Episode 17: The Mad King

Cambyses killing the Apis Bull as depicted in a sketch from the 1881 Illustrated History of the World from Ward, Lock, and Co.

The story of Cambyses isn’t just the conquest of Egypt, but also the dark side of it. According to Herodotus Cambyses was a mad king, driven to paranoia and acts of terrible violence while he was Egypt. The Greek Historian, as well as the Behistun Inscription, tell how Cambyses II murdered his family members and drove his own empire into open revolt. This episode describes the Persian tragedy of the King of King’s fall into madness.

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Episode 16: Pharaoh Cambyses

In 525 BCE, the Persian army crossed into Egypt, in what seems to have been the culmination of years of antagonism between the the new empire and the last great kingdom of the Near East. To accomplish his task, the new King of Kings, Cambyses, mustered all his resources. He assembled a huge land army, constructed Persia’s first navy, and formed alliances from the Greek islands in the Aegean to tribal kings in Arabia. Over the following three years, he established and consolidated Persian rule over the kingdom of the two lands, bringing one of the oldest civilizations in the world under Persian domination.
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Archaeologists May Have Found 2,500-year-old Persian Military Base in Northern Israel

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Episode 15: The Army That Conquered The World

The Immortals at court as depicted on the walls of Darius I’s palace in Susa with colored bricks. You can see the elaborate colors and patterns of their robes and what equipment they carried. If you look on their front feet, you can see the silver counterweight that gave them the name “Apple Bearers.” Photo from Jakob Harlun via Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license

In preparation for Cambyses’ invasion of Egypt, we’re covering the early Persian armies. These are the armies that helped Cyrus the Great conquer the known world. They started as troops levied from Persia and Media, but grew to incorporate every facet of the empire and built on the history of Near Eastern warfare to form a disciplined and organized system.

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Episode 14: Princes, Princesses, Kings, and Queens

Bardiya/Smerdis (left) and Cambyses (right) as depicted in the 15th century by William Caxton.

The narrative lurches forward again with a discussion of the new cast, so to speak. Meet Cambyses, Atossa, Bardiya, Artystone, and Roxane: the children of Cyrus the Great and the new royal family of the Persian Empire. This time I’m breaking down marriage customs, inheritance rights, and political training. Or to put that another way: incest, dividing the empire, and the next round of political power plays. Cyrus the Great is gone, and his empire would never be quite the same again. 

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Episode 13: Kingship 101

One of the possible locations for Cambyses’ tomb: a ruined tower at Pasargadae, also called the Prison of Solomon. Credit to Soroush90gh via Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported.

What did it mean to be an early king of Persia? They were divine, but not quite. Warriors and economists. The king of Persia, but also Babylon, Egypt, and many other lands. Legitimacy came in many forms, and this episode explores them.

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