The last pharaoh of the twenty-sixth dynasty, Psamtik III (526–525 BCE), was conquered and captured by the Persian king Cambyses, son of Cyrus II, after the Battle of Pelusium in 525 BCE. Egypt, together with Cyprus and Phoenicia, then formed the sixth satrapy of the Persian Empire. The satrap (Pers., “protector of the reign”), who represented the king of Persia, resided at Memphis with his chancellery. The garrison posts remained at Mareotis, Daphnis, and Elephantine (where a Jewish colony with a temple to Yahweh had existed on the island since the time of Apries; it was destroyed in 410 BCE).

Besides Cambyses, the First Persian domination (Manetho's Dynasty 27) includes the rulers Darius I (521–486 BCE), Xerxes (486–466 BCE), Artaxerxes I (465–424 BCE), Darius II (423–405 BCE), and Artaxerxes II (405–359 BCE). This regime was recognized in Egypt at least until 402 BCE. According to an inscription on a stela from the Serapeum, (from the sepulchre for the Apis bulls) dated to the sixth year of Cambyses' reign, the king had assumed the Egyptian royal epithet mswty R‘, as we know from the autobiography of Wedjahorresene, court doctor during the reigns of Cambyses and Darius I. Incised on Wedjahorresene's naophorus (block) statue, now in the Vatican Museum, is a depiction of him in Persian dress with Persian-made bracelets; there is a depiction in the same manner of another official, the treasurer Ptahhotep on another Serapeum stela, now in the Brooklyn Museum of Art. Egyptian hatred of Cambyses, referred to by the Greeks (Herodotus 3.27–38; Diodorus Siculus 1.46; Strabo 107.27; Plutarch On Isis and Osiris 44), derived not only from the impact of the military conquests but also from the resentment of the Egyptian clergy to Cambyses’ decree limiting the royal concessions to the temples (Demotic Papyrus 215, verso, Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris). The three military expeditions on which he embarked (against Carthage, the oasis of the Libyan desert, and Nubia) were serious failures. Cambyses died in 522 BCE in Syria on his way home. His successor, Darius I, abrogated Cambyses' unpopular decree. He constructed an immense temple to Amun Re in the Kharga Oasis, and he succeeded in dredging the navigable route from the Nile to the Red Sea (from Bubastis across the Wadi Tummilat to Lake Timsah at the Bitter Lakes), which he marked with large stelae bearing commemorative inscriptions in hieroglyphs and cuneiform. Diodorus lists Darius I as the sixth and last legislator; he is better called a codifier, since (Demotic Papyrus, 215, verso, Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris) he had the laws that were in force transcribed on papyrus in both Egyptian (Demotic) and Aramaic (the official language of the empire) until Amasis' final year.

Aryandes, the first satrap of Egypt, was executed for being a rebel. He was followed by Pherendates and then by Achemenes (one of Xerxes' brothers), who died in the Battle of Papremis in the Nile Delta during the rebellion of 460 BCE, which was led by Inaros, son of Psamtik (Thucydides 1.104). Arsames held the office of satrap during the reign of Darius II.

Three indigenous dynasties (the twenty-eighth, twenty-ninth, and thirtieth) existed in Egypt from 402 BCE until Artaxerxes conquered Nektanebo II. Egypt then endured the Second Persian Occupation, from 343 to 332 BCE. The ephemeral Pharaoh Khababash (known from the “stela of the satrap Ptolomey”) was probably removed in 344/343 BCE. The satrap Sabace (Arrian Anabasis 2.11) died in the Battle of Issus, where Sematauwrytefnakhte, an Egyptian doctor from the court of Darius III, was also present; the latter also survived the “battle of the Greeks” (as known from his autobiography, inscribed in hieroglyphs on a stela now in the Naples Museum). The last satrap, Mazakes (Arrian Anabasis 3.102), handed Egypt over to Alexander the Great in 322 BCE.

See also LATE PERIOD; overview article and article on the Thirty-first Dynasty; and PERSIA.


  • Bresciani, E. “Persian Occupation of Egypt.” In Cambridge History of Iran, vol. 2. Cambridge, 1985.
  • Briant, P. “Etnoclasse dominante et populations soumises: le cas de l'Egypte.” In Achaemenid History, vol. 3, pp. 137–173. Leiden, 1988.
  • Dandamaev, M. A Political History of the Achaemenid Empire. Leiden, 1989.
  • Lloyd, A. H. “Herodotus on Cambyses; Some Thoughts on Recent Work.” Achaemenid History, vol. 3, pp. 55–66. Leiden, 1988.
  • Posener G. La première domination perse en Egypte. Cairo, 1936.

Edda Bresciani; Translated from Italian by Jennifer Worth