PERSIAN RULE OF ANCIENT EGYPT
Egyptian cartouche for
the Persian ruler Darius II Egypt was conquered the Persians in 525 B.C. After experiencing a brief period of autonomy it was conquered again by the Persians around. 300 B.C. Egypt remained in Persian hands until they were defeated by Alexander the Great in 332 B.C., at which time Egypt fell under Greek control.
A weak Egypt was no match for Persia at the height of its power. After being conquered by the Persian king Cambyses, Egypt became a backwater province in a large empire. After five Persian rulers, the Egyptian retained control for 10 rulers until the Persian regained control. Among other things the Persians were known for being religiously tolerate and accommodating to the Jews in Egypt.
Egyptian art from the Persian period includes a headless but still impressive stone statue of Ptahhotep, an Egyptian treasury official, dressed in Persian costume with a Persian bracelet but an Egyptian chest ornament. The sculpture, about one-quarter life size and probably from Memphis, illustrates the accommodating mix of Persian and Egyptian costumes during the period of Egypt's rule by Persian kings.
After 1085 B.C. Egypt was divided and ruled by priests. Egyptian culture went into a period of decline. Treasuries shrunk as a result of expensive monument building and military campaigns. There were food riots and strikes. In 525 B.C., Egypt was conquered the Persians The New Kingdom was followed by the Third Intermediate Period (1075 to 715 B.C.), the Late Period (715 to 332B.C.) and the Greco-Roman Period (332 B.C. to A.D. 395).
The Late Period (715 to 332 B.C.) included the second part of the 25th dynasty, and 26th, 27th, 28th, 29th, 30th and 31st dynasties and one period of Nubia rule and two periods of Persian rule. The 25th dynasty was Nubian. The 27th and 31st dynasties were Persian. After the 27th dynasty the Persians were expelled but returned once again. By some reckonings the Late period began when Egypt was conquered by the Persians in the 525 B.C. After experiencing a brief period of autonomy Egypt was conquered again by Alexander the Great in 332 B.C.
Scholars generally divide the Persian Period in Egypt into two separate eras, the First Persian Period (Dynasty 27, 525-402 B.C.) and the brief Second Persian Period that ended with the arrival of Alexander the Great (Dynasty 31, 343-332 B.C.). To distinguish from other stages of Iranian history, this era is also called Achaemenid, named after the eponymous founder of the dynasty, Achaemenes. In both periods, Egypt was governed by a Persian satrap. [Source: David Klotz, New York University, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2015, escholarship.org ]
Websites on Ancient Egypt: UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, escholarship.org ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Egypt sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Discovering Egypt discoveringegypt.com; BBC History: Egyptians bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/egyptians ; Ancient History Encyclopedia on Egypt ancient.eu/egypt; Digital Egypt for Universities. Scholarly treatment with broad coverage and cross references (internal and external). Artifacts used extensively to illustrate topics. ucl.ac.uk/museums-static/digitalegypt ; British Museum: Ancient Egypt ancientegypt.co.uk; Egypt’s Golden Empire pbs.org/empires/egypt; Metropolitan Museum of Art www.metmuseum.org ; Oriental Institute Ancient Egypt (Egypt and Sudan) Projects ; Egyptian Antiquities at the Louvre in Paris louvre.fr/en/departments/egyptian-antiquities; KMT: A Modern Journal of Ancient Egypt kmtjournal.com; Ancient Egypt Magazine ancientegyptmagazine.co.uk; Egypt Exploration Society ees.ac.uk ; Amarna Project amarnaproject.com; Egyptian Study Society, Denver egyptianstudysociety.com; The Ancient Egypt Site ancient-egypt.org; Abzu: Guide to Resources for the Study of the Ancient Near East etana.org; Egyptology Resources fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk
Twenty Seventh Dynasty (525 – 404 B.C.): First Persian Period
The 27th Dynasty and the First Persian Period of Egypt began in 525 B.C. when the Persian king Cambyses II conquered Egypt with a victory at the Battle of Pelusium in the Nile Delta, followed by the capture of Heliopolis and Memphis. The Persians received assistance from Polycrates of Samos, a Greek ally of Egypt, and the Arabs, who provided water for his army to cross the Sinai Desert. After these defeats Egyptian resistance collapsed. In 518 B.C. Darius I visited Egypt, which he listed as a rebel country, perhaps because of the insubordination of its governor Aryandes whom he put to death. Persian rulers of Egypt during the 27th Dynasty who were also the rulers of the Persian Empire were: Cambyses 525-522 B.C.; Darius I 522-486 B.C.; Xerxes 486-465 B.C.; ArtaxerxesI 465-424 B.C.; Darius II 424-405 B.C.; Artaxerxes II 405-359 B.C.; [Source: Mark Millmore, discoveringegypt.com discoveringegypt.com]
James Allen and Marsha Hill of the Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “Egypt's new Persian overlords adopted the traditional title of pharaoh, but unlike the Libyans and Nubians, they ruled as foreigners rather than Egyptians. For the first time in its 2,500-year history as a nation, Egypt was no longer independent. Though recognized as an Egyptian dynasty, Dynasty 27, the Persians ruled through a resident governor, called a satrap, helped by local native chiefs. Persian domination actually benefited Egypt under Darius I (521–486 B.C.), who built temples and public works, reformed the legal system, and strengthened the economy. The military defeat of Persia by the Greeks at Marathon in 490 B.C., however, inspired resistance in Egypt; and for nearly a century thereafter, Persian control was challenged by a series of local Egyptian kings, primarily in the Delta. [Source: James Allen and Marsha Hill, Department of Egyptian Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2004, metmuseum.org \^/]
Dynasty 27: First Persian Period (525–404 B.C.)
Cambyses (525–522 B.C.)
Darius I (521–486 B.C.)
Xerxes I (486–466 B.C.)
Artaxerxes I (465–424 B.C.)
Darius II (424–404 B.C.)
Cambyses II: the Persian Conqueror of Egypt
Cambyses II, son of Cyrus and Cassadane, was born in 558 B.C. and came to the throne during a major rebellion. He moved swiftly to put down the uprisings only to find that his brother, Smerdis, was a primary instigator behind it. In Persian, it was a tradition for the younger sibling to attempt a coup and usurp the throne of the elder brother. [Source: Minnesota State University, Mankato]
Herodotus wrote in Book 2 of “Histories”: After the death of Cyrus, Cambyses inherited his throne. He was the son of Cyrus and of Cassandane, the daughter of Pharnaspes, for whom Cyrus mourned deeply when she died before him, and had all his subjects mourn also. Cambyses was the son of this woman and of Cyrus. He considered the Ionians and Aeolians slaves inherited from his father, and prepared an expedition against Egypt, taking with him some of these Greek subjects besides others whom he ruled. . [Source: Herodotus, “The Histories”, Egypt after the Persian Invasion, Book 2, English translation by A. D. Godley. Cambridge. Harvard University Press. 1920, Tufts]
Cambyses II once reportedly remarked to his mother that when he became a man, he would turn all of Egypt upside down. After eliminating his brother, he was now free to organize a long-anticipated expedition to bring the riches of Egypt into the Hittite Empire. And the time was ripe after Egypt weakened its military with two disastrous campaigns into Syria and Babylon by the unpopular pharaoh, Hophra. There was also a power struggle between Hophra’s regime and the supporters of Amassis, a popular military commander. This struggle ended in Hophra’s untimely demise. Amassis knew the danger that Cambyses II posed and looked to the Greeks for help, which proved fruitless. In fact, Polycrates of Samos actually offered his aid to the Hittites. +\
Cambyses II’s Campaign Against Egypt
“But now Cambyses II had a logistical problem. He had to march his army across fifty miles of desert. He was in luck. Phane of Halicarnassus, a Greek mercenary in the employ of Amassis, quarreled with his employer and now offered his services to the Hittites. He knew the Sheiks of the desert and arranged for their aid with provisions. Cambyses II was also building a fleet in his Phoenician ports to threaten from the sea. +\
“During this, Egypt was plagued by ill omens. Amassis died shortly before the invasion began, and it rained on the city of Thebes, an event that had been recorded no more than twice in one century. This put his heir, Psammeticus III, in a hard situation. He must defeat a numerically and better equipped enemy with a despairing populace and a country coming apart at the seams. Undeterred, he gathered all the troops he could muster (Greeks, Libyans, Cyrenaeans and Ionians), and set out to face the Hittites at Pelusium. Outnumbered, the Egyptians and their allies were put to flight and a rout began. Rather than finding a defensible position in the swamps of the delta, Psammeticus let Cambyses II pressure him all the way to Memphis and this move from a historical stand point has proved to be a debacle for anyone foolish enough to attempt it. +\
“During one battle, a Persian ambassador sailed up the Nile in a Mitylenean boat, and proposed terms of surrender to the Egyptian rebels in Memphis, Egypt. When the Egyptians saw the boat coming, they attacked it and smashed it to pieces as well as killing all of the crew members. The Persian army moved up to Memphis and forced the rebels to surrender prompting several other groups to offer gifts of tribute to Cambyses II. Ten days later, Cambyses II protested to the royal judges for justice. It was decided that ten Egyptians would die for every Persian who had been killed on the boat. In the end two thousand Egyptians had been executed. Many years after this had occurred, Egypt, like Babylon and Assyria, became a province of the Persian Empire.” +\
Cambyses II’ Conquest of Egypt
David Klotz of New York University wrote: “Herodotus provides the most coherent account of the Persian invasion of Egypt, a theme elaborated upon much later in the Coptic “Cambyses Romance”, and the Ethiopic “Chronicle “of John Nikiou. Cambyses reputedly attacked Egypt out of anger towards Amasis, who insulted Cyrus by sending Nitêtis, a daughter of Apries and not his own child, to wed the Persian king . Yet his foreign policy was a logical extension of his father’s campaigns, especially since Amasis had pledged Egypt into an alliance with Lydia, Babylon, and Sparta. With the logistical support of Arabian chiefs, Cambyses led his army through northern Sinai, from Gaza to Pelusium . After a short battle, Amasis’s heir, the short-lived Psammetichus III, and his mercenary army retreated to Memphis, only to surrender after a heavy siege. Libya and Cyrenaica quickly followed suit, and preemptively sent tribute to the Persian king. [Source: David Klotz, New York University, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2015, escholarship.org ]
“Cambyses humiliated Psammetichus III before the army in Memphis, and when the latter king refused to accept the Persian authority, he was condemned to death by drinking bull’s blood . Despite his ephemeral reign, Psammetichus III completed a temple to Osiris in Karnak and was posthumously commemorated by Udjahorresnet on his statue, and thus he was more than a “nebulous figure”. The Egyptian campaign began roughly in the winter of 526 B.C., and Cambyses was crowned by the summer of 525 B.C. at the latest.
“Cambyses then advanced with his army to Sais, capital of the preceding 26th Dynasty, where he disinterred the mummy of Amasis and abused his corpse. The posthumous attacks upon Amasis are further evidenced by the systematic erasure of his cartouches on both royal and private monuments throughout Egypt, and possible attacks specifically targeting his temples. While Amasis approved major temple construction projects throughout Egypt, none of his monuments stand today, but survive only as fragmentary blocks. Nonetheless, the “damnatio memoriae “did not last long, as the statue of Udjahorresnet, carved under Darius I, once again mentions Amasis, and his son Henat served in Amasis’s posthumous royal cult.”
Udjahorresnet: A Savior of Egypt or a Persian Collaborator?
David Klotz of New York University wrote: “It was this Udjahorresnet, high priest and overseer of maritime shipping— not a military admiral as is often claimed—under the reign of Amasis, who halted the imminent destruction of Sais. On his oft-discussed statue in the Vatican, Udjahorresnet recounts how he personally interceded with Cambyses during his visit to Sais. Udjahorresnet explained the theological significance of Sais and the local goddess Neith, provided the Great King with an Egyptian titulary, and persuaded him to banish foreign soldiers from the sacred precinct: [Source: David Klotz, New York University, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2015, escholarship.org ]
“His Majesty himself went to the temple of Neith, and kissed the ground for her Majesty, very greatly, like all kings have done. He made a great offering of all good things for Neith, the Mother of God, and the great gods within Sais, like all good kings have done. That his Majesty did this, was because I had made him understand the greatness of her (Neith’s) Majesty: she is the very mother of Ra himself!”
“To label Udjahorresnet a “collaborator” may be unfair. As a prominent member of the indigenous and learned elite, he was perhaps one of the few Egyptians capable of rescuing the temple of Sais from the invading army. Aside from recognizing Cambyses as the new legitimate king—the same way Egyptians had accepted the usurper Amasis a few decades earlier—there is no evidence that Udjahorresnet acted against his fellow Egyptians for personal gain. Instead, he enjoyed a respectable reputation among indigenous Egyptians: he received an impressive tomb in Abusir—work apparently began on this uncompleted sepulture in years 41/42 of Amasis—even though he may have been buried abroad . Furthermore, almost two centuries later, a priest from Sais restored one of his statues in the Ptah temple at Memphis specifically in order to “keep his name alive,” perhaps to honor his rescue of the Neith temple.”
Cambyses II as the Ruler of Egypt
According to Minnesota State University, Mankato: After reducing Memphis after a short siege, Cambyses took steps to assure a legitimate path to the throne. He adopted the double cartouche of the Pharaohs, the royal costume, and laid claim to be the son of Re. He also embraced Egyptian religion and land usage methods, and had a tutor, Uazahor-resenet, to teach him Egyptian customs. Overall, Cambyses had a profound affect on Egypt, bringing new vigor and quality leadership as well as a genuine interest in the Egyptian way of life. [Source: Minnesota State University, Mankato +]
During his reign, Cambyses had destroyed several temples at Memphis and became a tyrant in the eyes of his people and court members. Some even thought he was crazy due to the outlandish things he would do such as having twelve Persian nobles buried in the ground up to their neck for reason at all. He had many killed because of comments that upset or offended him. It is said that Cambyses reigned for seven years and five months. In an attempt to rush off on one of his horses, Cambyses was wounded in the thigh when a portion of the scabbard of his sword fell off. He soon died from the effects of the wound, which caused the limb to mortify and affect the bone.” +\
David Klotz of New York University wrote: ““Much like the Roman Emperor Caracalla centuries later, Cambyses seems to have entered Egypt with good intentions, respecting local temples and religious customs. Yet after his failed campaigns, Cambyses stormed back to Memphis, reportedly leaving behind a trail of looting, destruction, and impiety that gave him one of the worst reputations in the ancient world. Many classical authors report that Cambyses stole precious objects from the temples, and the careful damage to the cartouches of Amasis throughout Egypt suggests attacks were primarily directed against his structures during this time. Upon his return to Memphis, the testy Cambyses could not bear to witness celebrations for the newly crowned Apis and he reportedly murdered the sacred calf. Scholars frequently debate the fragmentary evidence from the Serapeum, but the extant records do not entirely disprove the accusations Herodotus recorded. Even if Cambyses granted an official Apis burial early in his reign, this does not mean he could not have killed another during a fit of rage. [Source: David Klotz, New York University, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2015, escholarship.org ]
“Whether the charges of impiety leveled against Cambyses are exaggerations or ideologically charged fabrications of anti- Persian propaganda, documentary evidence indicates that he significantly reduced the fiscal resources of most temples in Egypt. Dillery argued that Herodotus’s native Egyptian informants did not objectively narrate their history, but instead resorted to literary tropes to frame recent events within their mythological worldview. If anything, native accounts of Cambyses recall legends surrounding Seth, the god of chaos, charged with committing numerous impieties in Egypt during the Late Period. A decree of Cambyses is preserved on a Demotic papyrus. Although Cambyses may have simply intended to boost the Egyptian economy, the clergy remembered this period as a regrettable hiatus in temple donations, falling between the more beneficent reigns of Amasis and Darius I.”
Cambyses Military Campaigns as the Ruler of Egypt
After Cambyses firmed up his control of Egypt, he planned expeditions against the Carthaginians, the dwellers in the Oasis of Jupiter Ammon, and the Nubians. He ended up leaving the Carthaginians in peace due to lack of support, but did attempt to bring down Oasis the dwellers and the Nubians. But his armies were unprepared for the harsh conditions and misguided in terms of directions. Cambyses, out of frustration and hopelessness, decided to abandon his plan of attack. “ [Source: Minnesota State University, Mankato +]
David Klotz of New York University wrote: “After the interlude at Sais, Cambyses headed south to campaign against Nubia. Kahn recently assumed Cambyses marched entirely on foot, but Herodotus only employed the neutral Greek verb “polemein “to describe this campaign. While this expedition ended in disaster, he apparently captured at least part of Lower Nubia, and official Achaemenid monuments record Kush in their list of subjects beginning with Darius I. The installation of Persian garrisons at Elephantine and Syene reflects the continued engagement with Egypt’s southern frontier during this period. However, the pottery from the Second Cataract fort at Doginarti, previously ascribed to the Saite- Persian Period, has more recently been dated to Dynasties 25-26, and thus no longer confirms Achaemenid domination south of Elephantine. [Source: David Klotz, New York University, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2015, escholarship.org ]
“Frustrated in Nubia, Cambyses returned north, dispatching an expedition against the Oases, apparently via the desert roads linking Thebes to Kharga, only to perish in an unexpected sandstorm. Here, Cambyses was maintaining the foreign policies of the preceding Saite dynasty, who had already begun endowing large settlements and temples in the Egyptian Oases , while simultaneously forging diplomatic ties with the nascent Hellenistic colony of Cyrene in northern Libya. Libya was nominally under Persian control, and the Western Desert underwent significant development under Darius I and his successors.”
Darius I and Egypt
Darius I is regarded as the noblest and judicial of the Persians to rule Egypt. He tried to make his rule acceptable to the people and clergy and showed an interest in developing Egypt’s economy, trade networks and government institutions. He forged an empire by bringing talented people from all over the empire to places where they were needed. [Source: Minnesota State University, Mankato, ethanholman.com +]
David Klotz of New York University wrote: “Cambyses left Egypt in 522 B.C. and died en route to Persia. His brother, Bardiya/Smerdis — or the impostor Gaumata — succeeded him briefly until Darius led a coup and assassinated him in the same year. Darius assumed the throne, reorganized the Empire, and spent much of his time stamping out regional uprisings, including one in Egypt. Recently discovered temple inscriptions from Amheida (Dakhla Oasis) reveal the extent of his rebellion. Furthermore, Aryandes, the first Egyptian satrap, may have tried to break away from the Empire; Darius had him executed for introducing his own coinage; a different tradition maintains that Egyptians revolted against Aryandes and his oppressive policies. [Source: David Klotz, New York University, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2015, escholarship.org ]
According to Minnesota State University, Mankato: “Darius I is probably best known for his efforts to truly understand the internal affairs and administration of Egypt. He executed Satrap (Aryandes) for overstepping his office, built a temple at Khargah Oasis and repaired other temples as far apart as Busiris in the Delta and at el-Kab just north of Aswan. Darius I also completed the canal begun by Necho II in 490 B.C., which started in the eastern Delta at Pelusium and ended in the Red Sea (In 490, Necho II had been defeated by the Greeks at the battle of Marathon.). Darius I's attentions eventually went from bureaucracy to other things and in 486 B.C. the Egyptians took the opportunity to revolt. Darius, unable to suppress the uprisings, died and was buried in a great rock-carved tomb in the Cliffs of Persepolis.” +\
Darius I’s Rule of Egypt
Egyptian images of Darius I showed him dressed in the style of the old Egyptian kings. He went by the name Ra-SETTU (king of the South and North). According to Minnesota State University, Mankato: He placed his name Darius into hieroglyphic characters within a cartouche as "son of the Sun". Darius has founded a college for the education of the priests. His goal was to erase the negative impressions the Egyptians had of the Persians, including that of Cambyses. His greatest work was the completion of the digging of the canal to join the Nile and Red Sea, which had begun by Necho II. He became acquainted with Egyptian theology and the writings in books. At one point he gained the title of god, which no other Persian king had done. Darius repaired architectural works, but his greatest attempt was the building of the temple in Oasis Al-Kharga in honor of the god Amen. Darius ruled for thirty-six years. [Source: Minnesota State University, Mankato, ethanholman.com]
David Klotz of New York University wrote: “Darius certainly took an active interest in the administration of the country, and he reportedly codified the laws of Egypt. His most notable accomplishment was the excavation of a canal system at Suez, a feat commemorated by several enormous stelae inscribed in both hieroglyphs and cuneiform. According to the Egyptian versions, Darius consulted with Egyptian officials in his palace at Susa and ordered them to excavate a canal in the Bitter Lakes region. After its completion, numerous cargo ships set sail in the Red Sea, circumnavigated the Arabian Peninsula, reportedly in cooperation with the Sabaeans of Southern Arabia, and ultimately arrived in Persia. [Source: David Klotz, New York University, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2015, escholarship.org ]
“This maritime route was preferable to the arduous land journey. Statues and other large stone objects likely took a similar course from the Wadi Hammamat to Persia via the Red Sea , as well as the thousands of Egyptian workmen shipped to Persepolis, Susa, and other building sites. A Persian Period Demotic papyrus from Saqqara mentions the toponym “Twmrk”, perhaps to be identified with the coastal city of Tamukkan near the Persian Gulf, frequently mentioned in Persepolis Fortification Tablets in connection with Egyptian laborers.
“It is uncertain whether Darius ever visited Egypt, or if he mainly corresponded with the satrap and conferred with Egyptian officials residing in Susa and Persepolis. Nonetheless, there is no reason to assume the Great King was somehow oblivious to the Suez Canal excavation or the various temple construction projects going on throughout Egypt, as these enterprises must have required significant resources, manpower, and organization. The Pherendates correspon- dence reveals how closely the satrap micro- managed seemingly trivial questions involving sacerdotal appointments at Elephantine during this reign.”
Darius I’s Building Campaign
David Klotz of New York University wrote: ““In dedicatory texts from Susa, Darius I boasted of assembling an international crew of skilled artisans to construct his palaces. While Babylonians were charged with clearing rubble and making bricks, Egyptian recruits worked the gold, wood, and decorated the walls. Egyptian style is evident in Achaemenid architecture and reliefs, although the cosmopolitan iconographic program interwove artistic traditions from across the Persian Empire. As mentioned above, numerous administrative tablets from Iran record the movements of these Egyptian workers; an Elamite tablet even mentions rations delivered to a local “scribe of the Egyptians, Harkipi”. Egyptian artifacts were discovered at Susa and Persepolis, including amulets, scarabs, and even a Horus “cippus”; various administrative seals from Iran bear short hieroglyphic texts, and numerous stone vessels feature Egyptian cartouches of Persian kings. Artisans and laborers were not the only Egyptians imported to Persia. Cyrus reputedly employed an Egyptian doctor, and Udjahorresnet advised Darius within “Elam,” most likely at the royal court at Susa. [Source: David Klotz, New York University, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2015, escholarship.org ]
“The mass transport of skilled artisans and advisors to Persia may have led to a minor “brain drain” in Egypt. Compared to the Saite Period, temple inscriptions, as well as private stelae and statues, became relatively scarce and of lesser quality. Yet unlike Cambyses, Darius I devoted significant resources to Egyptian temples, earning a positive reputation for religious tolerance . Darius reportedly studied Egyptian theology along with priests, and when he ordered Udjahorresnet to restore the House of Life in Sais, it was because the king “knew the efficacy of the craft of healing the sick, of establishing the name of every god, their temples, their offerings, and conducting their festivals”. As mentioned above, Darius renewed Amasis’s donations of temple lands, and he earned the unique Golden Horus name: “beloved of all the gods and goddesses of Egypt”.
“Although there is only limited evidence for temple construction within the Nile Valley, with fragmentary reliefs from Karnak, Busiris, and Elkab, this phenomenon may result from post-Persian damnatio memoriae . In Kharga Oasis, Darius I rebuilt the large temple of Hibis, and the smaller sanctuary at Qasr el-Ghueita. In Dakhla Oasis, blocks with similar decoration, almost certainly attributable to Darius I, were reused in the Roman Period temple of Thoth at Amheida. Nonetheless, assorted votive objects from his reign have been found across Egypt, including faience and bronze objects from Karnak and Dendera, as well as decor ated naoi at Tuna el-Gebel and an unspecified temple of Anubis and Isis , most likely Cynopolis in Upper Egypt At Memphis, three Apis bulls were interred in regnal years 4, 31, and 34. If the burial ceremony under Cambyses had been a modest affair, the first embalming ritual for Darius was celebrated with much fanfare under the direction of the General Amasis, who aimed to create respect for the Apis “in the heart of all people and all foreigners who were in Egypt”. He sent messengers across Egypt summoning all local governors to bring tribute to Memphis and perform a lavish burial. Around the same time, the Treasurer and Chief of Works under Darius I, Ptahhotep, took credit for “guarding over the temples” of Memphis, multiplying offerings, increasing the clergy, and “reintroducing sacred images, putting all writings (back) in their proper place” . Cambyses had mocked the divine effigy of Ptah in Memphis, but Darius wished to erect his own statue before the same temple (Herodotus II, 110; III, 37).”
Xerxes and Ancient Egypt
Xerxes succeeded Darius I about B.C. 486 or 485. His first important act was the suppression of an Egyptian revolt his father was preparing to crush at the time of his death. Xerxes put down the revolt with great severity. Like Darius, Xerxes had to contend with the Greeks, this time at sea, at Salamis in 480 B.C. He appointed his brother Akhaemenes to govern Egypt and but for the most part neglected it, leaving in worse shape than it was under Darius. Xerxes didn’t do anything for the Egyptian temples. Some say that he may have even robbed them of their treasures. There aren't many monuments attributed to Xerxes either. He was said to be a tall, handsome man yet very cruel and tyrannical. Xerxes was murdered by Artabanus and Spamitres about B.C. 465. He ruled for twenty years and was succeeded by his son Artaxerxes. [Source: Minnesota State University, Mankato, ethanholman.com +]
David Klotz of New York University wrote: “Shortly after the Persian defeat at Marathon in 490 B.C., and the death of Darius I in 486, Egypt seized the chance to revolt again. Documents from this time mention a native Egyptian king named Psammetichus IV, instead of Darius I or Xerxes. Yet the new king Xerxes quickly regained control, installed his brother Achaemenes as satrap, ended the benefactions granted by Darius, and placed higher demands on the Egyptian population, most likely to fund his massive yet ill-fated campaign against Greece. [Source: David Klotz, New York University, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2015, escholarship.org ]
“No evidence survives for Egyptian temple construction, and the usually copious records for the Apis bulls at Memphis suddenly fall silent precisely during this reign, only resuming about a century later in Dynasty 29. A single posthumous record may allude to a Mother of Apis buried under Artaxerxes I, but the text is very fragmentary. A previous suggestion to identify one Apis from the reign of Darius II has beenretracted.
“According to the Satrap Stela of Ptolemy I, Xerxes confiscated temple lands in Buto, and was duly punished by Horus for this impiety. Despite the clear hieroglyphic spelling of his name, some scholars still identify the Persian king mentioned on the Satrap Stela as (Arta)xerxes III. Among other problems, this theory assumes the Egyptians had already forgotten the name of the Achaemenid ruler who so brutally invaded their country only thirty years before the composition of the Ptolemaic decree. Xerxes famously railed against all gods besides Ahura Mazda in the so-called “Daiva- inscription”, so it is possible that decreased temple revenues in Egypt, as well as the reorganized sacerdotal administration in Babylon, may have had both financial and ideological motivations.
“After this point, traditional historical sources such as biographical or royal inscriptions disappear from the epigraphic record. For most Egyptians, life continued more or less as usual, at least according to administrative records. In sharp contrast to Darius I, subsequent kings no longer bothered with benefactions to Egyptian monuments. Darius II did allow Edfu’s clergy to retain some of its agricultural holdings, but the decoration phase of Hibis Temple sometimes attributed to his reign is not supported by the epigraphic evidence. The minor differences in Darius’s prenomens at Hibis Temple signify little, since such forms varied throughout Pharaonic history.
“Xerxes failed in his Greek campaign, most famously at the battle of Thermopylae (480 B.C.). He was subsequently murdered (464), his eldest sons killed in the ensuing dynastic struggle, until Artaxerxes I eventually took the throne. Around this time, Inaros, an ethnically Libyan chief with an Egyptian name, emerged from the Western Delta and led a revolt in league with Athens. Inaros successfully took Memphis and controlled at least part of Egypt for a full decade. Although some documents from Elephantine refer to Artaxerxes in 460 B.C., a Demotic ostracon from Ain Manawir is dated to regnal year 2 of “Inaros [without cartouche], Chief of the Rebels” or “Chief of the Bakaloi (Libyans)”. Artaxerxes I sent repeated expeditions to recapture Egypt and eventually regained power in 454 B.C., famously destroying the Athenian fleet and crucifying Inaros in the process.
“From the reign of Darius II (423-405 B.C.) are preserved the multilingual archives of the satrap Arsames, offering valuable insight into the administration of Egypt at the end of Dynasty 27. Notably, Egyptian priests of Khnum reportedly destroyed a Jewish temple of Yahwe at Elephantine in 410 B.C., with the approval of the Persian governor Vidranga.”
Artaxerxes II and Ancient Egypt
Artaxerxes became king the Persian Empire after many struggles following Xerxes’s death. He even ordered the death of his brother Darius for their fathers’ murder on the advise of Artabanus, who is believed to have had a hand in Xerxes assassination and wanted one of his own sons to be king of Persia. Artaxerses name isn’t found in Egypt. He adopted the title "Pharaoh the Great", but didn’t adopt a throne name. Artaxeres was opposed by the princes Inaros of Heliopolis and Amyrtaeus of Sais. Despite initial successes with the aid of Greek allies, the Egyptians were defeated and Inaros was executed in 454 B.C. Relative tranquillity ensued after that but otherwise Artaxerxes’s reign left little mark on Egypt. Artaxeres didn’t build, repair or add anything to Egypt. He reigned for forty years and didn’t leave much behind except for a few words on the Stele of Alexander II. +\
David Klotz of New York University wrote: “At the end of the fifth century, another dynastic war erupted in Persia, this time between Artaxerxes II and his younger brother Cyrus. Once again, an Egyptian rebel from the Western Delta, Amyrtaeus (Amenirdis), also called Psammetichus V, expelled the Persians from Memphis around 405 B.C., employing mercenaries from Crete; the full revolution may have taken several years to complete. The only king of Dynasty 28, Amyrtaeus is briefly mentioned by Manetho and Diodorus Siculus (XIV, 35), and confirmed by a few documentary texts. After a few years, he was overthrown by Nepherites I, founder of the Mendesian Dynasty 29, thus ushering in the Late Dynastic Period. [Source: David Klotz, New York University, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2015, escholarship.org ]
Egypt Under Persian Rule
David Klotz of New York University wrote: Like the period of Hyksos rule in the Second Intermediate Period, the Persian Dominations inflicted perpetual trauma upon the cultural memory of Egypt. For several centuries, Egyptians continued to blame Cambyses for disfiguring or robbing Egyptian monuments such as the Colossus of Memnon, and other Persian kings were reputed to have committed equally blasphemous deeds against Egyptian gods. In Demotic literature from the Roman Period, Assyrians are blamed for stealing the divine images, although some texts anachronistically conflate Assyrians and Achaemenid Persians. An echo may even be found in the Bentresh Stela , in which the ruler of a distant country, Bakhtan, refuses to return the cult statue of Chonsu-pA-jr-sxrw to Egypt. [Source: David Klotz, New York University, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2015, escholarship.org ]
“This reputation may have some basis in reality. The first few Ptolemies repeatedly claimed to have recovered lost Egyptian divine statues in Syro-Palestine, supposedly stolen by the Persians. These sources are often dismissed as a mere anti-Persian topos or Ptolemaic propaganda, but surprisingly detailed accounts of such discoveries are recounted in the Pithom Stela of Ptolemy II and the recently discovered decree of Ptolemy III from Akhmim. Moreover, certain 30th Dynasty texts refer to such temple destruction prior to the invasion by Artaxerxes III, and the systematic “damnatio memoriae “against Amasis’s monuments can only be attributed to Cambyses. Archaeological evidence in some cases is inconclusive, but various evidence suggests major disruptions, if not destruction, precisely in the late sixth century B.C.
“While the Ptolemies later emphasized the impieties and abuses of their predecessors, the Persian Period was not all repression and exploitation, and in fact there is evidence for acculturation and international contact during this era. Egyptian elite officials donned Persian garments and jewelry, just as indigenous officials later wore the Hellenizing “mitra “on their statues in the late Ptolemaic Period; in this way privileged native officials distinguished themselves as what Pierre Briant dubbed the “ethno-classe dominante”. Meanwhile, Persian dignitaries composed hieroglyphic dedications for Egyptian deities in the Wadi Hammamat. Religious
syncretism is evident on the Suez Canal stelae, where the Egyptian winged sun disk on one side is replaced by the Zoroastrian winged figure on the reverse; Atum, the original Egyptian creator god, was sometimes likened to Ahura Mazda. Kákosy suggested fire became more important in Late Period Egyptian religion and magic resulting from Zoroastrian influences at this time, but this natural element was important in all periods.
“This hybrid style is most apparent with Darius’s statue from Susa, although it is uncertain if it ever stood in Egypt. The hieroglyphic inscription mentions that Darius commissioned the effigy “so his name might be commemorated beside Atum, Lord of the Lands of Heliopolis, and Ra-Horakhty”, suggesting it was originally erected in a temple of Atum in Heliopolis or Pithom, near the Red Sea canal, but for some reason taken back to Persia and installed in the palace of Darius I at Susa. However, Atum and Ra- Horakhty may simply represent the closest Egyptian equivalents to Ahura Mazda, the god mentioned in the statue’s Cuneiform texts. As a similar example of an Egyptian monument commissioned abroad, one may compare the obelisk of Domitian now in Benevento; although erected in Rome, the hieroglyphic inscriptions dedicate that monument to Ra- Horakhty.
“Several Achaemenid-style royal heads with full, curly beards have been discovered in Egypt, but Darius I is depicted in traditional Egyptian poses at Hibis and Ghueita. Curiously, similar images of the bearded Egyptian god Bes were popular throughout the Achaemenid Empire, notably on the widespread theomorphic “Bes jars”.
“While Persian cultural influence may not have been great, this period witnessed intensified interactions with Greek states, especially Athens, culminating in the Athenian support of the rebel Inaros, and continued military and political alliances during Dynasties 29-30. Indeed, the increasing Hellenization of the Delta is confirmed in its material culture, which shows a wide diffusion of Aegean imports, but few properly Iranian forms. Notably, the earliest coin in Egypt, the “Ionian stater,” is first mentioned in a Demotic text from the reign of Artaxerxes I (412-411 B.C.).
“The Persian Period also introduced Egypt to foreign domination, being occupied by alien soldiers and administered in a new language (Aramaic), and thus presented valuable lessons for the subsequent Ptolemaic Dynasty. For example, most native Egyptian revolts against the Persians originated in the Western Delta, and this is precisely where the early Ptolemies concentrated their administration in Alexandria, while they offered numerous benefactions to Lower Egyptian temples and cities. Throughout the Ptolemaic Period (304–30 B.C.), enemies were often designated as “Medes”, while soldiers and low- status Greeks, who nonetheless enjoyed more privileges than common Egyptians, were mysteriously called “Medes” or “Persians” in administrative texts. Finally, the renewed settlements in the Western Oases (made possible in part through the introduction of Persian “qanat “technology; cf. Briant 2001, and frequent expeditions into the Eastern Desert and the Red Sea, led directly to to the heavy exploitation of both regions under Greek and Roman rule.”
Thirty First Dynasty 343 – 332 B.C.: Brief Second Persian Period
The 31st Dynasty, the second Persian Dynasty, was only a decade long. There appears to have been a great deal of internal strife, with both Artaxerxes III and Arses — two Persian leaders —being killed off by their successors. Artaxerxes’ first attempt to conquer Egypt, which had been independent since 404 B.C., ended in failure. He tried again a few years later and defeated Nectanebo II at Pelusium in the Nile delta. The walls of Egypt’s cities were destroyed, its temples were plundered, and Artaxerxes was said to have killed the Apis bull with his own hands. The Persians then proceeded to squander most of Egypt's treasures. The period ended when Alexander the Great claimed Egypt and defeated the Persians. Darius III was the last king of the Persian Empire. Considered by many to be of a good natured weakling, he assumed the throne in 336 B.C. and was assassinated by his own men in 330 B.C. while trying to escape from Alexander the Great. Leaders from the 31st Dynasty were: Artaxerxes III 343-338 B.C.; Arses 338-336 B.C.; and Darius III 336-332 B.C. [Source: Mark Millmore, discoveringegypt.com, Minnesota State University, Mankato, ethanholman.com]
David Klotz of New York University wrote:“Scholars divide the Persian Period in Egypt into two separate eras, the First Domination (Dynasty 27,525-402 B.C.) and the brief Second Domination that ended with the arrival of Alexander the Great (Dynasty 31, 343-332 B.C.). To distinguish from other stages of Iranian history, this era is also called Achaemenid, named after the eponymous founder of the dynasty, Achaemenes. In both periods, Egypt was governed by a Persian satrap. [Source: David Klotz, New York University, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2015, escholarship.org ]
“After almost fifty years of independence, prosperity, and hegemony in the Eastern Mediterranean, Egypt succumbed once again to the invading Persian army of Artaxerxes III in 343 B.C., and the native king Nectanebo II fled to Ethiopia for refuge. The second Persian domination lasted only nine years, finally ending when Alexander the Great captured Heliopolis in 332.
“The Egyptian chronology of this period is further complicated by the mysterious king Khababash. His precise origins remain obscure, and scholars have alternately proposed he might be a Persian official, Libyan rebel, or Ethiopian chief. The latter option may be the most likely, as his name resonates with regional ethnonyms, and he could have allied with Nectanebo II after the latter fled to the south. Little is known of his brief reign, but he buried an Apis bull in Memphis, and the Satrap Stela credits him with restoring temple lands to Buto.”
Persian Rulers of 31st Dynasty: the Second Persian Dynasty
According to Minnesota State University, Mankato: “After a period of independence for Egypt, Artaxerxes III of Persia conquered Egypt on his 2nd attempt. He had previously tried to conquer Egypt in 351 B.C., but was unsuccessful. In 342 B.C., he succeeded. He was able to dethrone Netanebo II, which ended the 30th Dynasty. Artaxerxes III left no historical records in Egypt, besides coins inscribed with his name in Demotic. Various biographical texts have been dated to this period, but with two major exceptions—Tjaihapimu, son and heir to Nectanebo II, and the Sakhmet priest Somtutefnakht from Herakleopolis. [Source: Minnesota State University, Mankato, ethanholman.com +]
When Artaxerxes III took over Egypt, he had the city walls destroyed, started a reign of terror, and set about looting most of the Egyptian treasures, including temple items that were taken back to Persia. Persia gained a significant amount of wealth from this looting. During the rule of Artaxrexes III, sacred animals to the Egyptians were killed, cities were destroyed and the Egyptian people were either taken into slavery or were forced to pay incredibly high taxes. One of his aims was to weaken Egypt enough that it could never revolt against Persia. For the 10 years that Persia controlled Egypt, religion was persecuted, sacred books were stolen, and Egyptians in general were treated very badly. +\
The reign of Artaxerxes III ended when he was poisoned in 338 B.C. after only five years of control over Egypt by one of his previous advisers, the eunuch Bagoas. Artaxerxes III’s son Arses became the ruler of Persia. It is unclear whether Arses had control over Egypt, or a Nubian prince named Khabbash was in control of Egypt during Arses’ reign. Whoever was in charge, Bagoas also removed Arses from power in 335 B.C., and Darius III became the ruler of Persia and Egypt.
“Darius III's control over Egypt was tenuous and short lived. During his four years as ruler, the Persians did little to help him exert control over the Egyptian empire. When Alexander the Great began to move against Egypt in 332 B.C. Darius III allowed him to take it without contest. By turning over control so easily, he saved his own life and was given a high office in Babylon by Alexander as a reward. +\
Dynasty 31: Second Persian Period (343–332 B.C.)
Khabebesh (343–332 B.C.)
Artaxerxes III Ochus (343–338 B.C.)
Arses (338–336 B.C.)
Darius III Codoman (335–332 B.C.)
32nd Dynasty: Alexander the Great in Egypt
In November 332 B.C. Alexander entered Egypt, an unhappy vassal of Persia. He received a hero's welcome. In Memphis, the Egyptian capital, he made a sacrifice to Apis, the sacred Egyptian bull, and was recognized as a pharaoh. Hieroglyphics of Alexander's adventures adorn temples in Luxor. He was officially a Pharaoh of the 32nd Dynasty from 332 to 323 B.C.
In 331 B.C., Alexander the Great trekked 300 miles across the Sahara desert for no military reason to Siwa Oasis (near Libyan border), where he met with the oracle at the Zeus-Amum temple and asked questions about his future and divinity. The oracle greeted Alexander as the son of Amun-Re and gave him the favorable omens he wanted for an invasion of Asia. The 24-year-old Alexander arrived at Siwa by camel. He asked the oracle whether was the son of Zeus. He never revealed the answer to that question.
Perhaps the greatest achievement of Alexander's military campaign was the founding of Alexandria. Arrian wrote that "he himself designed the general layout of the new town, indicating the position of the market square, the number of temples...and the precise limits of its outer defenses." After Alexander died, Alexandria grew into the center of Hellenistic Greece and was the greatest city for 300 years in Europe and the Mediterranean.
According to Minnesota State University, Mankato: “The arrival of the Macedonians marked the end of political autonomy of Egypt. Egypt's new rulers, Alexander and the Ptolemies, tipped the balance of world power firmly towards the west. They preserved the basic framework of Egyptian society, while they operated according to the rules of their own culture. Alexander and the Greeks had the same problem as the Persians, the empire was so extensive that they could not rule the whole entity according to the same set of laws. In order to insinuate the Greeks into Egypt's theocratic method of government, Alexander was obliged to seek the assistance of the very fixture that had supported the pharaohs: the priesthood. Slowly the Greco/Roman culture began to replace the Egyptian cultural milieu. [Source: Minnesota State University, Mankato, ethanholman.com +]
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, escholarship.org ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Egypt sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Tour Egypt, Minnesota State University, Mankato, ethanholman.com; Mark Millmore, discoveringegypt.com discoveringegypt.com; Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, BBC, Encyclopædia Britannica, Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “History of Warfare” by John Keegan (Vintage Books); “History of Art” by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Last updated September 2018