2 – Battle of Pelusium (525 BC)
Cambyses II became the new ruler of the Persian Empire when his father, Cyrus the Great, died in 530 BC. Egypt was the only independent state left anywhere near Persian territory so it was only natural that Cambyses would try to follow in his father’s footsteps by expanding the empire. The Battle of Pelusium is possibly the first battle in world history that was won through the use of psychological warfare.
According to Herodotus, Cambyses declared war on Egypt as a reaction to what he perceived as deception by the enemy. He wanted to marry the daughter of Pharaoh Amasis II, but the Egyptian leader believed his daughter would probably become a concubine rather than a wife and did not want her humiliated. Amasis sent Nitetis, daughter of former Pharaoh, Apries, instead. However, Nitetis told Cambyses the truth, so he declared war on Egypt.
The Egyptian suffered a blow when Amasis died just as Cambyses was invading. His son Psamtik III (Psammenitus) became the new ruler and faced the threat of the Persians. Cambyses clearly did his homework on the enemy because he used their reverence of cats to his advantage. Apparently, the Egyptians worshiped cats to the point where killing one was an act punishable by death. It is difficult to know how true the story is but according to historian Polyaenus, the Persian leader ordered his men to paint the image of Bastet, an Egyptian goddess with the head of a cat and body of a woman, on their shields. He also placed other animals that the Egyptians revered in front of his men as they marched.
Whether or not this is true, there is no doubt that the Persians routed the Egyptians at the Battle of Pelusium. Apparently, the Egyptian soldiers refused to fight in case they injured the animals in front of the enemy, so they fled the field instead. Unfortunately for them, the well-trained Persians routed them and slaughtered tens of thousands of Egyptians. Ctesias suggests that 7,000 Persians died compared to 50,000 Egyptians.
Cambyses captured Psamtik, but instead of executing him initially, he kept him as a prisoner and reportedly treated him well. However, Psamtik tried to launch a rebellion, and when it failed, he was killed. Cambyses also captured the city of Memphis and became the first Persian Pharaoh of Egypt. It was the beginning of over 120 years of Persian rule although Cambyses did not live long enough to enjoy the fruits of his labor. His grip on power was weakened by a failed attempt to invade the Kingdom of Kush.
Apparently, his brother Bardiya or someone pretending to be him seized the throne and Cambyses marched against him. Some reports suggest that Cambyses committed suicide after realizing that he couldn’t win the war or else he died from an accidental wound in his thigh.