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Egypt's Southern Frontier

Journey to Nubia Map or this one Forts Map


The kings of the 12th dynasty experienced trouble on their southern borders from the people of Kush. It was Senusret/Sesostris (III) who led campaigns into that region, made Semna his southern capital and set up his stela with a duplicate proclamation on `Uronarti'. The text of the stela admonished his people to show no fear:

"Stela made in year sixteen - third month of winter when the fortress `Repelling the Iunu' was built ... to desist after being attacked boldens the heart of the enemy. To be aggressive of him causes him to retire. If one is aggressive against him he turns his back; if one retreats he falls into aggression. They are not people one must fear; they are wrteches, broken of heart. My majesty has seen them, there is no untruth. I have captured their wives and I have brought back their inhabitants, ascended to their wells and slain their bulls. A bit overstated drawing of Buhen fortress?I have pulled up their barley and set the flame in it. As my father lives for me; I speak in truth, without a word of boasting issuing from my mouth.
Now as for every son of mine who shall strengthen this boundary which my Majesty LPH has made, he is my son and he is born to my Majesty. Good is a son, the helper of his father, and who strenghens the boundary of him that begat him. Now as for him who shall lose it and shall not fight on behalf of it, he is not my son and he is not born to me.
Now my Majesty has caused the erection of a statue of My Majesty on this frontier in order that you might preserve in it and that you might fight on behalf of it. ..."

Desert life was harsh and resources were limited. It is no wonder that desert dwelling tribes thought of ways to supplement their resources by staging raids against caravans and popluation centers in their surroundings. It is known from Semna dispatches that all movements of strangers were recorded by Egyptian patrols.

"This is a communication to your scribe about the fact that those two guardsmen and the 70 Medjay people who went following that track in month four of Proyet, day four, came to report to me on this day at the time of evening having brought 3 Medjay men, saying, `We found them on the south of the desert edge below the inscription of Shomu, likeweise 3 women.' So said they. Then I questioned these Medjay people saying, `Whence do you come?' Then they said, `We have come from the Well of Yebheyet.'" ....

With such intelligence the king of Egypt could evaluate the condition of his southern border.

The 12th dynasty kings built mighty fortified enclosures in Nubia. A famous one is the fortress at Buhen. Buhen fortress "The forts are badly ruined today, but it does not take too much imagination to reconstruct them. ... The heaviest fortifications were on the land side. The Egyptians held the river, and the forts could be supplied and relieved by water. Buhen fortress view of Nile A low wall and ditch served as the outer ring of defense; then came a forewall with bastions, inside which was a narrow passageway. The innermost wall was very high and thick, built of mud brick strengthened with timber insertions, and supported by towerlike projections at intervals. A narrow street ran around the inside of the wall. Within the defenses was the garrison town itself, with a big house for the commandant and smaller ones for the soldiers. There were also storehouses and a treasury, plus a small temple." [Barbara Mertz, Temples, Tombs and Hieroglyphics', NY, 1964, p. 133]

When archaeologists ca. 1953 excavated the ancient sites of Qor, a town which extended for considerable distance on the west bank of the Nile, they found four mud (administrative?) brick buildings in the harbor area and evidence of a wavy fortified wall. Tracing the wall they noted semicircular bastions projecting at intervals similar to the `wavy' walls at Mergissa. About 25 miles north of Buhen was Askut, a long and narrow island with a fortress on top of the highest point in the north-west corner. Members of the University of California, Los Angeles, excavated this site in 1968 and found the surrounding brick wall to be seven meters thick (ca. 20 feet). The standard brick size of 32x15x8 centimeters was here also used. During surveys many jar burials possibly of soldiers were found using every nook and cranny possible on this narrow rocky island.

Thutmose I would later reclaim and stabilize this vast region through his selected military leaders. His influence must have pacified most of the local population preferring trade to war.

Along the way down south

Starting from Khartoum a train journey to old Wadi Halfa used to take some 23 hours. But Wadi Halfa since has been swallowed up by the rising waters of the Nile. The new town, 10 miles away, is Mirgissa fortress. Other places which were flooded by Lake Nasser was `Buhen' fort, the village of `Abd-el-Qadr', the Hill of Sheikh Suleiman and the well known `Rock Abusir' above the Second Cataract, now only a small knoll above the water. Continuing on the way down south to the Fourth Cataract, some 500 miles away. After passing through Semna, one would come to the region called the `Belly of Stone', a lifeless wilderness and difficult navigation on the Nile. Continuing on the Nile after the 3rd Cataract one would pass through the `Dongola Reach' a safe stretch of river for the weary travelers. Just beyond the 3rd Cataract stood the amazing structure of Western Deffufa, to distinguish it from a cemetery called Eastern Deffufa, just before one gets to Kerma.

Two scholars interpreted the historical aspects of this region differently.

Reisner's View Arkell's View
Kerma was the provincial capital of an Egyptian governor of the far south. Several generations of such governors controlled the area during the Middle Kingdom. If that theory is correct, then Senusert (III) indeed must have been a mighty conqueror. Reisner's theory was based on his interpretation of an Egyptian pharaonic statue of a prince and his lady which he regarded as having been carved out of local rock. They were not imported objects.
Kerma was the capital of Cush. The burial mounds differ from standard Nubian funerary practice only in the magnitude of their size. Since only great chiefs could have squandered so many slaves in death, this fits Arkell's idea that Kerma was a Cush capital. He thinks the Egyptian objects were imported and preserved as particularly valuable, long after they were first brought into the area. He says, Kerma was a trading post during the Middle Kingdom and the Egyptians did not have political or military control over the region.

Here follows an example how conventionally bound authors make assumptions whose diverging possiblities are highlighted above:

"Kerma is a fascinating site, and the man who commanded it for Egypt, whether he was a lofty prince-governor or a simple trader, deserves high honor. ..." [B. Mertz, Temples, Tombs and Hieroglyphics', N.Y. 1964, p. 136; A.J. Arkell, `A History of the Sudan', 1955]

The Meroitic Empire

Flourishing in the days of the Ptolemaic kings, the Kushite Meroritic kings made uncomfortable neighbors for ever being in conflict with the Romans and even defeating Roman soldiers and occupying the town of Syene (Elephantine). This was an insult to the Romans who drove them back as far as Napata. Merotic names have been studied as to their repetitive features as the names of `qore-mni', `amni-tn-ide', `mni-ten-mom-ide'.

From the time of Thutmose III to that of Ramses II the land `Kry' 1) is frequently mentioned as the southern boundary of the Eyptian Empire. A phrase in the great Meroitic inscription of Kalabsheh (Inscr. 94/11), `Qêrelik zik Pilqeyte' "from Qêreli (or Qêre) as far as Philae", strongly suggests that `Qêre' is the Meroitic equivalent of Egypt's, `Kry'. That Meroitic q sometimes represents an ancient Egyptian k is shown by the fairly obvious correspondence of ancient Egypt's K'š, K's 2)(=) the land of Cush) with the Meroitic Qeš which occurs once in Inscription 94/21 (cf. Inscr. II, p.31) and several times in the great stele of Akinizaz; the change of the initial in K'š is well indicated by the late spelling Q(a)š' 3) in the name of a late Ethiopian or Meroitic king as written in Egyptian on the temple of Philae. By this spelling the scribe connects the name with qash "reed", as did Rabshakeh's jest in Isaiah. [Meroitic Inscriptions., Vol. II, p. 34, footnote 4.][JEA, Vol. III, 1916, p. 27. Isaiah 36: 2-22.]
1) =Kry.
2) =K'š or =K's.
3) =Q(a)š.


Notes and Reference Material

01) A list of large color images of Kush: a) Two views of the ruins of Musawwarat es-Sufra/Shendi, b) the gold ornaments of Queen Amanishakheto, c) the Cushite Pyramids, d) the mudbrick village of Kabushiya near Shendi, e) the market place of Shendi, f) the Mound of Jebal Barkal near Naqata, g) A kiosk at Naqa, h) the temple of Amun at Naqa, i) a view across Lake Nasser from Qasr Ibrim. [See Nat. Geographic, `Splendors of the Past', 1981, p. 144-181.; Also Yvonne Markowitz & Peter Lacovara, The Ferlini Treasure in Archaeological Perspective in JARCE, Vol. XXXIII, 1996, p. 1-9.]


Books/Articles Published in the Former DDR as it relates to ancient Nubia

E.Endersfelder, K.H. Priese, W.F. Reinecke & S.Wenig, `Ägypten und Kusch', Akademie-Verlag, DDR, 1977.
The following articles are included:

1. Abdelgadir M. Ardalla (Khartoum), `Some Examples of Incremental Repetition in Meroitic Personal Names', p. 17-51.
2. A.J. Arkell (Chelmsford, Essex), `Dating `Early Khartoum', p. 53-55.
3. Mohamed I. Bakr (Kairo), `Der Ohrschmuck in den Antiken Kulturen des Niltals', p. 57-62.
4. Elke Blumenthal (Leipzig), `Die Koptosstele des Königs Rahotep', p. 63-80.
5. E.S. Bogoslowski (Leningrad), `Die `Aud-den-Ruf-Hörenden (sdmw 'š)' in der Privatwirtschaft unter der 18. Dynastie', p. 81-95.
6. B. Brentjes (Halle), `Eine Glaspaste-Statuette aus der ehemaligen Golenischeff-Sammlung', p. 98.
7. Adelheid Burkhardt (Berlin), `Bemerkungen zu den demotischen Graffiti von Meroiten im Dodekaschoinos', p. 99-106.
8. J.J. Clère (Paris), `Sur l'existence d'un temple du Nouvel Empire à Dêbôd en Basse-Nubie', p. 107-113.
9. E. Dabrowska-Smektala (Warsaw), `New Parallels to the Spell 398 of the Coffin Texts', p. 115-120.
10. Erich Dinkler (Heidelberg), `König Ezana von Aksum und das Christentum - Ein Randproblem der Geschichte Nubiens' , p. 121-132.
11. S. Donadoni (Rom), `Sulla situazione giuridica della Nubia nell' impero egiziano' , p. 133-137.
12. Alla I. Elanskaya (Leningrad), `X€ en tant qu'indice d'irréalité en copte', p. 139-142.
13. Erika Endesfelder (Berlin), `Über die ökonomischen und sozialen Verhältnisse der Reiche von Napata und Meroe', p. 143-164.
14. Labib Habachi (Cairo), `Mentuhotp, the Vizier and Son-in-Law of Taharqa', p. 165-170.
15. Rolf Herzog (Freiburg i. Br.), `Die Fundumstände einer meroitischen Statuengruppe', p. 171-174.
16. F.W. Hinkel (Berlin), `Ein Neues Triumphalbild der meroitischen Löwen', p. 175-182.
17. S.I. Hodjache & O.D. Berlev (Moscou & Leningrad), `Le pere du fondateur des princes de Tjhhtj en Nubie', p. 183-188.
18. Inge Hofmann (Hamburg), `Der Feldzug des C. Petronius nach Nubien und seine Bedeutung für die merotische Chronologie', p. 189-205.
19. Hannelore Kischkewitz (Berlin), `Zur temporären Einwohnung des Gottes im König', p. 207-212.
20. Kenneth A. Kitchen (Liverpool), `Historical Observations in Ramesside Nubia', p. 213-225. Presents the text of a stela of Ramses I from Year 2 at Buhen to comemorate his endowments for Min-Amun there: "filling his workshop(s) with slaves male and female from the captures of His Majesty .... King Menpehty-re." Opposite, Sethos I erected a similar stele bearing,however, his name, "King Menmare".
21. Horst Klengel (Berlin), `Das Land Kush in den Keilschrifttexten von Amarna', p. 227-232.
22. Reinhard Koerner (Berlin), `Zu den griechischen Inschriften vom Gebel Abu Dirwa', p. 233-234.
23. M.A. Korostovtsev (Moscou), `Le verbe auxiliaire `íw' en néo-égyptien', p. 235-241.
24. Martin Krause (Münster i.W.), `Nubien und Ägypten in christlicher Zeit - Übereinstimmung im Gebiet der Archäeologie', p. 243-256.
25. Renate Krauspe (Leipzig), `Zwei Rundplastiken im Ägyptischen Museum der Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin', p. 257-264.
26. Walter Krebs (Rostock), `Die neolithischen Rinderhirten der Sahara und die Masai, p. 265-277.
27. Jadwiga Lipinska (Warsaw), `An Example of Ancient Egyptian Restoration of Sculpture', p. 279--281.
28. Erich Lüddeckens (Würzburg), ``nhsj' und `ks' in ägyptischen Personennamen', p. 283-291.
29. Ulrich Luft (Berlin), `Bemerkungen zu zwei Liebesgedichten auf Papyrus Chester Beatty I', p. 293-302.
30. Charles Maystre (Genève), `Le grand-prêtre memphite du relief Berlin 12411', p. 303-307.
31. K. Michalowski (Warschau), `Das christliche Nubien 1158-1272', p. 309-313.
32. Nicholas B. Millet (Toronto), `Some Meroitic Ostraka', p. 315-324.
33. Ingeborg Müller (Berlin), `Der Vizekönig Merimose', p. 325-329.
34. C. Onasch (Berlin), `Kusch in der Sicht von Ägyptern und Griechen', p. 331-336.
35. G. Posener (Paris), `L'or de Pount', p. 337-342.
36. K.H. Priese (Berlin), `Eine verschollene Bauinschrift des frühmeroitischen Königs Aktisanes (?) vom Gebel Barkal', p. 343-367.
37. W.F. Reineke (Berlin), `Ein Nubienfeldzug unter Königin Hatschepsut', p. 369-376.
38. G. Rühlmann (Halle), `Der Götterthron mit dem Türornament', p. 377-389.
39. Barbara Ruszczyc (Varsovie), `Taharqa à Tell Atrib', p. 391-395.
40. Joachim Sliwa (Cracow), `Lukasz Dobrzanski and His Excavations in Egypt, 1895', p. 397-400.
41. Laslo Török (Budapest), `Some Comments on the Social Position and Hierarchy of the Priests on Karanog Inscriptions', p. 401-420.
42. Bruce G. Trigger (Montreal), `The Classification of Meroitic: Geographical Considerations', p. 421-435.
43. Jean Vercoutter (Paris), `Les poids de Mirgissa et le «standard-cuivre» au Moyen Empire', p. 437-445.
44. Werner Vycichi (Genf), `Heliodors `Aithiopika' und die Volksstämme des Reiches Meroë', p. 447-458.
45. Steffen Wenig (Berlin), `Der merotische Tempel von Amarna', p. 469-475.
46. Vilmos Wessetzky (Budapest), `Ägyptische Ewigkeits-und Lebenssymbole am Ornat des meroitischen Königs Arnekhamani', p. 477-479.
47. W. Westendorf (Göttingen), `Schießen und Zeugen - Eine Gemeinsamkeit Afrikanischer und Ägyptischer Vorstellungen', p. 481-486.
48. L.V. Zabkar (Waltham), `Some Particular Features in the Representations of Apedemak', p. 487-506.
49. Oric Bates, `The Eastern Libyans', London, 1914.


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