The Unsolved Mystery Of The 50,000 Persian Soldiers Who Vanished In The Egyptian Desert 1,500 Years Ago

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Egyptian Desert

A quick search of the internet can reveal many complex puzzles that are yet to be solved.

Some of the most compelling cases are those of people who have vanished without a trace. Some disappear under suspicious circumstances, while others are suspected of faking their disappearance for attention. Even more interesting are the disappearances that people believe are related to a curse of some sort.

Those missing persons’ cases are likely to be investigated by law enforcement, along with people who set out to flee their humdrum lives. But some disappearances — like those in the Alaska Triangle, Bridgewater Triangle, on Mount Shasta, or of a supposed crew from a Dutch ghost ship — will remain a mystery for years to come.

One of the largest mass disappearances you’ve probably never heard of is the Lost Army of Cambyses.

What was the Lost Army of Cambyses?

The Lost Army of Cambyses was a Persian army consisting of 50,000 men who are alleged to have vanished into thin air in the Western Egyptian Desert in 524 BC.

According to Greek historian, Herodotus, King Cambyses II, the son of Cyrus the Great, who ruled the Achaemenid Empire from 530 to 522 BC, sent the massive brigade to the Siwa Oasis, located between the Qattara Depression and the Great Sand Sea in Egypt’s Western Desert.

The goal was to lay claim to Egypt and enslave the people of the Temple of Amun, the Ammonians.



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As told by Herodotus, “The Persians set forth from Oasis across the sand and had reached about half way between that place and themselves when, as they were at their midday meal, a wind arose from the south, strong and deadly, bringing with it vast columns of whirling sand, which entirely covered up the troops and caused them wholly to disappear. Thus, according to the Ammonians, did it fare with this army.”

Cambyses' lost army is never mentioned in ancient texts of Greeks, Persians, or Egyptians, but in the 20th century began to gain traction. Some believe the story of the Lost Army of Cambyses, while others think it likely never existed in the first place.

Even more people are under the belief that if the large army did actually disappear, there is a reasonable explanation.

What really happened to the Lost Army of Cambyses?

The case of the lost army has been investigated in modern times. From September 1983 to February 1984, an American Journalist named Gary S. Chafetz led an expedition paid for by The National Geographic Society, the Egyptian Geological Survey and Mining Authority, The Ligabue Research Institute, and Harvard University. The purpose was to find artifacts that proved the existence of the Lost Army of Cambyses.

The excursion did not return any evidence via artifacts, but the group did discover about 500 burial mounds thought to possibly be related to the story. Those mounds contained bone fragments, but they were later dated back to 1500 BC, long before the Lost Army supposedly disappeared.

In 2000, a geological team from Helwan University looking for petroleum in Egypt’s Western Desert found textile fragments resembling parts of weapons and human remains. The well-preserved artifacts were thought to be traces of the army and the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities said they would further investigate the site they were found, but never said anything else about it.

Then in November 2009, Italian archaeologists Alfredo and Angelo Castiglioni said they had also located human remains, weapons and tools that could be traced back to the Persian army’s time and location.

But the fact that they presented the findings in a documentary and not a scientific journal raised doubts. The filmmakers had also made African "shockumentaries" in the 1970s, so their claims were taken with a grain of salt.

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Still, there are a number of theories and speculations about what, if anything, actually happened to the Lost Army of Cambyses:

Herodotus made the entire thing up.

People have always been suspicious of Herodotus’ motives. Historians have even said that some of his information regarding King Cambyses II was untrue.

The Egyptians fed Herodotus false stories.

If Cambyses' lost army is a myth, Herodotus may not be to blame. It is possible that he was given the information by the Egyptians and there is very little evidence to support the claims.

The army was ambushed by renegades.

Another theory is that the army was caught off guard by renegades in the desert. People who believe this think that Cambyses’ successor, Darius, suppressed the story of defeat.

The Egyptians made the army disappear.

Some hypothesize that the Egyptians attacked and killed the Lost Army and made up the story of the great storm to cover their tracks and avoid any repercussions.

The army traveled a different way.

In their investigation, the Castiglioni brothers reviewed and analyzed ancient maps of the Western Desert and came to the conclusion that Cambyses’ Army hadn’t even traveled through the Siwa Oasis. They thought the troops had taken a more westerly route.

The army starved to death or died of thirst.

A group of 50,000 traveling on a days’ long journey will need a lot of food and water to sustain themselves. Some believe they either starved or died of thirst, but that doesn’t explain the absence of bodies.

The army was swallowed by the desert.

Those that are certain the army went the way described think it is completely possible that a hole of some sort opened in the desert and swallowed the Persians, leaving nothing behind. That convenient story would explain the fact that no one has discovered, and likely never will discover, proof that the Lost Army of Cambyses ever even existed.

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NyRee Ausler is a writer from Seattle, Washington, who shares stories of unsolved mysteries, murders, and occurrences, to build readers’ awareness about what is happening in the world around them.