Account of Sethos

Sethos, according to Herodotus, was a priest of Hephaestus (the Greek name for the Egyptian god Ptah) who rose to become the king of Egypt. His story is particularly noted for the divine intervention that saved Egypt from an Assyrian invasion.

The Greeks associated Ptah with their god Hephaestus, the god of fire and metalworking.

Background and Ascension:

Sethos was originally a priest of Hephaestus. Herodotus does not provide much detail on how Sethos transitioned from a priest to a king, but his ascension indicates the intertwining of religious and royal authority in Egypt.

“There was a priest of Hephaestus named Sethos who obtained the kingdom”.

Histories, Book 2, 2.141

Conflict with the Warrior Class:

Sethos alienated the warrior class by stripping them of their privileges and lands. This decision weakened his support among Egypt’s military elite.

“Sethos, who held in contempt and neglected the warrior class, thinking he would not need them, deprived them of their lands”.

Histories, Book 2, 2.141

Assyrian Invasion:

During Sethos’ reign, Egypt faced a significant threat from Sennacherib, the king of Assyria. Sennacherib led a powerful army against Egypt.

“In his reign, Sennacherib king of the Arabians and Assyrians marched a great army against Egypt”.

Histories, Book 2, 2.141

Divine Intervention:

With his military support weakened, Sethos turned to divine intervention. He prayed earnestly to Hephaestus in a temple, seeking the god’s aid against the Assyrian invasion.

“The Egyptian warriors refused to come to his aid; in his distress, the king entered into the inner sanctuary and, before the image of the god, bewailed the calamities which threatened him” .

Histories, Book 2, 2.141

The Miracle of the Mice:

Herodotus recounts a miraculous event where field mice gnawed through the quivers, bowstrings, and shield handles of the Assyrian army, rendering their weapons useless. This divine intervention caused panic among the Assyrians, leading to their defeat.

“As he slept, he saw the god standing by and bidding him be of good cheer and go boldly to meet the Arabian host, which would do him no harm, for he would send those who should help him. He then marched with such troops as would follow him and encamped in Pelusium at the mouth of the Nile; here he was joined by a multitude of field mice, which devoured all the quivers and bowstrings of the enemy, and the handles of their shields, so that on the morrow, being unarmed, they were easily overcome” .

Histories, Book 2, 2.141

Commemorative Statue:

In gratitude for the divine intervention, Sethos is said to have erected a statue of himself holding a mouse, with an inscription that highlighted the miraculous event.

“After this the Egyptian king, returning home in triumph, raised in the temple of Hephaestus a statue of himself, holding in his hand a mouse, and bearing the following inscription: ‘Look on me and learn to reverence the gods”.

Histories, Book 2, 2.141
Home > Account of Sethos