Cambyses II of Persia: History, Reign, Accomplishments, & Legacy

After the death of his father Cyrus the Great, Cambyses II of Persia was enthroned as the ruler of the ancient Achaemenid Empire in 530 BC. Before occupying that position, he controlled the affairs of Babylonia’s northern region. During the reign of his father, Cambyses was appointed a co-ruler of the Empire, making him a direct successor to the throne. According to Cyrus, his son was blessed by the Marduk, a Babylonian god.

Early years

Cambyses started showing glimpses of his leadership skills in 538 BC during the Nowruz, also known as the Persian New Year. At the festival, he performed a number of rituals which earned him the sacred royal scepter.

While carrying out these rites, he disobeyed the rules of the priests when he decided not to take off his arms. He also appeared in an Elamite cloth which was against the beliefs of the Babylonian leaders.

After nine months as the leader of Babylonia, he was sacked by his father, who gave no concrete reasons for his actions. After his dismissal, he lived in cities like Sippar, and Babylon.

Ascension and Reign

In 530 BC, his father named him as regent when he decided to embark on a trip to Central Asia to confront the Massagetae. Cyrus was killed during this journey and Cambyses took over as the leader of the empire. Though his tenure was very short, he would be remembered for his victories in the northern part of Africa, especially Egypt.

Read More: Greatest Achievements of Cyrus II of Persia

How Cambyses II conquered Egypt

Cambyses II’s greatest achievement as the King of Persia was conquering Egypt. Though the main cause of the conflict is yet to be ascertained, it is believed that it was based on personal issues. Herodotus, a Greek writer and historian, in one of his accounts, indicated that the battle began after Cambyses was deceived by Pharaoh Amasis II, then ruler of Egypt.

According to the historian, the Persia ruler asked Amasis for an ophthalmologist. In honoring his request, the pharaoh forced an Egyptian doctor to abandon his family and move to Persia. This decision did not sit well with the health officer who, in an attempt to seek revenge, advised Cambyses to ask Amasis for his daughter’s hand in marriage.

The Persian King placed his request before the pharaoh. Worried about the future of his daughter, Amasis refused the request and later sent Nitetis, an offspring of Apries, a former pharaoh, to play the role of his daughter. Nitetis, whose father was murdered by Amasis, revealed the secret to Cambyses who became very angry and decided to seek revenge by invading Egypt.

Forming an alliance with Phanes of Halicarnassus, who was one of Amasis’ key military men, and Polycratos of Samos, Cambyses came up with the perfect plan to attack the Egyptians.

The Pharaoh passed away in 526 BC, a year before the battle started. His son and heir, Psamtik III, led the army during the battle. With supports from the Arabians, Cambyses and his army were able to cross the famous Sinai desert.

In 525 BC, the Egyptian and Persians faced off in the city of Pelusium. After a fierce battle, the Egyptians were defeated and were forced to seek refuge in the city of Memphis in Egypt. The city was later seized by the Persians, and Psamtik was captured. In addition to that, over 1,500 people were executed by Cambyses and his men.

Daughters of Egyptian noblemen were enslaved, while their sons were given death sentences. After his victory, Cambyses took control of Egypt and was unofficially known as the “king of Upper and Lower Egypt”. He was also given the title “descendant of the gods”.

Other military conquests

As the ruler of Egypt, he attempted to expand the territories of the state which led him to conquer other regions, including Cyrenaica. He tried to occupy areas like the Oasis of Amon, Carthage, and Ethiopia. He captured the northern part of Ethiopia, but was forced to release it after he exhausted all his resources. However, he became very unpopular among the Egyptians after mocking the gods and looting temples.

Cambyses II

Achaemenid Empire under the reign of Cambyses II

Later years and Death

In 522 BC, while still in Egypt, Cambyses received news of an uprising against him in Persia. It was believed that Smerdis, who claimed to be his brother, was the originator of the rebellion. He hurriedly left to his homeland to tackle the unrest. On his way, he developed a wound on his thigh. The cause of the wound has been the subject of many debates over the years, though it has been speculated that it was caused by his own sword which slipped from its scabbard.

The wound, according to historians, developed into a gangrene which caused his death some weeks later. He died in the city of Agbatana. His mortal remains were buried in southeastern Persis, Neyriz to be precise.

Herodotus later described him as a “mad ruler”. The historian further mentioned that the king violated a number of beliefs while he was in Egypt. Though there aren’t enough documented evidence to back these claims, it was said that he slaughtered the calf of the sacred bull known as Apis. He was also accused of burning the dead body of Amasis. He was also accused of murdering his brother Bardiya.

Persian King Cambyses II (left, kneeling) as pharaoh while worshipping an Apis bull (524 BC)


His father, Cyrus, was the originator of the then-powerful Achaemenid Empire. Under his administration, the Empire saw some massive growth, both geographically and economically. His tenure lasted between 559 BC and 530 BC.

Cassandane, his mother, was one of the children of Pharnaspes. His parents had other children, including Roxanne, Artystone, Atossa, and Bardiya. The latter succeeded Cambyses after his death. Bardiya ruled for a short period before he was succeeded by Darius I who would marry their sister Atossa. He was also placed in charge of a region in the central part of Asia.

Cambyses was married to Roxanne, his sister. He left behind no children.


Though he was initially considered as a blessing from the gods, Cambyses’ legacy died along with him. Aside from his victory in Egypt, the former King of Persia was unable to establish himself as one of the Empire’s greatest leaders. In many historical documents, Cambyses was seen as someone who just came to complete the tasks of his predecessor, Cyrus.

On the other hand, Cambyses has been credited for improving the military of the Empire. Through his well-built army, he was able to defeat many states and expand the territories of the empire. Under his leadership, the Persians were recognized for their strong military which was considered as one of the greatest in the region.

Read More: 12 Greatest Military Commanders of the Ancient World

Cambyses II: Second King of the Achaemenid Empire

Reign: 530 – 522 BC

Titles: King of Kings, King of Persia, King of Egypt, King of Babylon

Dynasty: Achaemenid

Predecessor: Cyrus the Great (Cyrus II)

Successor: Bardiya

Died: 522 BC

Parents: Cyrus the Great and Cassandane

Consort: Atossa, Roxane

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