Egypt, antiquities made during the Persian domination of Egypt

    The last king of the Dynasty XXVI was Amosis II (570-526 B.C.), who took over after King Halbre Wahibre Apries (589-570 B.C.) was overthrown during a civil war. The civil war came about because King Apries helped the Libyans in their war against the Greeks for control of the Greek colony of Cyrene. Cyrene had been founded by Greeks from the island of Thera in the Seventh Century B.C. It became the most important city in Libya. Cyrene had its own kings and operated independently from Thera, the rest of Greece, or Libya. Cyrene is mentioned in both the Old and New Testaments.

    Map of Cyrene on the coast of Libya.

    What meager evidence we have about the reign of Amosis II is mostly from the Greek historian Herodotus and other Greek writers. According to their accounts, he concentrated on developing better diplomatic relations with the Libyans and other neighboring countries, and tried to keep Egypt peaceful.

    Luckily for the Egyptians, the advance of the Persians on Egypt was temporarily thwarted by the death of the great Persian leader Cyrus in 529 B.C. Nevertheless, the Persian Empire continued their advance from western Turkey to Babylonia; from the Indus Valley into Libya.

    Bronze statuette group of the king before the Apis bull; ca. 590 B.C.; the king is making an offering to the bull; height 4.84 inches; British Museum, London, U.K.

    In 526 B.C. King Amosis died. He was succeeded by Psammetichus III (526-525 B.C.) The Persian Empire, which had been strengthening in the East, defeated Psammetichus at Pelusium, and the Persians laid waste to Memphis. All of Egypt came under Persian control by 525 B.C. The Persian King Cambyses (525-522 B.C.) was named the first king of Dynasty XXVII, which ran from 525 to 404 B.C. According to a myth recorded by Herodotus, Cambyses sent an army against the Oracle of Amun at the Siwa Oasis. These 50,000 Persian soldiers were halfway across the desert when they were killed by a sudden, mysterious sandstorm. Their remains have never been discovered.

    Shu, XXVII Dynasty or later, Steatite; height: 1.3 inches; Shu was a god of air and sunlight that did not appear in the records until the time of Tutankhamen (1336-1327 B.C.) making him a relatively recent god. Many statues of him date from the Saite and Persian periods. This one is in remarkably good condition. The face has been finely crafted to show emotion.

    Under the Persians, Egypt was ruled as a satrapy or province. Egypt was forced to pay tribute and taxes to Persia. In all dealings with the government, Aramaic had to be used.

    Silver wine flask sent by King Cambyses to the King of Ethiopia on the occasion of the defeat of the Egyptian army at Pelusium. Museo Antichita Egizie, Turin, Italy.

    Udjahorresnet, a priest of Sais, acted as a bridge between the Egyptian ruling class and the new Persian rulers. He devised the royal titles for the Persians, so that they were consistent with Egyptian models, and acted as medical doctor to the Emperor Cambyses II. Udjahorresnet traveled to Susa in Persia and taught Egyptian medicine, writing, and religion to the Persians. As a show of benevolence, Cambyses removed the Persian army, which had been garrisoned at the Temple of Neith at Sais.

    "Nauphorus of Udjahorresnet;" also known as the Vatican Nauphrous; Green basalt; height: 27.5 inches; Dynasty XXVII; Museo Gregoriano Egizio, Vatican City, Rome, Italy.

    The Persians, though interested in Egyptian culture and adherent to the traditions of Pharaonic rule, introduced many new peoples into Egypt: Jews and Phoenicians, in addition to Persians and Greeks. The Egyptians reacted with xenophobia, retreating into antiquarian styles. Egyptian princes continuously (and unsuccessfully) attempted rebellion.

    Limestone sculptor's relief of a lion, ca. XXVII Dynasty; 6.5 x 7 inches; private collection United States.

    Herodotus, who traveled through Egypt in 449 B.C., and other Greek historians tell us that the Egyptians were mistreated by the Persians, that it was a time of poverty and lawlessness.

    The records, however, do not bear this out. (see for instance N. Grimal, Histoire de l'Egypte ancienne, Paris, 1988.) It in fact seems to have been a period of good harvests. The Persians imposed laws, but for the first time they were written for all to see. There was a yearly fixed tax, rather than variable, unannounced taxes. The Persian division of its empire into provinces governed by satraps seems to have been a more ethical and efficient administrative system than the late Egyptian one. The province/satrap system was kept intact long after the Persians left Egypt. Old temples were rehabilitated, under the Persians, and new temples were constructed and a canal between the Red Sea and the Nile was started.

    Fragment, torso of a man, ca. Dynasty XXVII, black basalt, 9 ¾ inches high; private collector United States.

    During the time of Persian domination of Egypt, the Greeks encouraged the Ionians to revolt against Persian domination. Ultimately, the Greeks defeated Darius I (521-486 B.C.) the Achaemenid king of Persia and the formidable Persian army in the Battle of Marathon (490 B.C.) and drove the Persians out of Greece. Greeks living in Cyrene and other places in the Nile Delta rebelled against Persian rule simultaneously.

    Ushabti , Pale blue green, of a priest of the King, Dynasty XXVII; 7.5 inches high; private collector Japan.

    Darius I was followed by his son Xerxes I (486-465 B.C.). His father had made him promise to take revenge on the Greeks for his defeat at Marathon, and the Persian humiliation by the Ionians. Xerxes I was tremendously successful against the Greeks, even making inroads on the mainland itself. He clamped down on the Greeks living in Egypt, and was a harsher ruler than his father generally. During Xerxes's reign, his men tried to circumnavigate Africa. His navy was defeated by the Greeks in September 480 B.C. at Salamis, an island in the Saronic Gulf in Attica, Greece. After this defeat, Xerxes I retired. Xerxes I was eventually killed in a palace intrigue.

    Amulet of Isis; earthenware with blue-green glaze, Dynasty XXVII; 1.2 inches high; Jacques-Édouard Berger Collection, Paris, France.

    Little is known of Egyptian policy the subsequent Persian rulers of Dynasty XXVII: Artaxerxes I (465-424 B.C.). Darius II (424-404 B.C.) whose rule was characterized by constant court intrigues, many between him and his sister an co-regent. By the time of Artaxerxes II (404 B.C.). nearly all the provinces of the empire were in revolt against Persian rule.

    Native Egyptians took over in 404 B.C. There was one ruler during Dynasty XXVIII, and four during Dynasty XXIX, and three from 380-342, when the Persian Empire re-conquered Egypt. This second period of Persian dominium is called Dynasty XXX.

    A priest named Somtutefinkht apparently occupied the same role as Udjahorresnt and helped the Darius III (336-332 B.C.) govern Egypt. Darius III had gained the throne with the help of a vizier named Bagoas, whom Darius III then killed. The Egyptian Somtutefinkht was with the Persian army in 332 B.C. when Alexander the Great defeated Darius III and assumed control of Egypt. After being trounced by Alexander the Great, Darius III was hunted down and murdered by his own family.

    Bronze coffin of a cat; Dynasty XXX; length: 9 3/8 inches; private collection, United Kingdom.