There are about 200 pyramids in northern Sudan, far more than the whole of Egypt. Yet three small clusters are all that remain of Meroë, last capital of the mighty Kingdom of Kush in what is now the Nubian desert. Built as tombs for rulers and nobles, they are much smaller and later (700BC-300AD) than their Egyptian counterparts, (≈2500BC) but noticeably steeper and the masonry is of a significantly higher standard.
Many other aspects of Kushite civilization show a close link to pharaonic Egypt. They worshipped the same gods, for example. Indeed the “top” god, Amun, was thought to reside inside a mountain (Jebel Barkal) in Kush, not in Egypt. The Kushites also used Egyptian-like hieroglyphics, but later developed their own unique cursive script. Unfortunately, the script is poorly understood and it has not yet been possible to translate any Kushite text. Other features clearly distinguish the Kushite and Egyptian civilisations. Women played a much more prominent role, for example, with warrior queens leading their armies to crucial victories. One such, Queen Amanirenas, defeated the Romans and brought back the bronze head of Caesar Augustus as a trophy to rest her feet on beneath her throne. The head is now in the British Museum. Jewellery and other artefacts clearly reflect a distinctly sub-saharan influence. The workmanship is of an extraordinarily high standard, reflecting the existence of a settled, stable and advanced civilisation with access to the necessary raw materials. After the Italian treasure hunter Giuseppe Felini raided many of the tombs in the 19th century he was not able to sell the jewellery on the European market because the items were thought to be fakes. The workmanship was perceived at the time to be far beyond the capability of “mere” Africans.
For many years subservient to its northern neighbour, the Kushites gained dominance after the collapse of the New Kingdom (about 1000BC) conquering Egypt and ruling it for about 100 years, a period known as the reign of the Black Pharaohs (750 – 650BC approx.). Eventually weakened by deforestation, land overuse and increasing desertification, Meroe was conquered and ransacked by the Aksumites (Ethiopians) about 330AD. It never recovered.
My painting is based on the pyramid tombs of the northern cemetery. Surrounded as they are by a desert inhabited by no-one they are extraordinarily beautiful and evocative, but also a reminder of the precarious position we find ourselves in as climate change grips the world with increasing severity.
The Pyramids of Meroë
Acrylic and phototransfer