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Thursday, 19 July 2018
 

The Civilization of Napata and Meroe (1)

(A. A. Hakem) - Political organization: The most outstanding feature of political power in Nubia and central Sudan

from the eighth century before our era to the fourth century of our era seems to have been its remarkable stability and continuity. Unlike many of ancient kingdoms, the country escaped the upheavals associated with violent dynastic changes. Indeed one can say that basically the same royal lineage continued to rule uninterruptedly under the same traditions.


Until recently theories prevailed that the Napatan dynasty was of foreign origin, either Libyan 1 or Egyptian derived from the High Priests of Thebes.  But the arguments on which these theories are founded are weak and most modern scholars are inclined to consider the dynasty as of local origin. Apart from the somatic features depicted on statues of the kings many other traits - the system of their election, the role of queen-mothers, burial customs and some other indications - clearly point to an indigenous
culture and origin uninfluenced from outside.
Some of these traits are significant in helping us to sketch the character and nature of the political and social structure of the empire of Kush.
O n e of the peculiar features of the Meroitic political system was the choice of a n e w sovereign by election. Classical authors, from Herodotus, fifth century before our era, to Diodorus of Sicily, first century before our era, express their surprise about this usage, so different from that in other
ancient kingdoms, in their accounts about the 'Aethiopians', as the inhabitants of the K u s h empire were then generally called. They insist on the oracular choice of the n e w king; Diodorus affirms that 'the priests previously select the best of candidates and from those that are summoned the people take as a king the one w h o m the god chooses as he is carried round in procession . . . Straightway they address and honour him as if he were a god since the kingdom was entrusted to him by the will of the divinity.'
Diodorus describes here, undoubtedly from hearsay, only the formal ceremony which initiated a new reign and which incorporated religious symbols. The procedures of the actual choice remained hidden from him and his informants.
Fortunately we are able to reconstruct the succession procedures from Napatan inscriptions which describe the choice and coronation ceremonies in great detail. The earliest of them relate to King Piankhi (Peye) (—751 to —716) and the latest to Nastasen (—335 to —310). Coronation inscriptions may have been m a d e after that date, but since the script and language used are Meroitic, which is still undeciphered, we cannot be certain. The Napatan coronation inscriptions are our best source for the understanding of the political institutions, in particular the features of kingship and the other related institutions. Although they are written in the contemporary style of the Egyptian hieroglyphic they show great differences from the usual run of similar New Kingdom inscriptions. Thus they have to be regarded as a product of their own culture.
Among these inscriptions the three latest, those of Amani-nete-yerike (—431 to —405), Harsiotef(—40410 —369) and Nastasen (—335 to —310) show that the kings were anxious to observe strict traditional practices and proclaim their insistence on the traditions and customs of their ancestors.
At the same time, these texts give more details than the earlier ones, though their language is difficult to follow. The show a remarkable consistency in their subject matter and even sometimes in their phraseology.
Thus, in all three cases, the king before his appointment was described as living among the other royal brethren at Meroe . He first succeeded to the throne at Meroe and then he journeyed northward to Napata for the ceremonies.
In fact, Amani-nete-yerike says categorically that he was elected by the leaders of his armies to be king at the age of 41 and that he had fought a war before he could proceed to Napata for the coronation. Even when he reached Napata he went into the royal palace where he received the crown of Ta-Sti as a further confirmation of his assumption of kingship.
After this he entered the temple for the ceremony where he asked the god (addressing his statue or shrine) to grant him his kingship, which the god did as a matter of formality.
Earlier inscriptions confirm the conclusion that the succession to the throne was fixed before the king entered the temple. Thus , the succession of Taharqa (—689 to —664) was decided by Shebitku (—701 to —689) who lived in Memphis in Egypt. Taharqa was summoned from among his royal brethren and journeyed northward no doubt visiting Napata en route, and paid homage at Gematon ( Kawa ) before proceeding to Thebes.
The highlights of the ceremonies as given in Tanwetamani' s (—664 to - 6 5 3 ) stele are that he lived s o m e w h e r e outside Napata, perhaps among his other royal brothers with his mother Qalhata; there he w a s first proclaimed king and then started a festival procession journeying northward to Napata and farther on to Elephantine and Karnak. It seems thus that the place where he had been before the start of the procession w a s south of Napata, i.e. Meroe . Consequently, the decision regarding the succession was mad e outside Napata, according to normal practice. Anlaman i (—623 to —593) describes the episodes of his festivals at Gematon , where the stele was found, in similar terms and adds that he had brought his mother to attend these ceremonies like Taharq a before him .
In his famous stele Aspelta ( — 593 to — 568) adds more details about this ceremony. He confirms that he succeeded his brother Anlamani and that he was chosen from among his royal brothers by a group of twenty four high civil officials and military leaders. Justifying his claims to the throne, Aspelta refers to the will of god Amun - Re and also his own ancestry to assert his hereditary right of succession through the female line of descent. In spite of the lengthy exultation to the god Amun - R e it is evident that the role of the priesthood w a s limited. Aspelta also adds many details of entering into the inner part of the temple where he found the scepters and crowns of his predecessors and was given the crown of his brother Anlamani. This is similar to the accounts of Amani-nete-yerike and Nastasen.
Important conclusions emerge from these inscriptions. One is that the journey northward to visit various temples was an important part of the coronation ceremony which every king would have to m a k e o n his accession to the throne; the second is that the temple of A m u n in Napata had a special role in this ceremony and that this remained unchallenged. All this has a direct bearing o n G . A . Reisner's theory of the existence of two independent kingdom s of Napata recently restated by Hintze.
This theory w a s put forward b y G . A . von Reisner to explain the number of royal cemeteries. His basic assumption was that a royal burial was closely connected with the capital: a king would be buried not very far from his royal residence. Hence , the cemetery of El - Kurru , the earliest royal cemetery, and the cemetery of Nuri, which succeeded El - Kurru , were royal burials u p to the time of Nastasen when the capital w a s Napata. Subse quently, the two cemeteries of Begrawiya South and North b e c a m e royal cemeteries w h e n the capital was moved to Meroe around —300, after the reign of Nastasen. At Gebel Barkal, in Napata, however, there are two groups of pyramids. Archaeological and architectural considerations convinced Reisner that the first group fell immediately after Nastasen and the second group dated from the first century before our era and ended when the Romans raided Napata in —23 or soon after. Each group was assigned to a branch of the royal family ruling at Napata  independently from the main ruling family at Meroe .
However, the majority of scholars has abandoned this notion of the division of the kingdom. ' l A detailed study of the succession procedures and the ceremonies of coronation shows that Reisner's hypothesis is untenable.
For it is inconceivable that a sovereign should be proclaimed king at his capital and then go to the capital of an independent kingdom to be crowned, in particular when it is the capital of a very insignificant kingdom as suggested by Reisner's hypothesis. On the other hand, there is no evidence to suggest that the ceremony was abandoned since the Greek authors confirm that it continued during the third and second centuries before our era, as Bion indicated, and during the first century before our era, as Diodorus Siculus relates. However, one can safely say that Napata played an important role in the Meroitic kingdom. Kings went thither to receive their insignia of rule in accordance with an established tradition and they were sometimes buried there.