The Nubo-Egyptian desert was once abundantly watered and a well-timbered region. With the exclusion of the narrow Nile valley, all of this is generally a barren waste today. Geology reveals that in the primitive ages, this country had a moist climate like the Congo basin; but these conditions prevailed in remote geological times, probably before the creation of the delta. The changes that turned the Sahara into a burning waste in time made Upper Egypt dry and torrid. Keane describes its climate as often fatal to all but full blooded natives. Under those brazen skies, the children of even Euro-African half-castes seldom survive after the tenth or twelfth year. Passing southward, we find that ancient edifices occur throughout the whole extent of Ethiopia. In the olden days, the climate there was favorable to the nurturing and development of a high type of civilization and produced an Ethiopian so superior to the later types, that they were called by the ancients, “the most handsome men of the primeval world.”
The whole of the space between the Nile and Abyssinia, and northward to Lower Egypt once constituted Ethiopia. It was called Beled-es-Soudan (land of the blacks). Once Egypt extended to Lower Nubia. The ancient kingdom of Meroe was Upper Nubia and was divided into agricultural and grazing lands. Crowfoot tells us in his Ancient Meroe, p. 29, that Meroe at the height of its prosperity was established upon as broad an economic basis as Egypt or Mesopotamia. Ancient authorities tell us that they grew grains upon lands richer and wider than the whole of Egypt, with pastures of limitless plains. Theirs were lands of heavy rains. Precious stones were there in abundance. They produced beautiful painted pottery and their princes were robed in magnificence. The yearning of the Ethiopian for all things beautiful, his love for ceremony and costly attire may not be mere imitation but springs from inheritance, from the possession of these things by his ancestors’ thousands of years ago.
Cushite Wealth sprang from world-wide Trade
Herodotus II, 29, says, “Meroe was a great city and metropolis.” Here Zeus Ammon was worshipped in temples of the utmost splendor. The Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature explains, “The early prosperity and grandeur of Ethiopia sprang from the carrying trade of which it was the center, between India and Arabia on the one hand and the interior of Africa and especially Egypt on the other. There was an intimate connection between Egypt and Ethiopia commercially. Thebes and Meroe founded a common colony in Libya.” This would prove the close relationship of Thebes, which was Nubian and Meroe. Meroe was the seat of a great caravan route from the north of Africa. Another route went westward across the Soudan. Strabo spoke of this open way in the day of Tartesus, long before the ancient Gades was built. From Meroe eastward extended the great caravan route by which the wares of southern Arabia and Africa were interchanged. The great wealth of the Cushites arose from this network of commerce which covered the prehistoric world.
Biblical Literature asks these pertinent questions, “Whence did Egypt obtain spices and drugs with which she embalmed her dead? Whence the incense that burned on her altars? Whence came into the empire the immense amount of cotton in which her inhabitants were clad, and which her own soil so sparingly produced? And whence came into Egypt the rumors of the Ethiopian gold countries which Cambyses set out to seek? Whence that profusion of ivory and ebony that Greek and Phoenician artists embellished? Whence the early spread of the name of Ethiopia celebrated by Jewish poets as well as by the earliest Grecian bards? Whence but from the international commerce of which Ethiopia was the center and seat?” These principal trade routes may still be pointed out by a chain of ruins, extending from the shores of the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean. The cities Adule, Axum, Meroe, Thebes, and Carthage were the links in the chain. The “merchandise of Ethiopia” of which the Bible so often speaks passed along this line of cities to less civilized portions of the earth.
Heeren in his Ancient Nations of Africa, tells us that commercial intercourse existed between the countries of southern Asia, between India and Arabia, Ethiopia, Libya and Egypt, which was founded upon their mutual necessities; and became the parent of the civilizations of these peoples. The fame of the Ethiopians, as a civilized people had forced its way into Greece in the time of Homer. Meroe, the hundred-gated Thebes, Jupiter-Ammon, and the oracles in Lybia and Greece were woven with the most ancient Greek myths. The Argonautic Expedition, the Triton Sea, and the Garden of the Hesperides were flashes from this ancient Ethiopian commerce. Its introduction into Hellas must have been made at a very early period as shown by the oracle and sanctuary of Dodona. Ethiopian commerce was carried on under the protection of sanctuaries. The priests of Ammon said, that the oracles were founded in Greece from Thebes and Meroe. The Pelasgians adopted the Egyptian names of these deities and passed them on to the later Greeks.
The 100-year reign of the Kushite pharaohs was marked by relatively strong, stable government; aggressive attempts at expanding the empire to the Near East; and a major revival of state religion. Illustration by Gregory Manchess, National Geographic
Heeren continues, “Meroe from time immemorial had been an oracle of Jupiter. Its soil was extremely fertile. As late as 1000 B. C. it was one of the most powerful states of the ancient world. Accounts left us by the ancients have been considered fabulous but not so to those who have viewed the ruins now covering the site of this once powerful and highly civilized state. Remnants of mighty buildings covered with sculptures, representations of priestly ceremonies and battles, rows of sphinxes and colossi, give rise to the question, as to which nation Ethiopia or Egypt imparted its knowledge to the other.” Until historical times Ethiopia furnished Egypt with gold. Her ravines were worked until the middle of the 12th century. Gold was extracted by crushing, a very costly method, proving that these mines had been very rich and must have been a source of the great profusion of golden articles found in many African ruins and graves.
Keane describes the Fayum district, which grew in great profusion, roses, vine olives, sugar cane, and cotton. Here the orange and lemon trees attained the size of our apple trees. The district was in more primeval times an and depression. An early pharaoh cut a deep channel through the rocky barrier toward the Nile and let in the western river. Since the Twelfth Dynasty, this lake had been one of blessing and abundance. This tract thus reclaimed from the desert was justly a wonder of Egypt. Here the marvelous Lake Moeris received the discharge of the Bahr Yusef, which was one half the volume of the Nile. It was one of the astounding engineering feats of the old world and still ranks as one of the most marvelous achievements of mankind. Notwithstanding the drying up of Lake Moeris, the Fayum is still an important and fertile province.
Gold appears in the Elba Hills. Topaz mines are worked, while perhaps its emerald mines were then the oldest and most extensive in the world, and the only ones have known until the conquest of Peru. Ethiopia seems to have had an inexhaustible supply of building material of the first quality, sandstone, limestone, and granite were worked there for ages. In ancient days the buildings seem to have been of red brick, now the people live in mud huts. Barth speaks of the numerous ruins of Upper Nubia, which attest the splendor of the ancient cities. The average student does not know that in Nubia are infinitely more monuments and temples than in Egypt; besides this Arabs say that Europeans are acquainted with few of the monuments concealed by the encroaching sands in the desert. Twelve miles north of Naga is a labyrinth of ruined buildings. The Arabs call it Massaurrat. The central building is one of the largest known edifices, being 2700 feet in circumference. Its columns are fluted but without hieroglyphics. (The Earth and Its Inhabitants–Reclus. Vol. I, p. 246.)
The final period of the Kingdom of Kush is sometimes known as the Meroitic period, after its capital at Meroë. The most significant and striking artifacts of Meroitic culture are probably its pyramids. Meroitic pyramids, smaller and steeper and their older Egyptian cousins, are today a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Photograph by Fabrizio Demartis, courtesy Wikimedia. CC-BY-SA-2.0
The two temples of Jebel Arden are covered with sculpture, representing the victories of a king who bears the titles of one of the Egyptian pharaohs. One of the buildings is approached by an avenue of sphinxs. The pyramids, temples, colonades, avenues of animals and statutes are still standing at Meroe. Their sandstone was not so durable as that of Egypt. Eighty pyramids have been damaged by sightseers. Lepius with difficulty prevented the systematic destruction of the monuments of Meroe. Cairo was built by removing the marble facing of the Great Pyramid. Thus have many ancient ruins disappeared. The pyramids of Meroe do not compare with those of Egypt in magnitude, though they are more artistic. Reclus describes the two temples at Abu Simbel, that take their place as marvels of ancient art. They are the monuments of Ibsambul. The southern temple is hewn out of the living rock. Before the gate sits four colossi over sixty feet high, of noble and placid countenance. All these colossi. are covered with inscriptions. In the interior of the rock, follow three large halls in succession and twelve smaller ones whose walls contain brilliant paintings. If you will examine the faces of these colossi in any book of authentic cuts you will find that they are the faces of full featured Ethiopians.
“Many temples succeed these as far as the first cataract, containing burial grottoes, gateways and towers. Almost buried in the sand, travelers find the ancient town of Mabendi, whose tunnel shaped galleries like those of Crete are still to be seen passing under the houses. We see Dakka with its gigantic gateways only possible of erection by the hand of the ancient Cushite. In the sepulchral cave, Beit-el-Walli are sculptures representing triumphal processions, assaults, court and battle scenes. These have been rendered more popular by engravings than any other. The colors of these paintings are still remarkably brilliant.” (The Earth and Its Inhabitants, Vol. 1, p. 306.) The temples of Dabod and Dakka were built by the Ethiopian king Ergamenes. Many of these ruins and this art appear to us as Egyptian but as Sayce points out the little temple of Amada in Nubia built by Thotmes III in honor of his young wife, in delicately finished and brilliantly painted sculpture on stone, is worth far more than the colossal monuments of Ramses II. Ramses cared more for size and number of buildings than for their careful construction and artistic finish. Sayce describes the building of his era as mostly scamped, the walls ill built and the sculpture coarse and tasteless. Even here in Nubia the monument of Abu Simbel forms a striking contrast. Wrought by the hands of Nubians it forms one of the world’s wonders carved in the rock. It is as Sayce says the noblest monument left us by the barren wars and vain glorious monuments of Ramses-Sesostris. (Ancient Empires of the East–A. H. Sayce.)
Meroe had an army of 250,000 trained men and 400,000 artisans when her rule reached Syria. One note-worthy feature was the enormous size of the city of Meroe. It covered an almost unbelievable area. The ruins that Pliny described had disappeared in Roman times, so ancient was their origin. That is why so little can be learned about Ethiopia by the study of the country today. The period of her ancient glory was too far beyond the ages of our times. Hoskins thought the pyramids of Gizeh magnificent and wonderful in effect and artistic design. There were pyramids used for burial places at the site of Meroe. On the reliefs on the walls of the burial chambers, the rulers appear purely Cushite. Calliund thought Massaurrat, a unique place having no parallel in Egypt, to have been a great college. Heeren thought it the site of the oracle of Jupiter, at whose command colonies issued forth which carried civilization, arts and religion from Ethiopia into the Delta, to Greece and too far Nordic lands.
The Encyclopedia Britannica says, “The Nubians are supposed by some authorities to agree with the ancient Egyptians more closely than the Copts, usually deemed their representatives.” According to Dr. Pritchard, it is probable that the Barabra may be an offshoot from the original stock that first peopled Egypt and Nubia. It was the Old Race of the higher civilization that ruled Egypt in the pre-dynastic ages. It was from this nation went forth the colonies that spread civilization. This old race of the Upper Nile, the Agu or Anu of the ancient traditions, spread their arts from Egypt to the Ægean, from Sicily to Italy and Spain. Mosso Angelo says that the characteristic decorations on the pottery of the Mediterranean race of prehistoric times are identical with that of pre-dynastic Egypt. Reisner in 1899 examined 1200 tombs in the Nile valley. He found the remains of a distinct race who buried their dead with legs doubled up against abdomen and thorax. This was an old Ethiopian form of burial, which preceeded embalming and may be traced through ancient Cushite lands.
Earnest and consciencious students, seeking facts about ancient Ethiopia, find but scanty and unsatisfactory references in modern books. Going back to ancient records we find voluminous testimony. Out of this material, the modern author selects what he sees fit and rejects much authentic history about Ethiopia. One book will tell us that the Ethiopians belonged to the Japhetic stock, in fact, this is the favored theory; yet the encyclopedia says that Nubians are a Negroid stock. Others say that they are Semitic. There is a world of contradiction in modern books from an ethnological standpoint. Without the untangling of these threads, one must have a narrow and twisted conception of true history., In ancient days the African nations were proud and mighty. Cambyses marched against the Egyptians because their king had refused him a daughter in marriage. A stele in the British museum shows how the fleet of Cambyses was destroyed by Ethiopians on the Nile and the land forces succumbed to famine. At this time the temples of Napata were already in ruins.
Pyramids were erected for a long line of queens called Candace. The high treasurer of one of these queens was converted to Christianity under the preaching of Philip. To prove how lasting is the religious impression upon the heart of the Ethiopian, Abyssinia is the only great Christian nation of any importance in the east today. The Candace queens ruled over an Ethiopia that included Abyssinia, but their center was near Meroe, where they were buried. The Scriptures spoke of the treasure of queen Candace, accumulated from the merchandise and wealth of Ethiopia. Strabo spoke of a queen warrior of Ethiopia. This line of queens was of a race type never seen among Egyptians. They had the pronounced Bushman figure. The renowned queen of Sheba, queen of the south, who visited Solomon belonged to this line of queens.
Ethiopia furnished the perfumes of the ancient world. “From Meroe to Memphis the most common object carved or painted in the interior of the temples was the censor in the bands of the priest. They worshipped the presiding deity with gold and silver vessels, rich vestments, gems and many other offerings. Various substances were used for incense but the most esteemed came from Ethiopia. It was from these costly products that this nation derived much of its wealth that has seemed fabulous to the thoughtless. For the embalming of the dead, spicery in vast quantities was used. The Hindu and Egyptians use incense to this day. The Hebrews burned incense. Nineveh, Persepolis, the earthenware of China, all show innumerable forms of censors; Greece, Rome and on down to our day in Catholic ceremonies we find that the incense, first necessary to allay the odors of animal sacrifice, and finally taking its place, still persists. In ancient days when the dead were buried in churches, the burning of incense was thought necessary to preserve men’s health. For these reasons; we must recognize how enormous must have been the traffic to supply such demands. Early writers said that Ethiopians had fountains with the odor of violets, and that her prisoners were fettered with gold chains.
Considering the natural products of Ethiopia, her commerce, the strength of her armies, spoken of by the Scriptures as a thousand thousand, we find them a substantial foundation for ancient traditions about that nation. Another remarkable people of these regions were the Microbians, Herodotus describes the visit of the ambassadors of Cambyses to them. He directed his expedition against them because of their reputed wealth. His spies brought presents to this king of the Ethiopians. They were a very tall race and the king was chosen for his great stature, They were a civilized people with their own laws and institutions. The spies brought a purple robe, gold and perfumes, and a cask of palm wine. This king looked at their presents and despised them, he inquired how long they lived and what they ate. When told that they lived eighty years, he said, “I do not wonder that you who feed upon such rubbish should live no longer. The Microbians,” he said, “lived one hundred and twenty years and sometimes longer,” their chief food being flesh and milk. This diet was evidence of civilization. He sent a message to the Persian king that filled him with rage, “When you can bend the bow which I send you then you may undertake an expedition to the Microbians.”
The ambassadors were shown the “Table of the Sun,” a meadow at the outskirts of the city in which much boiled flesh was laid, placed there every night by the magistrates. This seems a strange custom to the unthinking, but was a part of the commercial policy of the Ethiopians, a way by which the vast trains of caravans, that swept through the country were fed. At the table of the Sun, all who wished might eat. The ambassadors were next led to the prisons, where the captives, were bound with gold fetters. This was before the iron age. Ethiopia had a skill in embalming superior to Egypt. The Ethiopian mummy could be seen all around and they were preserved in columns of transparent glass. The Egyptian mummy could only be seen from the front. In the sepulchers, the corpses were covered with plaster on which were painted lifelike portraits of the deceased. They were then placed in the cases of crystal which was dug up in abundance. his report of Herodotus proves the Ethiopians in possession of laws, prisons, commerce, knowledge of working metals and the fine arts.