Friday, October 9, 2020

The Romans and the Kingdom of Kush

When the Romans assumed control of Egypt after the defeat of Cleopatra VII, they negotiated with the Kushites who agreed to become a client kingdom.  However, a war broke out between the two cultures soon after, possibly due to excessive Roman taxation, and, according to Strabo, the Kushites "sacked Aswan with an army of 30,000 men and destroyed imperial Philae."  Kushite forces under their queen, Amanirenas, were eventually defeated and their capital, Napata, sacked. However, Amanirenas, was not yet conquered and attempted to attack Qasr Ibrim in 22 BCE.  Alerted to the advance, the Romans under the command of Petronius again marched south and managed to reach Qasr Ibrim and bolster its defences before the invading Kushites arrived. The Kushites then sent ambassadors to negotiate a peace settlement with Petronius. The Kushites succeeded in negotiating a peace treaty on favourable terms and trade between the two nations resumed and increased with the Roman Egyptian border extended to "Hiera Sykaminos (Maharraqa). This arrangement resulted in peace for the next 300 years and no further clashes were reported.

Nubian (Kushite) Ba-bird, Sandstone, Ballana Cemetery B, tomb 245, Meroitic Phase IIIB-IV (225-300 CE)photographed at the Oriental Institute, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois.

Statues of a human-headed bird were deposited in Meroitic tomb chapels to receive offerings.  A bird or human-headed bird that resided in the tomb and could fly out into the world had long represented the soul in Egyptian religious beliefs that Nubians adopted.  But only in Nubia did this spirit become the object of a cult and receive offerings.  The body of this statue is flattened at the front as though intended for an inscription.  People of the Meroitic period  developed their own form of writing, first utilizing Egyptian hieroglyphs, and later using a cursive alphabetic script with 23 signs known as Meroitic Cursive, which was written with a stylus and was used for general record-keeping.  Meroitic Cursive is written horizontally, and reads from right to left like all Semitic orthographies. The Meroitic language was spoken in MeroĆ« and the Sudan during the Meroitic period but became extinct about 400 CE.  

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