The Louvre museum offers an exhibition on a little-known civilization, the Meroitic Empire, or Meroe. The opportunity to get to know this original culture, whose heart is in present-day Sudan, and which was a crossroads of Egyptian, Greek, Roman and African civilizations.
The so-called Meroe civilization
The name Meroe comes from the capital of an empire that occupied a huge territory from Philae (in southern Egypt) to Khartoum, between the 3rd century BC and the 4th century AD. It is called Kush in biblical texts and Ethiopia by the Greeks and Romans. Its capital, Meroe, is located in present-day Sudan, south of the Sixth Cataract of the Nile, about 200 km north of Khartoum.
We speak of "the island of Meroe" to define the city, the region and the empire. The latter would have been founded around 270 BC by King Arkamani I. The territory of the Empire of Meroe extended up to 1500 km along the Nile, with a golden age during the reign of Natakamani and Amanitore, around AD 50. During its long history, Meroe was in contact with Hellenized Egypt, then Rome (with which it had a conflict under Augustus, between 25 and 21 BC), and even Byzantium until its early disappearance. of the 5th century (last known inscription in Meroitic) under the blows of the Nubian and Ethiopian kingdoms (Axum). This is immediately noticeable in its art and culture in general, a mixture of all these civilizations with local, African characteristics. We thus find specific regional deities, but also Egyptian gods (Amon, Isis and Osiris) and even Greek (Dionysus in particular).
Another characteristic of this Meroe civilization is its own writing. From the 2nd century BC, a specific writing appears, composed of 23 characters in two forms, cursive (from the demotic, an Egyptian cursive from the end of the 1st millennium BC) and hieroglyphic. Its decryption was carried out in 1911 by Egyptologist Francis Llewellyn Griffith, but if this language can be read for a century, it cannot yet be translated!
Finally, in the political domain, one of the originalities of Meroe is the coming to power from the 1st century AD of queens, the candaces, with among the best known Amanirénas who opposed Augustus, as well as Amanishakheto.
The Méroé exhibition at the Louvre
Entitled "Meroe, an empire on the Nile", this exhibition will be held until September 6, 2010 at the Louvre. It is made up of around two hundred works, mostly from the Khartoum Museum around themes of daily life, political power and cults. A part also concerns the archeology of Meroe, which still continues today when it began in the 19th century with Frédéric Cailliaud.
The exhibition, small in size, is very pleasant and clear and allows you to discover this curious and original civilization, too little known, and which has not yet revealed all its riches and its secrets. Some pieces are remarkable (such as the famous archer who adorns the exhibition poster), and it is therefore a must-see, a constructive detour when visiting the Richelieu wing of the Louvre.
- Mr. BAUD, Meroe an empire on the Nile, Officina Libraria, 2010: this is the very beautiful catalog of the exhibition.
- "Meroe, an empire on the Nile on the borders of multiple cultures", Archeology records, special issue, 18.
- By Cyril Aldred, François Daumas, Christiane Desroches-Nobleccourt, Jean Leclant, Egypt of twilight: From Tanis to Meroe: 1070 BC - 4th century AD. Gallimard, 2009.