With all that is going on in the Middle East, a headline like that might easily refer to current events, but this one is actually about a mystery that occurred in Egypt in 524 BC. That’s when it was believed an army of 50,000 Persian soldiers making their way across the desert vanished without a trace. Now, an Egyptologist claims he’s found a trace and solved the mystery.
The Greek historian Herodotus wrote of the Persian King Cambyses who led 50,000 men into the desert near what is now Luxor. When the men never returned, Herodotus said they were covered up by a sand dune from a sandstorm. Their remains and either a confirmation of this demise or the real reason for it have been searched for by archeologists for centuries.
Egyptologist Olaf Kaper, a professor at Leiden University in the Netherlands, has spent the last decade in Amheida in the Dakhla Oasis. In a presentation at the International Conference of the ERC project BABYLON June 18-20, 2014, he revealed his answers to the mystery.
Kaper recently deciphered references to Petubastis III on ancient temple blocks there. Petubastis III was an Egyptian rebel leader and the blocks indicated to Kaper that this was his base. He believes that Petubastis III ambushed Cambyses’ army, regained a large part of Egypt and was crowned Pharaoh, only to be overthrown two years later by Persian King Darius I. To salvage the reputation of King Cambyses, Darius blamed his massive army’s disappearance on a sandstorm. The cover-up was aided 75 years later by Herodotus, who repeated the story without any further investigation.
Now that we know what happened to the 50,000 Persian soldiers, maybe we can find out if King Darius was the first spin doctor and Herodotus the first tabloid news reporter.