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Meroe (Mero, Mro or Begrawiya)

After the Kingdom of Kush was pushed out of Southern Egypt and back into modern Sudan, continuing warfare required the movement of the capital from Napata southwards to Meroe (in 590 BCE) near the sixth cataract of the Nile. Here, for nearly a thousand years, Egyptian styles and religion continued to evolve, little impacted by the decline of Egypt in the north.

a line of pyramids in the desert at Meroe.
The pyramids of Meroe, by Ernst Weidenbach, 1845

In the second century BCE the Meroitic kingdom controlled a large area, reaching from the third Nile cataract to present day Khartoum. The gold fields so coveted by the Pharaohs had mostly played out by then but Meroe found wealth in mining another mineral - iron. Indeed the tools and weapons of the iron age in Africa were largely from Meroe.

Public works such as temples and a complex irrigation system show the ability of Meroe's rulers to organize a large work force. The wealthy, at least, led comfortable lives.

a rough track leads to a pyramid in Meroe.
Meroe, by Ernst Weidenbach, 1845

Along with Egyptian culture, Meroe adopted the Hieroglyphic system of writing. Yet Meroe allowed this writing system to evolve and incorporate Nubian concepts to the point that the writings of Meroe are mostly untranslatable by today's scholars. Indeed some scholars believe it to be unrelated to other languages. Others think it is related, but developed along different lines due to the partial isolation of Meroe.

Women in Meroe held considerable power, the choice of the next king was made primarily by the Queen Mother. Temple walls sometimes showed the Queen or a Goddess smiting the bad guys alongside the King.

Winged Isis pours an offering for the King and perhaps his son. The male figures are heavier, Isis is thinner and all have more formal expressions.
The art of Meroe, while clearly Egyptian in character, has a different feel
by Ernst Weidenbach, 1845.

Access to Meroe was difficult and although trade with the Mediterranean via the Nile and with India continued, the Roman garrison in Egypt believed the region too poor to be worth conquering. As the centuries passed the environment of the region declined due to deforestation brought on by the need for wood to fuel iron smelting. This weakened Meroe and caused it to be increasingly attacked by its' neighbors.

About 350 AD the Ethiopian state of Axum destroyed the city of Meroe, beyond this date there is no historical evidence of the kingdom. Were the people of Meroe assimilated or killed by their conquerors? This is the modern assumption, although there is another possibility. The Dogon Tribe of modern Mali (West Africa) claim Egypt as their heritage. These are the people who stunned scientists with their knowledge of the two (invisible to the unaided eye) companion stars of Sirus. Are the Dogon and related tribes descendants of Meroe?

rubble covers the ground and the upper half is missing from many pyramids.
Treasure hunters in the nineteenth century
did great damage to many pyramids at Meroe
Lithograph by Ernst Weidenbach, 1845.

For the first part of the story of Sudan's Pyramids see:
Kush at Gebel Barkal

wings of the Sun.

The Pyramids of Meroe

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An Egyptian-style boat carries a row of gods.
Detail of a false door, Meroe Pyramid complex
by Ernst Weidenbach, 1845.