Ancient Sudan: The Meroitic Period

The Meroitic period, the later phase of rule by the Kushite kings, is named after the royal burial ground at Meroe. In the third century BC the royal cemetery was moved there from Napata, though Meroe had long been one of the major centres of the Kushite state. This move broadly coincided with the arrival of Greek culture in Egypt, following the country's conquest by Alexander the Great. The resulting Graeco-Egyptian culture rapidly influenced the Kingdom of Kush giving its later phases a distinctive character. This was in contrast to the preceding Napatan period, which was influenced by the Pharaonic culture. The Kushite kingdom prospered, its rulers and the élite deriving wealth from control of the trade routes along the Nile valley from Central Africa to Ptolemaic and Roman Egypt.

Throughout the Meroitic period Egyptian elements introduced into Kushite royal burial practices under the early Napatan kings were retained and reinterpreted. The sculpture and architecture of the period shows much influence from the Greek and the Graeco-Roman world. The fine pottery decorated with geometric forms and floral and animal motifs shows a similar influence. Monumental inscriptions were traditionally written in the hieroglyphic script but, from the second century BC onwards, the use of the native language of the Kushite Kingdom, Meroitic, became common. Although some words in Meroitic can be translated, its meaning remains largely unknown to us.

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