or PSAMMETICHUS Ψαμμίτιχος
), the Greek form of the Egyptian PSAMETIK.
1. A king of Egypt and founder of the Saitic dynasty, reigned 54 years, according to Herodotus, that is, from B. C. 671 to 617. 1
The reign of this monarch forms an important epoch in Egyptian history.
It was during his time that the Greeks were first introduced into Egypt; and accordingly the Greek writers were no longer exclusively dependent on the accounts of the Egyptian priests for the history of the country. Psammitiehus was the son of Necho, and after his father had been put to death by Sabacon, the Aethiopian usurper of the Egyptian throne, he fled to Syria, and was restored to Egypt by the inhabitants of the Saitic district, of which he was a native, when Sabacon abandoned Egypt in consequence of a dream. (Hdt. 2.152
The manner in which Psammitichus obtained possession of the kingdom is related at length by Herodotus.
After the death of Setho, the king and priest of Hephaestos, the dominion of Egypt was divided among twelve kings, of whom Psammitichus was one.
This period is usually called the Dodecarchia
The twelve kings probably obtained their independent sovereignty in the confusion which followed the death of Setho, of which Diodorua speaks (1.66), and to which Isaiah probably alludes, when he says (Is. 19.2), "they fought every one against his brother, and every one against his neighbour; city against city, and kingdom against kingdom." The Dodecarchia is not mentioned by Manetho, but he makes three kings of the Saitic dynasty intervene between the last of the Ethiopians and Psammitichus.
This, however, need occasion us no surprise, because, as Bunsen remarks, lists of dynasties know nothing of anarchies or dodecarchies; and, in the chronological tables of a monarchy, the name of a prince has the dynastic right of occupying the period, which the historian must represent as an anarchy or a divided sovereignty. Thus Louis XVIII. did not enter France as king till the eighteenth year of his reign, and Louis XVII. is never even mentioned in French history.
But to return to the narrative of Herodotus. These twelve kings reigned for a time in perfect harmony, and executed some great works in common, among which was the wonderful labyrinth near the lake Moeris.
But an oracle had predicted, that whoever should pour a libation out of a brazen helmet in the temple of Hephaestus should become king of Egypt. Now it came to pass, that as the twelve kings were assembled on one occasion in the temple of Hephaestus, the priest, by accident, brought out only eleven golden goblets, and Psammitichus, who happened to be standing last, took off his brazen helmet, and used it as a substitute.
The other kings, thinking that the oracle had been fulfilled by Psammitichus, stript him of his power, and drove him into the marshes.
In these difficulties he sent to consult the oracle of Leto at Buto, and was told, "that vengeance would come by brazen men appearing from the sea."
This answer staggered his faith, but no long time afterwards word was brought to him, that brazen men had landed from the sea, and were plundering the country.
These were Ionian and Carian pirates, who were dressed in an entire suit of brazen armour, which appears to have been unknown in Egypt. Believing that these were the men whom the oracle had foretold, he took them into his service, and with their aid conquered the other eleven kings, and became sole ruler of Egypt. (Hdt. 2.149
The account of Herodotus, as Mr. Grote remarks, bears evident marks of being the genuine tale which he heard from the priests of Hephaestus, however little satisfactory it may be in an historical point of view. Diodorus (1.66
) makes a more plausible historical narrative, which, however, is probably a corruption, by the later Greeks, of the genuine story.
According to him, Psammitichus was king of Sais, and by his possession of the sea-coast, was enabled to carry on a profitable commerce with the Phoenicians and Greeks, by which he acquired so much wealth that his colleagues became jealous of him, and conspired against him. Psammitichus raised an army of mercenaries from Arabia, Caria, and Ionia, and defeated the other kings near Momemphis. Polyaenus (7.3
) gives another version of the story about the Carian mercenaries.
But whatever may have been the way in which Psammitichus obtained possession of the kingdom, there can be no doubt that Greek mercenaries rendered him most important assistance, and that he relied mainly upon them for preserving the power which he had gained by force.
He accordingly provided for them a settlement on the Pelusiac or eastern branch of the Nile, a little below Bubastis, the Ionians on one side of the river, and the Carians on the other; and as the place, where they were stationed, was fortified, it was called Stratopeda,
or the Camps.
In order to facilitate intercourse between the Greeks and his other subjects, Psammitichus ordered a number of Egyptian children to live with them, that they might learn the Greek language; and from them sprung the class of interpreters (Hdt. 2.154
). Strabo tells us (xvii. p. 801) that it was in the reign of Psammitichus that the Milesians, with a fleet of thirty ships, sailed up the Canopic or western branch of the Nile, and founded the city of Naucratis, which became one of the great emporia for commerce.
It is certainly untrue that the Milesians founded
Naucratis, as the city was of Egyptian origin; and it appears to have been the opinion of Herodotus that the Greeks first settled at Naucratis in the reign of Amasis. Still there are several circumstances which lead us to conclude that the Greeks had settled at Naucratis before the reign of the latter monarch, and it is therefore very probable that the western branch was opened in the reign of Psammitichus, for purposes of commerce.
It appears, likewise, from the writers of the Old Testamnent, that many Jews settled in Egypt about this time. (Is. 19.18; Jer. 44.1.)
The employment of foreign mercenaries by Psammitichus appears to have given great offence to the military caste in Egypt, and the king, relying on his Greek troops, did not consult the feelings and wishes of the native soldiery.
It had been the previous practice to station the Egyptian troops on actual service at three different places : at Daphne, near Pelusium, on the eastern frontier, at Marea on the north-western frontier, and at Elephantine on the southern or Ethiopian frontier. As Psammitichus had no need of their services on the eastern frontier, which was guarded by his Greek mercenaries, he stationed a greater number than usual at the two other posts, and let them remain there unrelieved for the space of three years. Indignant at this treatment, and also because they were assigned a less honourable place in the line of battle than the Greek mercenaries, they emigrated in a body of 240,000 men, into Ethiopia, where settlements were assigned to them by the Ethiopian king (Hdt. 2.30
; Diod. 1.67
It must, therefore, have been chiefly with his Ionian and Carian troops that Psammitichus carried on his wars against Syria and Phoenicia, with the hope of bringing those rich and fertile countries under his dominion, an object which was followed up by his son and successor Neco.
It is related of Psammitichus that he laid siege to the city of Azotus (the Ashod of Scripture) for twenty-nine years, till he took it (Hdt. 2.157
); and he was in Syria, when the Scythians were advancing against Egypt, and induced them by large presents to abandon their undertaking. (Hdt. 1.105
As Psammitichus had displeased a large portion of his subjects by the introduction of foreigners, he seems to have paid especial court to the priesthood.
He built the southern propylaea of the temple of Hephaestus at Memphis, and a splendid aula, with a portico round it, for the habitation of Apis, in front of the temple (Hdt. 2.153
). (Oil the reign of Psammitichus, see Heeren, African Nations.
vol. ii. p. 385, &c.; Bunsen, Aegyptens Stelle in der Weltgeschsichte,
vol. iii. p. 130, &c.; Böckh, Manetho und die Hundstern-Periode,
p. 341, &c. ; Grote, Hist. of Greece,
vol. iii. p. 429, &c.)