A. Earliest Nubia
B. From Hunting to Gathering to Self-Subsistence
C. A-Group and C-Group Cultures
D. Lower Nubia: 2500-2000 BC
E. Upper Nubia: 2500-2000 BC
F. Kerma and the Kingdom of Kush
G. The Egyptian Conquest of Nubia
H. Kushite Resurgence
I. The Napatan State
J. The Meriotic State
K. From Unity to Fragmentation
L. The Nubian Christian Kingdoms
M. Nubia and Islam
I. The Napatan State: Nubia as an Egyptian-style Kingdom: 661-300 BC.
1. The Napatan Period
After the expulsion of the Kushite court from Egypt by the invading Assyrian armies, the royal family regrouped in Nubia and consolidated its hold over all their lands south of Aswan. Although their armies were too weakened to attempt another assault on the north, the kings merely ignored their new Egyptian rivals of Dynasty 26 and continued to use all the proper Egyptian royal titles and to maintain steadfastly that they were the true kings of Egypt. By the late seventh century, the continued pretensions of the Kushites to the Egyptian throne must have become intolerable to the new Egyptian kings. Thus in 593 BC, with an army composed largely of Greek and Carian mercenaries, the pharaoh Psammeticus II invaded Kush. His troops met and destroyed a Kushite army south of the Third Cataract, while another force seems to have struck out across the Nubian Desert and launched a surprise attack on Napata, sacking and burning the city and destroying the palace and temples. The Kushite king Aspelta (ca. 600-580 BC), a grandson or great-grandson of Taharqa, apparently fled to Mero‘ for safety. After his reign, however, our historical records become very scarce and our knowledge of historical events in Kush becomes very imperfect.
The 300-year period in Nubia following Kushite rule over Egypt has traditionally been known as the "Napatan Period," since it used to be thought that during this period the capital of Kush lay at Napata. It is now generally assumed that Napata was never more than the chief religious center of the kingdom, and that the political capital, after Dynasty 25, was always Mero‘, about 170 miles (280 km) to the southeast. Throughout the Napatan period all the royal burials took place in the Napata district - at Nuri, about 6 miles (10 km) northeast of Gebel Barkal on the opposite side of the river. The following period, the "Meroitic", is thought to begin when the first royal tombs were constructed at Mero‘, some time after 300 BC. These names, "Napatan" and "Meroitic", designate only cultural phases of the later kingdom of Kush and should not be thought to refer to separate or successive kingdoms.
Although the royal inscriptions of the Napatan period are not many, and although little or nothing is known of most of the kings, the surviving texts do reveal that the rulers traveled to Gebel Barkal for their coronations and to consult the oracle there on matters of state and the conduct of war.
The kings also undertook periodic journeys to all the other sanctuaries in the kingdom for the celebration of important rituals and festivals. Through their generals, the kings waged wars against the nomad tribes of the desert and the peoples of the south. Much of the time, they dwelt in god-like seclusion at Mero‘, and upon their deaths, they were buried in huge pyramid tombs at Nuri.
The Napatan Period was an era when Kushite culture rather slavishly imitated Egyptian models in art, architecture, and burial practices, and when royal inscriptions were written exclusively in the Egyptian language with Egyptian hieroglyphic writing. These aspects of culture, in fact, may have been controlled by the powerful priesthood of Amun, who may have seen any departure from "Egyptian" culture as a violation of religious law. The Meroitic Period, which began about the mid-third century BC, was significantly different and is thought to have begun when the kings abandoned Napata as their burial site and began to construct their pyramids at Meroe. At the same time, the use of Egyptian language and writing sharply declines and formal inscriptions began to be written in the native language, called Meroitic, which was expressed in a newly devised native alphabetic script. Similarly there was also a sudden shift away from Egyptian artistic standards, and Kushite culture began to assume a very original appearance.
The radical change in the mid-third century BC was almost certainly brought about by events recorded by the Greek historian Diodorus Siculus, who wrote that until that time it was the custom of the most powerful priests to send a message to the reigning king, claiming it was from the god; the message ordered him to take his own life. Diodorus states that the custom of divinely-ordained royal suicide was abolished by a king named Ergamenes, who upon receipt of the letter, simply marched to the temple, put the priests to the sword and ordered matters according to his will. The custom of putting a king to death when he began to grow old and infirm is a well-known one in many traditional African societies, since people believed that the king's health and vigor were important to guarantee the health and vigor of the state. Many scholars doubt the truth of Diodorus' account, but it hardly seems coincidence that the first royal pyramid at Meroe belonged to a king named Arkamani ("Ergamenes").
2. The Royal Pyramids at Nuri
The most important surviving monuments of the Napatan Period are the royal pyramids at Nuri. The cemetery was founded by Taharqa, and it was used by nineteen of his successsors and fifty-four queens.
Only five of the rulers after Taharqa are known by any lengthy historical documents; the rest remain shadowy figures known only by the names found on their tombs. The pyramids were erected on a pair of parallel ridges about 1 mi (1.5 km) from the Nile, about 6 mi (10 km) northeast of Gebel Barkal on the opposite bank. Probably because Taharqa was recognized as greatest member of the dynasty, his successors allowed his pyramid to remain more than twice the size of any of their pyramids. It was 171 ft. (52 m) on a side, had a 69 degree angle, and stood originally about 260 ft. (79 m) high. Generally the other kings' pyramids were half that size at the base. Their angles varied, and they stood between 65 and 130 ft (20-39.5 m) high. The queens' pyramids averaged about 30 ft.(9 m) on a side, although near the end of the period the pyramids of the primary queens reached 56 ft (17 m), attesting to the increasing political importance of these ladies. Small chapels were built on the eastern sides of the pyramids (facing away from the river toward sunrise); and within these chapels offerings of food and drink were made to the deceased owners.
The tombs were cut in the bedrock beneath the pyramids, which were constructed of solid masonry. The kings' tombs regularly consisted of three interconnecting chambers; the queens tombs, only two. When well finished, these rooms were completely painted and carved with Egyptian texts from the "Book of the Dead." Each was entered by a long flight of stairs cut in a descending trench in the rock ledge, far out in front of the chapel entrance. After the burial, the stairway was filled in and camouflaged from the ground.
This, however, did not deter tomb robbers. The tombs were all thoroughly plundered in antiquity, but much remained in them that revealed what the burials had been like. All but two of the tombs were excavated in 1917-18 by George A. Reisner and his Harvard University-Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, expedition, and many of the finds are presently on permanent exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts and in the Sudan National Museum, Khartoum.
Typically, Napatan royalty were mummified according to Egyptian fashion; their bodies were wrapped holding gold crooks and flails; green stone heart scarabs and gold pectorals were placed over their chests. Their fingers and toes were capped with gold, and their faces were covered with gold masks (although the only existing examples were found in queens' tombs, where the masks were only of gilded silver).
The vital organs (heart, lungs, stomach, and intestines) were removed from the body and placed in large canopic jars. The royal mummies were encased within carved wooden anthropoid coffins covered with gold foil and inlaid with colored stones set in designs of falcons or vultures with wings seeming to envelop the body. The coffin eyes were inlaid with gilded bronze, calcite, and obsidian. The coffins were then placed within larger anthropoid coffins, covered with gold leaf. In two cases the kings' outer coffins were placed within huge fully decorated granite sarcophagi. Shawabti figures of stone or faience, numbering between several hundred to over a thousand, would be arranged standing around the walls of the burial chambers.
Evidence suggests that the kings were also buried with chests of valuable jewelry, perfume and unguent vessels, and other personal possessions. A large number of storage jars containing food and drink for the afterlife was also interred.
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