November 14, 2009

Cambyses' army found in Egypt

Bones, jewelry and weapons found in Egyptian desert may be the remains of Cambyses' army that vanished 2,500 years ago.

The remains of a mighty Persian army said to have drowned in the sands of the western Egyptian desert 2,500 years ago might have been finally located, solving one of archaeology's biggest outstanding mysteries, according to Italian researchers.

Bronze weapons, a silver bracelet, an earring and hundreds of human bones found in the vast desolate wilderness of the Sahara desert have raised hopes of finally finding the lost army of Persian King Cambyses II. The 50,000 warriors were said to be buried by a cataclysmic sandstorm in 525 B.C.

"We have found the first archaeological evidence of a story reported by the Greek historian Herodotus," Dario Del Bufalo, a member of the expedition from the University of Lecce, told Discovery News.

According to Herodotus (484-425 B.C.), 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.

A century after Herodotus wrote his account, Alexander the Great made his own pilgrimage to the oracle of Amun, and in 332 B.C. he won the oracle's confirmation that he was the divine son of Zeus, the Greek god equated with Amun.

Video on the Lost Army of Cambyses. Another video.

UPDATE: Rogue Classicism is skeptical.


Maju said...

It's a great story with religious undertones.

eurologist said...


50,000? Am I the only one questioning the logistics involved?

Judith Weingarten said...

Not just Rogue Classicism is sceptical. See Lacus Curtius & Livius: "What archaeologists can find, is evidence that a Persian army got into trouble; but stating that the finds belonged to a particular expedition is introducing a secundum quid. I think we must be suspicious." Quite so.

Maju said...

50,000? Am I the only one questioning the logistics involved? -

It seems that ancient military historians tended to exaggerate the figures systematically. 5000 is probably more reasonable, I guess. But now that they have been found (apparently) we can always count the bodies, I guess.

Judith: good point. There's a lot of limelight love these days in science: trying to capture media attention with a good story (and we must admit this is a good one) is a too common "marketing" tactic for scientists in search of funding and academic honors.

However it seems that the Castiglioni brothers were in search of that particular expedition, so at least the findings and the premises are consistent.

But let's see how many bodies are there: it may be a mere patrol of half a dozen or so for what we know now.

Katharós said...

Just a interesting side note about

Herodotus frequently mentions Arabs allying with Cambyses in the conquest for Egypt.

[3.88.1] So Darius son of Hystaspes was made king, and the whole of Asia, which Cyrus first and Cambyses after him had conquered, was subject to him, except the Arabians; these did not yield as of slaves to the Persians, but were united to them by friendship, having given Cambyses passage into Egypt, which the Persians could not enter without the consent of the Arabians.

Historialibros said...

Really, a very good story. Will it be true?
I think, it would need more studies but... I wish it is real.