Meroe was the south capital of the Napata/Meroitic Kingdom, that spanned the period c. 800 BCE – c. 350 CE. According to partially deciphered Meroitic texts, the name of the city was Medewi or Bedewi. Excavations revealed evidence of important, high ranking Kushite burials, from the Napatan Period (c. 800 – c. 280 BCE) in the vicinity of the settlement called the Western cemetery. The culture of Meroe developed from the Twenty-fifth Dynasty of Ancient Egypt, which originated in Kush. The importance of the town gradually increased from the beginning of the Meroitic Period, especially from the reign of Arakamani (c. 280 BCE) when the royal burial ground was transferred to Meroe from Napata (Gebel Barkal). In the fifth century BCE, Greek historian Herodotus described it as “a great city…said to be the mother city of the other Ethiopians.” The city of Meroe was located along the middle Nile which is of much importance due to the annual flooding of the Nile river valley and the connection to many major river systems such as the Niger which aided with the production of pottery and iron characteristic to the Meroitic kingdom that allowed for the rise in power of its people.
Near East in 200 BCE, showing the Kingdom of Meroe and its neighbours:
Rome’s conquest of Egypt led to border skirmishes and incursions by Meroe beyond the Roman borders. In 23 BCE the Roman governor of Egypt, Publius Petronius, to end the Meroitic raids, invaded Nubia in response to a Nubian attack on southern Egypt, pillaging the north of the region and sacking Napata (22 BCE) before returning home. In retaliation, the Nubians crossed the lower border of Egypt and looted many statues (among other things) from the Egyptian towns near the first cataract of the Nile at Aswan. Roman forces later reclaimed many of the statues intact, and others were returned following the peace treaty signed in 22 BCE between Rome and Meroe under Augustus and Amanirenas, respectively. One looted head though, from a statue of the emperor Augustus, was buried under the steps of a temple. It is now kept in the British Museum.
Pyramids of Meroe – Northern Cemetery:
The next recorded contact between Rome and Meroe was in the autumn of 61 CE. The Emperor Nero sent a party of Praetorian soldiers under the command of a tribune and two centurions into this country, who reached the city of Meroe where they were given an escort, then proceeded up the White Nile until they encountered the swamps of the Sudd. This marked the limit of Roman penetration into Africa.
The period following Petronius’ punitive expedition is marked by abundant trade finds at sites in Meroe. L.P. Kirwan provides a short list of finds from archeological sites in that country. However, the kingdom of Meroe began to fade as a power by the 1st or 2nd century CE, sapped by the war with Roman Egypt and the decline of its traditional industries.
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