Ethiopia the land of gods and marvels
In the writings of the Greeks and the Romans, Ethiopia was a region of the gods, of marvelous books, peoples, and of incredible customs. Long accounts of this mysterious country were gathered from various sources and recorded by Herodotus, Diodorus Siculus, Strabo, and Pliny. Most of these tales related to the second, the Meroitic Kingdom of Ethiopia, and being current in Rome in the first century A.D., moved Emperor Nero to send an exploring party of Roman soldiers to Meroe, the capital, and to the lands southward of Meroe. But even before the time of Herodotus Ethiopia had its place in the imagination of the ancients. It is mentioned in the Iliad as a land of the gods and its people are included among the descendants of Ham in the list of races given in Genesis.
A hundred years ago the Englishmen, Hanbury and Waddington, and the Frenchman, Cailliaud, following in the wake of the army of Mohammed Ali, Viceroy of Egypt, journeyed into Sudan to seek the long-lost Island of Meroe. Cailliaud alone was successful. To his delight, he found not only Meroe, but the older capital, Napata, and many other sites with pyramids, temples, and the ruins of cities. However fantastic the tales which the classical writers had handed down, Ethiopia was a land in which a great kingdom and a peculiar civilization had once flourished. Since that time the decipherment of hieroglyphic and cuneiform inscriptions of Egypt and Assyria and the scientific excavation of a number of the ancient sites of Ethiopia have given us a more intimate knowledge of the people and the history Of this remote country. But previous to 1916 there were still two periods lost in obscurity, The earlier of these still remains a blank, – that is, the time between Herihor, the last known Egyptian viceroy of Ethiopia (1090 B.C.), and Piankhy the Great, the king of Ethiopia who conquered Egypt in 721 B.C.
The history of the second period, however, has now been recovered in its main outlines by the excavation of the pyramids, at Nuri. This second, hitherto obscure, the period extends from the expulsion of Tanutaman, the of the nephew of Piankhy, from Egypt by the Assyrians in 661 B.C. to the reign of Ergamenes, King of Ethiopia and friend of Ptolemy II, or about 250 B.C.
The pyramids of Nuri
If one stands on top of Gebel Barkal with the scene of our excavations of 1915-1916* at his feet and looks away up-stream, one sees the pyramids of Nuri rising from the edge of the desert behind the fringe of palms and other trees which line the opposite bank of the Nile. The river is flowing to the southwest, and as the directions the Nile valley is named by the natives from the local course of the river, now as in ancient times, the terms “ north,” “ south,” “ east,” and “ west ” do not designate the points of the compass down-stream, up-stream, to the right and to the left of the river.
This’ll Nuri lies about five miles“ south ” of Gebel Barkal and must have been outside the “ southernmost ” limits of the city of Napata. The township of Nuri is a fairly rich little district with fields of wheat, barley, maize, and millet, and with many trees, mainly date-palms, dom-palms, and acacias. The village, among the along the riverbank, is a straggling line mud-huts with a few better-built houses, also of mud, and a couple of mud-built mosques. On the edge of the desert, not far behind the village, the pyramids of Nuri stand in a dense group on a low knoll which has the form of a rough horseshoe with the open end turned “ southwards ” (up-stream). In that direction lies a bend in the river from which countless dunes of river-sand, driven by the wind, issue forth and cover the alluvial plain and the in the labor of cutting through these dunes to get at the stairways which led down to the underground chambers of the pyramids. It was only by the calculation that we managed.
On the “ eastern ” arm of the horseshoe (toward the Nile), stood the largest pyramid of all (52 meters just square), surrounded on the “ north,” the “ east,” and the “ south ” by a large number of very small pyramids (7 to 12 meters square). On the curve of the horseshoe” western ” arm (toward the desert), there were fourteen large pyramids and five small ones. One of the fourteen large pyramids had been identified in 1915-1916 as the tomb of Aspalta, and the great pyramid on the “ eastern ” arm was the one which in 1916 was surmised to be “the tomb of one of the five kings of Ethiopia who ruled over Egypt.