Ancient Egypt
A Saite Story Of Glory Necho II The Circumnavigation Of Africa Image Credit: Ancient Egypt
A Saite Story Of Glory Necho II The Circumnavigation Of Africa Image Credit: Ancient Egypt

A Saite Story Of Glory: Necho II & The Circumnavigation Of Africa

Kevin Harrison investigates the truth behind one of Herodotus’ fabulous tales.

Kevin Harrison

Perhaps the story came from Greeks, resident in Egypt for generations; perhaps from Phoenicians,boasting of the maritime prowess of their ancestors; most likely the story of the voyage came from Egyptians themselves, transmitted down generations of national decline, failure and humiliating foreign occupation, to this magpie-collector of strange customs, folk-lore and otherwise lost stories: ‘the Father of History’, Herodotus of Halicarnassus.

A Phoenician-crewed expedition, Herodotus recounts,was dispatched by pharaoh Necho II (610-595 BC) to circumnavigate the continent of Africa (‘Libya’ to the Greeks). From a Red Sea naval base, it sailed down the East African coast, rounded the Cape and progressed up West Africa, returning to Egypt nigh-on three years later. It was a triumph, an achievement worthy of the revered pharaohs of olden times.

In Book II of the Histories Herodotus had discussed Egypt’s history and geography. In Book IV:42 he offers a glimpse of Necho’s expedition so tantalising that no consensus exists among historians, ancient or modern, as to its actuality. Few details exist to ‘flesh out’ this voyage. No records of it survive from Egypt, or from Phoenician sources. All ancient accounts of the circumnavigation post-date Herodotus, are derived from his Histories and add nothing new.

Most of Book IV describes the campaign conducted against the Scythians by the Persia

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