Egypt: History - Dynasty XXXI (Thirty-first Dynasty)

Thirty-first Dynasty

By Ochus's strategical skill and politcal sagacity Egypt was a Persian province once more. Diodorus (xvi. 51) may here be quoted:

Artaxerxes, after taking over all Egypt and demolishing the walls of the most important cities, by plundering the shrines amassed a vast quantity of silver and gold and carried off the inscribed records from the ancient temples, which later on Bagoas returned to the Egyptian priests on the payment of huge sums. Then when he had lavishly rewarded the Greeks who had accompanies him on the campaign, each according to his deserts, he dismissed them to their native lnds; and having installed Pherendates as satrap of Egypt, he returned with his army to Babylon, bearing many possessions and spoils and having won great renown by his successes.

No doubt the hand of the conqueror lay heavy upon the conquered county, and the lamentations of the First Intermediate Period are echoed in the Demotic Chronicle. But there is no reason to believe the later writers who attribute to Ochus the same sort of sacrileges as had been attributed to Cambyses. The later Persian monarch was surely too wise for that. Nevertheless, the immense power and prestige which he had brought to his empire was not destined to last long. In 338 BC, he was poisoned by his intimate Bagoas and his youngest son Arses put in his place, only to be murdered by the same hand two years later. Arses was then replaced by a collateral Darius III Codomannus, the last of the Achaemenids, who promptly poisoned Bagoas, that masterful villain meeting with a well-deserved fate. With Darius III ended the THIRTY-FIRST DYNASTY which later chronographers added to Manetho's thirty. Nominally his reign in Egypt lasted for four years, but before the termination of these the Persian Empire was no more, and the ancient world had started upon an entirely new era. Theoretically, this information was aimed at basing its presentation of Egyptian history solely upon the native sources. However, the information discussed here has demonstrated the impossibility of such an undertaking. Not only has our narrative here been mainly concerned with happenings in the Delta, from where hieroglyphic inscriptions of interest are exceedingly rare, but also the cuneiform inscriptions which have been quoted are always dry annalistic statements of fact. On the other hand, our Greek testimony, though not eschewing colorful description where that seemed pertinent, has invariably been the work of sober professional historians. Projecting this state of affairs backwards, we can now better appreciate how one-sided our knowledge of the earlier periods must necessarily be. It is true that the age of Persian domination is not wholly lacking in historical information of a sort, but a couple of examples will illustrate the difficulties encountered in our attempts to utilize them. A stele preserved in Naples, but originally found at Pompeii, contains the 'biography' of a Samtowetefnakhte. He held important priestly offices in the XVIth nome of Upper Egypt. His name and the prayers which he addresses to Arsaphes, the ram-headed deity of Heracleopolis, show him to have belonged to a family mentioned several times already. In the following excerpt he is speaking to his god:

I am thy servant and my heart is loyal to thee. I filled my heart with thee and did not cultivate any town except thy town. I refrained not from exalting it to everyone, my heart seeking after right in thy house both day and night. Thou didst unto me things better than it a million times. Thou enlargedst my steps in the palace, the heart of the goodly god being pleased with what I said. Thou didst raise me out of millions when thou turnedst thy back to Egypt and placedst the love of me in the heart of the Prince of Asia, his courtiers thanking god for me. He made for me the post of overseer of the priest of Sakhme (i.e. as physician) in place of my mother's brother the overseer of the priests of Sakhme for Upper and Lower Egypt Nekhtheneb. Thou didst protect me in the fighting of the Greeks when thou repelledst Asia and they slew millions beside me, and none raised his arm against me. My eyes followed Thy Majesty in my sleep, thou saying to me 'Hie thee to Heracleopolis, behold I am with thee'. I traversed foreign countries alone and I crossed the sea and feared not, remembering thee. I disobeyed not what thou saidst and I reached Heracleopolis and not a hair was taken from my head.

This narrative illustrates once again the high repute in which Egyptian physicians were held, but loses half its value because there is no certain indication of a date. Scholars have differed upon this point, Erman arguing in favor of the time of Marathon, whereas Tresson, the last editor, identifies the battle between Greeks and Persians as that won by Alexander at Gaugamela. These are extreme differences, but there are others; between them it is impossible to decide. Another distorted problem is raised by a certain Khababash who assumed the title of a Pharaoh. An Apis sarcophagus of his second year is known, and the marriage contract of a petty Theban priest is dated in his first year. More interesting, however, is the information about him disclosed by a stele of 311 BC, when the later Ptolemy I Soter was as yet only the satrap of Egypt. In form, this inscription is a eulogy of Ptolemy's great achievements. Its evident purpose was to record his restitution to the priests of Buto of a tract of country which, after having belonged to them from time immemorial, had been taken from them by Xerxes, who is described as an enemy and malefactor. Khababash, having listened to the priests' plea and having been reminded that the god Horus had expelled Xerxes and his son from Egypt by way of punishment, granted the petition, as was likewise done later by Ptolemy. There are here two clues to the historical position of Khababash: first he was clearly posterior to Xerxes, and secondly he is said to have made his decision after having explored the Delta mouths through which the 'Asiatics', i.e. the Persians, might be expected to attack Egypt. There is a third clue, in fact, that the abovementioned marriage contract was signed by the same notary as signed another document of 324 BC. Various theories have been advanced, but all that can be safely said is that Khababash was one of the latest, if not the very latest, of the non-Persian and non-Greek rulers who dared to assume the titulary of a native-born Pharaoh; but his name is quite outlandish.

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Last Updated: June 20th, 2011