1

The Impacts of Persian Domination in Late Period Egypt
The First (525-404

BCE)

and Second (341-332

BCE)

1

Persian occupations of Egypt

during the Late Period can be characterised as periods of both continuity and
change. At a macro-level, whilst many of the basic facets of Egyptian life, such as
religion, the bureaucracy, and the redistributive economy, continued with only
marginal change, some important changes, whether new to the Achaemenid
occupation or continuing from earlier in the Late Period, occurred. These include
the increasing infiltration into Egypt by foreigners; the end of native Egyptian
rule; the introduction of currency; and the end of Egypt’s ability to project its
power abroad into the Levant and Eastern Mediterranean. Below I will examine
these contrasting patterns of continuity and change with regard to (1) Egyptian
foreign relations, (2) the economy, (3) the bureaucracy and legal system, (4)
religion, (5) the institution of kingship, and (6) foreign infiltration. As a brief note
before I begin, it must be remembered that the period in question relies mostly
on Greek sources, especially Herodotus.2 Aramaic papyri provide evidence of the
period (mostly from the perspective of the occupier or foreign communities living

1 These dates are approximates, and do not refer to control over the whole Nile
Valley. It appears from the letters of the Jewish community at Elephantine that
Amyrtaios II did not control the area until perhaps 401-400 BCE; Grimal, N., A
History of Ancient Egypt, trans. I. Shaw (Oxford: Blackwell, 1988), p. 371; cf.
Cowley, A. E., Aramaic Papyri of the Fifth Century B.C., (Oxford: Clarendon Press,
1923), No. 35, p. 129-130. Likewise, during the Second Persian occupation,
Nectanebo II continued to rule in the south for at least 2 more years, as a
document at Edfu is dated to regnal year 18; whilst Khababash appears to have
ruled from 338-336 BCE, and even launched a campaign against into the Delta
during the winter off 335 BCE; Grimal, N., A History of Ancient Egypt, p. 380-381.
2 Herodotus’ account of the period is based mostly on oral sources (both Egyptian and
Persian). However, these sources may reflect the biases of their tellers (not to mention
Herodotus’ own authorial intentions). For a discussion on the reliability of Herodotus see
the introduction by R. B. Strassler in Herodotus, The Histories, trans. A. L. Purvis (London:
Quercus, 2008), p. xxiv-xxxvi.

Jeremy Rees 208044

2
in Egypt), but are less frequent. Hieroglyphic and Demotic sources are limited,
meaning that we have only glimpses of the perspectives of native Egyptians. 3
Foreign Relations
With the voluntary submission of Cyprus to the Persians, after it had been
conquered by Amasis (or possibly by Apries), 4 and the Persian domination of the
Levant; Egypt’s previous role of hegemon and later great power in SyriaPalestine ended.5 The Persian occupation spelled the end of Egypt, not only as
one of the dominant powers in the Near East, but also as an independent state. 6
However, relations did continue both during and between the two periods of
Persian domination, particularly with Greece, to which the Egyptian navy
contributed to the assault on Miletus, 7 and as is evidenced by the use of Greek
3 These sources themselves generally represent the perspectives of those who
‘collaborated’ with the Persian occupiers, such as Petiese (see the discussion of Papyrus
Rylands IX in Lloyd, A. B., ‘The Late Period, 664-323 BC’, in Ancient Egypt: A Social
History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), p. 302-308); Udjahorresnet
(whose statue is now in the Vatican, see Lloyd, A. B., ‘The Inscription of Udjahorresnet: a
Collaborator’s Testament’, The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, Vol. 68, 1982, p. 166180); Osorwēr of Syene (see Briant, P., From Cyrus to Alexander: A History of the Persian
Empire, trans. P. Daniels (Winona: Eisenbrauns, 2002), p. 481; Dandamaev, M. A., A
Political History of the Achaemenid Empire, trans. W. J. Vogelsang (Leiden: E.J. Brill,
1989), p. 178), Khnemibre of Wadi Hammamāt (see Kuhrt, A., The Persian Empire: A
Corpus of Sources from the Achaemenid Period (London: Routledge, 2007), p. 707), and
Somtutefnakht (the Stela of Somtutefnahkt, Naples Museum 1035; Lichtheim, M., (ed.),
Ancient Egyptian Literature: A Book of Readings, Vol. III (Los Angeles: University of
California Press, 1980), p. 41-44).

4 Herodotus, The Histories, II.182, p. 203.
5 Lloyd, A. B., ‘The Late Period, 664-323 BC’, p. 340.
6 It was not to again regain official independence following the inter-Persian
period until 1953.
7 This assault effectively ended the Ionian revolt in 494

BCE. Egyptian naval units and
resources were also used in the assaults on Greece by Darius and Xerxes in 490 and 480
BCE respectively. Lloyd, A. B., ‘The Late Period’, in I. Shaw (ed.), The Oxford History of
Ancient Egypt (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), p. 376.

Jeremy Rees 208044

3
allies, such as Agesilaos of Sparta by Tachos during the attempted re-invasion by
Artaxerxes II.8
Economy
The redistributive economic system that Egypt had maintained since the
beginning of the Pharaonic era was kept by the Persians. 9 Nomarchs were still
responsible for collecting taxes; 10 however, these were now passed on to the
Persian satrap; thus an extra layer of Persian bureaucracy was added onto the
existing Egyptian one.11 Moreover, the Persians were reluctant to interfere in any
way with the agricultural system. 12 Literacy had become widespread enough to
include artisans, and large numbers of serfs existed. 13 A major policy was the
building of a canal between Bubastis and the Red Sea by Darius (originally

8 Grimal, N., A History of Ancient Egypt, p. 377-379.
9 Lloyd, A. B., ‘The Late Period, 664-323 BC’, p. 325.
10 As Alexander the Great found this to be the case when he conquered the country in
332 BCE. Arrian, Anabasis, trans. A. de Sélincourt (St Ives: Penguin, 1971), III.6, p. 155;
Burstein, S. M., ‘Alexander in Egypt: Continuity or Change’, in in H. Sancisi-Weedenburg,
A. Kuhrt & M. C. Root (eds.), Achaemenid History: Continuity and Change, Vol. VIII,
(Leiden: Nederlands Instituut Voor Het Nabije Oosten, 1991), 386.

11 Lloyd, A. B., ‘The Late Period’, p. 375.
12 Johnson, J. H., ‘The Persians and the Continuity of Egyptian Culture’, in H. SancisiWeedenburg, A. Kuhrt & M. C. Root (eds.), Achaemenid History: Continuity and Change,
Vol. VIII, (Leiden: Nederlands Instituut Voor Het Nabije Oosten, 1991), p. 150; Ray, J. D.,
‘Egypt 525-404 B.C.’, in J. Boardman, N. G. L. Hammond, D. M. Lewis, & M. Ostwald
(eds.), The Cambridge Ancient History, Vol. IV, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1988), p. 271.

13 Lloyd, A. B., ‘Egypt, 404-332 B.C.’, in J. Boardman, D. M. Lewis, S. Hornblower, & M.
Ostwald (eds.), The Cambridge Ancient History, Vol. VI, (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1994), p. 350-351; Lloyd, A. B., ‘The Late Period, 664-323 BC’, p. 314315.

Jeremy Rees 208044

4
started by Necho II ca. 600

BCE).

14

This would have allowed produce to pass more

easily between the Mediterranean and Red seas (as well as facilitated lines of
communication within the empire and access to Egypt by the Persian fleet), 15
moreover it gave Persia better access to Arabia, 16 although its benefits are likely
to have been short-lived.17 However, the important step of standardising weights
based on those used at the temple of Ptah in Memphis, as well as the
introduction of the artaba (bushel) had the greatest long-term impacts on
Egyptian society.18 Most important of all however, was the increasing use of
money (and sometimes emmer wheat)19 as a means of exchange from circa 520
BCE.

20

Mostly, this involved the use of Athenian tetradrachms. 21 This allowed

greater participation by Egypt in international trade, which was becoming an
14 Herodotus, The Histories, II.158, p. 192-193. Diodorus Siculus credits Ptolemy with
finishing the project and suggests that Darius was warned not to complete it by his
advisors as it might cause the submergence of Egypt. Bibliotheca Historica, trans. C. H.
Oldfather (London: William Heinemann, 1960), Vol. I, I.33.11-12, p. 113. Aristotle also
asserts that Darius did not complete the canal, but attributes the failure to the fear that
salt water would pollute the Nile. Tuplin, C., ‘Darius’ Suez Canal and Persian Imperialism’,
in H. Sancisi-Weedenburg & A. Kuhrt (eds.), Achaemenid History: Asia Minor and Egypt,
Vol. VI, (Leiden: Nederlands Instituut Voor Het Nabije Oosten, 1991), p. 238-239. These
are contradicted by the three canal stelae erected in regnal year 27 of Darius on
completion of the canal at Tell al-Maskhuta, Kabret, and Suez. Gozzoli, R. B., ‘The Writing
of History in Ancient Egypt during the First Millennium BC (ca. 1070-180 BC): Trends and
Perspectives’, Egyptology 5 (Cornwall: Golden House Publications, 2006), p. 116-121.

15 Ray, J. D., ‘Egypt 525-404 B.C.’, p. 262-263.
16 Thus cutting out the Nabataean middle-men from the caravan trade. For a further
discussion see Tuplin, C., ‘Darius’ Suez Canal and Persian Imperialism’, p. 271-274.

17 Lloyd, A. B., ‘The Late Period, 664-323 BC’, p. 331.
18 Johnson, J. H., ‘The Persians and the Continuity of Egyptian Culture’, p. 156; Ray, J. D.,
‘Egypt 525-404 B.C.’, p. 268-269.

19 Lloyd, A. B., ‘Egypt, 404-332 B.C.’, p. 352.
20 Ray, J. D., ‘Egypt 525-404 B.C.’, p. 268.
Jeremy Rees 208044

5
increasingly important feature of Mediterranean life, whilst Aramaic progressively
became the language of commerce.22 The required tribute of 700 talents23 plus
120,000 measures of grain to supply the Persian garrison was not a punitive
figure, and there is nothing in the sources to confirm that Egypt suffered from the
over-taxation and stagnation that occurred in other parts of the empire. 24
Egyptian artisans were still of such high quality that many were imported to
Persepolis to build the royal residences.25
Bureaucracy & Legal System
The bureaucracy, whose intimate knowledge of the administration of the country
was a prerequisite for the extraction of the nation’s wealth, was maintained by
the Persians. Local elites continued in their former roles, 26 and to benefit from the
system, just as they had under Egyptian rule. The clientelism of the legal
process, which allowed direct appeals to the Pharaoh with the backing of a

21 However, by the late 5th century BCE the Ionian stater is mentioned. Later,
during the inter-Persian period, attempts were made at locally minting coins with
Demotic or Hieroglyphic inscriptions. Lloyd, A. B., ‘Egypt, 404-332 B.C.’, p. 352;
Ray, J. D., ‘Egypt 525-404 B.C.’, p. 269.
22 Ray, J. D., ‘Egypt 525-404 B.C.’, p. 284.
23 This figure also included what was required from Cyrene and Barke in Libya.
24 Ray, J. D., ‘Egypt 525-404 B.C.’, p. 285. Compared with the level of tribute
required from other parts of the empire, such as Assyria (1000 talents, & 500
boys), or Cilicia (500 talents), this is reasonably low given Egypt’s relative size
and wealth. Lloyd, A. B., ‘Egypt, 404-332 B.C.’, p. 291-298. For the required
tribute of each province of the Persian Empire see Herodotus, The Histories,
III.90-97, p. 250-256.
25 Johnson, J. H., ‘The Persians and the Continuity of Egyptian Culture’, p. 158.
26 Ray, J. D., ‘Egypt 525-404 B.C.’, p. 272.
Jeremy Rees 208044

6
member of the elite continued.27 Written documentation, in particular contracts,
became more frequent, and hence led to the rise in use of Demotic. 28 Moreover,
interpreters were required to translate Egyptian documents into Aramaic, the
administrative language of the empire. 29 The decision of the Persians to base
themselves at Memphis saw this city eclipse Thebes in importance, 30 and brought
more wealth to this city at the expense of others, just as had been the case with
Saïs under the 26th Dynasty. The legal system was systematised by Darius I who
ordered that all the laws of Egypt until year 44 of the reign of Amasis be
compiled in both Demotic and Aramaic. 31
Religion
The economic role of the temples was curbed under the Persian rulers, and this
was quite possibly a primary cause of revolt under Persian domination, and
certainly explains both Cambyses’ and Xerxes’ bad reputations in Egypt. 32 Whilst

27 Lloyd, A. B., ‘Egypt, 404-332 B.C.’, p. 351.
28 Olmstead, T. A., History of the Persian Empire, (Chicago: University of Chicago
Press, 1948), p. 92.
29 Lloyd, A. B., ‘The Late Period’, p. 375.
30 Ray, J. D., ‘Egypt 525-404 B.C.’, p. 272.
31 Johnson, J. H., ‘The Persians and the Continuity of Egyptian Culture’, p. 157.
32 The problem of temple control of vast tracts of land and tax receipts was also
a continual problem for Egyptian pharaohs (Johnson, J. H., ‘The Persians and the
Continuity of Egyptian Culture’, p. 152), for instance by Tachos during the interPersian period (Ray, J. D., ‘Egypt 525-404 B.C.’, p. 272). Although, the Greeks
were hailed as liberators, Alexander the Great continued the Persian policy of
heavily taxing the temples. Lloyd, A. B., ‘Egypt, 404-332 B.C.’, p. 343. Darius I
appears to have escaped the wrath of later historians by the fact that he reestablished the traditional prerogatives of the temple estates. Grimal, N., A
History of Ancient Egypt, p. 370.
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7
Herodotus claims that Cambyses’ sacrilegious killing of the Apis bull was a cause
of his madness,33 other sources reveal that both Cambyses and Darius I made
efforts to be accepted by the Egyptians by adhering to local religious rites. 34
Darius I engaged in building work at the Temple of Hibis in Al-Khārja, and a
statue from Heliopolis is inscribed with an intermingled Pharaonic and Persian
titulary which links Darius I heavily with Ra and Neïth. 35 Evidence from the statue
of Udjahorresnet however, demonstrates that at least some temples were
profaned during the conquest of the country, as Cambyses had to order Greek
mercenaries out of the temples and had to restore the temple of Neïth at Saïs; 36
likewise, during the re-conquest of the country by Artaxerxes III, the temples
were pillaged.37 Apart from a decline in the relative power of the temples in
Egyptian society, Egyptian religion continued on as before, although the
popularity of animal cults continued to grow. 38 During the Persian occupations,

33 Herodotus, The Histories, III.27-30, p. 219-221. This bull died in 524 whilst
Cambyses was absent on his failed Ethiopian expedition; Olmstead, T. A., History
of the Persian Empire, p. 89-90.
34 See the stela of the Apis that died in 518 BCE. Gozzoli, R. B., ‘The Writing of History in
Ancient Egypt during the First Millennium BC (ca. 1070-180 BC): Trends and
Perspectives’, p. 111-116; Briant, P., From Cyrus to Alexander: A History of the Persian
Empire, p. 480. Moreover, when Egyptian priests told Darius I not to erect a statue of
himself in the temple of Hephaistos (Ptah), he agreed. Herodotus, The Histories, II.110, p.
163.

35 Briant, P., From Cyrus to Alexander: A History of the Persian Empire, 475-476.
36 Lloyd, A. B., ‘The Inscription of Udjahorresnet: a Collaborator’s Testament’, p.
169-170. Moreover, the Jewish community at Elephantine claimed that its own
temple had been left untouched during Cambyses’ invasion (over a century
earlier), unlike the temples of the native Egyptians (which presumably had been
sacked). See Cowley, A. E., Aramaic Papyri of the Fifth Century B.C., No. 30, p.
113.
37 Grimal, N., A History of Ancient Egypt, p. 381; Lloyd, A.B., ‘Egypt, 404-332
B.C.’, p. 344.
Jeremy Rees 208044

8
foreign gods continued to thrive, due to the presence of large foreign
communities.
Kingship
The conquest of Egypt by the Persians did not completely end the dynastic
squabbles that plagued Egypt during the first millennium

BCE

(and arose with

renewed vigour during the inter-Persian period). Uprisings against the Persians
during the First Persian period were frequent, 39 and during the Second Persian
period40 the native rival Pharaoh Khababash ruled contemporaneously. 41 During
his reign, Cambyses was depicted on reliefs as wearing Egyptian costume and
his titulary (which included both throne and Horus names) followed correct
precedent,42 although later Persian kings discontinued the practice. 43 Moreover,
he ruled his whole empire from Memphis, which differed considerably from
38 Johnson, J. H., ‘The Persians and the Continuity of Egyptian Culture’, p. 152.
39 These include one by Psammenitos (Psamtek III), after his defeat by
Cambyses (Herodotus, The Histories, III.15, p. 213-214); and by the Libyan Inaros
son of Psammetichos (possibly from the defeated Saïte line) and Amyrtaios I in
460 BCE (Ctesias, History of Persia, trans. L. Llewellyn-Jones & J. Robson (Oxon:
Routledge, 2010), XVI-XVII.36-38, p. 188-189; Thucydides, History of the
Peloponnesian War, trans. R. Warner (St Ives: Penguin, 1972), I.104, 109-110, p.
96, 99); and finally by Amyrtaios II (grandson of aforementioned Amyrtaios), who
overthrew the Persians in 404 BCE (Dandamaev, M. A., A Political History of the
Achaemenid Empire, p. 272-273).
40 The Second Persian period witnessed the short reigns of Artaxerxes, Arses
and Darius III with considerable domestic upheaval in Persia and from 334 BCE the
disintegration of the empire.
41 Vasunia, P., The Gift of the Nile: Hellenizing Egypt from Aeschylus to Alexander (Los
Angeles: University of California Press, 2001), p. 266.

42 Dandamaev, M. A., A Political History of the Achaemenid Empire, p. 76-77.
43 Ray, J. D., ‘Egypt 525-404 B.C.’, p. 258.
Jeremy Rees 208044

9
Egypt’s experience under the Assyrian empire. 44 However, there was ‘a crucial
modification in the Egyptian perception of kingship’ during this period. 45 The
pharaoh was no longer seen as generally omnipotent and righteous, but rather
dependent on the gods. The pharaoh could now be seen to be at odds with the
divine will. Thus, the Demotic Chronicle attributes the failures of the pharaohs of
the inter-Persian period as a series of expressions of divine wrath against royal
iniquities.46
Foreign Infiltration
There is considerable evidence of the presence of foreigners in Egypt during the
Persian occupations. Despite the presence of large numbers of machimoi,47 Egypt
had come to rely heavily on foreign mercenaries. The community of Jewish
mercenaries at Elephantine,48 and the large numbers of Greek mercenaries
(mostly Carians and Ionians)49 employed both before, and between, the Persian

44 Tuplin, C., ‘Darius’ Suez Canal and Persian Imperialism’, p. 259-260.
45 Lloyd, A.B., ‘Egypt, 404-332 B.C.’, p. 350.
46 For instance, Nectanebo II is declared to have lost his throne because of his
failure to finish building and furnishing the temple for the god Onuris. Johnson,
J.H., ‘The Demotic Chronicle as a Statement of a Theory of Kingship’, SSEA, Vol.
13, No. 2, Spring 1983, p. 68.
47 Diodorus Siculus reports that Tachos had 80,000 machimoi (and 10,000 Greek
mercenaries) during his struggle against Artaxerxes, Bibliotheca Historica, Vol.
VII, XV.92.1-3, p. 211; and that Nectanebo II had 60,000, Bibliotheca Historica,
Vol. VII, XVI.47.5-7, p. 371. Herodotus (who divides the native warrior class into
two groups) estimates that there are 160,000 Hermotybian warriors and another
250,000 Calasirian warriors. Herodotus, The Histories, II.165-166, p. 195-196.
48 For their correspondence see Cowley, A. E., Aramaic Papyri of the Fifth
Century B.C.
49 Herodotus, The Histories, II.154, p. 189-190.
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10
conquests demonstrate this.50 Moreover, large numbers of foreign soldiers (with
Persian officers) were stationed in Egypt during the occupations, 51 so much so
that the term matoi (Medes) became synonymous with the word for ‘soldier’ in
later Egyptian.52 The Greeks had become a regular feature of Egyptian life during
the Late Period; Amasis had given them the city of Naucratis in which to settle. 53
Evidence that communities of Phoenicians existed in Memphis and Syene can be
seen from their funerary stelae; and of Syrians or Mesopotamians in Memphis,
Syene, Opi and Luxor from the Hermopolis letters discovered at Tuna al-Jabal. 54
Like many peoples, Egyptians of the Later Period appear to have been quite
xenophobic.55 However, Ray claims that this ‘must be viewed as the attitude of
people who had seen too many foreigners, rather than none at all’. 56 Unlike
previous influxes of foreigners, during the Late Period foreigners assimilated to a
much lesser extent.57
50 Lloyd, A. B., ‘The Late Period, 664-323 BC’, p. 284. Also see Plutarch, Life of
Agesilaus, trans. B. Perrin (London: William Heinemann, 1961), Vol. 5.
51 The required provisions for the Persian garrison that made up part of Egypt’s
tribute has been estimated to feed approximately 12,000 men. Ray, J. D., ‘Egypt
525-404 B.C.’, p. 269. Cf. Herodotus, The Histories, III.91, p. 252.
52 Ray, J. D., ‘Egypt 525-404 B.C.’, p. 273.
53 Herodotus, The Histories, II.178, p. 201.
54 Ray, J. D., ‘Egypt 525-404 B.C.’, p. 274.
55 Lloyd, A. B., ‘The Late Period, 664-323 BC’, p. 316-318.
56 Ray, J. D., ‘Egypt 525-404 B.C.’, p. 275.
57 Although there is evidence that foreigners did continue to assimilate to some
extent. Consider for instance, the inscription of the Persian brothers Atiyawahy
and Ariyawrata in the Wadi Hammamat who gave themselves Egyptian names
like Tachos (Djeḥo), the Stela of Mitrahine from Memphis which shows the ka of a
foreigner in Median costume, or the use of Egyptian names by the Carians. Ray,
Jeremy Rees 208044

11
Conclusion
Whilst both Johnson58 and Lloyd59 have maintained that there was virtually no
change in the Late Period from native rule to Persian rule, it must be
remembered that Achaemenid Egypt continued the incremental processes of
internationalisation

and

Hellenisation

that

were

already

occurring.

The

introduction of money, the end of native rule, the continuing domination of the
warrior class and the infiltration of non-Egyptianised foreigners were gradual
developments that weakened the traditional elements of kingship, xenophobia,
and centralised economic control and redistribution that characterise earlier
Egyptian history. This being said, the behemoth of the Egyptian state, and
traditional Egyptian society, continued much of its traditional way of life.

J. D., ‘Egypt 525-404 B.C.’, p. 272-273, 275. Note also the phrase ‘live, be happy,
and prosper exceedingly’ (Cowley, A. E., Aramaic Papyri of the Fifth Century B.C.,
No. 70, p. 179) is very close to the Egyptian ʿnḫ wḏʾ snb (life, prosperity, health)
used in Egyptian letters, see for instance ‘A Satirical Letter’, trans. Wilson, J. A.,
in J. Pritchard (ed.), Ancient Near Eastern Texts (New Jersey: Princeton, 1969), p.
475.
58 Johnson maintains that ‘we find developments introduced or enhanced under
the Saites (Dynasty 26) continuing and being reinforced under the Persians
(Dynasty 27) and the Egyptians of Dynasties 28-30, while in no case do we find a
significant change introduced by the Persians which outlasts them’. Johnson, J.
H., ‘The Persians and the Continuity of Egyptian Culture’, p. 151.
59 Lloyd maintains that the Persian conquest merely replaced the Egyptian Pharaoh with
a Persian Pharaoh. Lloyd, A. B., ‘The Late Period, 664-323 BC’, p. 333.

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12

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Jeremy Rees 208044

13
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Jeremy Rees 208044