Herodotus in his history of Egypt placed Sennacherib’s invasion in the reign of “the priest of Hephaestos, whose name was Sethos.” At that time, he wrote, “king Sanacharib (came) against Egypt with a great host of Arabians and Assyrians.”(1) It is generally assumed that Herodotus or his informants made a mistake: “In the popular tradition preserved by Herodotus the name of the Egyptian king is given as ‘Sethos’ . . . the true appellation of the monarch has disappeared in favor of the great Seti. . . . It is impossible to reject the whole story to the actual period of Seti in face of the direct mention of Sennacherib (Sanacharaibos).”(2)

In the conventional scheme of history Seti the Great lived in the latter part of the fourteenth century; the events with which we are now concerned took place in the final years of the eighth century. Sethos of Herodotus was now, however, Seti the Great, as was surmised by the historian quoted above: he was his grandfather. To keep the narrative free from misunderstandings, I shall call the first of that name the way Herodotos called him, “Sethos,” retaining for the more famous grandson the name Seti.(3) If we can prove our thesis then the confusion of history, for which Herodotus is not to be blamed, put the grandson six hundred years before his grandfather.

Sennacherib invaded Egypt twice. His first campaign resulted in a victory for the Assyrians and Egypt’s submission; his second, fifteen years later, as it will be told, ended in disaster. Sennacherib’s records speak only of his first campaign and are silent about the second; the Scriptures do not distinguish between the two campaigns; and in the Egyptian record, transmitted by Herodotus, only the second campaign was remembered.(4) Each of our sources has preserved only a part of the story, and to obtain the complete picture we must draw on each of them in turn.


  1. Herodotus, The Histories, transl. by A. D. Godley (London, 1938), II. 141.

  2. H. R. Hall, The Ancient History of the Near East, p. 492. See also idem in The Cambridge Ancient History (1925), Vol. III, p. 279: “It is simpler to suppose that it is merely a traditional confusion of the old name Seti in a wrong setting.”

  3. The more complete name of the grandfather, Sethos, was Userkheprure-setpenre Seti-merenptah, and of his famous grandson Seti-merenptah -menmaat re, or Seti Ptah-maat. Merenptah means “beloved of Ptah.” The Greeks identified Ptah with Hephaestos. In describing Sethos as a priest of Hephaestos, Herodotos was evidently referring to Seti’s second name. Cf. F. Ll. Griffith, Stories of the High Priests of Memphis (Oxford, 1900), p. 8, note 1.

  4. Herodotus is likewise silent about the conquest of Egypt by Esarhaddon and Ashurbanipal; nor does Manetho record Egypt’s humiliation by Assyria.