Ancient Nubian Pyramids of Meroe, Sudan - 100 Wonders of the World

This series of blog posts is based on the book 100 Wonders of the World by Michael Hoffman and Alexander Krings.

Meroë is the name of an ancient city on the east bank of the Nile, approximately 200 km north-east of Khartoum. This city was the capital of the Kingdom of Kush (Nubia) for several centuries.

The site of the city of Meroë is marked by more than 200 pyramids in three groups, of which many are in ruins. They are identified as Nubian pyramids because of their distinctive size and proportions.

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A famous episode in the early traditions of Meroë is the coming of Alexander the Great with his forces. According to the legend, confronted with the allegedly brilliant military formation of the army led by Queen Candace of Meroë from atop an elephant, he concluded it would be best to withdraw his forces. However, the whole story of Alexander and Candace's encounter appears to be fictional.

Rome's capture of Egypt led to border clashes and expansion by both Meroë and Rome. The kingdom of Meroe began to fade as a power by the first or second century AD, sapped by the war with Roman Egypt and the decline of its traditional industries.


Meroë was the base of a flourishing kingdom whose wealth was due to a strong iron industry, as well as an international trade involving India and China. So much metalworking went in Meroë through the work of bloomeries and possibly blast furnaces that it was even called "the Birmingham of Africa" because of its vast production and trade of iron to the rest of Africa and international trade partners. The Egyptian import water-moving wheel the sakia was used to move water along with irrigation to increase crop production.

At the time, iron was one of the most important metals worldwide, and Meroitic metalworkers were among the best in the world. Meroë also exported textiles and jewelry. Their textiles were based on cotton and working on this product reached its highest achievement in Nubia around 400 BC. Furthermore, Nubia was very rich in gold. Trade in "exotic" animals from farther south in Africa was another feature of their economy. It is possible that the Egyptian word for gold, nub, was the source of name of Nubia.

By the third century BC a new indigenous alphabet, the Meroitic, consisting of 23, replaced Egyptian script. The Meroitic script is analphabetic script originally derived from Egyptian hieroglyphs, used to write the Meroitic language of the Kingdom of Meroë/Kush. It was developed sometime during the Napatan Period (about 700 - 300 BC), and first appears in the 2nd century BC.

Modern archaeology in Sudan has been difficult because of the on-going civil war.

Nubian pyramids

The area of the Nile valley known as Nubia that lies within present day Sudan was home to three Kushite kingdoms during antiquity: the first with its capital at Kerma (2600–1520 BC), the second centered on Napata (1000–300 BC) and, finally, the kingdom of Meroë (300 BC–AD 300).

Kerma was Nubia's first centralized state with its own indigenous forms of architecture and burial customs. The last two kingdoms, Napata and Meroe, were heavily influenced culturally, economically, politically, and militarily by the powerful pharaonic Egyptian empire to the north. The Kushite kingdoms in turn competed strongly with Egypt, to the extent that during the late period of Ancient Egyptian history, the rulers of Napata conquered and unified Egypt herself, ruling as the pharaohs of the Twenty-fifth Dynasty. The Napatan domination of Egypt was relatively brief.

Approximately 220 pyramids were eventually constructed at three sites in Nubia over a period of a few hundred years to serve as tombs for the kings and queens of Napata and Meroë. Fourteen pyramids were constructed for their queens, several of whom were renowned warrior queens. This can be compared to approximately 120 pyramids that were constructed in Ancient Egypt over a period of 3000 years.

The most extensive Nubian pyramid site is at Meroë, which is located between the fifth and sixth cataracts of the Nile, approximately one hundred kilometres north of Khartoum. During the Meroitic period, over forty queens and kings were buried there.

The physical proportions of Nubian pyramids differ markedly from the Egyptian edifices that influenced them: they are built of stepped courses of horizontally positioned stone blocks and range from approximately six to thirty metres in height, but rise from fairly small foundation footprints that rarely exceed eight metres in width, resulting in tall, narrow structures inclined at approximately seventy degrees.

By comparison, Egyptian pyramids of similar height generally had foundation footprints that were at least five times larger and were inclined at angles of between forty and fifty degrees.

Meroë. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.ë
Meroitic script (alphabet). From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Nubian pyramids. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Colonialism and the 'scramble for Africa' -

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