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How the Persians Defeated the Egyptians by Throwing Cats at Them: The Legendary Battle of Pelusia
How the Persians Defeated the Egyptians by Throwing Cats at Them: The Legendary Battle of Pelusia

Throughout history, it was not enough for people to kill each other in their endless wars. They also killed innocent animals. Traditionally, mounts suffered, such as horses, mules, elephants. Less commonly, dogs, birds, pigs and snakes. Different types of them were used in different ways. Probably one of the most unheard-of helpers in military affairs were … cats! It was the mustachioed striped that helped the Persians to defeat the Egyptians. Details of the most unusual battle using the world's first psychic attack, further in the review.

Are cats fighters?

It is quite difficult to imagine such a fighting Vaska. After all, cats are not large or generally formidable animals. Don't tea lions! For example, the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses II had a trained lion. He fought on his side at the Battle of Kadesh. There are similar cases with tigers or leopards. Here the cat is unlikely to have enough strength to resist the warrior. However, history knows at least one case when this species was responsible for the capture of the city: the Battle of Pelusia.

Pelusius on the map

Pelusium was a large city in Lower Egypt, located in the Nile Delta. Although this name came from the Greek language and was given to the city later. Its real name was Per-Amun. By the middle of the 6th century BC. little of the ancient Egyptian splendor remains. At that moment, the pharaoh of Egypt did not have sufficient strength to resist the expansion of the Persians. The historian Herodotus tells the extraordinary story of the fall of Pelusius. The Egyptians were actually defeated … by the cats.

The god Anubis (left) watches as his servants weigh the deeds of the deceased. God Thoth (on the right, with the head of an ibis) writes down the result. Ancient Egyptian image

Weakening of Egyptian domination

In 526 BC. Psammetiko III, the son of Amosis II of the XXVI dynasty, ascended the throne. The reign of the latter was successful and long, more than forty years, which indicates that he was a good ruler. After all, he did not belong to the royal family, but came to power as a result of a military coup. The influence of Egypt under Amosis was great and extended to all parts of the world. But in the east, another powerful and ambitious empire has already arisen - the Persian one.

Pharaoh Psametico III

The historian Herodotus describes an interesting reason that triggered all subsequent events. Amosis sent his physician to the court of the Persian king Cambyses II. Egyptian healers then enjoyed great fame and respect throughout the world. The doctor did not want to go there and was outraged that he was sent to Persia against his will. He decided to take revenge by sowing enmity between the rulers. The doctor suggested to his new owner to ask Pharaoh for the hand of his daughter, knowing that he would not like this proposal very much. Amosis, in response, sent the king the daughter of his deposed predecessor under the guise of his own, but she revealed the truth to Cambyses. The Persian king felt very much offended.

Cambyses captured Psammetico (Persian relief)

Diplomatic relations between the countries were hopelessly ruined. Among other things, at the court of Amosis, Pharaoh's adviser, a Greek mercenary named Phanes of Halicarnassus, fell out of favor. He began to seek refuge in Persia after a disagreement with the pharaoh. It was Fanes who convinced Cambyses that there would be no better moment to conquer Egypt. Of course, there were deeper reasons for this - economic and political.During the reign of Psammetico III, son of Amosis, a disaster struck.

The young and inexperienced pharaoh could not even be compared with the powerful figure of Cambyses II, the heir to Cyrus the Great, ambitious and warlike. Egypt was already the only state that remained independent from the Persians in this region, so its conquest was only a matter of time. In 525 BC. the Persian army launched an offensive and crossed the Sinai Peninsula. The only way for the pharaoh to save the country was to get help from Greece. With the Greeks, he maintained good trade relations, but it turned out that they, with their entire fleet, joined Cambyses. Egypt's fate was sealed.

Meeting of Cambyses II and Psammetico III (Adrien Guinier)

The fate of Pelusius

Psammetiko personally led his army to try and stop the enemy's advance. Pelusius became the arena of confrontation. The number of troops on both sides is unknown. The Greek historian Ctesias wrote in his writings that both the Egyptians and the Persians had foreign allies and mercenaries. The battle was bloody, the outcome was a foregone conclusion. At that time, the Achaemenid Empire was the main power of the ancient world. Egypt was not a military rival.

Goddess Bastet

The Persian forces devastated the Egyptian formations, who were terribly embarrassed when they saw the enemy wearing the image of Bastet on their shields. Depicted in the guise of a cat, or a woman with a cat's head, at different times Bastet was revered as the goddess of fertility, love, fun, home, childbirth. She was considered the all-seeing eye of the great Ra and his faithful companion in the fight against Apophis. According to another version, these were not painted images, but real live cats. The Persians used them as shields, from which they simply threw down their weapons, accepting defeat.

Egyptian statuette of the sacred cat of the goddess Bast (or Bastet)

Herodotus gloomily describes the piles of Egyptian skulls. Ctesias tells in greater detail that the Persians killed fifty thousand Egyptians against seven thousand of their own soldiers. Unable to withstand the onslaught of the enemy, Psammetico and the survivors had to dramatically retreat and take refuge behind the walls of Pelusium.

The Egyptians were ready for a long siege. But there was no need for this. Thanks again to the cats. The Macedonian commander Polieno in the 2nd century AD wrote a military treatise in eight books called "Stratagems" (of which only references remained, because they were lost). There he talked about how the Persians threw cats at the Egyptians. High inaccessible battlements were supposed to protect the besieged from the enemy. When sacred animals flew through the walls, the incarnations of the goddess Bastet, this completely paralyzed the Egyptians and forced them to leave the fortress. They continued to flee and went on to Memphis.

Fall of Memphis

Herodotus has nothing written about this. He mentioned another, no less demoralizing story. Cambyses desecrated Amosis's tomb and burned his mummy. Then, after capturing Pelusius, he sent a messenger to Memphis to negotiate surrender, but the Egyptians killed him. After that, real revenge began. For every Persian killed, ten Egyptians died. Some were killed in action, some were executed later. More than 2,000 people from the elite of Memphis were executed, all the highest military and high-ranking officials, even one of the sons of the pharaoh.

In Egypt, cats were divine. It cost the Egyptians a historic defeat

Memphis fell. Psammetico was taken prisoner and humiliated. His daughter was forced to carry water from the Nile for the Persians' horses, and his son was chained and harnessed like an animal before he died. After all this, Herodotus describes a supremely exciting epilogue. He tells how the Persian army was sent to capture the Siwa oasis. There was the famous oracle of Amun, the same one that Alexander the Great later visited to become the ruler of the world. This place is inland, in the middle of the desert. Cambyses' soldiers were caught in a terrible sandstorm and stayed there forever.This is probably a legend, typical, but so fascinating that many have tried to find evidence of it. In 2009, an Italian archaeological expedition found human bones there, along with weapons and bronze jewelry. The remains have been identified as Achaemenids.

If you are interested in history, read our article on the most famous Egyptian queen: why Cleopatra became the wife of two of her brothers at once and other extraordinary facts about the queen of Egypt.

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