shiver of excitement rippled through the team
of Egyptian oil prospectors when they chanced
upon human bones, daggers, and arrowheads
scattered across the shifting sand dunes. But
it was nothing compared with what
Egyptologists felt when they learned of the
set hearts thumping was not so much the relics
of ancient warfare, which are common in Egypt.
It was their location not far from the Siwa
oasis near the Libyan border that raised hopes
of unravelling an ancient mystery that has
was in this area that a powerful Persian army
of 50,000 men was said to have vanished
without a trace in 523 BC.
desert strike force was dispatched by the
Persian King Cambyses II, the son of Cyrus the
Great, to sack a sacred oracle in Siwa that
had prophesied his downfall. His men were
engulfed by a cataclysmic sandstorm in the
vast desert before reaching their destination,
according to Herodotus, the celebrated
5th-century BC Greek historian who portrayed
Cambyses as mad, bad, and dangerous.
attempts in the past century to find any
evidence of the hapless warriors ended in
failure, and some historians suspected
Herodotus fabricated the tale.
four years after the finds, a new quest into
the inhospitable western desert could finally
solve the ancient riddle.
Egyptian expedition including archaeologists,
geophysicists, and other scientists is to
survey the area this month using satellite
technology while the bones will be sampled for
mission will be led by Dr. Mohamed el-Saghir
of the Supreme Council of Antiquities in
Cairo, who believes the long-lost warriors may
lie beneath the Saharan sands. "I think
we will find Cambyses' army," he says.
sacking the Temple of Amon in Siwa, later made
famous by a visit of Alexander the Great in
332 BC and which still exists on a hilltop
there today, Cambyses' men were to have
attacked the Libyans and reduced them to
slavery, according to Herodotus.
nature sealed the fate of the invaders when
they were midway through their journey, wrote
Herodotus, who heard accounts from the
inhabitants of Siwa.
was one of three military campaigns planned by
Cambyses to conquer the rest of Africa after
he invaded Egypt in 525 BC, putting an end to
the 26th Dynasty of the Pharaohs and beginning
a period of Persian rule that covered much of
the next two centuries.
later personally led a force up the Nile to
conquer Ethiopia, but after annexing the north
of the country, he ran short of supplies and
had to return, according to Herodotus, who
portrayed it as another rash and ill-planned
this about Cambyses being mad comes from a
Greek, and the Greeks and the Persians didn't
exactly get on well together," says Dr
Gaballah Ali Gaballah, the secretary-general
of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities.
Herodotus, who was in Egypt at about 450 to
460 BC, also got much of his information from
Egyptians during a time of major rebellion
against Persian rule, when they were unlikely
to cast Cambyses in a flattering light.
Cambyses' lost desert army will now be
unearthed to cast new light on warfare 2,500
years ago is the subject of divided opinion
among senior Egyptologists. Dr. Saghir, who
will lead the expedition, is confident of
success. His colleague at Egypt's Supreme
Council of Antiquities, Dr. Gaballah, is
writers said his army had been drowned in a
sandstorm, but there is no other source for
could have happened. But where? The western
desert is a huge area," Gaballah says.
"Everyone has his dreams, but we deal in
facts, and we don't want to raise hopes. The
site will be surveyed, and even if they don't
find anything, a negative result is still a
result." The mystery of the lost
Persian army may yet linger on.
Christian Science Monitor)