Has Cambyses’ Lost Army Been Found?

As I always tell my students, ‘Nobody likes Cambyses!’ Not even the Sahara Desert or his troops did!

Italian archaeologists have recently made some discoveries close to the oasis of Siwa in Egypt, which they argue are the remains of Cambyses’ fabled lost army. The Greek historian Herodotus tells the following story:

Those of the army of Cambyses who were sent against the Ammonians started out from Thebes and marched along, with guides. People saw them reach the city of Oasis, possessed by those of the Samians who are said to be of the Aeschrionian tribe. These people live some seven days’ march from Thebes through the desert, and this place is called in Greek the Isle of the Blessed. To it, it is said, the army came; after that, no one is able to say anything at all about them except the Ammonians and such as have their information from them. They never came to the Ammonians, and they never came back again. What the Ammonians say about them is this: when they were on their road from Oasis to the Ammonian country through the desert and were indeed about midway between the Ammonian country and the Oasis, while they were taking breakfast there blew upon them suddenly a violent southern wind, bringing with it piles of sand, which buried them; thus it was that they utterly disappeared. That is what the Ammonians tell as the story of the destruction of that army. (Herodotus, History, 3.26).

An entire army going missing is certainly a noticeable event, but how exactly anyone would know what happened to them when there were no survivors is a bit of a mystery. Hence, most historians have considered this little snippet of hearsay from Herodotus just that: hearsay and legend.

Yet now Italian archaeologists have apparently found Persian weaponry and sun-bleached skeletal remains in the Egyptian desert not far from Siwa, suggesting that the legend may have some historical backing to it after all. If a Persian army did leave Thebes in c.525 BC heading for Siwa, but didn’t make it or come back, then joining the dots isn’t that hard—they perished in the desert! The main question now becomes whether or not Cambyses did send some of his troops against the desert oracle at Siwa.

If he did, then I’m sure his own troops didn’t like him.

Check out the short news video about this discovery here.

Pharaoh Psamtik III (far right) didn’t like Cambyses (second from right).