Kush and Persia
In 525 BC, Persia—under the rule of Cambyses—defeated the armies of the Egyptian Pharaoh Psammetic
II at the battle of Pelusium. This took place
during the reign of the Kushite Pharaoh Amani-natake-lebte (538-519
BC).1 Following Persia's rule of Egypt, various historical records mention military frictions
between Kush and Persia.2
Herodotus, the Greek historian and geographer, reports that Cambyses
wanted to conquer Kush. He sent "spies" to the pharaoh of Kush disguised as
messengers bearing gifts. However, the Kushite pharaoh, as Herodotus explains,
realized that the Persian messengers were spies.
The king mocked Cambyses' gifts in front of the messengers and sent them back with a bow. The messengers were instructed to deliver the following message to Cambyses: "when the Persians draw their bows (of equal size as
mine) as easily as I do this, then he [Cambyses] should march
against the long lived Ethiopians [Kushites]"(Herodotus iii. 21).3
Cambyses was infuriated and, in response, led
a large army to Kush. However, when he "had passed over the
fifth part of the way"(Herodotus iii. 25) in the barren deserts of Nubia, Cambyses' army ran
out of supplies. Herodotus writes
that the Persian army got so hungry that the soldiers resorted to cannibalism.
Cambyses eventually gave up the expedition and turned back.
Later in the first century AD, the Greek geographer Strabo, writes
that when Cambyses was traveling from the city of Premnis (Karanog
in Lower Nubia) with his army to conquer Kush, he was "overwhelmed
by the setting in of a whirlwind"(Strabo xvii. 54)4 and
was consequently forced to head back.
According to Herodotus, the Kushites did not pay tribute to Persia. Instead they sent precious gifts to the Persian king, including
gold, ebony and elephant tusks. We also know from Herodotus, as well
as from other Greek reporters, that part of the Persian army of King
Xerxes (486-465 BC) was composed of Kushite archers (Herodotus vii.69-70).
Edited: Dec. 2008.