The Battle Of Pelusium
By Alan Graham
The 2nd-century CE writer Polyaenus describes Cambyses II’s approach in his Strategems, which he wrote in the hopes of helping Marcus Aurelius and Verus in their campaigns. Polyaenus recounts how the Egyptians were successfully holding back the Persian advance when Cambyses II suddenly switched tactics. The Persian king, knowing the veneration the Egyptians held for cats, had the image of Bastet painted on his soldiers’ shields and, further, “ranged before his front line dogs, sheep, cats, ibises and whatever other animals the Egyptians hold dear” (Polyaenus VII.9). The Egyptians under Psametik III, seeing their own beloved goddess on the shields of enemies, and fearing to fight lest they injure the animals being driven before the enemy, surrendered their position and took flight in a rout.
Many were massacred on the field, and Herodotus reports seeing their bones still in the sand many years later; he even commented on the difference between the Persian and the Egyptian skulls. Those Egyptians not killed at Pelusium fled to the safety of Memphis with the Persian army in pursuit. Memphis was besieged and fell after a relatively short interval. Psametik III was taken prisoner and was treated fairly well by Cambyses II until he tried to raise a revolt and was executed.
Thus ended the sovereignty of Egypt as it was annexed by Persia and, henceforth, changed hands a number of times before finally ending up as a province of Rome. It is said that Cambyses II, after the battle, hurled cats into the faces of the defeated Egyptians in scorn that they would surrender their country and their freedom fearing for the safety of common animals.