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Cambyses' base for conquering Egypt found.

Archaeologists digging in northern Israel believe they have uncovered the sprawling military base from which Achaemenid Emperor Cambyses II organized his successful invasion of Egypt 2,500 years ago.

The empire had been founded by Cyrus the Great in the 580s BCE, overcoming the Median, Lydian and Neo-Babylonian empires as it expanded. Cambyses II was his son and pursued his father's dream of regional rule.

Archaeologists have been digging at Tel Keisan, a hill rising 28 meters (92 feet) above the coastal plain near the city of Acre in northern Israel. There they have found ruins dated to the Persian period by ceramic jars and cooking pots.

"Under Cambyses, the Persians wanted to prepare for war with and conquest of Egypt. They did that in Palestine," says Prof. Gunnar Lehmann of Ben-Gurion University, who is co-directing the Tel Keisan excavation.

It was on the Acre plain that Cambyses assembled his army that would sweep down to Egypt, in the 520s B.C.E.

The excavations at Tel Keisan are being carried out by Lehmann and David Schloen from the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. So far they have dug over two seasons, in 2016 and 2018.

Previous surveys and excavations have exposed massive systems of fortifications from the Iron Age, around 1,000 to 587 BCE, on the Acre plain.

Based on the discoveries in the archaeological layers, it seems that the serial conquerors of Palestine found the settlement's strategic location irresistible: the locals, the Egyptians, the Assyrians, and Persians under Cambyses II all seem to have used it as their administrative center and military base of operations in the 5th Century BCE, and later as well.

Cambyses II's campaign to conquer Egypt, assembling forces to "cross the waterless deserts" apparently in 525 BCE, was described by the Greek historian Herodotus, who wrote that Cambyses thrashed Pharaoh Psamtik III at Memphis, and won "Egypt and the sea."

Consequently, Cambyses II became the first Persian king to rule ancient Egypt.

Scholars cite two other ancient sources aside from Herodotus that locate massive Persian forces in the Acre plain.

One is yet another Greek historian, Diodorus Siculus, when telling of the preparations made by the Persian monarch Artaxerxes II toward subordinating Egypt: "The Persian army gathered at the city of Ake, numbering two hundred thousand barbarians led by Pharnabazus, and twenty thousand Greek mercenaries under the command of Iphicrates. Of the fleet, the triremes numbered three hundred and the thirty-oared ships two hundred. And great was the number of those carrying food and other supplies."

The second source is the Greek geographer and philosopher Strabo: "Then follows Ptolemais, a large city, formerly called Ace. It was the place for rendezvous for the Persians in their expedition against Egypt."

In fact, it seems that Keisan was just one of several points in Palestine, from the 520s BCE onwards, which were used to anchor the fleet and as a rendezvous point for the Persian army. They include Tell al-Fuhkhar (Acre itself), Tell Keisan, Tell Kurdana (Tel Aphek), and Tell Abu Hawam (Haifa).

"Nimbleness was not the trademark of the Achaemenid way of war," remarks Barry Strauss, professor of history and classics at Cornell University in New York State. "Big and slow was how they liked their military, both to overwhelm the enemy and to impress their own subjects. A massive expeditionary force needed a big base of operations."

But why were the Persians so adamant about conquering Egypt, aside from the usual human weakness for building empires?

One reason is because the various empires in the Levant and Middle East considered Egypt to be a major threat. That was another reason for their desire to control Palestine--a fertile land with a long coast, and a convenient base for attacks on Egypt--or, at least, to contain Egypt's influence over the Levant.

Not only were the Mediterranean plains fertile, with plenty of space and grasses for horses, they were also close to Egypt and relatively safe ground for Cambyses to slowly prepare for his invasion, Lehmann sums up.

Unfortunately, the structures of the Persian period at Tel Keisan were severely damaged when the armies of the Hellenistic ruler, Alexander the Great, ravaged the land as they drove out the Persians (under King Darius) in the second half of the 4th Century BCE.

After Alexander's death in 323 BCE, his kingdom was divided up among his generals. War among those successors broke out almost immediately. As the German historian Niebuhr once put it, "It is simply a matter if one or the other bandit will get the upper hand."

Over the next century, Ptolemaic Egypt and Seleucid Syria would be interlocked in a sweaty struggle over Palestine. It is highly probable that Alexander the Great and subsequent Hellenistic rulers of what would become the Holy Land simply took over the infrastructure of the Persian Empire in the Acre plain.

"Alexander and his successors were generally more interested in war than administration," Strauss explains. "It was cheaper and easier to take over the infrastructure of the Persian Empire. They demonstrably did so elsewhere and surely did in the Akko Plain as well."

The Hellenistic levels that have been dug up at Tell Keisan represent what appears to be an industrial area with refuse pits and installations that yielded large quantities of pottery.

Some time during the later Hellenistic period, the settlement was abandoned. It would remain bereft of life during the Roman era, and afterwards would be fitfully occupied and deserted. During the Byzantine period, the settlement was reinstated and a church with service buildings was built there.

But apparently by the early 8th Century CE, the mound was abandoned again, then resettled during the medieval period. From the 12th to the 16th Centuries CE, the hill sustained a small rural site, which, in the early Ottoman period, would be abandoned, once and for all.

Caption: CAMP--This is Tell Keisan, the hill in Israel where archaeologists have found remains that show Cambyses assembled his troops here and prepared for the seizure of Egypt in the 520s BCE.

Caption: GOING ...: Hossein Pakdel handles the gavel as a mirror mosaic by Monir Farmanfarmaian, seen here, drew the largest bid at the annual art auction.
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Title Annotation:Culture: From then to now
Publication:Iran Times International (Washington, DC)
Geographic Code:7ISRA
Date:Jan 25, 2019
Words:1036
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