Nevertheless, when it came to territory, the Egyptians had always coveted Nubian lands--and longed to cash in on the profitable Meroe trade networks that existed for ivory, gold, copper, jewelry, animal skins, elephants, and exotic woods. The new wave of Roman intruders had equally greedy eyes. Amanirenas, who'd recently lost her kingly husband but treasured her offspring, had no intention of letting Egyptians, Romans, or anyone else snatch an inch of territory. Let alone steal Meroe's most important trade secret: the smelting of iron ore at carefully guarded sites to make armaments and swords. (Stunning factoid: the ancient Egyptians never did learn how to smelt iron. They did all of their magnificent building using stone tools and copper finishing implements.)
What was the secret of the Nubian pyramids?
Nubians constructed their pyramids using an ingenious method quite unlike that of Egypt. Counter-balanced by manpower on one side, local workers used a simple crane called a shadouf to lift the heavy blocks into place. That is why their pyramids have steeper angles and are smaller in area than Egyptian pyramids. Farmers in The Sudan and Egypt still make frequent use of shadouf cranes. Instead of erecting pyramids to royalty, however, their devices hoist water from canals into irrigation ditches.
Meroe pyramids remained undamaged until the 1800s, when greedy men broke open their tops, seeking gold.
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Another upsetting factoid: the sleek, sturdy Meroitic pyramids originally had pointed tops, just as the Egyptian ones did. What happened? In 1834, this remote region had the bad luck to be found by a crazed treasure hunter. He stumbled around, bashing into ruins at random, and pried off the top of a least one pyramid, searching for treasure. He discovered a few pieces of gold jewelry belonging to one of the Kandake queens, although experts seriously doubt that it was hidden in the solid rocky top of a Meroe pyramid. After the news of his golden find spread throughout Europe, it motivated other unscrupulous types to ravage Nubia and decapitate their graceful pyramids one by one, in futile searches for treasure.
The untold story that connects all the dots.
If you've ever visited New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, you may have walked through the magnificent exhibit called the Temple of Dendur. Although petite, it's a genuine relic, over 2000 years old. Covered with hieroglyphs, it gives off that wonderful, slightly spooky vibe that all monuments Egyptian seem to have.
The Temple of Dendur was given to the US as a thank-you from the Egyptians. Prior to opening the Aswan Dam, they asked for American financial help to relocate some of their monuments to higher ground. Despite being an Egyptian gift, the Temple of Dendur has a fascinating, Meroitic-Egyptian story that dates to Queen Amanirena's day in the first century B.C.
This enchanting temple and its hieroglyphs honor Nubians, Egyptians, and Romans.
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This graceful sandstone temple once sat near the Nile River at Dendur. Its original purpose? To serve as a potent symbol of the showdown between the all-powerful Roman Empire and Amanirenas, the battle-savvy queen and ruler of Meroe.
Built in 15 B.C., it was commissioned by Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus after his summit meeting with Kandake Amanirenas and her entourage. As part of their agreement, the Emperor agreed to erect this miniature home of the gods to honor the two sons of a locally famous Nubian leader. The boys Pahor and Pedese had drowned in the Nile and, following traditional Egyptian-Meroitic custom, had been deified. On the temple's walls, Caesar Augustus himself is also depicted, worshipping these local deities. During the lifetimes of Amanirenas and Octavian, yearly rituals were celebrated in the emperor's name to honor the brothers. Visitors to the Temple of Dendur can still see the hieroglyphs that refer to the Emperor as "pharaoh" and as "Caesar."