Psamtek of Ancient Egypt

With Psamtek we reach a clearly outlined historical period. The antique Egypt of darkness and mystery at whose struggles and sufferings we so dimly guess, whose splendors and conquests remain but as a shadow--all this disappears. Instead we have a succession of kings well known, a people familiar to many other races, a history recorded in written volumes. Egypt becomes merely one of the lesser countries involved in the whirl of world conquerors, Babylonian, Persian, Greek and Roman, each seeking to add her as an ordinary province to their own over-swollen dominions.

Much of the history thus written down comes to us from the Greeks, and has become interwoven with legends, curious, but not wholly to be credited. Thus of Psammetichus, who was the prince of the Libyan immigrants that held the western part of the Nile delta, the legends tell that he was one of twelve chieftains who expelled the enfeebled Assyrians and ruled in a confederacy over lower Egypt. To the twelve, an oracle predicted that he among them who should make a great public sacrifice to the god Ptah in a brazen cup should rule over all Egypt. The twelve agreed that no one of them should be allowed to make such a sacrifice and so gain precedence over the others. But once when they were all united in a ceremonial to Ptah, there were only eleven sacrificial cups prepared for them to drink from, so Psammetichus inverted his helmet and drank from that. Only afterward did it occur to him and to the others that the helmet was of brass, a "brazen cup." The eleven discussed the need of deposing and even slaying the offender against their bond, but as his act had been performed in innocence they finally compromised by exiling him to his own border province of barbarous Libyans and fever-smitten marshes in the delta, forbidding him even to reenter the central districts of Egypt.

Psammetichus brooded for years amid his dismal wastes. Another oracle told him that he would be avenged by men of bronze who would issue from the ocean. This seemed absurd, but one day some Greek pirates clad in bronze armor landed from their ships to ravage his coast. Psammetichus recognized the invaders as the fulfillment of the augury. Instead of attacking them he made friends with them, through them secured the aid of a large body of hired Greek soldiers, and with these overthrew the other eleven princes and became master of all Egypt.

So much favor did he afterward show to these Grecian troops, that the Egyptian army became jealous, and two hundred thousand of the soldiers of upper Egypt resolved to desert the land. Psammetichus entreated them to remain but in vain. They marched away into Ethiopia and there settled, reinforcing the strength of that wild land until it became again a rival of Egypt in power and in culture.

Ignoring perhaps some portion of these fanciful details, we know clearly the central facts here gathered. Psammetichus, chief of the Egyptian Libyans, became by the aid of Greek mercenaries the Pharaoh of Egypt and founder of the twenty-sixth dynasty, in the year 655 B.C. He proved an able, energetic ruler, prompt to recognize and to meet the changed conditions of his time. He welcomed the Greeks and built for them two great fortresses guarding the Asiatic and the Libyan frontiers. From the Scythian hordes who ravaged Assyria he purchased his country's immunity by heavy gifts, as well as by resolute force. Between his possessions on the edge of Palestine and the remainder of Asia which the Scyths were plundering, stood the city of Ashdod. Legend says that Psammetichus besieged Ashdod for twenty-nine years, which is presumably merely the ancient way of saying that his troops remained near Ashdod on the frontier line, holding the Scythians in check. Psammetichus engaged in no warfare that was not defensive. He reduced the priesthood to obedience. And after a reign of over forty years he handed on to his son a country strong, united and prosperous, whereas he had found it disorganized, ravaged and helpless beneath the heel of Assyria.

The son who succeeded this truly noteworthy monarch was that "Pharaoh Necho" of whom the Bible tells us. He revived the accursed Egyptian dream of empire. Leading his forces into Palestine, he fought Josiah, the King of Judah, at Megiddo, where Josiah was slain. Palestine was at this time subject to Babylon, and the mighty monarch Nebuchadnezzar avenged his vassal by defeating Necho. It is even probable that the Babylonian invaded Egypt, but if so he made only a single successful raid and established no permanent dominion.

The Pharaoh Apries, a grandson of Necho, was dethroned by one of his own officers, Aahmes. This was a sort of native reaction against the ever-increasing power of the Greek mercenaries, who had been favored by Apries until they had grown as obnoxious and as dangerous to the Egyptians as had been the former "Libyan guard." So Aahmes set himself at the head of a rebellion and thrice defeated the Greeks in pitched battles. In one of these he even made Apries a prisoner, so that the power of the Greeks was completely broken and Aahmes "the liberator" became king of Egypt (570 B.C.).

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Read about Psamtek of Ancient Egypt in the The Story of the Greatest Nations and the Worlds Famous Events Vol 1

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