The Fart That Started a Revolution
For over 20 years, King Apries loomed over Egypt with the confidence of a man who could not be shaken. His rivalry against the Babylonians, which took up much of his time on the throne, had seen him successfully hold off their spreading forces. When his enemies took over Jerusalem, displaced citizens found a new home in Elephantine and other areas under his watch. As of 570 BCE, life was good.
A history-making toot would change all of that.
In that year, Apries received word from Libya: the Greeks of Cyrene (a city-state in North Africa) were storming the land, and his assistance would be appreciated. Apries sent his men into battle, but they were outmatched. The losses were considerable. Families of the slain and surviving mercenaries began to look at Apries with a fresh pair of eyes. Had he considered them expendable?
Apries tried not to concern himself with the unrest, but it soon grew too distracting to ignore. Men began to talk of an uprising. To smother the mutiny, Apries sent one of his best generals, Amasis, to deliver a message: the King was displeased with the lack of loyalty.
Amasis did as he was instructed, traveling to the hub of the movement. Before he could get a word out, an insurgent walked up behind him and placed a helmet on his head. Why couldn’t Amasis be their king?
Amasis, though loyal to Apries, was not above an appeal to his ego. He decided that being their king would suit him just fine and remained in their company. When Apries got word of Amasis’s about-face, he sent another messenger, Patarbemis, to meet Amasis and insist the traitor turn himself in.
Patarbemis met Amasis while the latter idled on horseback and began to scold him on behalf of the real king. A defiant Amasis raised his buttocks from the saddle, farted, and told Patarbemis he could send that back to Apries.
The expulsion of wind was accompanied by a promise: Amasis would go back to Apries, but he'd bring some friends with him. A shocked Patarbemis returned to Sais, where Apries lived in a magnificent palace, and tried to deliver the gastronomic news to his ruler. But when Apries got wind of the fact Patarbemis had returned without Amasis, he ordered the man’s nose and ears hacked off as punishment.
This would prove to be the beginning of Apries’s end. Patarbemis was a beloved subject in Sais, and civilians who heard of his cruel mistreatment sided with Amasis. When the would-be ruler made good on his promise and met Apries on the battlefield in Momemphis—his rebellious Egyptians against Apries’s Greek soldiers—Apries suffered a resounding defeat. There would be no comeuppance for the man who had dared to pass gas in his general direction. (Some accounts have Apries losing in battle up to three times before being captured.)
Amasis assumed the role of king in late 570 BCE and ruled until approximately 525 BCE. According to Herodotus, Amasis initially showed a measure of respect to Apries, keeping him prisoner rather than executing him, but his bloodthirsty subjects insisted it was offensive to keep him alive. Amasis shrugged and handed over the former ruler to the masses. They strangled and buried him.
Like any ruler, Amasis had dissidents of his own. Some begrudged him his daily ritual of drinking to excess; others complained he had only a common man’s lineage and was unworthy of rule. To illustrate his argument against the latter, Amasis had a washbowl used for vomiting and washing feet broken into pieces, crafted into the image of a god, and placed in a public area where it was to be viewed with reverence. After letting people get a look, Amasis revealed the object of their adoration was previously a puke bucket. It was a fitting metaphor for a man who started an overthrow of Egypt with a flatulent flourish.
The Complete Works of Herodotus