In ancient Egypt, a military leader by the name of Amasis rebelled against and usurped power from his former leader, King Apries, around the year 570 BCE. Although Amasis was proclaimed to be the new pharaoh by his supporters in the military, civil war continued between Amasis and Apries until the latter contender was killed around 567 BCE. In spite of this victory, Amasis still had some major public relations issues that he was keen to resolve. As a usurper from an obscure background, the new king was evidently originally seen by the nobility in Egypt as an unrefined ruffian with a pedigree that was too mundane for their taste.
As the story goes, when the conceited and haughty courtiers visited King Amasis, they were instructed to wash their feet in a golden footbath before appearing before the new ruler. In emergencies, the gilded pot was also apparently used for other, messier, bodily functions. This ornate vessel of foul use, oddly enough, was said to have become the solution for King Amasis’ PR problem.
One day, the golden footbath suddenly vanished. Around that same time, the king set his artisans and goldsmiths to work on making a brand-new statue that depicted a popular god. Amasis provided everything that the craftsmen needed, even going so far as to donate to them all of the gold that they required to build the gleaming statue. The idol of the god, when it was completed, reportedly left the Egyptian courtiers awestruck, and they flocked to admire and worship the masterpiece. When King Amasis learned that the new statue was receiving rave reviews, he called together his courtiers and delivered a shocking speech. What was supposedly said that day was recorded by the Greek historian and folklorist, Herodotus (c. 490-425/420 BCE):
“The Egyptians constantly coming upon the stature, treated it with profound reverence, and as soon as Amasis heard of the effect it had upon them, he called a meeting and revealed the fact that the deeply revered statue was once a foot-bath, which they washed their feet and pissed and vomited in. He went on to say that his own case was much the same, in that once he had been only an ordinary person and was now their king; so that just as they had come to revere the transformed foot-bath, so they had better pay honour and respect to him too, In this way the Egyptians were persuaded to accept him as their master” (The Histories, 2.172).
After Amasis won over his people—through this foot-bath ploy or by other means—he became a great leader and Egypt flourished during his long reign. The king reportedly died in 526 BCE, a timely death that spared him from experiencing the Persian conquest of Egypt, led by Cambyses II in 525 BCE.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Gold ingots and a wall Egyptian hieroglyphs, created from public domain images from pxfuel.com and pickpik.com).
- The Histories by Herodotus, translated by Aubrey de Sélincourt and revised by John Marincola. New York: Penguin Classics, 2002.