Egypt: Herodotus on Necho

Herodotus on Necho

Psammetichos had a son called Nekos, who was king of Egypt. He began building a canal to the Sea of Erythrias, which was finished by the Persian Darius4. It takes four days to travel along it, and its width is such that two triremes could be rowed in it side by side.

It is fed by the waters of the Nile, and begins a little above Bubastis by Patumus, an Arabian town. It ends in the Red Sea. The excavation was began in the part of the Egyptian plain which is nearest to Arabia. The mountains, where the stone quarries are and which are close to Memphis, are near this plain. The canal was dug along the foot of these mountains from west to east, passing through a gorge. It turns to the south out of the hill country towards the Arabian Gulf.

The shortest trajectory from the northern to the southern Sea leads from the hill of Kasiou, the border between Egypt and Syria, to the Arabian Gulf, and it is just a thousand stadia long. The canal is much longer than this shortest trajectory, as it twists more. During the kingship of Nekos a hundred and twenty thousand Egyptians died excavating it. Nekos stopped work because of an oracle saying that he was working beforehand for the barbarian. The Egyptians call barbarians all men speaking other languages.

Nekos, then, stopped work on the canal and turned to war; some of his triremes were constructed by the northern sea, and some in the Arabian Gulf, by the coast of the Sea of Erythrias. The windlasses for beaching the ships can still be seen. He deployed these ships as needed, and his army defeated the Syrians at Magdolus taking the great Syrian city of Cadytis after the battle. He sent the clothes he had worn in these battles to Branchidae of Miletus and dedicated them to Apollo . Then he died after a reign of sixteen years, and his son Psammis reigned in his place.


Libya shows clearly that it is surrounded by the sea, except where it borders on Asia. Nekos king of Egypt made this discovery first known. When he had stopped the digging of the canal connecting the Nile to the Arabian Gulf, he sent Phoenicians in ships, with orders to sail on their return voyage past the Pillars of Heracles until they entered the northern sea and so returned to Egypt.

The Phoenicians set out from the Red Sea and sailed the southern sea. Whenever autumn came they landed and planted grain in the part of Libya they had reached, and there they waited for harvest time. Then, after gathering the crop, they continued their voyage, so that two years had passed. It was in the third year that they rounded the Pillars of Heracles and returned to Egypt. There they claimed and some may believe it, though I do not, that when sailing around Libya they had the sun on their right hand.