Herodotus on Sethon (Shebiku)

According to Herodotus, a priest of Ptah called Sethon became pharaoh after Anysis. He had no interest in military affairs, and he apparently scorned the accomplishments of the army and seized much of the land that had been granted to members of the armed forces by the previous king. As a result, they refused to defend Egypt when Sanacharib (Sennacherib the Assyrian king) marched against them with a huge army.

Sethon begged the gods for help, and was told in a dream that no harm would befall him if he went to face the Assyrian army, so he gathered a group of trusty citizens (artisans, craftsmen, and shop-keepers) and they went out to meet the Assyrians without the help of their own army. Meanwhile, Ptah sent the mice of the fields to destroy the army’s weapons, causing them to run from the tiny band of Egyptians. In gratitude Sethos had a statue constructed of himself carrying a small mouse in his hand and inscribed on the pedestal “Let him who looks upon me learn to fear the gods”.

It is thought that the “priest” was in fact Shebiku, the second of Shabaka’s nephews to rule Egypt. He sided with the Phonecian and Palestinian kingdoms against their Assyrian overlords, but could not prevent their defeat by Sennacherib. The Assyrians did retreat before an advancing Egyptian army, a number of times. But, it was not Shebiku, but his successor Taharqa who fought the Assyrians and forced them to retreat. It seems that Herodotus simply “borrowed” (or was told) a version of the Biblical story of the pestilence which destroyed the Assyrian army when they attacked Jerusalem.

Herodotus: Pharaohs

Copyright J Hill 2010