Meroites


Meroites
Third century BC-AD Fourth century.
    To the south of Egypt there lay the independent kingdom of Meroe, which had come into existence when the 'Ethiopian' kings of the Twenty-fifth Dynasty were driven out of Egypt by the *Assyrians. These rulers returned to Napata in the south where, under *Psammetichus III of the Twenty-sixth Dynasty, the Egyptians campaigned, probably to prevent a resurgence of the power of the Nubians and any renewed attempt to reconquer Egypt.
    The Nubian kingdom finally moved its capital from Napata further south to the new city of Meroe. They had by now disassociated themselves from Egypt and went on to develop their own Meroitic kingdom on the upper reaches of the Nile in virtual isolation. The northern boundary of this kingdom was probably established at Pnubs, south of the Third Cataract. Meroe possessed good resources: cattle could be raised and there were ample deposits of iron. As Egyptianised *Nubians, the Meroites retained Egyptian culture, and temples and art forms reflected the continuation of Egyptian religion which survived here until the fourth century AD. Although Napata remained a religious centre, the royal cemetery moved to the new capital of Meroe and flourished there between the third century BC and the fourth century AD; here pyramids were built and used for royal burials long after they had ceased to be constructed in Egypt.
    The pottery of the Meroitic kingdom displays both African and Mediterranean influences, for contact with the north was continued through the Roman punitive expeditions that are described in Classical writers such as *Strabo, *Pliny and Dio Cassius. The Roman governor of Egypt, Petronius, led one of these expeditions in 23 BC and sacked Napata. When the Roman emperor *Diocletian withdrew all troops from the area and established Egypt's southern frontier at Philae, Meroe began a gradual decline; it was finally destroyed by King Aeizanes of Axum in Ethiopia (AD 325-75) in c. AD 350.
    When the Meroites first severed their links with Egypt, they retained the classical language, Egyptian hieroglyphs, for their formal inscriptions, but gradually this became increasingly unintelligible. From Egyptian hieroglyphs, they evolved an alphabetic script for writing their native language and another linear type of writing. These scripts are both known as Meroitic and have been the subject of intense study.
BIBL. Shinnie, P. Meroe, a Civilisation of the Sudan.: 1967; Dunham, D. The Royal Cemeteries of Kush. (four vols) Boston, Mass.: 1950-7; Laming Macadam, M.F. The temples of Kawa. Vol. 1. Oxford: 1949.
Biographical Dictionary of Ancient Egypt by Rosalie and Antony E. David

Ancient Egypt. A Reference Guide. . 2011.

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