Illustration of the pyramids at Meroe
Credit: Charlie Swerdlow,
The Nubian pyramids are a
very important part of the heritage of Africa and provide a
remarkable insight into the history of the continent.
They lived in a region that lies today mostly in Northern Sudan. Nubia was heavily influenced by Egypt but developed a distinctive culture. The first great Nubian kingdom was the Kerma kingdom.
Later, the Kushite Nubian kingdom dominated Egypt.
Expulsed by the Assyrians, the Nubians fell back beyond the First Cataract of the Nile and established a kingdom at Meroe (c 550 BC-500 AD).
Their religion, however, was almost identical to that of the ancient Egyptians.
At about the same time, the Kingdom of Meroe was invaded by invasion from Aksum (Ethiopia) and split into three smaller kingdoms. In the seventh century, the christian kingdoms successfully resisted the Arabs and enjoyed great prosperity and peace.
Nubia was finally conquered by Mamluk Egypt in the 14th century AD.
from the late 25th Dynasty early Napatan period,
7th century BC
The pyramids were mostly built between 300 BC and 300 AD.
There are an estimated two hundred pyramids in Northern Sudan, if not more far more numerous than in Egypt. They were built by Nubian kings who, like the Pharaohs, were seen as divine.
The kings and queens of Nubia were buried in these structures.
They were interred with vast amounts of gold and other precious metals and most likely mummified. Sadly, these royal tombs were all looted long ago.
Perhaps the most distinctive feature of the structures in Nubia is that they include what has been interpreted as an offering temple. These temples are decorated with iconography that is uniquely Kushite.
Here, monarchs were buried for centuries.
The vast majority of the pyramids are located at three sites, the most important of which is the former royal seat of Meroe, where there are 50 tombs.
Another important site is Nuri.
Curiously, archaeologists have found rocks that ring when struck and believe they may have been used in rituals.
As the burial place of the dead monarchs, they were central to the Nubian religion. Priests often performed sacrifices and rituals honoring the deceased monarch in the offering temples at the base of the pyramids.
It is believed this was done in the hopes that the dead king or queen would intercede with the gods on behalf of their former subjects.
The Nubians appear to have revived the building of pyramids centuries after the Egyptians abandoned their construction.
Why this was the case, no one knows...
It is possible that as ancient Egypt came under Macedonian and later Roman rule, the Nubians saw themselves as the heirs of ancient Egyptian civilization and this led to the revival in pyramid-building.
After this, they abruptly cease, which may be related to the decline in the power of the Meroite kings and queens. The region was also becoming increasingly christianized.
As monarchs adopted christianity, many customs and practices including the interring of monarchs in tombs were left behind.
They were discovered by European explorers in the 19th century and excavated by archaeologists, who study them for insights into the Nubian society and civilization.
The pyramids of Nubia are among the wonders of the ancient world.
They were a product of a unique and very successful civilization deeply influenced by ancient Egypt but also distinctively its own. The pyramids played a crucial role in the development of Nubia and were a crucial part of their religion.
Today, they are becoming increasingly popular with tourists and more tombs may even be unearthed in the future.
However, the pyramids are
at risk of flooding and neglect, raising concerns for the future of
these ancient wonders.