Cambyses II

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Cambyses II
King of Kings
Great King
King of Persia
King of Babylon
Pharaoh of Egypt
King of Countries
Stela Cambyses Apis closeup.jpg
Cambyses (left, kneeling) as pharaoh while worshiping an Apis bull (524 BC)[1]
King of Kings of the Achaemenid Empire
Reign530–522 BC
PredecessorCyrus the Great
Pharaoh of Egypt
Reign525–522 BC
PredecessorPsamtik III
DiedJuly, 522 BC
Ecbatana, Achaemenid Empire
Nitetis, princess of Egypt[5]
Old Persian𐎣𐎲𐎢𐎪𐎡𐎹
FatherCyrus the Great

Cambyses II (Old Persian: 𐎣𐎲𐎢𐎪𐎡𐎹 Kambūjiya[6][7] Aramaic: כנבוזיKanbūzī;[8] Ancient Greek: Καμβύσης Kambúsēs),[a] son of Cyrus the Great (r. 559–530 BC), ruled the Achaemenid Empire from 530 until his death in 522 BC.

Cambyses' grandfather was Cambyses I, king of Anshan. Following Cyrus the Great's conquest of the Near East and Central Asia, Cambyses II further expanded the empire into Egypt during the Late Period by defeating the Egyptian Pharaoh Psamtik III during the battle of Pelusium in 525 BC. After the Egyptian campaign and the truce with Libya, Cambyses invaded the Kingdom of Kush (located in what is now the Sudan), but with little success.[11]


Though numerous scholars link Cambyses to the Sanskrit tribal name Kamboja there are also a few scholars who suggest an Elamite origin of the name.[12][13] Jean Przyluski had sought to find an Austric (Kol or Munda) affinity for Kamboja.[14]

Friedrich von Spiegel,[15] Sten Konow,[16] Ernst Herzfeld,[17] James Hope Moulton,[18] Wojciech Skalmowski [19][20] and some other scholars[21] think that Kambūjiya is adjectival form of the Sanskrit tribal name Kamboja.[15][17][22][23][24]

Spiegel also regards Kamboja/Kambujiya (Cambyses) and Kuru/Kyros (Cyrus) as the names of two prehistoric legendary heroes of the Indo-Iranians who were later revived naturally in the royal family of the Achaemenes and further opines that the myths about Cyrus the Great were largely due to the confusion between the historical and the legendary heroes of prehistory.[25]

James Hope Moulton regards Spiegel's suggestions as the best of other etymological explanations of these two names.[18] On the other hand, Arnold J. Toynbee discusses the issue of two Persian names Kambujiya (Cambyses) as well as Kurush (Cyrus) elaborately and regards them both as derived from two groups of Eurasian nomads, the Kambojas and the Kurus, mentioned in the Sanskrit texts and who, according to him, had entered India and Iran in the Migration Period of the eighth and seventh century BC.[26][27][28]

Toynbee concludes that the conquest of the world by the elder branch of the House of Achaemenes had been achieved by the valor of the Kuru and Kamboja Nomad reinforcements; hence, as a commemoration, the elder branch of the House had named all their great princes from Cyrus I onwards, alternately, as Cyrus (Kurosh/Kuru) and Cambyses (Kambujiya/Kamboja).[27][29][30]

Rise to power[edit]

When Cyrus the Great conquered Babylon in 539 BC, Cambyses was employed in leading religious ceremonies.[31] In the cylinder which contains Cyrus' proclamation to the Babylonians, Cambyses' name is joined to his father's in the prayers to Marduk. On a tablet dated from the first year of Cyrus, Cambyses is called king of Babylon, although his authority seems to have been ephemeral. Only in 530 BC, when Cyrus set out on his last expedition into the East, did Cyrus associate Cambyses with the throne. Numerous Babylonian tablets of the time date from the accession and the first year of Cambyses, when Cyrus was "king of the countries" (i.e., of the world).

After the death of his father in 530 BC, Cambyses became sole king. The tablets dating from his reign in Babylonia run to the end of his eighth year, in 522 BC. Herodotus (3.66), who dates his reign from the death of Cyrus, gives his reign a length of seven years five months, from 530 BC to the summer of 523 BC.[32]


Cambyses killing the Apis

The traditions about Cambyses, preserved by the Greek authors, come from two different sources. One, which forms the main part of the account of Herodotus (3. 2–4; 10–37), is of Egyptian origin. Cambyses is made the legitimate son of Cyrus and a daughter of Apries named Nitetis (Herod. 3.2, Dinon fr. II, Polyaen. viii. 29), whose death he avenges on the successor of the usurper Amasis. Nevertheless, (Herod. 3.1 and Ctesias a/i. Athen. Xiii. 560), the Persians corrected this tradition:

Cambyses wants to marry a daughter of Amasis, who sends him a daughter of Apries instead of his own daughter, and by her Cambyses is induced to begin the war. His great crime is the killing of the Apis bull, for which he is punished by madness, in which he commits many other crimes, kills his brother and his sister, and at last loses his empire and dies from a wound in the thigh, at the same place where he had wounded the sacred animal.

Intermingled are some stories derived from the Greek mercenaries, especially about their leader Phanes of Halicarnassus, who betrayed Egypt to the Persians. In the Persian tradition the crime of Cambyses is the murder of his brother; he is further accused of drunkenness, in which state he commits many crimes, and thus accelerates his ruin.

These traditions are found in different passages of Herodotus, and in a later form, but with some trustworthy detail about his household, in the fragments of Ctesias. With the exception of Babylonian dated tablets and some Egyptian inscriptions, no contemporary evidence exists about the reign of Cambyses but the short account of Darius I in the Behistun Inscription. It is difficult to form a correct picture of Cambyses's character from the inscriptions.

Darius' account[edit]

Conquest of Egypt[edit]

Meeting Between Cambyses II and Psammetichus III, painting by Adrien Guignet

It was quite natural that, after Cyrus had conquered the Middle East, Cambyses should undertake the conquest of Egypt, the only remaining independent state in that part of the world. The war took place in 525 BC, when Amasis II had just been succeeded by his son Psamtik III. Cambyses had prepared for the march through the desert by forming an alliance with Arabian chieftains, who brought a large supply of water to the stations. King Amasis had hoped that Egypt would be able to withstand the threatened Persian attack through his alliance with the Greeks.

However, this hope failed, as the Cypriot towns and the tyrant Polycrates of Samos, who possessed a large fleet, now preferred to join the Persians, and the commander of the Greek troops, Phanes of Halicarnassus, also went over to them. In the decisive battle at Pelusium the Egyptian army was defeated, and shortly afterwards Memphis was taken. The captive king Psammetichus was executed, having attempted a rebellion. The Egyptian inscriptions show that Cambyses officially adopted the titles and the dress of the Pharaohs.

Attempts to conquer south and west of Egypt[edit]

From Egypt, Cambyses attempted the conquest of Kush, located in the modern Sudan, but his army was not able to cross the deserts and after heavy losses he was forced to return. The logistical difficulties in crossing desert terrain were compounded by the fierce response of the Kushite armies, particularly accurate volleys of archery that not only decimated Persian ranks, but targeted the eyes of individual Persian warriors. One historical source notes:

"So from the battlements as though on the walls of a citadel, the archers kept up with a continual discharge of well aimed shafts, so dense that the Persians had the sensation of a cloud descending upon them, especially when the Ethiopians made their enemies; eyes the targets.. So unerring was their aim that those who they pierced with their shafts rushed about wildly in the throngs with the arrows projecting from their eyes like double flutes."[33]

In an inscription from Napata (in the Berlin museum) the Nubian king Nastasen relates that he had defeated the troops of "Kambasuten" and taken all his ships. This was once thought to refer to Cambyses II (H. Schafer, Die Aethiopische Königsinschrift des Berliner Museums, 1901); however, Nastasen lived far later and was likely referring to Khabash. Another expedition against the Siwa Oasis also failed and the plan of attacking Carthage was frustrated by the refusal of the Phoenicians to operate against their kindred.

The death of Cambyses[edit]

According to most ancient historians, in Persia the throne was seized by a man posing as his brother Bardiya, most likely a magus, or a Zoroastrian priest named Gaumata. Some modern historians consider that this person really was Bardiya, whereas the story that he was an impostor was spread by Darius I after he became monarch.[34]

Whoever this new monarch was, Cambyses attempted to march against him, but died shortly after under disputed circumstances. According to Darius, who was Cambyses' lance-bearer at the time, he decided that success was impossible, and died by his own hand in 522 BC. Herodotus and Ctesias ascribe his death to an accident. Ctesias writes that Cambyses, despondent from the loss of family members, stabbed himself in the thigh while working with a piece of wood. He died eleven days later from the wound. Herodotus' story is that while mounting his horse, the tip of Cambyses' scabbard broke and his sword pierced his thigh—Herodotus mentions it is the same place where he stabbed a sacred cow in Egypt. He then died of gangrene of the bone and mortification of the wound. Some modern historians suspect that Cambyses was assassinated, either by Darius as the first step to usurping the empire for himself, or by supporters of Bardiya.[35] According to Herodotus (3.64) he died in Ecbatana; Josephus (Antiquites xi. 2. 2) names Damascus; Ctesias, Babylon, which is highly unlikely.[36]

The location of Cambyses' tomb is uncertain and has been debated for a long time. Some archaeologists believe that he was buried in Pasargadae, and identify the tower known as "Zendan-e Sulaiman" as his tomb.[37] The possibly unfinished stone platform known as Takht-e Rustam near Naqsh-e Rustam has long been suggested by archaeologists as a location for Cambyses' tomb, based on the similarity of its design and dimensions with those of the Tomb of Cyrus in Pasargadae. However, among the Persepolis Fortification Tablets there is one in Elamite that refers to the "šumar of Cambyses and Lady Upanduš in Narezzaš" (NN 2174). Henkelman has argued that šumar should be translated as "tomb."[38] Since Narezzaš is typically identified with the modern area of Neyriz in Fars province, Henkelman argues that Cambyses' tomb must have been located in that area. The Lady Upanduš of the text is not known from any other source, but could have been Cambyses' queen.

Lost army[edit]

The lost army of Cambyses II according to a 19th-century engraving

According to Herodotus 3.26, Cambyses sent an army to threaten the Oracle of Amun at the Siwa Oasis. The army of 50,000 men was halfway across the desert when a massive sandstorm buried them all.[39] Although many Egyptologists regard the story as apocryphal, people have searched for the remains of the soldiers for years. They have included Count László Almásy (on whom the novel The English Patient is based) and modern geologist Tom Brown. In January 1933, Orde Wingate searched unsuccessfully in the Western Desert of Egypt, then known as the Libyan Desert.[40]

From September 1983 to February 1984, Gary S. Chafetz, an American journalist and author, led an expedition, sponsored by Harvard University, The National Geographic Society, the Egyptian Geological Survey and Mining Authority, and the Ligabue Research Institute. The six-month search was conducted along the Egyptian-Libyan border in a remote 100-square-kilometer area of complex dunes south west of the uninhabited Bahariya Oasis, approximately 100 miles south east of Siwa (Amon) Oasis. The $250,000 expedition had at its disposal 20 Egyptian geologists and labourers, a National Geographic photographer, two Harvard Film Studies documentary film-makers, three camels, an ultra-light aircraft, and ground-penetrating radar. The expedition discovered approximately 500 tumuli but no artifacts. Several tumuli contained bone fragments. Thermoluminescence later dated the fragments to 1500 BC, approximately 1,000 years earlier than the Lost Army. A recumbent winged sphinx carved in oolitic limestone was also discovered in a cave in the uninhabited Sitra Oasis (between Bahariya and Siwa Oases); its provenance appeared to be Persian. Chafetz was arrested when he returned to Cairo in February 1984 for "smuggling an airplane into Egypt" even though he had the written permission of the Egyptian Geological Survey and Mining Authority to bring the aircraft into the country. He was interrogated for 24 hours. The charges were dropped after he promised to "donate" the ultra-light to the Egyptian Government. The aircraft now sits in the Egyptian War Museum in Cairo with a caption that claimed it was from an Israeli spy.[41][42]

Lateral view of tomb of Cambyses II, Pasargadae, Iran.

In the summer of 2000, a Helwan University geological team, prospecting for petroleum in Egypt's Western Desert, came across well-preserved fragments of textiles, bits of metal resembling weapons, and human remains that it believed to be traces of the Lost Army of Cambyses. The Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities announced that it would organize an expedition to investigate the site, but released no further information.[43]

In November 2009, two Italian archaeologists, Angelo and Alfredo Castiglioni, announced the discovery of human remains, tools and weapons which date to the era of the Persian army. The artefacts were located near Siwa Oasis.[44] According to these two archaeologists this is the first archaeological evidence of the story reported by Herodotus. While working in the area, the researchers noticed a half-buried pot, some human remains, and what could have been a natural shelter.[45] However, these "two Italian archaeologists" presented their discoveries in a documentary film rather than a scientific journal. Doubts have been raised because the Castiglioni brothers also happen to be the two film-makers who produced five controversial African shockumentaries in the 1970s (including Addio ultimo uomo, Africa ama, and Africa dolce e selvaggia) which audiences saw unedited footage of the severing of a penis, the skinning of a human corpse, the deflowering of a girl with a stone phallus, and a group of hunters tearing apart an elephant’s carcass.[46] The Secretary General of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities, Zahi Hawass, has said in a press release that media reports of the discovery "are unfounded and misleading" and that "The Castiglioni brothers have not been granted permission by the SCA to excavate in Egypt, so anything they claim to find is not to be believed."[47]

As a result of his excavations at the Dakhla Oasis, in 2015 Olaf E. Kaper of the University of Leiden argued that the Lost Army was not destroyed by a sandstorm, but rather ambushed and defeated by a rebel Egyptian pharaoh, Petubastis III. Petubastis was later defeated by Cambyses' successor Darius I, who purportedly invented the sandstorm story in order to remove Petubastis and his rebellion from Egyptian memory.[48][49][50]

In fiction[edit]

Cambyses II has appeared as a character in several works of fiction. Thomas Preston's play King Cambyses, a lamentable Tragedy, mixed full of pleasant mirth was probably produced in the 1560s. A tragedy by Elkanah Settle, Cambyses, King of Persia, was produced in 1667. Cambyses and his downfall are also central to Egyptologist Georg Ebers' 1864 novel, Eine ägyptische Königstochter (An Egyptian Princess). Qambeez is a 1931 play about him by Ahmed Shawqi. In 1929, Robert E. Howard (under the pseudonym "Patrick Howard") published a poem, "Skulls and Dust", about Cambyses's death. He is a main character in Tamburas (1965; English translation 1967) by Karlheinz Grosser.

Paul Sussman's novel The Lost Army of Cambyses (2002) recounts the story of rival archaeological expeditions searching for the remains of his army. An archaeological search for Cambyses' army is an important plot device in Tess Gerritsen's novel The Keepsake (2008). The lost army also features in Christopher Golden's Hellboy novel The Lost Army (2003), and Biggles Flies South (1938).

In Harry Turtledove's alternate history novel Ruled Britannia, Christopher Marlowe, who in our timeline died in 1593, is still alive in 1597 and has written a play about Cambyses. No details are given about the play, except that a Ghost, played by viewpoint character William Shakespeare, appears in it.


  1. ^ Latin Cambyses; Medieval Hebrew כמבישה, Kambisha)[9][10]


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  9. ^ Flusser, David (1981). The Josippon [Josephus Gorionides], Edited with an Introduction Commentary and Notes. Jerusalem: Mossad Bialik. p. 48. Note that in Rashi's commentary on Daniel 11:2, this name has been corrupted to במבישה, Bambisha, due to the graphic similarity of the Hebrew letters kaph and bet.
  10. ^ Daniel 11:2
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  15. ^ a b (Eranische Alterthumskunde, voL ii. p. 294)
  16. ^ Kharoshṭhī inscriptions: with the exception of those of Aśoka, 1991, p 36, Sten Konow
  17. ^ a b The Persian Empire, 1968, p 344-45, Ernst Herzfeld, Gerold Walser.
  18. ^ a b See: Early Zoroastrianism, 2005, p 45, James Hope Moulton; See also: The Thinker: a review of world-wide Christian thought: Volume 2. p 490
  19. ^ Studies in Iranian linguistics and philology, 2004, p 268, Wojciech Skalmowski.
  20. ^ Pakistan archaeology: Issue 26, 1991, p 121, Wojciech Skalmowski, Pakistan. Dept. of Archaeology & Museums.
  21. ^ See: Ṛtam: Volumes 7-10, – 1976, p 45, Akhila Bharatiya Sanskrit Parishad, Lucknow; India antiqua: a volume of Oriental studies presented by his friends and pupils to Jean Philippe Vogel, C.I.E., on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of his doctorate, 1947, p 184, Instituut Kern (Rijksuniversiteit te Leiden); Journal: Issue 44, 1973, p 119, K.R. Cama Oriental Institute
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  24. ^ Orientalia Lovaniensia periodica: Issues 24-25, 1993, p 74, W. Skalmowski, Institut orientaliste de Louvain
  25. ^ Die Altpersischen Keilinscheiften: Im Grundtexte Mit Uebersetzukg, Grammatik Und Glossar, 1881, pp 85/ 86, Friedrich von Spiegel; Cf: Kuhn’s Beiträge zur vergleichenden Sprachforschung auf dem Gebiete der Arischen, Celtischen, Und Slawischen Sprachen, Volume-1, 1858, p 36/37, Friedrich von Spiegel, (Ed) August Schleicher
  26. ^ According to Toynbee:

    [T]he occurrence of the two names (i.e Kuru and Kamboja) in Transcaucasia as well as in and near India—and in Transcaucasia at close quarters—indicates that we have here two more names of Eurasian Nomad peoples who took part, and this in one another's company, in the Volkerwanderung of eighth and seventh centuries BC; and, if, like so many of their fellows, these Kurus and Kambojas split into two wings whose paths diverged so widely, it does not seem unwarrantable to guess that a central detachment of this pair of migrating peoples may have found its way to Luristan and there have been taken into partnership by Kurus I's father Cispis.

    A study of history: Volume 7, 1961, p 553 seq, Arnold Joseph Toynbee, Edward DeLos Myers, Royal Institute of International Affairs).
  27. ^ a b Buddha Prakash (1964). Political and Social Movements in Ancient Panjab. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 105–106, 126. ISBN 9788120824584.
  28. ^ Modern Researches in Sanskrit: Dr. Veermani Pd. Upadhyaya Felicitation Volume. Patna: Indira Prakashan, 1987, Misra, Satiya Deva (ed.).
  29. ^ Observes A. J. Toynbee,

    If the Lydian Monarchy had broken the force of the Cimmerian horde in Anatolia and had imposed its own rule as far eastwards as the River Halys, the Lydians had owed their success to the valour of their mercenary Spardiya Nomad cavalry; and as for the conquest of the World by the elder branch of the House of Achaemenes, as the alternating name of Kurus and Kambujiya born by their princes from Cyrus-I onwards testify, their fortune had been made for them by the valour of the Kuru and Kamboja Nomad reinforcements.

    See: Estudio de la historia: Volume 7, Part 2, 9161, pp 577/78, Arnold Joseph Toynbee OR A study of history: Volume 7, 1961, pp 553 seq, 580 seq, Arnold Joseph Toynbee, Edward DeLos Myers, Royal Institute of International Affairs).
  30. ^ Punjab history conference. Punjabi University, Patiala, 1996, Gursharan Singh (ed.) ISBN 81-7380-220-3 ISBN 81-7380-221-1.
  31. ^ Priests of Marduk. Nabonidus Chronicle. Babylonian Chronicles. British Museum.
  32. ^ Parker, Richard Anthony; Dubberstein, Waldo Herman (1942). Babylonian Chronology 626 B.C.-A.D. 75 (PDF). Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. p. 60. ISBN 9781556354533. OCLC 3648288.
  33. ^ Hamm, Jim (2000). The Traditional Bowyer's Bible, Volume 3. pp. 138–152.
  34. ^ Holland, Tom (2005). Persian Fire: The First World Empire and the Battle for the West. Little, Brown Book Group. ISBN 9780349117171.
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  36. ^ Ebers, George (1897). "Kambyses in der Sage, Litteratur und Kunst des Mittelalters". In Lincke, A. (ed.). Aegyptiaca: Festschrift für Georg Ebers. Leipzig: W. Engelmann. pp. 41–61.
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  38. ^ Kurht, A. (2003). "The šumar of Cambyses and Hystaspes". In Henkelman, W.F.M. (ed.). Achaemenid history XIII: A Persian Perspective: Essays in Memory of Heleen Sancisi-Weerdenburg. Leiden. pp. 101–172. OCLC 889217300.
  39. ^ Godwin, William (1834). Lives of the Necromancers. London: Chatto and Windus. p. 32.
  40. ^ Rooney, David (2000). Wingate and the Chindits: Redressing the Balance. London: Cassell Military Paperbacks. p. 256. ISBN 0-304-35452-X.
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  42. ^ Chafetz, Gary S. (December 14, 2012). The Search for the Lost Army: The National Geographic and Harvard University Expedition. Bettie Youngs Books. p. 356. ISBN 9781936332984.
  43. ^ Ikram, Salima (September 2000). "Cambyses' Lost Army". Archaeology. Archaeological Institute of America. 53 (5).
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  45. ^ Lorenzi, Rossella (November 9, 2009). "The Quest for Cambyses's Last Army". Discovery Channel. Discovery Communications, LLC. Seeker. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved November 22, 2009.
  46. ^ "Sands of Time". Pulp International. November 10, 2009. Retrieved June 15, 2017.
  47. ^ Hawass, Zahi. "Press Release – Alleged Finds in Western Desert". DrHawass. Archived from the original on January 30, 2012.
  48. ^ Kaper, Olaf E. (2015). "Petubastis IV in the Dakhla Oasis: New Evidence about an Early Rebellion against Persian Rule and Its Suppression in Political Memory". In Silverman, Jason M.; Waerzeggers, Caroline (eds.). Political memory in and after the Persian empire (PDF). Society of Biblical Literature. pp. 125–149. ISBN 978-0-88414-089-4.
  49. ^ "Leiden Egyptologist unravels ancient mystery". Leiden University. June 19, 2014. Retrieved March 26, 2018.
  50. ^ Iacurci, Jenna (June 19, 2014). "Egyptologist Discovers What Really Happened to Missing 50,000-Strong Persian Army". Nature World News. Retrieved March 26, 2018.
  51. ^ Weale, W.H. James (1985). The Portfolio: Monographs On Artistic Subjects with Many Illustrations. London: Seeley and Co., Ltd. p. 9.

External links[edit]


Cambyses II
Born: ? Died: 522 BC
Preceded by
Cyrus the Great
King of Kings of Persian Empire
530 BC – 522 BC
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Psammetichus III
Pharaoh of Egypt
525 BC – 522 BC