Fragments of the Meroitic Report of the War Between Rome and Meroe

Abstract : This lecture will present a new reading of the second stela from Hamadab (REM 1039). In 1914, the John Garstang found in the temple of this Meroitic settlement, south of Meroe, two large sandstone steles. Thanks to the recent decipherment of the Meroitic script, Sayce and Griffith could identify the names of a queen, Amanirenas and of a crown-prince, Akinidad. The words “armeyose” and “armil”, which occur at the beginning of the largest stela (presently kept in the British Museum) were supposed to include the name of Rome, which is known as “Arome” in later Meroitic texts. The first stela was therefore considered as the Meroitic narrative of the war between the Romans and Meroe, between 25 and 21 BC. The Meroitic army was, according to the Roman historians, led by a crown-prince and his mother “Queen Candace”. The second stele was in bad state of preservation and was left in the Royal City. Shortly after the poor remains of the text were rapidly copied by the German expedition to Butana and summarily published in a single page in Kush, it was transferred to a store in the National Museum in Khartoum and forgotten for decades. In 2008, Antiquity officers identified it again and moved it to the exhibition room. A recent study of this stele was conducted by the author. A new fac-simile was made, including many signs that were not recorded in the former copy published in Kush. Actually, both stelae are the two halves of a continuous text. The beginning of the London stela includes a long protocol naming the Candace and the prince, followed by narratives where religious scenes and war reports alternate. These reports include several ethnic names, presumably of enemy tribes, but not the expected mention of “Romans”. It is now clear that “armil” and “armeyose” have nothing to do with Rome. The second stela is so eroded that hardly a third of the 32 lines it originally comprised are legible. Akinidad is briefly mentioned alone, after which the narrative begins directly with the report of the conflict with the Romans. They are termed “Tmey”, a general designation for white people. The principal cities where the Roman prefect Petronius fought against the Meroites, namely Aswan (Meroitic “Sewane”), Qasr Ibrim (Meroitic “Pedeme”), and Napata (“Npte”) are mentioned in the stela. The beginning of the war is also described in the 3rd and 4th lines: “the Tmey have enslaved all the men, all the women, all the girls and all the boys”. This detail differs from the report of Strabo who states that the armies of Meroe first attacked Aswan and deported their inhabitants. The point of view of the Meroites was of course not the same as the Romans, as it happens in all the wars. Our knowledge of Meroitic is too scanty for the time being to extract extensive information from this text but it is hoped that the time will come when this new reading can be used to improve our knowledge of this famous war as seen by Meroites.
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Claude Rilly. Fragments of the Meroitic Report of the War Between Rome and Meroe . 13th Conference for Nubian Studies , Matthieu Honegger (Université de Neuchâtel), Sep 2014, Neuchâtel, Switzerland. ⟨halshs-01482774⟩

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