Cambyses’ lost army in Egypt, true or false?

December 2, 2009 - 0:0

TEHRAN -- Three Iranian archaeologists have made various comments about a story reported by the Greek historian Herodotus that says Cambyses lost an army in Egypt.

According to Herodotus (484-425 BC), Cambyses, the son of Cyrus the Great, sent 50,000 soldiers from Thebes to attack the Oasis of Siwa and destroy the oracle at the Temple of Amun after the priests there refused to legitimize his claim to Egypt.
After walking for seven days in the desert, the army got to an “oasis”, which historians believe was El-Kharga. After they left, they were never seen again.
“A wind arose from the south, strong and deadly, bringing with it vast columns of whirling sand, which entirely covered up the troops and caused them wholly to disappear,” wrote Herodotus.
On November 9, two Italian experts claimed to have found striking evidence that the Persian army was indeed swallowed by a sandstorm, the Discovery News reported.
Bronze weapons, a silver bracelet, an earring and hundreds of human bones found in the vast desolate wilderness of the Sahara desert by twin brothers Angelo and Alfredo Castiglioni.
They believe that the bones and artifacts belong to the lost army of the Persian King Cambyses II, which was said to have been buried by a cataclysmic sandstorm in 525 BC.
Egyptian archaeologist Zahi Hawass, currently serving as Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, has rejected the claim of the Italian brothers.
Twenty years ago, the Castiglionis had discovered the ancient Egyptian “city of gold” known as Berenike Panchrysos.
The Italian brothers’ claim has been challenged by Iranian archaeologists Reza Moradi Ghiasabadi and Kamyar Abdi.
“The Herodotus’ story is the only document claiming that the Cambyses’ army was caught in sandstorm,” Moradi Ghiasabadi told the Persian service of CHN.
“NO other ancient historian has referred to the issue. In addition, all Herodotus’ remarks about Cambyses have been rejected by historians so far,” he added.
Moradi Ghiasabadi referred to the Darius inscription in Bisotun, saying, “Darius talked about Cambyses in the inscription, but there is no reference to his (Cambyses) invasion (of the Temple of Amun) in the ancient document.”
“In addition, Darius also discussed the death of Cambyses in the inscription and said that he met his death naturally,” he added.
“Is it reasonable that an event of such magnitude as the disappearance of the 50,000-soldier army of Cambyses in Egypt had taken place, but Darius would not refer to it, even if only briefly, in the inscription?” Moradi Ghiasabadi asked.
Iranian archaeologist Kamyar Abdi is another opponent of Herodotus’ story on Cambyses’ lost army in Egypt.
“If we accept the story as true, Darius I would have been the ‘archer’ of Cambyses’ army when it was engulfed by the sandstorm. The archer was a high ranking commander of the Achaemenid army, who was implicitly trusted by king, which implies that Darius should have been with the Cambyses’ army and therefore, he should have been killed,” said Abdi, who is assistant professor the Dartmouth College.
“In addition, if Darius was not with the army, he certainly would have been informed of such an important event and would have referenced it in his inscription in Bisotun, but neither the inscription nor any other ancient writings have referred to the event,” he added.
Abdi also disputed the number of soldiers in the army.
“Cambyses had already captured Egypt with an army comprised of 20,000 to 30,000 soldiers. Why would he use such a huge army to quell a riot by a mere 100 or 200 rebels at the Temple of Amun?” he questioned.
Abdi called the Cambyses attack on the Temple of Amun and the disappearance of his army in Egypt a myth and added, “This is part of the ancient Egyptians’ mythology that was transferred to Herodotus who wrote them down in his book.”
However, another Iranian archaeologist said that the event was likely to be true.
“The event is not beyond belief as we see Alexander was caught in a sandstorm in Iran’s Lut Desert,” Mir-Abedin Kaboli said.
However, he doubts the number of the troops as well as the quantity of bones, which were discovered in one place all together.
“The number 50,000 Iranian soldiers is a part of Herodotus’ exaggerations,” Kaboli stated.
“Such an army could not have been supported at that time; it was more likely 20,000 soldiers,” he added.
The photos taken by the Italian brothers of the artifacts, which they claimed were discovered along with the bones, appear to confirm that they belonged to the Achaemenids, Kaboli said.
“However, we must acertain the authenticity of the photos,” he noted.
Kamyar Abdi also doesn’t trust the photos, calling the Italian brothers documentary filmmakers who lack the qualifications to comment on such an important subject, which has been disputed over the course of history.
Photo: Artifacts, shards, bones and skulls discovered by Italian researchers Angelo and Alfredo Castiglioni in the Sahara desert shown in a combination photo