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"The great Sesostris", identified in this 19th-century engraving as Ramesses II during the Battle of Kadesh.
Herodotus misidentified the relief of King Tarkasnawa of Mira, as belonging to Sesostris. Karabel relief, circa 1350 BC.

Sesostris (Greek: ) was the name of a king of ancient Egypt who, according to Herodotus, led a military expedition into parts of Europe.

Account of Herodotus

In Herodotus' Histories there appears a story told by Egyptian priests about a Pharaoh Sesostris, who once led an army northward overland to Asia Minor, then fought his way westward until he crossed into Europe, where he defeated the Scythians and Thracians (possibly in modern Romania and Bulgaria). Sesostris then returned home, leaving colonists behind at the river Phasis in Colchis. Herodotus cautioned the reader that much of this story came second hand via Egyptian priests, but also noted that the Colchians were commonly believed to be Egyptian colonists.[1]

According to Diodorus Siculus (who calls him Sesoosis) and Strabo, he conquered the whole world, even Scythia and Ethiopia, divided Egypt into administrative districts or nomes, was a great law-giver, and introduced a caste system into Egypt and the worship of Serapis.[2] Herodotus also relates that when Sesostris defeated an army without much resistance he erected a pillar in their capital with a vulva on it to symbolize the fact that the army fought like women.[3] Pliny the Elder also makes mention of Sesostris, who, he claims, was defeated by Saulaces, a gold-rich king of Colchis.[4]

Herodotus describes Sesostris as the father of the blind king Pheron, who was less warlike than his father.

Modern research

In Manetho's Aegyptiaca (History of Egypt), a pharaoh called "Sesostris" occupied the same position as the known pharaoh Senusret III of the Twelfth Dynasty, and his name is now usually viewed as a corruption of Senusret/Senwosret/Senwosri. In fact, he is commonly believed to be based on Senusret III, with the possible addition of memories of other namesake pharaohs of the same dynasty, as well as Seti I and Ramesses II of the much later Nineteenth Dynasty.[5][2]

The images of Sesostris carved in stone in Ionia which Herodotus said he had seen[6] are likely to be identified with the Luwian inscriptions of Karabel Pass, the Karabel relief, now known to have been carved by Tarkasnawa, king of the Arzawan rump state of Mira.[7] The kings of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth dynasties were the greatest conquerors that Egypt ever produced, and their records are clear[2] on the limits of Egyptian expansion. Senusret III raided into the Levant as far as Shechem,[8] also into Ethiopia, and at Semna above the second cataract set up a stela of conquest that in its expressions recalls the stelae of Sesostris in Herodotus: Sesostris may, therefore, be the highly magnified portrait of this Pharaoh.[2]

See also


  1. ^ "For it is plain to see that the Colchians are Egyptians; and what I say, I myself noted before I heard it from others." Herodotus Histories 2.104
  2. ^ a b c d  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainGriffith, Francis Llewellyn (1911). "Sesostris". In Chisholm, Hugh (ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica. 24 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 701.
  3. ^ Herodotus Histories 2.102
  4. ^ Rackham, Harris, ed. (1938). Pliny Natural History I. Harvard University Press. p. 43.
  5. ^ Silverman, David P., Ancient Egypt, Oxford University Press (5 Jun 2003), ISBN 978-0-19-521952-4, p. 29
  6. ^ "Most of the memorial pillars which King Sesostris erected in conquered countries have disappeared, but I have seen some myself in Palestine with the inscription I mentioned and the drawing of a woman's genitals. In Ionia also there are two images of Sesostris cut on rock, one on the road from Ephesos to Phocaea, the other between Sardis and Smyrna; in each case the carved figure is nearly seven feet high and represents a man with a spear in his right hand and a bow in his left, and the rest of his equipment to match - partly Egyptian, partly Ethiopian." Herodotus II.106
  7. ^
  8. ^ Aldred, Cyril (1987). The Egyptians (second ed.). Thames and Hudson. p. 130.


  • Herodotus ii. 102-1ll
  • Diodorus Siculus i. 53-59
  • Strabo xv. p. 687
  • Kurt Sethe, "Sesostris," in Unters. z. Gesch. u. Altertumskunde Agyptens, tome ii. Hinrichs, Leipzig (1900).

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