The Histories- Week 7

I was very interested in the Histories talked about in this section. Written by Greek historian Herodotus after he visited Egypt between 460 and 455 BC, the Histories remain to this day one of the most important sources regarding the affairs of Egypt and the Persian affairs at this time. Herodotus has been called the ‘Father of history’ since he was the first historian known to collect his material systematically, test their accuracy (at least to a certain extent) and arrange them in a well constructed and vivid narrative. This probably means that his accounts are more accurate and trustworthy than others may have been. The Histories is a collection of observed facts, folk tales, myths, historical accounts, and personal commentary. This is not an impersonal account of events and Herodotus’ Greek anti-Persian sentiment can be seen manifesting in his writings. Although some of his stories and facts are not true, Herodotus claims that he only reported what he was told. He collected tales and information from locals in order to make his commentary more accurate.

The Histories are divided into nine books, each one named after a different Muse. I was mostly interested in the books that dealt with Egypt as their main focus. Book II, titled Euterpe, is filled with facts about Egypt. Herodotus documented and research facts such as the geography of Egypt and his speculations on the Nile River. He also looked into the religious practices of the Egyptian people, paying special attention to how it differed from Greek religion. He also took notes and things such as the animals of Egypt, including a wide array from cats to hippos. He was interested in the culture of the region and recorded information on medicine, funeral rites, food, and even the boats that the people used. He chroniclized the Egyptian kings that were in power during his stay as well as stories that he heard about them and past rulers from people that he met. He filled in holes with folk stories and hearsay from other people to provide both entertainment and a unique few of what people talked about and thought.

The third book was also of interest to me. It documents Persian defeat of Egypt. It describes Cabyses III of Persia’s attack and defeat of the Egyptian king Psammetichus III. As we learned in the lecture, the Persian invasion and conquer of Egypt pretty much symbolized the end of a strong, natively ruled Egypt. Other than some periods of free Egyptian rule Egypt was controlled by foreign powers. The 27th and 31st dynasties were the times when Egypt Delta was absorbed into the Persian Empire and became a Persian Satrapy, province. The 28th-30th dynasties were an independent Egypt but they were weak and so easily re-taken by the Persian forces. I was wondering why there were so many dynasties in between the Persian occupation. I know that not a lot of time went by in between so I’m assuming that the dynasties did not last long. This shows that Egyptian rulers were weak at this time and probably explains why they were able to be occupied by foreign powers.

I thought that it was interesting that the Persian conquers not only allowed Egypt to continue with their own religion but actually built temples. They did curtail the political power of the temples but, in my opinion, it was a move that made sense. The temples at this time had more power than the pharaohs did and would have been a threat to new rulers. I wonder if this is why the Persians allowed the temples to remain and supported their building. It seems to me that it would make sense to make changes to the culture slowly and not take away something as important to the culture as religion is to the Egyptians. By the time of the Persian conquest Egypt was culturally characterized by the fact that it was part of a larger empire. In fact, there were large Jewish communities, the largest located at Elephantine, which maintained their own identity. They played an important cultural role to the whole of Egypt. A fact that I found interesting was that non-Egyptians made up a large part of Egyptian military. Looking back on the report I am doing on the building of the pyramids, I find this fact interesting. Only native Egyptians worked on the pyramids and scholars cannot find any evidence of foreign workers at all. I wonder if this means that the Egyptians thought that the pyramids were more a matter of national pride or if it was a sign of the changing times that foreigners were a large part of the army. I think that it probably shows how Egypt changed to become a part of the larger world not just an isolated empire.