August 24, 2013

Abu Simbel and the Monuments of Nubia Part 1/2

Abu Simbel and the Monuments of Nubia
   
Background
Historical perspective of Nubia and Kush Egypt and Nubia were culturally linked from earliest times. In fact, there is evidence that Nubia was populated in pre-history by tribes under regional chieftains, much as the earliest settlers in Upper Egypt. The excavation from Nubian tombs of objects of Egyptian origin, such as stone storage vessels, cornelian, amethyst and faience beads, indicate cultural exchange and diffusion from earliest times.

Abu Simbel
During the Old Kingdom, as we have seen from the rock tombs of Aswan (page 42), there seems to have been a loose sovereignty over Nubia. The people, moving with their herds of sheep and goats, relied on Egypt for grain and vegetable oil. And, well aware of the rich veins of gold-bearing quartz and iron ore in this seemingly impoverished land, Egypt was only too happy to supply their requirements.

Skirmishes with border tribes were not infrequent, and there is evidence of Egypt taking Nubian prisoners and confiscating cattle. But on the whole relations seem to have been friendly, and a state of mutual respect existed. Nubians travelled across the border into Egypt, even as far northwards as Dendera. They usually helped the Egyptians in the transportation of goods when the noblemen of Elephantine were trading with the south. And they were also recruited, on occasion, to help the Egyptian troops suppress rebellious bedouin tribes in Lower Egypt. In a decree written by Pepi I (c. 2300 BC) he makes several references to ‘the peaceful Nubians’.

Abu Simbel
Only in the Middle Kingdom (2133-1786 BC) did Nubia lose its independent status. Amenemhet I built a fortress at Semna. Amenemhet II established a trading post as far south as Kerma. And finally Senusert III fixed the southern frontier of Egypt at Semna, just above the Second Cataract. At this point, the Nile thundered through a gap in the granite barrier and provided a natural control point; it also provided a physical environment that closely resembled that just south of Elephantine.

The great fortresses of Semna and Buhen were Constructed on natural elevations; they were two of a possible half dozen other fortresses. Through its domination of Nubia, the Egyptians were not only assured of the produce from this great gold and copper- producing country, but were also in an ideal position to trade for other prized commodities further south.

Kush (Sudan), unlike its northern neighbour Nubia, was fertile. It was also rich in natural resources. Its people, the Mejay, were vigorous and courageous and strongly resisted the Egyptian occupation of Nubia. It was Senusert III who finally suppressed them. His army was aided by Nubians, who were so delighted that they celebrated the victory by turning Senusert into a national hero. A great temple was built in his honour, and this became the site of a flourishing Egyptian community. After his death Senusert was deified and worshipped for centuries later.

Abu Simbel
Generation after generation of Egyptian soldiers and settlers lived in or around the fortress towns of Nubia, slowly spreading their traditions and religious beliefs. During the Hyksos occupation of Egypt many of the fortresses were burned or abandoned, but after the war of liberation, the leaders of the New Kingdom (1567--1080 BC) turned their attention once again towards Nubia and Kush.

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