of Mitylene, having on board a herald, a Persian, who should bid the Egyptians surrender themselves. But when the people saw the ship come to Memphis, the whole multitude of them rushed out of the castle of the city, and destroyed the ship, and tare in pieces all the men that were therein, and carried back the pieces into the castle. Nevertheless, after they had been besieged for a while, they surrendered themselves. So also did the men of Nubia, which borders upon Egypt. This they did without fighting, for they were afraid by reason of what had befallen Egypt. Also the men of Cyrene and the men of Barca, having the same fear, did the like. The gifts from Nubia did King Cambyses receive with favour, but not the gifts of the men of Cyrene. And indeed these sent five hundred pounds of silver only, which seemed to the King too small a present. Wherefore he snatched the money from the envoys, and scattered it with his own hand among the soldiers.

Now, on the tenth day after that he had taken the fort, Cambyses brought Psammenitus, King of Egypt, to a place before the city, to torment him. And Psammenitus had been King for six months and no more. And when Cambyses had set him and others of the Egyptians with him in the place, he made trial what manner of spirit he was of, dealing with him in this fashion. He clothed his daughter in a slave's garments and sent her, carrying a water-pot on her head, to fetch water, sending with her also other maidens, daughters to the chief men of the country. These also were clothed in like manner to the King's daughter. And when the maidens passed before their fathers with much weeping and wailing, then the other princes that had daughters among them that passed by cried aloud and wept, seeing their children in such evil case, but Psammenitus, when he looked and saw what was done, bent only his eyes upon the earth. And when the maidens that bare the water had passed by, Cambyses caused to pass before Psammenitus his son, with two thousand more of the Egyptians that had the same age. All of these had ropes about their necks and bits in their mouths. These were led to execution, that they might be an expiation for the men of Mitylene, whom the Egyptians in Memphis had destroyed together with their ship. For the judges of the King had given this sentence, that for every man that had died in the ship there should die ten of the Egyptians, and these of the chief men of the land. Then the King saw them pass by, and knew that his own son was being led to the place of execution; but, though the other Egyptians that sat about him wept aloud and made much ado, he wept not, but did as he had done about his daughter. And when these had passed by, it fell out that one that had been his companion in past time, a man stricken in years, came by, and the man had lost all his substance, and had nothing save such things as a beggar might have. Being then in such case he passed by Psammenitus and the other princes of Egypt where they sat before the city. And when Psammenitus saw him he wept aloud, and smote his head with his hand, and called to him that had been his companion by name. Now there had been guards set about the King, who watched all that was done by him, and told it to Cambyses. And Cambyses marvelled much at these things, and sent a messenger to Psammenitus, saying, "Thy master, Cambyses, asks thee this. When thou sawest thy daughter in evil case and thy son led by to death, thou didst neither cry aloud nor weep. Why then hadst thou such respect to this beggar, who indeed, for so I hear from others, is nothing akin to thee?" To this Psammenitus made answer, "Know, O son of Cyrus, that the troubles of my own house were greater than that a man could weep for them. But for the trouble of my companion I could weep, when I saw him, how that his grey hairs were brought down from great prosperity to beggary and wretchedness." This answer did he make, and all judged it well said, and the Egyptians say that King Crsus wept to hear it, for Crsus had followed Cambyses into Egypt, and that such of the Persians as were present wept also, and that Cambyses himself had some compassion, so that he sent straightway and commanded that the son of Psammenitus should not be slain with the rest of the youths, and also that they should bring the King himself from before the city to his own presence. Now the messengers that were sent found the young man dead already, for indeed he had been slain first of all, but Psammenitus himself they brought to Cambyses. Nor after this did he suffer aught from the Persians, but lived prosperously. And indeed if he had not meddled with dangerous matters he might have had Egypt to rule over, for the Persians are wont to hold the sons of kings in great honour, so that if a king revolt from them, yet they give back his kingdom to his children. This they have often done even to those from whom they have suffered much; for so they restored the kingdom of Inarus the Lybian, who had worked them much mischief, to Thannyras, that was the son of Inarus. Thus might it have been with Psammenitus; only that he sought to draw away the Egyptians from Cambyses, but the matter was discovered and came to the knowledge of Cambyses, wherefore Psammenitus drank bull's blood, and so died.

After this Cambyses came from Memphis to Sas. And when he was come to Sas he commanded that they should bring out the dead body of Amasis from the sepulchre wherein he was buried; and when this had been done at his commandment, he bade them scourge it, and pluck out the hair, and prick it with swords, and do to it all kinds of dishonour. All this they did till they were weary, but the body perished not, for that it had been embalmed. And when Cambyses saw this, he bade them burn it, so commanding a most impious thing, for the Persians held that fire is a god. And neither they nor the Egyptians make it a custom to burn their dead. As for the Persians, they do it not for this reason, namely, that they think fire to be a god, as hath been said, and count it unholy to give to him such a thing as a dead corpse for sacrifice. But the Egyptians think that fire is a wild beast, and that this beast devoureth all that it can lay hold of, and that when it has had enough of food it dieth with that that fed it. But are not wont to give to wild beasts the bodies of them that die; and indeed that they may not be eaten of worms they embalm and so bury them. Therefore when Cambyses commanded this thing, he did that which pleased neither the Persians nor the men of Egypt.

But the Egyptians say that all these things were done not to Amasis but to one of the same age whom they took for Amasis, and that the Persians thought that what they had done to the dead body they had done to Amasis. For their story is that Amasis had asked of an oracle what should happen to him in years to come, and when he heard the things that should befall his own body, he took this man, who chanced to be newly dead, and buried him in the entering in of the sepulchre, and that this man was he whom Cambyses commanded them to scourge, but that Amasis was buried in the back part of the sepulchre. But it is not to be believed that these things were done about the burying of Amasis, but rather that the Egyptians have feigned them.