Kingship

Napatan and Meroitic

The Kushite statehood had survived for over a thousand years without being subjigated by Egypt, the empired that ruled Egypt (e.g. Persia and Rome), or the harassful desert nomads. This observation is noted as a strong indicator for the efficiency of the Kushite state system.

Shabits of Kushite kings

The Napatan-Meroitic era is characterized by continuity in the ruling system. The Kushite pharaohs, then, were believed to have been god's representatives on earth. The duty of the pharaohs was, therefore, to apply Ma'at, i.e. keeping order and justice. Unlike the Egyptians, evidence shows that the Napatan Pharaohs were not always succeeded by their direct sons but by other family members such as brothers or the sons' of brothers.

Kush followed a specific procedure to select the particular in time pharaoh from among other royal members. The selection procedure was normally performed by high priests, who were expected to consult the Cult of Amon over the issue. The answer of Amon to the priests, as to who should be the king, was considered final. The selected pharaoh was then anointed at the temple of Amon at Napata by the high priests. Then the new pharaoh visited the main temples of Kush to get ordained and perform other religious rites related to the coronation ceremony.

Temple relief of Kushite king Shabako offering libations to the gods. Source: Wildung, Dietrich. Sudan: Ancient Kingdoms of the Nile.

According to the writings of Greek and Roman geographers, if the high priests decided that the pharaoh failed to rule according to Ma'at, they could issue an order that required the pharaoh to commit suicide. According to the second century BC Greek writer Agatharcides of Cnidus, Meroitic king Ergamenes (also known as Arkamani-qo) ordered all the high priests to be slaughtered because they sent him a letter with the order of suicide.1 Thus, unlike the Egyptian pharaohs, the Kushite pharaohs did not practice absolute power.

Historical writings provide some statements on attitudes of the Kushite rulers. For example, Herodotus, in the fourth century BC, wrote the following about the rule of the Kushite pharaoh Sabaco in Egypt:

"In his reign the Ethiopians [Kushites]and Sabacos the king of the Ethiopians marched upon Egypt with a great host of men; so this blind man departed, flying to the fen-country, and the Ethiopian was king over Egypt for fifty years, during which he performed such deeds:– whenever any Egyptian committed any transgression, he [Sabaco pharaoh of Kush] would never put him to death, but he gave sentence upon each man according to the greatness of his wrong doing, appointing them to work at throwing embankment before that city whence each man came committed wrong."(Herodotus ii. 137)2


  • 1 D. Siculus, Library of History: Loeb Classical Library, trans. C. H. Olfather, (Harvard UP, 1935).
  • 2 Herodotus, and D. Lateiner. The Histories, trans. G. C. Macaulay (Barnes & Noble Classics, 2004).
Authored: 2004.
Edited: Dec. 2008.
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The primary material of the website is authored by Ibrahim Omer © 2008.