Psamtik (Psammetichus) I

Updated About content Print Article Share Article
views updated

Psamtik (Psammetichus) I

664-610 b.c.e .

King, Dynasty 26


Reunification . Psamtik I, a governor in Upper Egypt, was the son of Nekau I (672-664 b.c.e.), who ruled from Sais during a period of Assyrian influence. Egypt had experienced a period of division and weakness for more than four hundred years, and Nekau I was defeated during a Nubian invasion, forcing his son to leave Egypt. Initially using Assyrian support, Psamtik returned and gained control of the Delta; he then gradually expanded his authority as the Assyrians, who were fighting incursions in the home territories, weakened and withdrew. Psamtik used Greek mercenaries in his army, having negotiated an alliance with King Gyges of Lydia, and he gave land to them, forming a colony of Greeks in the Delta. The new king built a strong military, opened trade in the Mediterranean, reestablished a strong religion, and constructed grand buildings.

Revival and Research . He ruled during a period when Egyptians looked backward to the glory of former dynasties, often copying the artistic and architectural styles of earlier days. In addition to constructing traditional temples and art, there seems to have occurred advances in the use of metals, especially bronze. Several small lion gods made of bronze have been discovered, all revealing advanced metallurgical skills during this period.

Scientific Experiments? Psamtik I earned a reputation for research and even for changing his conclusions when the results did not agree with his prior beliefs. The Greek historian Herodotus reports that Psamtik I was interested in discovering the oldest language, which the pharaoh believed could be none other than Egyptian. He concluded that placing two newborns in the care of shepherds (possibly deaf), who had been bound not to teach them how to speak, might show what manner of language would develop spontaneously. He allegedly discovered, after the children were presented a few years later and uttered a word that the observers believed was “bread,” that they spoke a form of Phrygian. This test, according to scholar Antoni Sulek, is often cited as the “first instance of using the experimental method in the study of social phenomena, and in psychology—as the prototype of research on the relative role of heredity and environment in the development.” Psamtik I ruled for fifty-four years and was succeeded by his son, Necho II (610-595 b.c.e.), who continued his father’s penchant for research by sending out expeditions of exploration.


Alan B. Lloyd, “The Late Period (664-610 BC),” in The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, edited by Ian Shaw (Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), pp. 369–394.

Antoni Sulek, “The Experiment of Psammetichus: Fact, Fiction, and Model to Follow,” Journal of the History of Ideas, 50 (October-December 1989): 645-651.

More From