Ancient history is not my specialty, so I don’t always have the knowledge base to determine if a news story about that period is plausible or not. I remember reading an article a couple of years ago about how an army that had been swallowed by the sands of the Sahara desert had been found after 2,500 years. I thought that was pretty cool, and then went on with my life. But there are reasons why historians, like lawyers, try to get corroborating evidence.
The basic story, first presented by the Greek historian Herodotus (484-425 BCE), is that Persian King Cambyses II sent an army of 50,000 to destroy the Oracle of Amun because the priests refused to legitimize his claim to Egypt. In 525 BCE, that army disappeared. The story from Herodotus, 100 years after the fact, was that those 50,000 soldiers had been buried in a giant sandstorm.
As a point of reference, the new Yankee Stadium has a capacity of 49,642. I need a visual to grasp those kinds of numbers.
Many historians and archaeologists believe this is just a legend, a story, but that hasn’t stopped amateurs and professionals from scouring the Sahara, using ever more technologically advanced gadgets, for some sort of proof.
The article I originally read was from Discovery News in 2012, stating that in 2009 two Italian archaeologists (twin brothers) had found hundreds of sun bleached bones, along with tools and weapons that date to the correct era. There was great excitement that this could finally be it, the evidence missing for 2,500 years.
But “evidence” is a funny thing. If you do an internet search for “lost Persian army”, you can do your own bit of comparative research. There are many, many hits for that search, so lots of information to compare. The thing with historical research is that you need to know and trust your sources. You have to read analytically and choose which sources you believe. I’ve included some of those other sources below.
I found this from TheWorldPost, an article written in 2011 by Gary S. Chafetz, an American journalist who led a 6-month, $250,000 expedition searching for evidence in the 1980s. He includes information about previous searches and first person details about spending time in the Sahara. He also gives some interesting information about the character of the Italian archaeologists. He wrote a book about his own expedition, The Search for the Lost Army: The National Geographic and Harvard University Expedition, published in 2012.
I’m including this Daily Mail article from 2009 because it has some great photos and maps.
After a flurry of articles in 2009 and 2012, all was quiet until June 2014. According to Sci-News and Ancient Origins, an archaeologist from the Netherlands found hieroglyphics on temple blocks that show that Petubastis III, an Egyptian rebel leader, had a stronghold in this search area. Their presence there indicates that the 50,000 missing soldiers, rather than being buried, were simply defeated. Notice that the articles say “indicates”. This is not definitive proof.
The fun, and the frustration, of studying history is that sometimes there is no complete and true and verifiable proof. Sometimes best guesses based on the information available have to be enough. At least for now. Stay tuned.