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Nubia: the Meroitic Period (about 300 BC - 400 AD)

Arkamaniqo is the first king who was not buried in the north at Nuri, but farther south in Meroe. Meroe was already in the Napatan Period an important centre and perhaps very early also the political centre of the country. Along with the change in royal burial place other changes are visible. From about the second century BC the Meroitic script was used. It is possible to identify some words, including the names of kings, in Meroitic inscriptions, but it is not possible to understand the few surviving longer texts. In the absence of inscriptions or manuscripts in known scripts, it is therefore hard to obtain detailed information about the political history of the land at this time from internal sources.

Meroitic culture is still very much influenced by Egyptian culture, but the Egyptian elements now seem to be used only for funerary and religious monuments (as increasingly also in Egypt at the same time). In the Meroitic Period arts and crafts are very much influenced by Hellenistic arts (again, as in Egypt). One example is the sculpture found in a sanctuary at Meroe ('Roman bath'). African elements also became more important; the precise regional relations implicit in these need further research in the archaeology of adjacent areas. Lower Nubia, which seems to have been almost uninhabited, became important again in the first to fourth centuries AD, maybe through trade between the Romans and Nubians. Imports from the Roman empire, quite often items of luxury are common at this time. Several rich settlements (Qasr Ibrim) and cemeteries of the period have been excavated in Lower Nubia.

Little is known about the end of the Meroitic Period. In the middle of the 4th century the royal cemetery at Meroe was no longer used. It is not known whether the kings were now buried at other places or whether simply there were no more kings. However, there are indications that the Meroitic culture remained 'alive' for a certain time. It has been suggested that the empire disintegrated leaving separate smaller kingdoms. In the sixth century AD three Christian kingdoms appeared in Nubia and they might be considered the successors of the Meroitic empire at least in its northern half.

list of kings | Meroe | painted pottery | Meroitic writing | faience

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