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Egypt: Herodotus on Psammetic I


Herodotus on Psammetic I

The twelve kings were righteous, and in time came to consult and make offerings to Hephaestus. On the last day of the feast, as they were about to pour libations, the high priest brought the golden bowls which they were accustomed to use for this. But he counted wrongly and had only eleven for the twelve.


So the last, Psammetichos, who had no bowl, took off his bronze helmet and held it out and poured the libation with it. The kings were used to wear helmets, and were wearing them. It was not to be deceitful, that Psammetichos held out his headgear; but the rest saw what he had done, and remembered the oracle that promised the kingship of all Egypt to him who poured a libation from a bronze vessel. They did not think that Psammetichos deserved to be killed. They had tested him and found that he had done so without foreknowledge. They decided to strip him bare of most of his power and to chase him into the marshes, and that he was not to mingle with others in Egypt.

Psammetichos had once been exiled to Syria, where he had taken flight from the burnt-faced2 Sabacos, who killed his father Nekos. When the Ethiopian departed because of what he saw in a dream, the Egyptians of Sais called him back from Syria.

Psammetichos was king once again when he was driven into the marshes by the other eleven kings because of his helmet. Believing that he had been treated wrongly, he wanted revenge on those who had driven him away. He sent to inquire from Egypt's least fallible oracle at Buto. The oracle's answer was that he would be revenged when men of bronze came from the sea.

Psammetichos doubted that men of bronze would come to his aid. But shortly afterwards, Ionians and Carians, voyaging for plunder, were forced to land on the coast of Egypt, where they disembarked wearing bronze armor. An Egyptian came to the marsh and brought Psammetichos, who had never before seen armored men, the news of men of bronze coming from the sea and foraging in the plain.

Psammetichos saw in this the fulfilment of the oracle; he befriended the Ionians and Carians, and promised them great recompense for joining him and, having won them over, with their help and the help of some Egyptians volunteers, he deposed the eleven kings.

Thus he became king of all Egypt. He built the southern outer court of Hephaestus' temple at Memphis, and facing this, a court for Apis, where he is kept and fed whenever he appears. This court is surrounded by a colonnade and many carved images; the roof is supported by seven metre high pillars that have the form of great statues . Apis in Greek is called Epaphus.

Psammetichos rewarded his allies the Ionians and Carians with places to live in called The Camps, opposite each other on either side of the Nile. Moreover he paid them what he had promised them. He also put Egyptian boys into their hands who were taught Greek, and today's Egyptian interpreters are descended from them.

The Ionians and Carians lived for a long time in these camps by the sea, near the mouth of the Nile called the Pelusian, some distance below the town of Bubastis. Later king Amasis moved them and settled them at Memphis and made them his guard against the Egyptians.

It is thanks to these settlers in Egypt that we Greeks know much of the history of Egypt from the reign of Psammetichos onwards.

In the places which the Ionians and Carians had to leave, there remain the windlasses for the beaching of their ships and the ruins of their houses. This is how Psammetichos took Egypt.

Psammetichos ruled over Egypt for fifty-three years, twenty-nine of which he spent laying siege to Azotus, a great city in Syria, until he conquered it. Azotus held out against a siege longer than any city which we have knowledge of.

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