Apocalypse Then! Shedding light on mad King Cambyses, an ancient ‘Heart of Darkness’ story.

Archaeologists from Leiden University in the Netherlands, believe they may have solved one of the greatest mysteries of the ancient world – what happened to the 50,000-man army of Persian King Cambyses II in the Egyptian desert around 524 BC?’


After defeating the Egyptian Pharaoh Psammetic II at the battle of Pelusium, (525_BC) and adding Eqypt to the Empire, the Persian king Cambyses–already known as the Great King, Shah of Shahs, Light of the Aryans— crowns himself Egypt’s new Pharaoh, goes native (to borrow a Nineteenth Century colonial phrase) marries his sister and sinks slowly into madness. This conquest and colonization ends Egypt’s Nubian (Black African) Dynasty as well as thousands of years of Egyptian self rule–something Egypt would not fully regain till modern times. With Egypt and its strategic granary now secure, Cambyses embarks on further adventures into the heart of Africa.

He marches his army up the Nile (south) and subjugates the Nubian Kingdom of Kush in what is now Ethiopia, compelling the Kushites to pay tribute to Persia in the form of gold, ebony and elephant tusks. We know from Herodotus that part of the Persian armies of the later King Xerxes (486-465 BC) included Kushite archers.


Next, Cambyses turns his attention westward toward the Libyan Sahara. This is where things go disastrously wrong.


Both Herodotus and Persian sources tell us that Cambyses army lost its way, got caught in a great sandstorm that took the lives of most of the men and led to the subsequent mental breakdown and insanity of Cambyses.


According to tradition (notice the striking thematic similarity to Joseph Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ and ‘Apocolypse Now’), the king becomes more and more removed from proper conduct. Adopting the native practice he marries his own sister. His greatest 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 both impregnates and kills his sister. At last loses his throne and dies from a wound in the thigh, at the same place where he had wounded the sacred animal.

Recent archeological discoveries, however, point toward the possibility that Cambyses soldiers, weakened by thirst and dehydration, may in fact have been ambushed and defeated by the Nubian-Egyptian rebel leader Petubastis.

In this version, Darius I who we know arrived on the scene around this time in order to put down the Egyptian rebellion, re-establish control and deal with the mad Cambyses and the crisis of succession, may have covered the shameful story of Cambyses disastrous defeat with the ‘sandstorm’ and Herodotus simply retold that story.


Regardless of the true historical circumstances, there is little doubt that the remains recently unearthed in the desert may well be what is left of Cambyses doomed and–apocalyptic–expedition.


A. Darius Kamali

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