Vanished army of King Cambyses :10 mysteries surrounding the missing Persian army

(ORDO NEWS) — What happened to the army of King Cambyses? What could have caused the disappearance of 50,000 soldiers without a trace?

In 524 BC. King Cambyses sent an army of 50,000 soldiers to subjugate the city of the Ammonites (modern Siwa in Africa). However, they never reached their destination. The entire army of 50,000 soldiers disappeared into the desolate Egyptian desert.

There is no direct mention of this perished Persian army in any ancient scripture. Not a single Persian or Egyptian historian, nor Cambyses’ successor Darius, described it in the Behistun Inscription.

Nothing but a few bronze tools, a few human bones, and a silver bracelet have been found in the Sahara desert.

What could go wrong? What happened to the army of King Cambyses?

Let’s look at some of the possibilities.


According to Herodotus, the famous Greek historian, after seven days of wandering in the desert, a cataclysmic sandstorm fell upon the army, which completely swallowed the troops and buried them under the sand.

The two Italian archaeologists also believe there is strong evidence that the sandstorm actually hit the army.

While working in the desert, researchers found a large rock with human remains, cutlery and weapons buried around it, indicating that some soldiers took shelter under this rock during a sandstorm.

However, most archaeologists do not agree that a sandstorm could have dispersed and killed 50,000 people.

Drunken rage?

What provoked the king to send so many soldiers on a campaign through such hostile territory?

It all started with the fact that the priests on the oracle in the temple of Amun announced that they had no sense of obedience towards their new king, Cambyses, son of Cyrus the Great.

Cambyses was furious and decided that he would not forgive them for their rebellion. So he sent soldiers from Thebes across the Sahara to put the recalcitrant priests in their place.

This is supposedly a myth, but some believe that he ordered the troops to attack the city in a drunken rage. So perhaps they were ill-prepared to cross the deadliest desert in the world.

Deviation from the planned route?

The red line on the map shows the actual route of the invasion, while the blue line shows the deviation from it.

Some historians compare this situation with the visit of Alexander the Great to the Oracle, which took place almost 200 years after this incident.

Even he took the route along the coast in the north and then turned south to reach Siwa. His path through the desert was much less difficult. Historians agree that Alexander’s army also might have gotten lost if not for some kind of celestial intervention.

If the theories of Herodotus are correct, then it remains a mystery why the Persians chose a much more difficult route than Alexander, and even two hundred years before him? Was this a deliberate attempt to lure the army into a trap?

How much water was transported?

It was a journey of 50,000 soldiers through the heart of the largest desert in the world. The army’s most basic requirement was food and water.

If we assume that the need for water per person was 3 liters per day (taking into account the intense heat that causes sweating and dehydration), and the journey lasted, say, 30 days, then 50,000 soldiers would need at least 4,500 tons of water. But even this will not be enough, because we do not take into account animals.

The answer cannot be so simple, and it seems that the dead Persian army was driven to death by their own king.

Ignorance of the local area

The Persian army consisted of people belonging to different regions.

They were mostly Medes, Greeks, Scythians, Parthians, Egyptians and possibly some from the Indian region, suggesting that most of the soldiers and their commanders had little experience in the Egyptian desert and the terrible reality of the Great Sand Sea (which is a frightening expanse completely secluded desert in western Egypt).

Defeat of Petubastis III

Professor Olaf Kaper believes that the army did not disappear, but was defeated. Moreover, he believes that the final destination of the army was the Dakhla oasis, where the Egyptian rebel leader Petubastis III lived.

He set up an ambush in the middle of the journey, defeated the army, took prisoners, and eventually conquered Egypt. He was later crowned as pharaoh in the capital, Memphis.”


In the chronicles of Herodotus, Cambyses is depicted as a mad king. He is accused of desecrating and burning the corpse of Pharaoh Amasis and slaughtering the calf Apis, who was worshiped as a god in the Egyptian religion.

He is also accused of killing his brother Smerdis, further fueling the belief in the Persians that he had lost divine favor and was unworthy of keeping the crown.

As a result, an uprising began. There is a strong possibility that along the way the army was ambushed by apostates (rebels) and defeated.

Some also speculate that these renegades were supported by Darius, Cambyses’ successor, and he suppressed their defeat and fabricated the sandstorm story.


Some suggest that there was a sense of distrust and betrayal in the army when they set foot in the desert.

The deteriorating reputation of King Cambyses and harsh weather conditions fueled the discontent of the soldiers, and they revolted. Bloodshed began, and those who survived fled to the Dakhla oasis to join Petubastis.

The expedition never happened

Many theories can be found in history, but no apparent factual reason regarding this lost army and its expedition.

There is a strong possibility that they began their journey in a hurry on the orders of their eccentric king, but abandoned the mission when they realized that the odds were not in their favor and they could not survive in the deadly desert.

Desert fever or dermatosis?

Desert fever or desert dermatoses are common among people who live in deserts or travel through deserts for long periods of time.

There is also a myth that a few days in the scorching heat could expose the soldiers to coccidiosis viruses, making them sick, and because they were already deep in the desert, no help was available.

Most of the soldiers died, while others, demotivated and dissatisfied, left for the mainland.

What happened to the army of King Cambyses may remain a mystery for a long time to come.


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