by Eleonora KORMYSHEVA, Dr. Sc. (Hist.), Institute of Oriental Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences
Sudan... An austere and proud land in the heart of Africa. Down to the middle of the twentieth century few here in Russia could tell anything about a wonderful civilization * flourishing there many centuries ago. A civilization not second at all to that of Egypt. The land of Kush was populated by motley ethnic groups (the same is true of present-day Sudan too), with Egyptians making up a significant stratum. The historical destinies of these peoples came to be bound together.
The ancient Egyptian civilization left an indelible imprint on the history of Kush. And yet the cultural values formed over centuries, and their palpable iconographic images were materialized in a different and most original fashion on African soil, contributing to human culture in general.
The significance of Graeco-Roman culture for many civilizations is indisputable. But one took pains to prove that the state of Kush was part of the Hellenistic culture of the Orient that sprung shoots in Africa.
The Sudan of today is a closed society ruled by Islamic fundamentalists-a country still feeling the aftermath of a war that went on for years in the south. Sudan is loath to let in so-called havajas (or "white-skinned") from Europe, Russia too.
I happened to visit that country in the early 1990s when the International Society on Nubia Research started holding regular conferences to which it invited workers of the Service of Sudan Antiquities. Taking part in one such conference, I ventured to suggest a project providing for a publication on monuments in the custody of the Sudan National Museum in Khartoum. The project
* The origins of the Sudanese civilization are contemporaneous with that of Egypt. From the middle of the third millennium B.C. on, Egyptian Pharaohs made regular raids on that land and by the middle of the second millennium B.C. had conquered what was known as the territory of Kush or Ethiopia, and turned it into an Egyptian colony. In time, with the weakening of the Egyptian power, Kush developed into an independent state which, descending into the political arena of the ancient world in the 8th century B.C., endured up until the 4th century B.C.
gained support from the International Fund of Signora Michela Schiff-Giorgini which financed field work in Sudan.
Soon after, the RAS Institute of Oriental Studies and the Service of Sudan Antiquities signed an agreement under the patronage of the French Academy of Inscriptions on the publication of the scientific catalog Ancient Sudanese Gods in the Collection of the Sudan National Museum in Khartoum.
In 1994, while waiting for permission to work with museum antiquities (something that required a good deal of clearance), my old-time French colleagues invited me to join their field party to Sedeinga, a settlement just south of the Third Nile Cataract. Sure, I took that invitation with much joy. Data on rich archeological findings retrieved there have not been published yet. That was the place where King Amenhotep (Amenophis III), who ruled ca. 1402- 1365 B.C., dedicated to his wife Queen Tiye the famous temple built during his reign. It was in Kush that Pharaohs dared to do a thing like that, for in their homeland such temples were erected only in honor of Gods and deified sovereigns. Today this temple is in ruins, what remains is just one column and blocks of once massive walls decorated with relief work and texts. One would hardly be able to restore it - this job is all too expensive, and then all too brittle is the Nubian sandstone that crumbles at a mere touch.
I shall always remember my journey to Sedeinga. Yea, it was an unforgettable experience! First we traveled through the Sudanese desertland, more austere and more august than that in Egypt; and then we sailed down the Nile on wooden feluccas under tattered, weather-beaten sails. I could see more than once how sensitive are the Sudanese to their natural environment, how intimate are they in their relationship with nature. A guide or a helmsman is absolutely reliable. If your guide takes you across the desert, you are certain to reach your destination. But if the Nile is rough or dead calm - forget about it: no one will ferry you across to the other bank for however much money. Regular ferry-boats are run only at two points - near Kava and next to the holy mount Gebel Barkal, with the last ferry off just before sunset. Then everything plunges into darkness - a complete blackout, for electricity is all too great luxury that only Khartoum and two or three other big cities can afford. And it gets frightfully cold after sundown, for Sudan's climate is sharply continental.
Back in the 1960s and 1970s archeological works at Sedeinga were supervised by an Italian researcher, Signora Michela Schiff- Giorgini. She fell in love with Sudan and spent many field seasons there, making a number of discoveries. However, a sudden and premature death carried her off. The work was continued by a team under Dr. Jean Leclant, a French archeologist. It unearthed a vast necropolis, or burial grounds, where clerks of Meroe *
* Meroe - a kingdom in the middle reaches of the Nile in the 9th-8th centuries B.C. - Aufh.
were laid to rest; and it completed excavations of the Taharqa pyramid (690-664 B.C.) found by Signora Giorgini's party The tomb within that pyramid turned out to be empty and long remained an enigma, for the real pyramid of this Pharaoh under whom the Twenty-fifth Dynasty had its heyday was in another royal necropolis, at Nuri near the Fourth Cataract. The only plausible explanation of this conundrum is that the Pharaoh died suddenly on his journey to or from Egypt and was interred in a temporary tomb at Sedeinga.
During our field work on the site of the Sedeinga temple we recovered two granite statues with heads off; but judging by the torsoes, they depicted Queen Tiye. We could read something very interesting on the reverse sides of the trunks - the name of the god Amon-Ra (Amen-Ra) haunting the Hout-Tiye temple dedicated to Queen Tiye. This singular inscription attests to a new, local hypostasis of Amon in Kush. And something else just as wonderful: the name incised on black granite was obliterated with much care.
There could be no doubt: high priests of Amenhotep IV * left a trace at Sedeinga by trying to convert the Amon (Amen) monuments for the glorification of a new sun god, Aton. As I could see, the reliefs of the temple did not suffer from Aton's votaries - Amon's names and appropriate magic formulae remained intact. The Pharaoh's image carved in relief (the Pharaoh performing a ritual race before Amon) survived as well. Such carved reliefs are found in many temples; but what is not common at all is that the sovereign performs this rite in his wife's company.
The days of our field work at Sedeinga flew fast. Meanwhile my documents with permission to work at Khartoum were ready, and I went there to study the museum's stock, sorting out and photographing sundry materials. I catalogued about 300 items in custody there. Some were found by archeological parties, while others were donated from private collections. All these artifacts date to a period between the Twenty-fifth Dynasty and the first centuries after Christ.
The catalog includes quite remarkable relics, such as the stele of Queen Tabyri married to King Piye, whose triumphant campaign to Egypt led to the installation of the Kushite dynasty of Pharaohs. The image depicted above - that of Tabyri before Isis ** and Osiris *** - is obviously of Meroe origin in style and iconography. We learn from the text incised on the stele that Tabyri was the first wife of Piye, and daughter to King Alara **** and his
* Egyptian Pharaoh Amenhotep IV (1368-1351 B.C.) instituted a new state cult of the sun god Aton; himself, he adopted the name of Akhenaton or Ikhnaton, meaning pleasant to Aton . - Auth.
** In ancient Egyptian mythology Isis personified conjugal loyalty and motherhood; she was the goddess of fertility, water and wind, and custodian matron of the dead. - Ed.
*** Osiris - the ancient Egyptian god of the lower world and judge of the dead, husband and brother of Isis. He epitomized the death and rebirth of nature.- Ed.
**** Alara - one of the first Kushite kings, forerunners of the Twenty-fifth Dynasty Pharaohs, who ruled Kush ca. 9th century B.C . - Auth.
spouse Kasaka who might be of foreign, not Kushite, descent, for she bore the title of "the mistress of aliens".
A stele of Queen Sakhmah, wife of King Nastasen (4th century B.C.), was found near the holy mount of Gebel Barkal, in the Amon temple. It is highly remarkable for the arrangement of the text and for the decor of the upper semicircle composed of several alar solar disks impersonating Horus Behedeti, the patron god of Egyptian Pharaohs. This monument is without example both in the Egyptian and in the Meroe art. It portrays Sakhmah brought to the judgement of Osiris (the central scene of the composition).
Only fragments survived from the stele of King Amanikhabale (50- 40 B.C.) detected in the Amon temple at Meroe. But what we saw enabled us to make important conclusions about the chief deities of the region. The ram-headed Amon and his wife Mut are shown sitting with their backs to each other, something that has never occurred in any of the local pictorial images. Mut's hair-dress is in the shape of a long chignon tail attached to the hair, with a scarab (sacred beetle) plaited in and fixed by a double Egyptian crown. This hairdo was typical of Meroe queens and priestesses. Mut's throne is adorned with a figure of a winged sphinx done up in the Hellenistic style. Such carved images usually decorated the throne of Serapis. * It might be that the fragment with a Meroe text on it-which belonged to the Russian orientalist Academician Boris Turyaev (1862-1920) and is now in the custody of the State Hermitage in St. Petersburg - was part of the lost Amanikhabale stele.
Most intriguing is also a granite statue of the ram-headed deity Amon from the temple next to the holy mount Gebel Barkal, the only round sculpture of the chief god of Meroe. The eyes are decorated with inlaid work, the head has a support for a crown which was made up of two feathers and a solar disk. The god Amon of Napata was usually depicted that way.
Another sculptural composition represents Amon as a ram couchant, with its snout turned towards a figurine of Pharaoh Taharqa in its front paws. The inscription on the socle identifies the image as Amon-Ra of Gempaton, a town founded by Aton's devotees near the Third Cataract on the Nile. Although the temple put up there is dated to the time of Pharaoh Tutankhamen (1347- 1338 B.C.), yet, judging by the temple's name, envoys of the heretic Pharaoh Akhenaton (Ikhnaton) must have trekked thither even earlier. Still, the holy name was never changed as long as that civilization was alive. Amon was reinstalled as the chief god with the failure of Akhenaton's religious cult reforms.
The mother-and-infant cult gained good ground too: it was part of the cult of fertility and philoprogenitiveness personified by Isis, the mother of the god Horus. This image took in the local female cults widespread in the ear-
* Serapis - the Hellenistic god of the lower world imported to Egypt by Ptolemy I (king of Egypt in 305-283 B.C.). - Ed.
liest periods of the Meroite civilization. One of the main mythological lines underlying the idea of a sacral kingdom was based on the goddess suckling the infant prodigy, an idea materialized in the association of the real mother of the king with the goddess Isis. Other goddesses, such as Sakhmet-Bastet and Mesmeni, were likewise depicted as protagonists of the divine mother and wet nurse.
Thus Isis and Horus developed into the Egyptian prototype of a god mother and royal infant. Charms in the shape of figurines or plaquettes portraying them, high in demand for burial rituals, were produced wholesale as standard items. The goddess, broad- shouldered and stout, wore a large decorated support for the crown on her head. There used to be three basic kinds of like statuettes: enthroned Isis suckling Horus in her lap (the most common type); Isis and Horus erect, with the alar goddess suckling her son; and Horus pictured with a crown on his head.
The second and third type images connote the royal ideology, while the first type certainly belongs in the realm of myths. To some extent this division into three types is arbitrary, of course, because mythological episodes and royal rituals often went together. The suckling ritual reflected in the very postures of deities was part and parcel of the sacral kingdom idea.
Also found in Meroe were round double-sided charms, the statuettes of Isis; one side shows the alar lion-headed goddess, Bastet, who came to Kush from the Egyptian town of Bubastis in the Nile delta where she was worshiped as the matron of love and beauty. The stele of King Horsiotef (5th century B.C.) has a description of his coronation journey when he was visiting temples of the chief gods of his state. Here's what the inscription says: "Then he went to Bastet of Tar [town], and she told him what Amon of Nepata had said" [that is she confirmed his right to the throne]. The stele of King Nastasen, who succeeded Horsiotef, relates a similar story: "Then I traveled to Bastet of Tar, my lovely mother. She gave me life, serene old age and her left breast." As the Roman historian Pliny tells us, the town of Radata (today within Umm Ruweim, between the Fourth and Fifth Cataracts) had a temple dedicated to a feline goddess. The Kushites depicted Bastet in the guise of a lioness and also as a nursing goddess. Rummaging in the Khartoum museum, I found a wonderful amulet depicting the same scene. Although having no analogs in the Egyptian art, in workmanship it obeys the Egyptian canon and proportions.
I have entered into my catalog another two marvelous porcelain charms with the winged Bastet and a solar disk on her head. Even though these amulets were meant for one and the same tomb, the figurines they represent differ in the style of particulars. One has an Egyptian aerial grace about it, but its long dress with wings is characteristic of Meroe imagery. The other exemplifies the ancient Sudanese ideal of feminine beauty - lush thighs and bosom, and slender waist. The solar disk in the head is wreathed in an oversize uraeus * that carries a special sacral meaning.
* Uraeus - according to the Egyptian mythology, all the gods and then Pharaohs (who inherited from the gods power on earth) wore on their crowns the Solar Orb in the guise of a uraeus, or cobra. - Auth.
Amazing charms in the shape of a female figure with winged arms spread occur in entombments of the wives of Twenty-fifth Dynasty Pharaohs at El Kurru near the Fourth Cataract on the Nile. Their heads carry the crown of the goddess Hathor, and their shoulders have an uraeus solar orb. Such amulets are found in great abundance in the tomb of Tabyri and Neferukakashta (wife of Pharaoh Piye). These figurines are typical of local workmanship and have no analogs in ancient Egypt. In all likelihood they belong to the Hathoric deities with whom the queens were identified in the nether world as transcendental mythical creatures.
The goddess Hathor in the image of a lioness - Hathor-Tefnut - who raged in Kush until appeased by gods, among them Toth and Bes, played a singular part in the pantheon of Kushite gods. Feminine figurines (charms) must have reflected the local perception of the goddess and her cult. Pendants and plaquettes were given the form of a human head with Hathor's face; her long locks were pictured as uraeii cobras at Meroe. Although the erstwhile symbols of united Egypt had lost their original significance and came to be distorted, they persisted nonetheless as a cultural hallmark.
The pantheon of afterlife gods protecting the dead against the perils of the lower world included such deities as Bes * and Ptah-Pateks ** . Charms bearing their images were found in most of the cemeteries in Meroe and northern Nubia; they were made of porcelain, stone, silver and ivory. Bes is also represented both as a household god and as a deity who placated the divine lioness Hathor-Tefnut with his music and dancing.
Figurines of Ptah-Pateks became very important as household protectors in the burial cult of Egypt from the Eighteenth Dynasty onwards. They were especially numerous in tombs of the Twenty- fifth Dynasty. Egyptian scarabs sat on the heads of many Pateks; these held sharp daggers in their hands, and wore large necklaces, a typical ornament with Meroite sculptures. Coils of uraeii crowned with a solar disk wound around their shoulders. Patek figurines had a pantheistic touch about them and combined the traits of many gods with elemental forces.
As good as every tomb in Meroe has amulets representing Horus Wadjet's eye which the sun god lost in the battle with Seth and which the god Toth restored from bits and pieces, and turned it whole to Horus. This is a symbol of resurrection related to the Osiris cult, and also a sign of victory over the forces of evil personified in Seth's image.
Often found among the burial paraphernalia are porcelain plaquettes with images of gods. Their combinations may be quite odd. One such item recovered at El Kurru portrays the ram-headed deity Amon of Napata, Re-Harakhte and Montu. A small charm in the shape of a stele (from the island Tabo near the Third Cataract)
* Bes - a patron deity with a beast's face . - Ed.
** Ptah- Patek - demiurgic god, the chief god of Memphis. - Ed.
depicts the triad Amon-Mut-Chons headed by Mut (from the Greek mnrnp, mother), not by Amon as one could have expected. This feature, proper to Meroite monuments only, emphasizes pre- eminence of the woman (queen and mother) in the sacral kingdom.
The collection of the Khartoum museum offers a good many household utensils and suchlike items meant for the dead in the other world. For instance, a bronze looking glass with a silver handle depicting four figurines of the deities Amon, Mut, Chons and Isis, and a cartouche above with Nastasen's name. This mirror belonged to King Nastasen. Its style is characteristic of the art of ancient Sudan. The Theban triad and the worship of Isis show religious preferences of the people of Meroe.
The efflorescence of Meroe's civilization concurred with the invasion of Hellenistic cults via Egypt, northern Nubia and the island File (First Cataract). The aborigines also contacted Hellenes and Romans in the flesh whenever they happened to land in Meroe. The consequence of these ties with the Graeco-Roman world was that many outlandish items turned up in Meroe, including gifts to local rulers with the images of alien gods.
A few articles like that unearthed in entombments at Meroe are among the collection of the Sudan National Museum in Khartoum. They include the find recovered from the tomb of Prince Arikankharor (0-20 A.D.) - heads of the wine god Dionysos (Dionysus) dating from the Hellenistic age and done by the canons of the Hellene art. Such iconographic features as the long hair tied into a chignon at the nape of the neck; also, a ribbon worn around the head and traces of a crown indicate the image of Dionysus Mitrephoros ("mitre-bearer").
A scene of a festival devoted to this god - such festivals were quite common in the Egypt of the Ptolemies - is pictured on the lid of a bronze casket for jewels. It was found north of the Second Cataract in one of the tombs of Gammai. The bearded Dionysus and his lovely companion, Ariadna, ride a four-wheeled carriage. Its driver is a centaur, half man and half horse, playing the flute; a naked man holding a lyre is before the centaur. There are two other gods among the riders, one possibly a satyr with a rope in hand. Two dancing maenads, the nymphs attending Dionysus, are also there.
Among the Hellenistic items in the collection is a remarkable figure of Zeus sculptured in the Syrian style: perching on a cliff, the god wears a chlamys, a Phrygian cap and boots; this sculpture comes from the Eastern Palace of Kava and dates from the Meroite time.
I had the good fortune to visit this wonderful museum in Khartoum again, in 1997. I didn't see any changes there since my first visit. As before, the guests keep asking if there were any catalog of the exhibits. Yet it takes time and a good deal of research work to itemize antiquities more than two millennia old. I, a field archeologist as I am, was overawed laying my hands on the archives of eminent archeologists who had been working in the first half of the 20th century - all these old photographs, field
notes jotted with pen or pencil... We studied as many as 292 articles, and only eight items of this number we could not identify; and so they are catalogued as monuments of obscure origin. But the history of the rest has been clarified - they have had a second birth, so to speak; supplied with adequate commentaries, they now hold pride of place among the exhibits of the Sudan National Museum in Khartoum or else in its depository. My catalog is ready anyway and has gone to press. As to me, I shall always remember the thrilling months of my work among the collective of the museum. My memories have a touch of nostalgia - I am thinking back to my work with genuine relics of the past and the riddles we had to solve in interpreting and restoring those things. And I am thinking back to my emotional contacts with the Sudanese who, peeking with much curiosity into my notes, tried to fathom the grandeur of their ancient culture.
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