Herodotus on Sesostris' Reliefs

Sesostris' Reliefs: two reliefs, presented by Herodotus as evidence that a great Egyptian king once conquered almost the whole world.

Senusret III In the second book of his Histories, the Greek researcher Herodotus presents a king Sesostris, who, prior to Cyrus and Darius, conquered almost the whole globe. To prove that he really existed, Herodotus mentions two reliefs in Greek style that he has seen at Karabel (Turkey) and the Nahr al-Kalb (Lebanon).

There have been several pharaohs with the name of Sesostris, or, to use the Egyptian form of this name: Senusret. The third of these, whose reign is dated to 1862-1844, was a great conqueror indeed, although Herodotus' claims are quite exaggerated.

The monument at the Nahr al-Kalb, just north of modern Beyrut, is easy to identify and can still be visited. There used to be three monuments in Egyptian style, which commemorated several campaigns by a later pharaoh, Ramesses II (1279-1213). Two of them, badly damaged, have survived, and have inspired about every later conqueror to leave a relief too.

Karabel, seen from the southThe other relief, along the road from Sardes to Smyrna, in fact represents king Tarkasnawa of the Hittite vassal kingdom Mira, and can be seen in the pass of Karabel. Unfortunately, it is not easy to find. If you take the modern road from Sel├žuk to Kemalpasa, you will cross the Nif Dagi (a mountain range) at Karabel. At the top of this mountain pass, to your left when you arrive from the south, is the entrance of a forest park. The rock itself is 2200 meters (check the odometer of your car) more to the north, where the road is already going downwards. In a curve to the left is, at the right hand side, a small stairs of concrete, which leads to a stony path that will bring you to the Karabel relief. The picture shows the curve in the road, seen from the south.

Ancient text

[2.103] Thus doing he traversed the continent, until at last he passed over to Europe from Asia and subdued the Scythians and also the Thracians. These, I am of opinion, were the furthest people to which the Egyptian army came, for in their country the pillars are found to have been set up, but in the land beyond this they are no longer found. [....]

This page was created in 2003; last modified on 24 September 2014.