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Thursday, 26 April 2018

The Empire of Kush: Napata and Meroe (3)

(J. Leclant, UNESCO, General History of Africa) - The philhellene Ergamenos: The renaissance which appears to mar k the succeeding decades

is confirmed in Greek historiography's account of'Ergamenos' . After writing of the all powerful position of the Kushite priests, who could even constrain the king to commit suicide if he had ceased to please the people, Diodorus of Sicily relates how a sovereign steeped in Greek culture, Ergamenos, dared to fight back and had a number of priests put to death. Doubts nevertheless subsist as to the identity of Ergamenos; which of the three Meroitic sovereigns was he, Arkakamani, Arnekhamani or Arquamani? Arnekhamani was the king who built the Lion temple at Mussawwarat es-Sufra, where hymns can be read composed in good Ptolemaic Egyptian and Egyptian artists and scribes must have worked. At the same time, we also find reliefs in purely Meroitic style: head-dress, ornaments and royal regalia are of local inspiration and the faces do not conform to the Egyptian canon.
Along with the Pharaonic divinities, worship is paid to purely Meroitic gods, Apedema k the Lion-god  and Sbomeker. Undoubtedly relations with Egypt subsisted, since w e have sanctuaries of common Egyptian and Nubian dedication at Philae and at Dakka in Lowe r Nubia. However, the revolts in the south of Ptolemaic Egypt at the end of the third century before our era may have been backed by the Nubian kinglets: Ptolemy V had to campaign in the country and Ptolemy VI established colonies in the Triacontaschone.
The Meroitic language and form of writing With Queen Shanakdakhete (around 170 to 160) we appear to get the accession to full power of a typically local matriarchy. It is on an edifice in her name at Naga that we find inscriptions engraved in Meroitic hieroglyphs which are among the most ancient known.
These hieroglyphs are borrowed from Egyptian but differ in their values. They are written and read the other way round from Egyptian ones; this may attest a deliberate desire to be different. With these hieroglyphs there goes a cursive form of writing often abbreviated; the signs seem to be
derived in part from the demotic writing used in Egypt at that period for administrative and private documents. Whatever the case may be, the Meroitic language, whose nature is still not known , and the graphic system are completely different from the Egyptian: the twenty-three signs used represent the consonants, some vowels and syllabics; groups of 'colons' usually separate the individual words. In 1909 the English scholar F . L . Griffith found the key to transliteration. Since then the texts have
been classified into different types, with comparable expressions set side by side in parallel, particularly those taken from funerary texts. Beginning with an invocation to Isis and Osiris, these contain the name of the deceased, of his mother (usually at the top of the list) and father, some names of relations by blood or marriage, which abound in titles and high ranks, and the names of places and divinities. It is, however, difficult to go any farther. Study, in particular of how the article is used, has made it possible to cut the texts up into units known as stich’s, which are of convenient length for analysis. An effort has also been made with verbs, where a system of affixes has been discovered. In recent years computer techniques have m a d e possible the systematic recording of texts which have been transliterated, together with their detailed analyses. For the time being, however, the translation as such of the 800-odd texts recovered remains as a whole impossible.
The first long Meroitic texts appear on two stelae of King Taniydamani, who is dated about the end of the second century before our era. The uncertainties of Meroitic chronology are particularly serious for this period, to such a point that - as we have seen — certain scholars have taken the view that there was an independent state at Napata, which seems highly improbable. Thereafter a preponderant place falls to two queens, Amanirenas and Amanishakheto. Their husbands remain forgotten and we do not even know the name of Amanishakheto's. The throne was also occupied for some years by a king, the former prince Akinidad, son of Queen Amanirenas and King Teriteqas. Nevertheless, it is important which of these two queens came first, both of them 'Candace', which is the transcription of the Meroitic title Kdke according to the tradition of the classical authors.

Rome and Meroe

One of the two queens had dealings with Augustus in a famous episode, one of the rare occasions whe n Mero e appears on the stage of universal history. Following the sack of Aswan by the Meroites (which was probably
when the statue of Augustus was captured, the head of which has been discovered buried under the threshold of one of the palaces of Meroe), the prefect of Roman Egypt, Petronius, mounted a punitive expedition and captured Napata in. A permanent garrison was established by the R o m a n s at Primis (Qasr Ibrim), which held off the Meroites. In —21 or—20 a peace treaty was negotiated at Samos , where Augustus was staying at the time. The R o m a n garrison appears to have been withdrawn; the exaction of a tribute from the Meroites was renounced and the frontier between the Roman and Meroitic empires was fixed at Hiera Sycaminos (Muharraqa). Shall we ever know whether Amanirenas or Amanishakheto was the one-eyed, 'mannish-looking' Candace who, according to Strabo, Pliny and Dion Cassius, conducted the negotiations with the Roman invaders?

The Meroitic empire at its height

This period around the start of the Christian era is one of the peaks of Meroitic civilization, as a number of buildings attest. The names of Akinidad and of the Queen Amanishakheto are inscribed in Temple Tat Kawa , and a palace discovered of late years at Ouad ben Naga close by the river has been attributed to the queen. 3 2 Her fine tomb is still to be seen in the Northern Cemetery of Meroe.  The pyramid, with the traditional eastern approach of pylon chapel, is one of the most imposing in the old city and in 1834 yielded to the Italian adventurer Ferlini the elaborate
jewels which are today the glory of the Munich and Berlin museums. Similar ornaments adorn the reliefs, where queens and princes display a rather flashy luxury which is to some degree reminiscent of that of another civilization - of rich merchants — on the frontiers of the Hellenized world, namely, Palmyra. T o the luxury is added a touch of violence, with cruel scenes of prisoners being torn to pieces by lions, impaled on pikes or devoured by birds of prey.
Natakamani, son-in-law and successor of Amanishakheto, and his wife, Queen Amanitere (—12 to +12 ) were also great builders, and their names are indisputably those recurring most frequently on the Kushite
monuments . Throughout the major cities of the empire, these monuments speak of the power of a dynasty at its apogee. In the north, at a site south of the Second Cataract, the king and queen built a temple at Amara in which the reliefs are Egyptian work, the only non-Egyptian element being the detail of the royal Meroitic head-dress, a close cap girdled by a head-band hanging loose behind. In the isle of Argo just above the Third Cataract, the two colossi have long been accepted as Natekamani's. 3 4 T h e royal couple also put in hand the restoration of Napata, devastated by Petronius' expedition, and in particular of the temple of A m o n . At Meroe itself the names of Natekamani and his consort appear in the great temple of Amon jointly with the name of the prince Arikankharor. At Ouad ben Naga, the South Temple is their work. They devoted particular attention to Naga, the great centre of the steppe-country south of Meroe: the frontal approach to the temple of Amon became a pylon whose decoration combines Egyptian influences and purely Meroitic features, while the most famous building is the Naga lion temple whose reliefs are among the most representative examples of Meroitic art. The pyramids of the king, the queen and the princes have been identified at Meroe. T h e king and queen liked to be portrayed with one of the royal princes, Arikankharor, Arikakhatani or Sherkaror, varying according to the monument ; perhaps the princes were viceroys of the provinces in whose principal temples they were pictured. Sherkaror seems to have ascended the throne in succession to his parents shortly after the opening of the Christian era; a rock carving at Gebel Qeili in the south of Butana shows him triumphing over innumerable enemies under the protection of a solar deity.

Meroe and the surrounding countries

It is in the next few years that we get the famous episode recorded in the Acts of the Apostles (8:28-39) of the deacon Philip's conversion, on the road from Jerusalem to Gaza, of 'an Ethiopian, an eunuch, a minister of Candace, the Queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of all her treasure . . .' 3 S Whatever the value and significance of this evidence it does show that Meroe was known afar.

There is quite another direction in which researchers were long tempted to look for connections with the outer world: one representation of Apedemak, the Lion-god, shows him with a threefold lion's mask and
four arms; 3 6 this has suggested India, just as have reliefs at Naga which show a lotus flower with a serpent rising from it. The neck of the serpent becomes a human body with one arm which is the mask of Apedemak wearing a triple crown. In the ruins of Mussawwarat es-Sufra numerous elephant figures are to be noticed; one of the more curious is an elephant figure which serves to cap a broad wall. T h e most recent research is inclined to abandon the Hindu hypothesis and to look for strictly local, and thereby the more interesting, origins in the kingdom of Kush.
This distant country continued to intrigue the Romans. Towards + 60 Nero sent two centurions up the Nile; on their return they stated that the land was too poor to be worth conquering. An inscription in Latin
is carved on one of the walls of Mussawwarat, while Roman coins, though in very small numbers, reached parts of Nubia and the Sudan; a coin of Claudius has been found in Meroe, one of Nero at Karanog, a coin
of Diocletian far into Kordofan (El Obeid), and another of the middle of the fourth century of our era at Sennar. These modest remains take their place alongside the discoveries of the Meroe baths, the bronzes of hundreds of tombs or the magnificent parcel of glass-ware quite recently discovered at Sedeinga.
The most constant relations maintained by Meroe were with the temple of Isis at Philae: embassies were sent regularly with rich gifts for the sanctuary of the goddess, where quantities of graffiti have been preserved in Demotic, in Greek and in Meroitic. The y enable us to establish the sole synchronism of one of the last Meroitic reigns, that of Teqorideamani (+24 6 to +266) , who sent ambassadors to Philae in + 253 . We know very little of the last centuries of Meroe. The indigenous component in the culture becomes more and more important. The control of the caravan routes between the Nile valley, the Red Sea and the Nilo-Chadian savannah— the economic cornerstone of this empire - was probably not easy to maintain. T h e royal pyramids become progressively smaller and poorer; while the rarity of Egyptian or Mediterranean objects indicates a cutting-off of outside influences, a cause or a consequence of the country's decadence.