‘Gold and the Gods’ opens window to rulers of ancient Nubia
King Piankhi, otherwise known as Piye, was the first of the great Nubian kings who reigned over Egypt for three-quarters of a century in the 25 th Dynasty. King Piankhi and the so-called black pharaohs, emerged from a powerful African civilization, which had flourished on the southern banks of the Nile for 2,500 years, to reunify a tattered Egypt and fill its landscape with magnificent monuments, bringing Egypt back to a golden age. Now the opulence and grandeur of the Nubian royals is being brought back to life in the exhibition ‘Gold and the Gods’ at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, which opens a window on the lives of a culture that has been given comparatively little attention despite its immensely significant role in history.
King Piankhi was a Kushite king who ruled the city of Napata, located deep in Nubia, modern-day Sudan. In 730 BC, he took advantage of the squabbling of Egypt’s rulers by expanding Nubia’s power beyond Thebes into Lower Egypt. He then marched north and conquered the cities of Hermapolis and Memphis, among others, and received the submission of the kings of the Nile Delta. Satisfied with his victory, Piankhi returned to his homeland in Nubia never to return to Egypt.
Piankhi of Kush by Omar Buckley / Ramomar
In 716 BC King Piankhi died after a reign of over thirty years. He was buried east of his pyramid at el-Kurru near Jebel Barkal in what is now Northern Sudan. Down a stairway of 19 steps opened to the east, his burial chamber was cut into the bedrock and covered with a corbelled masonry roof. His body had been placed on a bed which rested in the middle of the chamber on a stone bench.
Pharaoh Pankhi's pyramid at El-Kurru, south of Jebel Barkal, North Sudan. Image source: Wikipedia
Beside the pyramid (the first pharaoh to receive such an entombment in more than 500 years) his four favourite horses had been buried, and alongside him was the elaborate jewellery of his four queens, including a silver pendant portraying Hathor, goddess of motherhood and feminine love, nursing a queen and amulets of gold, silver, glass and lapis lazuli to ward off danger.
Amulet of Hathor nursing a queen 743-712 BC. Credit: Boston Museum of Fine Arts
Among the other spectacular Nubian artifacts recovered in the early 20 th century is the gilt silver mask of Nubian Queen Malakaye (664–653 BC), an intricate gold earring depicting two heads of Hathor below a lotus flower decorated with an enamel inlay, and a 3,500-year-old necklace featuring a symmetrical arrangement of beads of various colors and minerals, with a cylindrical amulet case that might have held a magical text.
Mask of Queen Malakaye 664-653 BC. Credit: Museum of Fine Arts Expedition
Nubian jewellery, including amulets, necklaces, bracelets, rings, broaches and more, were handcrafted by Nubian goldsmiths and jewellers, who were regarded as the most skilled of the ancient world. But the decorative pieces were not just designed for displaying wealth and status, they were also believed to ensure resurrection, repel malevolent spirits and place wearers under the gods' protection.
Bracelet with image of Hathor 100 B.C. Gold, enamel * Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition * Photograph ¬© Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
The ‘Gold and the Gods’ exhibition, organized by Yvonne Markowitz and Denise M. Doxey, carries visitors into the palaces, workshops and tombs of ancient Nubia through objects of rare and spectacular beauty.
Featured image: Nubian King leads his queens through a crowd during a festival (Art by Gregory Manchess) Image source.
Read more about the Kings and Queens of Nubia:
The Black Pharaohs – National Geographic
The subjugation of Egypt by Sudan – Nok
Piankhi – Weapons and Warfare
Piye – by Anneke Bart