Herodotus is considered by many to be the first historian. Born in Halicarnassus around 490 BC, he visited Egypt during the Persian occupation (the twenty-seventh dynasty). The second volume of his “Histories” describes Egypt’s geography and people and recounts a few semi-mythical stories about some pharaohs.

His detractors complain that he was merely a storyteller who repeated fantastical and unlikely tales with no basis in reality. Furthermore, his visit to Egypt was fairly brief, he could not speak Egyptian, and he had no understanding of Egyptian hieroglyphs or cursive script.

However, Herodotus was not trying to write history in the modern deconstructionist manner. He was simply describing what he saw and heard, and does not claim to have all the answers. Nevertheless, he was also criticised by other scholars of the ancient world. Plutarch wrote a set of essays called “Malice of Herodotus” and Manetho penned a (now lost) essay called “Against Herodotus”.

His stories about the pharaohs are almost entirely hearsay, and should be taken with a fairly hefty pinch of salt, but they are entertaining. He claims that a priest read him a kings list which listed three hundred and thirty kings. Of those, eighteen were Ethiopian and one was a woman named Nitocris. Modern chronologies generally list only five Ethiopian Pharaohs, and what about Queen Regents such as Mereneith and the Female Pharaohs Sobekneferu and Hatshepsut?

Map drawn by Herodotus

To complicate matters, he does not use the Pharaoh’s Egyptian names, making it difficult to be certain which king he is referring to. For example, according to Herodotus, Rhampsinitos was succeeded by Cheops. But, Rhampsinitos is thought to be the twentieth dynasty king Ramsess III and his successor could not have been Cheops (who was Khufu the fourth dynasty king who is credited with the construction of the Great Pyramid).

Herodotus: Pharaohs

Copyright J Hill 2010