ARKAMANI Sudan Electronic Journal of Archaeology and Anthropology






Meroitic Palaeography as a Tool for Chronology :

 Prospects and Limits 

Dr. Claude Rilly, CNRS-LLACAN (Paris)





      1.1. Definition and goals of palaeography

      1.2. Specificity of Meroitic palaeography

      1.3. A review of Meroitic palaeography up to the present

2. Evolution of signs

      2.1. General trends

      2.2. Examples of signs evolution

3. Problems of palaeographical dating

      3.1. Change rates

      3.2. Archaisms and conservative forms

      3.2. Local features vs official styles

      3.4. Hieroglyphic palaeography?

4. Some examples of palaeographical dating

      4.1. Queen Shanakdakhete (REM 0039, 0051-0054)

      4.2. Queen Nawidemak (REM 0073D-E, 0077/78 and 1089 )

      4.3. King Amanakhareqerema (REM 1282)






1. Introduction


1.1. Goals and methods of palaeography  

According to The Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics, edited by R.E. Asher (1) : «Palaeography is the study of ancient and medieval handwriting.[…] Palaeography involves the study of writing on papyrus, animal skins, paper, and wax tablets. Inscriptions on other writing materials, including stone, metal, wood, clay, and slate are also of interest, especially for periods where there is no other available evidence.[…] Usually, however, inscriptions are considered to be the province of the related discipline of epigraphy. The technique of cutting individual letters with a chisel onto a hard surface results in a different style from writing on a flexible material such as papyrus».


However, at least in the field of Meroitic studies, I think we can use this term of «palaeography» for the study of writing on any kind of material, be it stone, ostrakon or papyrus. First, contrary to Demotic, Greek and Latin, the Meroitic so-called «cursive» script is not properly cursive. I mean there are no ligatures : the different strokes making up a sign were always formed separately, even when the text was written onto a papyrus leaf or an ostrakon with a brush dipped into ink. One of the best evidence for such a «constructed» script is the fact that the tails of the signs are nearly all running right, in the opposite direction of the writing which runs from right to left. So, even if the main textual production was very probably executed with the brush and ink, as it appears from the form of the letters (2) and their evolution, there is however no formal difference between writings. Second, Meroitic philology is fairly recent, and Meroiticists are not yet dealing, as Classicists do, with a huge mass of written documents : only a thousand documents in all are currently known, and just several dozens on ostrakon or papyrus, so that it is yet impossible to treat different sorts of inscriptions separately. Of course, one must keep in mind that inscriptions on stone may have been more conservative in their form than informal documents on ostraka (3), but for now, it is more a general postulate than a stated fact. So, in our field of studies, I suggest using the term «epigraphy» for the reading and interpretation of the texts written on every kind of material, generally collected in the «Répertoire d’Épigraphie Méroïtique», and restrict the term «palaeography» to the study of writing.


«The basic task of palaeography is to provide the means of dating and localizing manuscripts by establishing patterns in the development of characteristic letter-forms and abbreviations.» (4) As emphasized in this definition, palaeography was originally a discipline closely connected with history. But nowadays it tends, with the development of studies devoted to writing systems and the critical analysis of sources, to become more than a humble servant of historians and to be considered as an autonomous field. It can provide valuable information on some cultural, economic, ideological aspects of a civilization, particularly in medieval times when a considerable mass of written documents was produced.


1.2. Specificity of Meroitic palaeography

To what extent is this valid for Meroitic palaeography? The scanty written material, the small number of scholars involved in this field and chiefly our poor knowledge of the language precludes for now any attempt to reach the level of classical palaeography, which very likely we never shall reach. As a matter of fact, Meroitic palaeography is as yet a mainly unexplored field. It would be difficult to find more than two dozens of pages entirely devoted to this study in all the books and articles published about Meroitic.


In my opinion, Meroitic palaeographers must still nurse modest ambitions : for the time being, we should content ourselves with using this study first as a tool for improving the reading of texts which are, more often than not, very carelessly engraved or poorly preserved, and second as one of the various methods which can provide chronological information.


This paper is specifically concerned with this second task. One of the most puzzling features of Meroitic texts is their apparent lack of interest in dates. Contrary to Egyptian texts, no regnal year is ever indicated, even in the inscriptions issued by the state authorities like royal stelae. It is somewhat irritating to see that previous texts engraved in Kush for the Napatan kings always mention the regnal years, and this until the last inscriptions, like in Nastasen’s stela. For unknown reasons, this practice seems to disappear completely in Meroitic texts. Oddly enough, two demotic inscriptions concerning Meroite subjects in Philae and Dakka (5) give the name of their kings and their regnal year.


Palaeography is a tantalizing way to solve this lack of chronological markers, and to assess dates for inscriptions. Basically, it is not difficult to classify Meroitic texts according to their palaeographical features and thus produce palaeographical tables. As many of these texts include royal names, the reigns of most Meroitic rulers from the second century BC to the end of Meroe can be connected with a more or less specific writing style. But it is much more difficult to assign accurate dates to these palaeographical periods, because we lack absolute dates for nearly all the kings and queens of Meroe. We know for sure from Pasan’s graffito in Philae that king Teqorideamani is contemporary with the Roman Emperor Trebonanius Gallus (251-253 AD). It is not as certain if Amanirenas was the Candace who conducted the war against the Roman expedition in 25/24 BC (6). As for all the other rulers, we have no correspondences with any datable event from classical civilizations.


So Meroitic palaeography, contrary to its Greek or Roman counterparts, can hardly provide more than relative chronology. It is possible to assess if this or that text was written before another, or that both are roughly contemporary but it still remains impossible to date the texts with accuracy. However, these vague indications can be of interest, particularly when combined with other dating methods.


1.3. A review of Meroitic palaeography up to the present

Curiously enough, Meroiticists did not take a great interest in palaeography. Only three general palaeographical tables have been published, all of them of limited scope. Griffith first grouped in Karanog (7) a list of signs taken from twelve inscriptions in 7 columns, illustrating three chronological periods : Archaic (before 25 BC), Transitional (from 25 BC to AD 250), Late (from AD 250 to 400). Although we cannot but admire this brave start made with a scarce material and in a very short time, we must admit that his table suffers from several defects. First, the Archaic style is only represented by texts from the south of the Meroitic empire, whereas the Late style is illustrated only with Kharamadoye’s inscription (REM 0094). Second, there is obviously some imbalance between the duration of the styles : the Archaic and Late period last one and a half centuries each, but the Transitional period lasts three centuries. To solve this problem, Griffith was later obliged to add a «Late Transitional» style. Griffith was also the only scholar to present a comparative table of Meroitic hieroglyphic script, but as we will see later, it cannot be considered as a palaeography.


Hintze published the next palaeographical table in 1959 in his Studien zur meroitischen Chronologie (8). It comprises 32 columns, corresponding to the royal inscriptions that were known so far. Hintze used the same categories as his glorious predecessor: «archaisch», «transitional», «spät», adding the «transitional-spät» period later suggested by Griffith. As Trigger noticed in his first article (9), this table can hardly be used. First, there is no selection of representative signs, so that the reader is at a loss when trying to find some parallel with the text he is trying to situate in such a thick mass of signs. Second, although it was predictable with this kind of inscription, nearly all the texts come from the region of Meroe, with only two or three from Lower Nubia, so that the table is not representative of the whole scope of Meroitic epigraphy.


Later on, Trigger (10) and Priese (11) each published a sign-list, but they are not really palaeographical tables and have no claim to be so. Trigger’s list is just a catalogue of signs taken from the texts from Arminna for the purpose of a comparison with Hintze’s table. Priese’s table is merely intended for illustrating the correspondences between cursive Egyptian scripts and Meroitic. It is just a list of signs selected from 12 texts for which no reference is given nor any chronological indication suggested.


The most valuable palaeographical table up to now was published by Hofmann in her book Steine für die Ewigkeit (12). She selected signs from 24 inscriptions and placed them in 15 columns. She distinguished six main periods called «Types», many of them comprising several sections. Each type corresponds to a period of time of exactly 50 or 100 years, a somewhat artificial distribution. She tried to keep a geographical balance between southern and northern texts and she based her dating upon accurate archaeological and genealogical research. (13) Some embarrassing errors can however be noted. She mixed up in the same columns different sections of texts, which obviously do not belong to the same palaeographical style, like the two sides of Taneyidamani’s small stela from Meroe (REM 0405, see note below Fig. 7) or two different passages of Teriteqas’ oval stela, also from Meroe (REM 0412). Moreover, she dated the text engraved on the statue of Isis from Barkal (REM 0075) from the second half of the first century BC, although  it is obviously contemporary with Taneyidamani’s great stela from Barkal (around 100 BC). These mistakes created of course some confusion in types I-III, which constites no less than half the table.


In a book soon to be published (14), I present a new palaeographical table (fig. 1-4). It is just the first sketch of a larger project I would like to carry out in the next years. I tried to escape the different problems encountered in previous similar works : in scientific matters, it is as a rule more comfortable to come last. I selected 71 texts of various geographical provenances. Our table includes royal texts as well as private inscriptions, texts engraved on stone as well as texts written in ink. Many of them, recently discovered or lately published, were not treated by our predecessors. I kept to Griffith’s categories : «archaic», «transitional», «late» : these terms are part of our tradition and are more meaningful than Hofmann’s numbers. But I split each period in two subdivisions, A and B, and three (A, B and C) for the too long « transitional » period. These subdivisions are based exclusively on palaeographical differences and cover periods of time ranging from 70 to 120 years. The chronological framework was mainly based on suggestions in the Fontes Historiae Nubiorum and in his Handbook (15). I insist on the fact that his suggestions were not taken for granted but were constantly put to the test by comparison with the internal consistency of palaeographical changes. Most of the time, this comparison was successful. There was a limited number of discrepancies and many points of agreement, over which I shall go back later.


2. Evolution of signs


2.1. General trends

The earliest examples of Meroitic cursive inscriptions, recently found by Charles Bonnet in Dukki Gel (REM 1377-78), can be dated from the early second century BC (16). The latest text is still probably the famous inscription from Kalabsha mentioning King Kharamadoye (REM 0094) and dated from the beginning of the 5th century AD, although some funeral texts from Ballana (17) could be contemporary if not posterior. During the six centuries of its existence, Meroitic script underwent dramatic changes. The main features of its evolution, as illustrated in Fig. 5, are the following :


(1)   the stocky shape of many archaic signs became more and more slender.

(2)   the upright aspect of the archaic writing progressively slanted to the left.

(3)   the tail of signs a, k, n, p grew longer, running under the line in the late period.

(4)   many originally different signs became increasingly similar (18).


Although we know almost nothing about the sociological aspects of writing in the Meroitic kingdom (19), this evolution can be explained by the influence of professional scribes on the techniques of writing and spreading of literacy. (1) Slender signs could be written closer together and allowed the scribes to save precious material such as papyrus. (2) Slant handwriting is very common among persons used to writing often and quickly. (3) The long tails of some signs, although involving a certain loss of time, show a tendency to calligraphy that could be imitated from official documents written in ink (see fig. 6). These three features suggest that the teaching of writing was in the hands of professional scribes whose techniques were increasingly reflected in the handwriting of the rest of the population. (4) Finally, weakly differentiated signs can hinder reading only for people who have to read letter by letter, but not for good readers who can instantly recognize a word just from its overall aspect, as if it were a ideogram. This last feature shows that speed reading was common in the late period : contrary to generally accepted ideas, it seems that the last centuries of the kingdom of Meroe were by no means a period of intellectual decline, but on the contrary the golden age of Meroitic literacy.


Point (1) shows also that papyrus was a more widely used material than we can judge from the scanty examples so far discovered (20). As Millet pointed out some decades ago (21), we can reasonably hope that future excavations will result in the discovery of some important Meroitic papyri.


2.2. Examples of signs evolution

Not all Meroitic signs show an interesting palaeographical evolution. Some very simple ones, like the single vertical stroke of o o or the three strokes of y y are marginally affected by the passing of time. Such is more or less the case with b b, e e, i i, m m, N ne, r r, which are poor chronological markers. Other signs can provide just simple information : for example d d with upper hook is characteristic of the late period, the « coat hanger » shaped w w of the archaic period. Some signs like T te and u to show a very rich and interesting evolution, but the changes are not always regular and variants can be misleading, a point I will return to later. Among the best signs for dating a text, I selected and q for the following demonstration.


The sign for underwent very regular changes in the course of time. During the archaic period, it comprises three strokes : and resembles closely its Demotic original (22). The angle between the two main strokes has a moderate opening. At the end of the first century AD (Transitional A), the third stoke was merged with the second, becoming a simple curve, and the angle opened up : . At this stage, it could be easily confused with b b. However, in some royal texts naming the Candaces Amanirenas and Amanishakheto, the sign has nearly the shape of our block letter L :  , probably to avoid this confusion. At the end of the second century AD (Transitional C), the angle closed up, leading to a stable shape  during the late period.


From the original demotic sign k3 or q (23), the Meroitic letter q turned into  in the earliest documents (Archaic A), with a huge triangle and a small stroke stuck to the tip. Later in the archaic period (around 100 BC, Archaic B), the stroke came away from the triangle, which itself was reduced to smaller proportions, resulting in . This form was stable until the end of the second century AD (Transitional C), when the triangle was more and more often reduced to a simple stroke : . During the late period, this form is by far the most common and is in competition only with a variant .


3. Problems of palaeographical dating


3.1. Change rates

As pointed out above, Meroitic palaeography, compared with its Greek, Latin or Demotic counterparts, has only scarce chronological elements at its disposal. Things would be easier if palaeographical changes occurred at a steady rate, through a kind of graphic clockwork, like the radioactive molecule decay use for Carbon dating. In that case, one or two solid dates would be enough to calibrate a palaeographical table and to find out easily a precise date for a given text (24). But this naïve approach is misleading.


As a matter of fact, palaeogra­phical changes depend on the transmission of literacy. This transmission depends in turn of sociological factors, which are essentially irregular. Comparison with the concept of “punctuated equilibrium” used in modern paleonto­logy would be more appropriate than the Carbon dating metaphor. As it was suggested for the evolution of species, there are relatively short episodes of rapid changes and long periods of stability. The Archaic B and Late periods are palaeographically stable, but the Transitional period is punctuated with two episodes of important changes, the first from  Amanishakheto’s reign to Natakamani’s (end 1st century BC / middle 1st century AD) and the second around the middle of the 2nd century AD. The latter corresponds probably to the influence of professional scribes and the spread of literacy, two points treated above. The former is more difficult to explain, but could ultimately be connected with the cultural development which is obvious in art and architecture during these reigns.

So irregularity of change rates must be kept in mind when evaluating the age of Meroitic inscriptions. It is of course possible to say if there is a long or short span of time between two palaeographically different texts, but the chronological distance can not be precisely evaluated by a simple mathematical calculation.(25).


3.2. Archaisms and conservative forms

Among various obstacles to palaeographical dating, conservatism must also be reckoned with. Palaeographical changes, like linguistic changes, have to face resistance from people attached to traditions. A good example of such resistance can be seen in the very clear progression in the way that the late form  for the sign te became dominant. This simplified form of a more complicated transitional  appears very early, in Akinidad’s stela from Hamadab (REM 1003), which can be dated from the late 1st century BC. A second text from Kawa with the name of Akinidad (REM 0628) has the same ductus for this sign. But later on, this form seems to give way to the old fashioned and some variants. However, the simple form is attested at the end of the Transitional period (for instance in funeral texts from Karanóg REM 0314, 0327), but it became the majority form only in the Late period, more than two centuries after it first appeared.


Moreover, it seems certain that ancient Meroitic texts were regularly read by the later generations (26). That could partly explain some archaisms in several texts. Long after the sign q with triangle q gave way to the simplified form q (see 2.2 above), triangular forms are occasionally found, for example in a text from Teqorideamani’s pyramid in Meroe (REM 0057A-B), which can be dated precisely from the years after 253 AD (27). This particular feature could mislead the palaeographic analysis. However archaisms can generally be noticed because they are unnatural and unsteady. They are mixed up in the texts with later forms for other signs and even for the same sign : the later form of q without a triangle can be found for instance in other parts of the inscription REM 0057A-B.


3.2. Local features vs official styles

Local features in the texts could also hinder palaeographical analyses. In my palaeographical tables, I tried to include texts from different provenances to account for eventual local styles. However, I have unable so far to identify obvious local styles, but this point needs further research. Some tiny differences can be detected : for instance, archaic features like the q q with triangle and the looped  to seem to be more common in late times in Sedeinga than elsewhere. In any event, it is certain that Meroitic script seems to be highly standardized throughout the kingdom, a fact which backs up the hypothesis of an influential scribal caste directly connected with the central administration.


This point is quite obvious in texts issued by the royal administration and engraved in different parts of the kingdom. The most relevant examples are probably the cursive inscriptions bearing Amanishakheto’s name : thanks to recent excavations and publications, stelae from Naga (REM 1293, 1294) and from Meroe (1041, 1361-67) for the south of the kingdom, from Qasr Ibrim (REM 1141) for the north are now available. Palaeographical comparison (see Fig. 2) shows almost no differences in the form of the letters, although it is highly probable that these texts were engraved by local professionals.


3.4. Hieroglyphic palaeography?

It is still impossible today to produce reliable palaeographical tables for hieroglyphic Meroitic (28). First of all, contrary to cursive signs, hieroglyphs are closely connected with real objects or animate beings and are consequently less subject to dramatic changes : the sign l l picturing a lion must resemble a real lion, even if some details can be different according to the scribes. The geometrical lines of cursive signs allow more room for manoeuvre. Second, this script is not merely intended for communication, but is a sacred script, endowed with magical power, restricted to royal and religious purposes (29). Finally, only very few and scanty texts are available : apart from cult texts from Naga, Amara and now Dangeil, which are more or less contemporary, only some forty texts are still extant, most of them fragmentary.


Of course, chronological markers among the remains of the Meroitic civilization are so rare that it would be absurd not to take advantage of the smallest clues we can find, but dating obtained from hieroglyphic inscriptions must still be envisaged with caution until a more extensive corpus of such texts is available.


4. Some examples of palaeographical dating


4.1. Queen Shanakdakhete (REM 0039, 0051-0054)

Queen Shanakdakhete’s chronological position is much debated. Dunham suggested 177-155 BC, Hintze 180-170 BC, Wenig 170-150 BC, Shinnie 170-160 BC, Welsby (resuming Hintze’s dating) 180-170 BC. Török suggests, with more caution, the end of the 2nd century BC, and considers this Queen as King Taneyidamani’s direct predecessor (30).


The only inscription giving her name comes from Temple F in Naga (REM 0039A-B). The name appears in Meroitic hieroglyphics in the middle of an Egyptian text. As stated above, hieroglyphics are still a scanty material for dating. However, it is interesting to note that the signs are very similar to the hieroglyphic inscriptions from Queen Amanishakheto’s reign (31). This similarity reinforces Török’s suggestion for a later dating for Shanakdakhete : according to Dunham’s, Hintze’s and Wenig’s estimations, there would have been more than 140 years between both Queens, but less than a century according to Török’s.


On the other hand, the first attempts to render full Meroitic phrases into hieroglyphs (not only personal names, as it was common earlier) can be dated from the turn of the 3rd / 2nd century BC. They were engraved on the coffin-bench of King Arkamani II in Beg.N. 7 (32). The rendering is very approximate, hesitating between q and k for the Meroitic /k/ and using the Egyptian j for the long initial vowel in /u:sa/ “ Isis ” (33). Obviously, Meroitic script was not yet perfected at this time. The end of Arkamani II’s reign took place between 207-186 BC  during the Upper Egyptian revolt (34). If the early dating for Queen Shanakdakhete’s reign is correct, there would have been only a few decades between the first awkward attempts in Arkamani’s chapel and the cartouche of the Queen in Naga, during which the Meroitic writing system and the choice of the signs reached their final state. Török’s later dating seems therefore more appropriate.


Furthermore, there are indeed some contemporary cursive inscriptions (35), although they have passed unnoticed since Griffith published them in his Meroitic Inscriptions. The short texts REM 0051-0053 were engraved in Shanakdakhete’s chapel in Beg. N.11 (36). They are captions accompanying the representations of important persons belonging to the funeral procession for the late queen. They give the names of these persons and their titles, details that are not likely to have been added long after the pyramid was erected.


Comparison with Taneyidamani’s inscriptions (see Fig.7), especially on the statuette of Apedemak REM 0127, shows a very close palaeo­graphical similarity. The signs k, m, q and w are particularly striking. They are suggestive of a significant evolution from the first cursive inscriptions known in Dukki Gel and Kawa, which can be dated from the first half of the second century BC. The position of Queen Shanakdakhete as Taneyidamani’s predecessor in the last decades of the first century BC, as suggested by Török, fits perfectly with the palaeographical features of the texts engraved during their respective reigns.


4.2. Queen Nawidemak (REM 0073D-E, 0077/78 and 1089 )

The position of this queen is also a controversial matter. Nawidemak was buried in Barkal, no far from the pyramids traditionally attributed to King Teriteqas and Queen Amanirenas (37). This was a break in the Meroitic tradition of burials in Begrawwiya, which again resumed in later reigns. Queen Amanishakheto, who reigned after Amanirenas (38), was however buried in Begrawwiya. Hintze, Wenig and Hofmann (39), according to the principle of Ockham’s razor, suggested a Barkal sequence Nawidemak – Teriteqas – Amanirenas, followed by a Begrawwiya sequence Amanishakheto and successors. In FHN III, László Török goes back over the question and suggests rather a sequence Teriteqas – Amanirenas – Amanishakheto – Nawidemak, involving two shifts of burial places instead of a single one.(40) He argues that late Augustan (41) import objects were discovered in Nawidemak’s pyramid whereas imported materials from Teriteqas’ and Amanirenas’ tombs could be dated back to the late 1st century BC. However, we cannot be sure that Bar.2 and 4 were actually Teriteqas’ and Amanirenas’ burial places (see note 37). To help establish the relative position of these rulers, palaeography can be useful. 


Four Meroitic texts mentioning Queen Nawidemak are known  so far (42) : two captions in her chapel (REM 0077-78, Barkal), the golden base of a statuette (REM 1089, Barkal) and two fragments of the offering-table of a child of hers (REM 0073 D-E, Beg.N.2?). All these texts correspond to the Transitional B period in my palaeographical tables (see Fig. 2). A marked tendency to lengthening in the tails of the signs k, n and p, the slender signs l and t, and above all the upper “caps” of the signs k (REM 1089) and m (REM 0077-78) have a close similarity with the texts from the time of the later rulers Amanakhabale (REM 1001/1038, 0045) and Natakamani (REM 0126). On the other hand, the signs show much later developments than texts mentioning Teriteqas and Amanirenas (REM 0412B-C, 0092-0093, 1003). They can by no means be earlier, and not even contemporary.


Once again, Török’s assumption seems therefore to be confirmed. The sequence Teriteqas – Amanirenas – Amanishakheto – Nawidemak – Amanakhabale – Amanitore – Natakamani, even some other reigns might have occurred between them, is palaeo­graphically more relevant than any other order.


4.3. King Amanakhareqerema (REM 1282)

Some years ago, this King was almost unknown : he was associated with two statues of rams, one allegedly coming from Soba (REM 0001), the other discovered in situ at El-Hassa (REM 1151) and possibly with the so-called “omphalos of Napata”, although the royal Meroitic name was so erased that it could not be read with certainty (43). All these inscriptions were written in hieroglyphics and were in a very bad state of preservation, so that it was very difficult to suggest a palaeographical dating.


At this time, Amanakhareqerema’s reign was dated from 165-184 AD by Hintze and Shinnie, 190-200 AD by Wenig, from the middle of the 2nd century AD by Hofmann, and from the second half of the 2nd century AD by Török, who endorsed, without conviction, his predecessors’ dating for want of anything better (44).


During the 1998 campaign, the archaeological mission of the Berlin Museum under the direction of Professor Wildung found a sandstone medallion with Amanakh­areqerema’s name and a royal epithet in cursive (REM 1282) in Naga. Jochen and Gabriela Hallof published it two years later (Hallof-Hallof 2000). Later on, I published a palaeographical study of this inscription (Rilly 2001). As can be seen on Fig. 3, I noticed the striking palaeographical resemblance with two stelae mentioning King Natakamani (REM 0126) and the Candace Amanitore (REM 0126 and 1221), particularly in the shape of the q q with triangle, of the n n without elongated tail and the large opening of the h . On the other hand, the style was quite different from texts that can be dated from the middle of the second century AD. My conclusion was that Amanakhareqerema was very probably a close successor of Natakamani, living at the end of the first century.


In the last few years, archaeological fieldworks in central Sudan have greatly enhanced our knowledge of this reign. The excavations currently conducted by Vincent Rondot and his team in El-Hassa resulted in the discovery of a temple dedicated to Amun and of a second statue of ram with a hieroglyphic inscription mentioning Amanakhareqerama, similar to the previous one discovered by Shinnie and Bradley (REM 1151). Vincent Rondot himself will explain all that and more in details on Friday morning. I would just like to point out that the Egyptian part of the inscription of the rams, which is now complete, shows a good knowledge and use of the Egyptian language and script. Such capacities are still attested at the time of Amanitore and Natakamani (45), but decrease in later times as Egyptian phrases are restricted to the coronation names and very simple (and sometimes incorrect) titles (46).


Finally, this very year, Professor Wildung made a remarkable discovery in Naga. While excavating the remains of Temple Naga 200 his team found fragments of walls decorated with splendid reliefs. Several blocks were inscribed with fragmentary cartouches of King Amanakhareqerema. Here again, you will know all the details of this discovery directly from Professor Wildung on Friday morning. It is enough to say that the style of the hieroglyphs, the arrangement of the inscriptions and their content, not to mention the iconographical elements, show an amazing continuity with the Temple of Apedemak erected by Amanitore and Natakamani on the same site. I consider that Amanakhareqerema’s position as one of Natakamani’s successors, if not his direct successor, is now highly probable. His reign should consequently be placed in the second half of the 1st century AD. This new temple confirms the validity of my previous palaeographical analysis of REM 1282.



This overall picture shows that palaeography can offer very valuable information in the area of Meroitic chronology, and especially for the sequence and dating of the rulers, which are the backbone of Meroitic historiography. According to the palaeographical studies we carried out here, Queen Shanakdakhete must be placed at the end of the first century BC as Taneyidamani’s direct predecessor. Nawidemak and Amanakhabale must be actually placed between Amani­shakheto and Amanitore. Asz a result, if Amanirenas is indeed the Candace who fought against the Romans in 25/24 BC, it seems difficult to place the reigns of Natakamani and Amanitore around the beginning of the Christian era. They should be dated preferably to the middle of the 1st century AD. Finally, Amanakhareqerema is likely to have succeeded Natakamani at the end of the 1st century AD. I would not be surprised if King Amanitenmomide, who had the same coronation name as Amanakhareqerema and can be dated back to the beginning of the 2nd century BC (47) was actually his direct or close successor.


The recent progress I have been presenting here is chiefly due to the work we are carrying out with my colleague Claude Carrier on the Répertoire d’Épigraphie Méroïtique. I must express all my gratitude to Professor Leclant who entrusted us with this exhausting but exciting task.

However, Meroitic palaeography is still in its infancy – : more texts are needed to increase comparative material, better methods to escape the permanent danger of circular reasoning and closer cooperation with the other disciplines to base the dating on consistent elements.

Finally I would like to plead for a greater interest of students in Meroitic studies for epigraphy and palaeography. There are many people interested in the theoritical issues of the decipherment of Meroitic but not enough, in my opinion, in the intimate contact with the texts that involves patient observation, minutely detailed drawing, unflaggingly repeated comparisons. Yet it is from such a work that Griffith drew the basis for the decipherment of the script and the first translations. Epigraphy and palaeography are by no means fusty disciplines dealing with dusty material, but the best introduction to the understanding of the texts.



Dunham, D. 1957: Royal Tombs at Meroë and Barkal. Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1957. Royal Cemeteries of Kush, Vol. IV.

El-Aguizy, O. 1998: A Palaeological Study of Demotic Papyri. Cairo, 1998. Mémoires de l'Institut Français d'Archéologie Orientale 113.


Eide, T., Hägg, T., Holton Pierce, R. and Török, L. Fontes Historiae Nubiorum: II. From the Mid-Fifth to the First Century B.C. Textual Sources for the History of the Middle Nile Between the 8th Century BC and the 6th AD. Bergen, 1996.


Eide, T., Hägg, T., Holton Pierce, R. and Török, L. Fontes Historiae Nubiorum: III. From the First to the Sixth Century A. D. Textual Sources for the History of the Middle Nile Between the 8th Century BC and the 6th AD. Bergen, 1998.


Griffith, F. Ll. 1911: The Meroitic Inscriptions of Shablûl and Karanog. in E.B. Coxe Jr Expedition to Nubia. VI. Philadelphie: University of Pennsylvania, 1911.


Griffith, F. Ll. 1911: « Meroitic Studies III ». Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, 1917, No 4 : 21-27 and Pl. V.


Hallof, G. and Hallof, J2000: « Eine Königliche Inschrift aus Naga ». Beiträge zur Sudanforschung, 2000, No 7 : 169-172.


Hallof, J. 2003: « Yesbokheamani - der Löwe von Qasr Ibrim ». Journal of Egyptian Archaelogy, 2003, No 89 : 251-254, Pl. XXIII.


Hintze, F. 1959: Studien zur meroitischen Chronologie und zu den Opfertafeln aus den Pyramiden von Meroe. Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1959. Abhandlungen der Deutschen Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Berlin. Klasse für Sprachen, Literatur und Kunst.


Hintze, F. 1960: « Die meroitische Stele des Königs Tanyidamani aus Napata ». Herausgegeben unter Zugrundelegung einer Bearbeitung Monneret de Villards. Kush, 1960, No 8 : 125-162.


Hofmann, I. 1981: Material für eine meroitische Grammatik. Vienne: Veröffentlichungen der Institute für Afrikanistik und Ägyptologie der Universität Wien 16, 1981. Beiträge zur Afrikanistik 13.


Hofmann, I. 1991: Steine für die Ewigkeit / Meroitische Opfertafeln und Totenstelen. Vienna, 1991. Coll. Beiträge zur Sudanforschung (Beiheft 6).


Lepsius, R. 1880: Nubische Grammatik mit einer Einleitung über die Völker und Sprachen Afrika's. Berlin: Hertz, 1880. 


Macadam, M. F. L. 1966: « Queen Nawidemak ». Allen Memorial Art Museum, 1966, Bulletin 23/2 :42-71.


Millet, N. B. 1974: « Writing and Literacy in Ancient Sudan ». in Abdalla, A. M., Studies in Ancient Languages of the Sudan. Papers presented at the Second International  Colloquium on  Language and Literature in the Sudan sponsored by the Sudan Research Unit, 7-12 December 1970. Khartoum, 1974 : 49-57 (quoted here according to the manuscript version for the Conference).


Priese, K. H. 1973: « Zur Entstehung der meroitischen Schrift » in 1. Internationale Tagung für meroitistische Forschungen in Berlin 1971. Meroitica 1. Berlin, 1973 : 273-306.


Priese, K.H. 1997: « La Langue et l'écriture méroïtiques. in Wildung, D., Soudan, Royaumes sur le Nil. Catalogue d'exposition I.M.A. (Paris) 1997. Paris, Institut du Monde Arabe, 1997 : 251-264.


Rilly, C. 2001: « Approche comparative de la paléographie et de la chronologie royale de Méroé ». Meroitic Newsletters (Paris), 2001, No 28 : 71-89.


Rilly, C. 2003: « Les graffiti archaïques de Doukki Gel et l'apparition de l'écriture méroïtique ». Meroitic Newsletter, 2003, No 30 : 41-55, pl. IX-XIII (fig. 41-48).


Rilly, C. (forthcoming): La langue du Royaume de Méroé. Paris.Champion, forthcoming. Collections de l'École Pratique des Hautes Études.


Shinnie, P.L. 1996:  Ancient Nubia. Londres - New-York. Kegan Paul International, 1996.


Török, L. 1997a: Meroe City, an Ancient African Capital. John Garstang's Excavations in the Sudan, Part I (texts), Part II (Figures and Plates). The Egypt Exploration Society, 1997. Occasional Publications 12.


Török, L. 1997b: The Kingdom of Kush. Handbook of the Napatan-Meroitic Civilization. Leyde: E.J. Brill, 1997. Coll. Handbook of Oriental Studies I. The Near and Middle East.


Trigger, B. G. 1962: « A Meroitic Tomb-inscription ». Postilla, Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, 1962, No 72 : 1-12.


Trigger, B.G. et Heyler, A. 1970: The Meroitic Funerary Inscriptions from Arminna West. Publications of the Pennsylvania-Yale Expedition to Egypt 4. New Haven & Philadelphia, 1970.


Welsby, D. A. 1996: The Kingdom of Kush. The Napatan and Meroitic Empire. Londres. British Museum Press, 1996.


Wenig, S. 1978: Africa in Antiquity. The Arts of Ancient Nubia and the Sudan. II. Catalogue of the Exhibition Brooklyn 30 sept. - 31 déc. 1978. Brooklyn, 1978.



(1) Lowe 1994 : 2900.

(2) First suggested in Lepsius 1880 : CXXIV ; see also Priese, 1997 : 253, Rilly forthcoming : 84.

(3) See Török 1997a : 279 for possibly different dates obtained from dipinti (REM 1270-1272) and inscriptions on stone.

(4) Lowe 1994 : 2900.

(5) Graffiti  Dakka 17 (FHN II : 688) and Philae  416 (FHN III : 1001). These unexpected dates could be explained as a detail felt as necessary because possibly Egyptian scribes were commissioned by the Meroite pilgrims to engrave the demotic graffiti. A further clue is provided by the fact that in both royal names, the element Amani « Amun » is spelt phonetically, as if the correspondence with the Egyptian god’s name had escaped the scribes.

(6) This identification is based on the occurrence in the Hamadab stela (REM 1003) of the word armeyose, supposed to be a derivative from Arome « Rome » (see Griffith 1917 p. 167, FHN II : 721, Török 1997b : 456). This assumption is probably erroneous (Hofmann 1981: 282, 292, Rilly forthcoming : 189-190).

(7) Griffith 1911 : 19.

(8) Hintze 1959 : Fig. 34, « Paläographische Tabelle der meroitischen Kursive ».

(9) Trigger 1962 : 4.

(10) Trigger-Heyler 1970 : 6, Fig. 2.

(11) Priese 1973 : 300-303.

(12) Hofmann 1991 : 127, Tab.1.

(13) Hofmann 1991 : 130-151, 156-170.

(14) Rilly forthcoming : 337-348

(15) Török 1997b.

(16) Rilly 2003 : 46-48.

(17) REM 1202-1204, 1208-1210, 1214-1215, 1220.

(18) Compare for instance in Fig.1-4 the signs / m / s ;  e / t ; lt.

(19) See Millet 1974 for a tentative review of this issue.

(20) All of them (REM 1110, 1173, 1174, 1176, 1232, 1322, 1323 and many other unpublished fragments) were found in the excavations of Qasr Ibrim by the British.

(21) « It is only ill-luck which has so far withheld from us more complete examples of such documents, and we can always hope for better success in the future. » (Millet 1974, page 4 of the manuscript).

(22) Its general form in Demotic is  . But the Archaic Ptolemaic palaeographical period from Upper Egypt shows  or  (El-Aguizy, 1998 : 271 g5-g6).

(23) This usual form is attested also in Ptolemaic Demotic from Upper Egypt (El-Aguizy, 1998 : 282-283). For the value q, see Günther Vittmann, « Zum Gebrauch des ka-Zeichen im Demotischen, dans Studi di Egittologia e di Antichità Puniche (Pise), t. 15, 1996 : 1-12

(24) Similarly, some linguists have suggested that linguistic changes have basically a regular rate, so that it would be possible from the lexical differences between two related languages to know at which time they split away from their common ancestor. This particular technique, known as glottochronoly, is highly controversial and rejected by many linguists. In spite of a few surprisingly successful applications, it has no scientific legitimacy because based on insufficient theoritical foundations. For more details, see Lyle Campbell, Historical Linguistics : An Introduction, 1999 : 177-186.

(25) For these issues and the use of statistics in royal Meroitic inscriptions, see Rilly 2001, particularly p. 78-79.

(26) In line 53 of the great stela of King Taneyidamani found in Barkal (REM 1044), a strange bmedewik «  to / from Meroe » can be read. The Meroitic name of the city was spelt Medewi Medewe until at least Amanishakheto’s reign, and later Bedewi /Bedewe. An accurate observation of the text shows that the b is actually a later addition (see Hintze, 1960 p. 152). It was probably a kind of gloss added by a scribe or a literate person at least one century after the engraving of the stela (the span of time between Taneyidamani and Amanishakheto) and intended to clarify a word which was no longer understandable.

(27) See FHN III : 1008-1010.

(28) A first list was published in Griffith 1911 : 18. An updated catalogue will be available in Rilly, forthcoming : 267-280 and Fig. 16-17 (with no chronological scale, but references to the rulers).

(29) Only three examples can be connected with a non-royal context : two graffiti from Medik (REM 1046A-B), an amulet from Kawa (REM 0704) and an offering-table from Beg.W (REM 0834). Still, all of them include parts in cursive. This fact is better explained as the consequence of a kind of taboo than of the scribe’s inability in using hieroglyphics (contra Millet 1974, p. 3 of the manuscript).

(30) Dunham 1957 : 72sq ; Hintze 1959 : 33, 39 ; Wenig 1978 : 17, Shinnie 1996 : 104 ; Welsby : 180-170 ; Török in FNH II-1996, p. 661.

(31) REM 0055-56, 0406, 0706, 1055, 1294.

(32) Mq-r tk Js(.t) and ÒtÓrk for Meroitic mk-l tk and Wos-tk (?): « beloved of the deity », « beloved (?) of Isis », transcribing the Egyptian phrase mry Js.t « beloved of Isis » which occurs in the titles of this king, particularly on the same coffin-bench. For the phrases [god-name + tk(e)], see Hallof 2003 : 254.

(33) This long vowel will be later transcribed with the compound wo in initial position (Wos « Isis »).

(34) See FHN II : 588-591 for Török’s convincing analysis.

(35)  See Rilly 2003 : 47.

(36) For instance, REM 0051A and REM 0052B include the same text accompanying the representation of the same lady on the north and south wall of the chapel : Bke-l-o erebereke-l sem-l-o : « She is Bake-la, she is the wife of (an) erebereke (unknown title or name of person) ».

(37) This attribution is however very tentative since no written mention of these rulers has been found in the Barkal pyramids Bar.2 and 4, contrary to Nawidemak who is named in a text from Bar. 6.

(38) As indicated by the fact that Akinidad was appointed as paqar (chief prince ?) successively during Amani­renas’ and Amanishakheto’s reign (cf. REM 1003, 1141, 1221).

(39) Hintze 1959 : 27 ; Wenig 1978 : 43 ; Hofmann 1978 : 84-85.

(40) FHN III : 803-804.

(41) Emperor Augustus died in 14 AD. This date is of course just a terminus post quem for the burial of Queen Nawidemak.

(42) See Macadam 1966.

(43) For all those texts, see FHN III : 936-938 ; Hallof-Hallof 2000 : 170-171 ; Rilly 2001 : 71-72.

(44) Hintze 1959 : 33 ; Shinnie 1996 : 104 ; Wenig 1978 :17 ; Hofmann 1978 : 160 ; Török in FHN III : 938.

(45) The best example is the famous bark stand from Wad Ban Naga (REM 0041).

(46) See for instance REM 0823A-B (King Aritene-yesebokhe) : the coronation name Kheperkare‘ is correctly spelt, but the title above the cartouches read nsw-bjtj <nb> t3.wy « King of Lower and Upper Egypt, <Lord> of the Two-Lands » with the sign for « lord » omitted.

(47)  See FHN III : 915-916. Török emphasizes also the similarities between Natakamani’s and Amanitenmomide’s chapel in Begrawwiya North.



Translated into Arabic by Osama Elnur


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