previous next




The first king of Egypt who opened that country to strangers, and induced the Greeks to come and settle in it. He was the fourth in the Saïtic dynasty, and the son of Necos or Nechao, who had been put to death by the Aethiopians, at that time masters of Egypt. Psammetichus, being quite young at the time of his father's death, had been carried into Syria to avoid a similar fate, and, after the retreat of the conquerors, was recalled to his native country by the inhabitants of the Saïtic nome. It would seem that the Aethiopians, on their departure, had left Egypt a prey to trouble and dissension, and that the early princes of the Saïtic dynasty, also, had never enjoyed supreme control over the whole kingdom. When Psammetichus, therefore, ascended the throne, he was obliged to share his power with eleven other monarchs, and Egypt was thus divided into twelve independent sovereignties. This form of government was like what the Greeks called a “dyodecarchy” (δυοδεκαρχία). The twelve kings regulated in common, in a general council, all that related to the affairs of the kingdom considered as a whole. This state of things lasted for fifteen years, when it met with a singular termination. An oracle had declared that the whole kingdom would fall to the lot of that one of the twelve monarchs who should one day offer a libation with a brazen cup. It happened, then, one day, that the kings were all sacrificing in common in the temple of Hephaestus at Memphis, and that the high priest, who distributed the golden cups for libations, had brought with him, by some accident, only eleven. When it came, therefore, to the turn of Psammetichus, who was the last in order to pour out a libation, he unthinkingly employed for this purpose his brazen helmet. This incident occasioned great disquiet to his colleagues, who thought they saw in it the fulfilment of the oracle. Being nuable, however, with any appearance of justice, to punish an unpremeditated act, they conteuted themselves with banishing him to his own kingdom, which lay on the coast, and with forbidding him to take any part thereafter in the general affairs of the country. Psammetichus, however, retaliated upon them by calling to his aid some Greek mercenaries who had landed on the Egyptian shore, and eventually conquered all his colleagues, and made himself master of the whole of Egypt (B.C. 652). The monarch now recompensed his Greek allies not only by paying them the sums of money which he had promised, but also in assigning them lands on the Syrian frontier, where they formed, in fact, a military colony. Psammetichns showed a great partiality for the Greeks on all occasions; and, in a Syrian expedition, gave them the place of honour on the right, while he assigned the left to the Egyptians. The discontent of the national troops was so great at this that a large number of the military caste, amounting, it is said, to 240,000 men, left Egypt and retired to Aethiopia. So strong was the preference of Psammetichus for everything Greek that he caused a number of children to be trained up after the Grecian manner, and with these he formed the body of interpreters, whom Herodotus found in his day existing in Egypt. Psammetichus also embellished his capital with several beautiful structures, and, among others, with the southern propylaea of the great temple of Hephaestus. He carried on a long war in Syria, and his forces are said to have remained twenty-nine years before the city of Azotus. It was during this period, probably, that he arrested by presents the victorious career of the Scythians, who had overrun Asia Minor, and were advancing upon Palestine and Egypt (B.C. 626). Psammetichus died after a reign of fifty-four years, leaving the crown to his son Necos.

Herodotus relates a curious story of Psammetichus, who, it seems, was desirous of ascertaining what nation was the most ancient in the world; or, in other words, what was the primitive language of men. In order to discover this, he took two newly born children, and, having caused them to be placed in a lonely hut, directed a shepherd to nourish them with the milk of goats, which animals were sent in to them at stated times, and to take care himself never to utter a word in their hearing. The object was to ascertain what words they would first utter of themselves. At length, on one occasion, when the shepherd went in to them as usual, both the children, running up to him, called out bekos. Psammetichus, on being informed of the circumstance, made inquiries about the word, and found that it was the Phrygian term for bread. He therefore concluded that the Phrygians were the most ancient of men (Herod.ii. 151 foll.).


A descendant of the preceding, who came to the throne about B.C. 400, as a kind of subject-king to Persia.

hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: