Pyramids from the Northern Cemetery at Meroe, 3rd c. B.C. to 4th c. A.D. By the 4th c. B.C., the Kushite kings had moved south to the Sudanese savannah and built a capitol at Meroe. Here southern cultural traditions slowly prevailed over the cultural heritage of Egypt.
Click on photos to enlarge.
Ruins of the Merotic temple at Musawwarat es-Sufra. This temple complex, called the "Great Enclosure", lies south of Meroe near the Sixth Cataract. It may have been a pilgrammage center or a royal palace. A number of towns were located on the banks of the Atbara, Blue Nile and White Nile, in which lived craftsmen who met local needs and exported along the trade route that ran from Red Sea port towns in the East to beyond Lake Chad in the West. This route eventually connected to the major center of iron production in Jenne Jeno.
South wall of the funerary chapel of pyramid N.11 at Meroe. This inscription is probably from Queen Shanadakhete (d. 160 B.C.), Meroe's most powerful ruler and great builder in stone, and perhaps the first significant female ruler in world history. Seated behind Shanadakhete is her husband. At Meroe the kandake system of government made the Queen Mother the central political figure, and the queens were either the principal ruler or at least equal to their husbands as co-ruler. Behind the thrones are the protecting wings of the standing goddess Isis. Besides the ranks of people coming to pay their respects is a representation of Shanadakhete's judgement before Osiris.
Relief from the Lion Temple at Naga, south of Meroe at the Sixth Cataract. King Natakamani stands before the lion god,Apedemek, and also Horus and Amun. The king's robe and the sash draped over his right shoulder, which is typical of Merotic dress. The Sudanese god Apedemek slowly displaced the divinities of Egypt.
Stele inscribed with Merotic cursive erected near Meroë by Queen Amanirenas, late first century B.C. (London: British Museum). 2.36 m. This queen or her successor ruled Meroe when its conflict with Rome began. This is an unusually long historical inscription in Merotic, but so far has not been translated. When the Kingdom of Kush was still located atNapata, Egyptian demotic script was used at court. The development of a distinctive script to express the Sudanese language indicates the cultural independence of Meroë from Egypt.
Relief from a stand at Wad Ban Naga temple. It shows Queen Amanitore, wife of her co-ruler, Natakamani. The inscription is in both Egyptian and Merotic hieroglyphs, and so is important for knowing how to translate Merotic script. The tendency today to see Natakamani as the principle ruler of Kush probably results from our privileging Roman written sources.
Information and photos from the University of Alabama
at Birmingham, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
"Kiosk" at Naqa, Sixth Cataract, South of Meroe, showing both Graeco-Roman and Egyptian stylistic influences. There developed a major cultural link from Alexandria through the Red Sea ports to which Meroe connected. This was associated with the eventual rise of the port towns to become the independent state of Axum, which contributed to the demise of Meroe in 325 A.D.
The Lion Temple of Naqa. The architectural style is Egyptian. The entrance reliefs show the King Natekamani & Queen Amanitore striking their enemies. The queen reflects Merotic culture in both her importance being equal to that of the king, but also in her figure style.
Decorated Merotic cups from Faras. Designs show Mediterranean influences and include the ankh, frogs, fantastic animals, and small stamped motifs. These cups are fine wares of very high quality.
Meroitic utility redware from a grave at Faras, probably 1st c. B.C.
(London: British Museum).
Gold jackal, Meroe, ca. 1st c. B.C. (London: British Museum). 3.1 cm. Apparently exported to Cyrene, Libya, where this piece was found.
Redware amphora from a Merotic grave at Faras with figure of an archer, probably first century B.C. (London: British Museum).
Ear stud with kneeling Hathor
Diameter: 4.1 cm (1 5/8 in.)
The kneeling winged goddess wears a feathered garment that leaves the torso exposed. The breasts are supported by her hands, and the double crown surmounts the vulture diadem. As on the stela of Amanikhabale (cat. 290), a bundle of plants(?) behind the goddess reaches up to the crown. The reverse bears a mirror-image representation. The decoration of the rim is identical to the stud in cat. 373. (Sudan catalogue) Gold. In center kneeling winged female figure with crown, from which hangs a tassel; surrounded by enamel inlay. Outer edge decorated with flowers and buds.
From Meroe, Tomb Beg. W 127. February, 1922: excavated by the Harvard University-Museum of Fine Arts Expedition; 1924: assigned to the MFA by the government of the Sudan.
Hathor-headed crystal pendant
reign of Piye, 747-716 B.C.
Gold; rock crystal
Height: 2 1/8 inches
Crystal ball, surmounted by gold head of Hathor crowned with disc and horns. The ball is bored vertically and has a gold disc at the base on which it stands. Ring at back of head. Base loose.
From El-Kurru, Tum 1. 1918-19: excavated by the Harvard University-Museum of Fine Arts Expedition; 1921: assigned to the MFA by the division of finds with the Sudanese government.
Head of god Imseti from canopic jar of
Napatan Period, 664-653 B.C.
Sudan, Nubia, (el-Kurru)
Height: 17.7 cm (6 15/16 in.)
From El-Kurru, Pyramid 16. March, 1919: excavated by the Harvard University-Museum of Fine Arts Expedition; 1921: alloted to the MFA by the government of the Sudan.
Amulet of a winged goddess
Blue glazed faience. Steatopagous winged female figure wearing horn-disc-feather crown and with a crowned uraeus over each arm. The back bears a debased hieroglyphic inscription.
From El-Kurru, tomb Ku. 51.1919: excavated by the Harvard University-Museum of Fine Arts Expedition, March 1919; 1924: assigned to the MFA by the government of the Sudan.
Bracelet with image of Hathor
Meroitic Period, about 100 B.C.
Sudan, Nubia, (Gebel Barkal)
Height x length: 1.8 x 12.5 cm (11/16 x 4 15/16 in.)
Hinged bracelet of gold with enamel decoration showing a seated figure of the goddess Hathor and geometrical pattern; two hinges; loop on each end.
From Gebel Barkal, Pyramid VIII April 1916: excavated by the Harvard University-Museum of Fine Arts Expedition; 1920: assigned to the MFA by the government of the Sudan.
Relief of a king before Amen
Third Intermediate Period
Dynasty 25, 760-656 B.C.
Sudan, (Possibly Kawa)
Sandstone block with relief decoration portraying a Kushite king beforeAmun. The king wears a crown similar to that of the god, but crested with a pair of ram's horns and a disk, and fitted with another pair of ram's horns behind the ears. He lifts his hand in a gesture of greeting to the god.
By 1978: with Paris dealer; 1984: purchased by the MFA at Sotheby Parke Bernet auction no. 5154, March 1, 1984.
Winged Isis pectoral
Napatan Period, reign of Amaninatakelebte
about 538-519 B.C.
Sudan, Nubia, (Nuri)
Width: 16.8 cm (6 5/8 in.)
Chased gold pectoral representing the winged goddessIsis, shown kneeling with wings outstretched. In her right hand, she holds an ankh, the symbol for "life"; in her left hand she holds what may be the hieroglyph for a sail, the symbol for the breath of life. On her head is a throne, the hierogyph for her name.
From Nuri, Pyramid 10. 1916: excavated by the Harvard University-Museum of Fine Arts Expedition; 1920: assigned to the MFA by the division of finds with the Sudanese government.
Kush (Nubia) Mineral Resources:
During antiquity the Kingdom of Kush, it is said, was one of the richest countries of the known world. This was due more to the mineral wealth of the border lands to the east of the Nile than to the core of the kingdom itself.
Kush was one of the main gold-producing areas in the ancient world. Gold was mined between the Nile and the Red Sea, mostly in the part to the north of the eighteenth parallel, where traces of ancient mining are to be found. Excavations at Meroe and Musawwarat es-Sufra have revealed temples with walls and statues covered by gold leaf. Gold and its export not only were one of the main sources of the wealth and greatness of the kingdom, but greatly influenced foreign relations with Egypt and Rome. It has been computed that during antiquity Kush produced about 51,440,000 ounces of pure gold, worth about $22 billion at todays value.
The eastern desert was rich in various precious and semi-precious stones such as amethyst, carbuncle, hyacinth, chrysolith, beryl and others. Even if these mines were not all controlled by the Meroitic kingdom, in the last resort all their products went through Meroitic trade channels, and so increased the fame of Meroe as one of the richest countries in the ancient world.
Crafts and Trade:
The Meroitic towns were also important centers of craft and trade. The existing evidence indicates a high technological and artistic level of crafts. Although in the earlier period Egyptian influence is unmistakable, from the third century before the Christian era, Meroitic craftsmen and artists created a highly original and independent artistic tradition.
Pottery is the best-known of all the products of the Meroitic civilization and owes its fame to its quality both of texture and of decoration. There are two distinct traditions: the hand-made pottery made by women which shows a remarkable continuity of form and style and reflects a deep-rooted African tradition, and the wheel-turned ware made by men which is more varied and responsive to stylistic changes.
Jewellery was another highly developed craft. It has been found in considerable quantities, mostly in royal tombs. As with other artifacts, the earlier jewellery was closely modeled on Egyptian styles and only later examples are characteristically Meroitic in style and ornamentation. The main materials were gold, silver and semi-precious stones, and the range of artifacts goes from plaques to necklaces, bracelets, ear-rings and finger-rings.
Cabinet-makers produced various kinds of furniture, especially beds, but also wooden caskets, strong-boxes and even musical instruments. Weavers made cotton and linen textiles. Tanners processed hides and leather.
All this indicates that in Meroe there existed a comparatively large class of craftsmen to which belonged also artists, architects and sculptors. How these crafts were organized is so far unknown, as the names of crafts in Meroitic inscriptions remain undeciphered.
The Kingdom of Kush formed an ideal extrepot for the caravan routes between the Red Sea, the Upper Nile and the Nile-Chad savannah. It is therefore not surprising that foreign trade played an important role in the Meroitic economy as well as in its politics. Foreign trade was directed mainly to Egypt and the Mediterranean world and later perhaps to southern Arabia. The chief trade route went along the Nile, although in some parts it crossed the savannah, for instance, between Meroe and Napata, and Napata and Lower Nubia. The Island of Meroe must have been crisscrossed by many caravan routes and it was also the starting-point for caravans to the Red Sea region, northern Ethiopia, Kordofan and Darfur. The control of this large network of routes was a constant worry to the Meroitic kings, for the nomadic peoples very often raided the caravans. The rulers built fortresses at strategic points in the Bajude steppe - between Meroe and Napata, for instance - to protect the trade routes and also dug wells along them.
This unique object was found in the tomb of a queen, who, according to Reisner, belonged to the period of King Piye. The loop attached to the back of the crown suggests that the piece was an amulet. The combination of a translucent ball with a head of a goddess is unparalleled in Egypt.
Kingdom of Kush or Cush was an ancient African state centered on the confluences of the Blue Nile, White Nile and River Atbara in what is now the Republic of Sudan.
It was one of the earliest civilizations to develop in the Nile River Valley. Having also been referred to as Nubia, and as "Ethiopia" in ancient Greek and Greco-Roman records, the Kushites left their mark on various aspects of the ancient world and their legacy is still readily discernible from the various archaeological field sites scattered throughout modern Sudan.
The Arts of Ancient Nubia & the Sudan
Sudan: Ancient Kingdom of the Nile
Historical Dictionary of Ancient and Medieval Nubia
The Nubian Pharaohs: Black Kings on the Nile
The Kushite Cemetery of Sanam: A Non-Royal Burial Ground of the Nubian Capital, ca 800-600 BC
The Kingdom of Kush: The Napatan and Meroitic Empires
Black Genesis: The Prehistoric Origins of Ancient Egypt