Current Date:

Tuesday, 01 May 2018

The Empire of Kush: Napata and Meroe (4-4)

(J. Leclant, UNESCO, General History of Africa) - 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.  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 A m a r a 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. 
The 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 n a m e of the prince Arikankharor. At Oua d ben Naga, the South Temple is their work. T h e y devoted particular attention to Naga, the great centre of the steppe-country south of Meroe: the frontal approach to the temple of A m o n 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;  this has suggested India, just as have reliefs at Naga which show a lotus flower with a serpent rising from it. T h e neck of the serpent becomes a human body with one arm which is the mask of Apedema k 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. The 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 + 6 0 Nero sent two centurions up the Nile; on their return they stated that the land was too poor to be worth conquering. A n 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 + 2 5 3 . Weknow  very little of the last centuries of Meroe. T h e indigenous component in the culture becomes more and more important. T h e 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.
The 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

Decline and fall of Meroe

The Meroites, who until then had beaten back the raids of the nomad tribes, thenceforward became a tempting prey for their neighbours, Aksumites to the south, nomadic Blemmyes to the east and Nubas to the west. It is almost certainly this last group, mentioned for the first time by
Eratosthenes in —200, to which should be ascribed the overthrow of the Meroitic empire.
On this we have no more than indirect evidence. Towards + 3 3 0 , th kingdom of A k s u m , which had grown u p on the high table-lands of present-day Ethiopia, had rapidly attained the summit of its power; Ezana, 4 0 the first monarch to embrace Christianity, reached the confluence of the Atbara and boasts of having mounted an expedition yielding m uch
booty 'against the Nubas' . From this we may conclude that the Meroitic kingdom had already collapsed at the time of Ezana's campaign. From then onwards inscriptions in Meroitic ceased and it m a y be that this was when
Meroitic language gave place to the tongue ancestral to present-day Nubian.
Even the pottery, while remaining faithful to its millennary tradition, acquires new characteristics. Some authorities have theorized that the Kushite royal family fled westward and settled at Darfur where there would seem to be traces of the survival of Meroitic traditions.41 In any event, explorations in these regions and in the southern Sudan should afford us a better understanding of how Egyptian influences were transmitted towards inner Africa through the intermediary of Meroe.
The glory of Kush is quite surely reflected in certain legends of Central and West Africa. The Sao have legends of the bringing of knowledge by men from the east. Knowledge of techniques spread; certain peoples cast bronze by the 'cire perdue' method, as in the Kushite kingdom; but above all, and of vital importance, it would seem to be thanks to Meroe that the working of iron spread over the African continent.
Whatever the importance of this penetration of Meroitic influences through the rest of Africa, the role of K u s h should never be underestimated: for over a thousand years, first at Napata and then at Meroe , there flourished a strongly original civilization which, beneath an Egyptian-style veneer fairly constantly maintained, remained profoundly African. Nubia after the fall of Meroe: 'Group X '
It can be taken that the Nuba s from the west or south-west were the 'carriers' of the Nubian language, whose offshoots even today are living tongues both in certain mountainous regions of Darfur and in the various sectors of Upper and Lower Nubia.
As we have just seen, a proportion of Nuba groups had installed themselves in the southern part of the Meroitic kingdom. Archaeologically they are there identifiable by pottery of a rather African type. Their tombs are tumuli, of which some have been excavated at Tanqasi43 near the Gebel Barkal and at Ushara, while others remain to be explored, in particular along the west bank of the Nile. It appears to have been about + 5 7 0 that these Nubas were converted to Christianity by the Monophysite Bishop Longinos. In the north the date of the survivals of the Meroitic kingdom appears to have been different, up to a point.
Since G . A . Reisner's 1907 survey, the cultural phase succeeding the fall of Mero e has been designated by one letter as Grou p X , a frank admission of ignorance.
This culture extended over all Lowe r Nubia as far as Sai and Wawa to the south towards the Third Cataract. In this area it pursued its evolution from the first part of the fourth century to the middle of the sixth, i.e. up to the introduction of Christianity and the rapid rise of the Christian kingdoms of Nubia.
The barbarian luxury of the Group X kinglets was revealed in the period 1931-3, w h e n the English archaeologists Emery and Kirwan, at Ballana and Qustul44 a few miles south of A b u Simbel, excavated enormous tumuli which J. L . Burckhardt, the unwearying pioneer surveyor of Nubia, had already noted at the start of the previous century. Surrounded by their wives, their servants and their richly caparisoned horses, the dead reposed on litters as in the old days of Kerma . Their heavy diadems and silver bracelets set with coloured stones have a wealth of reminders of
Egypt or Meroe, such as the ram's head of Amon bearing a huge crown atef, the fringes of uraei or the busts of Isis. Alexandrian influences are clearly apparent in the treasures of silverware which strewed the floor: among the ewers, cups and patens, there was an incised plate showing
Herme s seated on a globe with a griffin by his side; there are also huge bronze lamps and a wooden chest inlaid with panels of carved ivory. But the pottery is still of the traditional Meroitic type so that the qualities of a truly Nubian technique persist over the millennia. Nobades or Blemmyes
Which were the populations of Group X - Nobades or Blemmyes?
The Blemmyes  were warlike nomads customarily identified with the Bedja tribes of the eastern desert. As regards the Nobades or Nobates, after much disputation they are accepted as Nubas ; the writer is inclined to think them the lords of Ballana and Qustul. In any event Blemmye s and Nobades are barely more than names for us, and it seems preferable to use the term 'Grou p X'or'Ballana culture'.
Ancient literary evidences and epigraphic documents enable us to tie the main historical outlines. The historian Procopus claims that, towards the end of the third century, when the Roman emperor Diocletian pulled back the frontier to the First Cataract, he encouraged the Nobates to leave the Oasis region and to establish themselves on the Nile, reckoning on their serving as a screen for Egypt against the incursions of the Blemmyes. In actual fact, under Theodosius towards 450, Philae was attacked by the
Blemmyes and the Nobades; they were driven back eventually by forces commanded by Maximinus, and then by the prefect Florus.
After the advent of Christianity they were permitted to continue to visit the sanctuary of Isis at Philae and for certain major feasts were allowed to borrow the statue of the goddess. Qasr Ibrim m a y have been one of the staging posts for this pilgrimage, for what seems to have been a
statuette of Isis in painted earthenware was found there. It was only under Justinian, between + 5 3 5 and + 5 3 7 , that his general, Narses, closed the temple of Philae and expelled the last priests.
The same period saw the undertaking of the evangelization of Nubia. If we are to believe John of Ephesus, the Melkite Orthodox envoys of the emperor were outdistanced by the Monophysite missionary Julian, backed by the empress Theodora, and he succeeded, in + 5 4 3 , in converting the
king of the Nobades. In a corrupt Greek inscription, unfortunately undated, in the temple of Kalabsha, the Nobatian king Silko boasts of having, by God' s help, conquered the Blemmyes , who thus vanish from history.