Rulers of Nubia established their capital at MeroŽ around 300 B.C., and the kingdom lasted there for more than nine centuries. Forty generations of Nubian royalty are buried in MeroŽ, and every royal Nubian tomb is housed within a pyramid. Meroitic pyramids are smaller and differ in architecture from Egyptian pyramids; the largest Nubian pyramid, with a base of 170 feet, is that of Taharqa, compared with the 750-foot base of Cheops' pyramid at Giza.
Contrary to the popularly-held belief that ancient Africans could not and did not develop their own written language, inscriptions in a distinct indigenous alphabet appear in MeroŽ as early as the 2nd century B.C. This written Meroitic language was used into the 5th century, when it was eventually replaced by Old Nubian. Widespread use of Meroitic on monuments indicates that a significant percentage of the population was able to read it. However, the meanings of these inscriptions remain unknown as this hieroglyphic-derived script is as yet untranslatable.
Reaching the height of prosperity in the 1st century A.D., MeroŽ may have covered an area up to a square mile. But most of the city remains unexcavated, and archaeologists have little idea of its layout. There were stone tombs and temples, but other more important buildings were made of red bricks; the humbler structures were almost certainly built of mud bricks. Within MeroŽ are traces of a royal palace and a large bath complex1.
MeroŽ is also famed for its massive iron production, the first large-scale industry of its kind in the Nile Valley. But the technology of this industry is historically credited to the Romans, and not to the Nubians.
Compiled by Jamila White
1 From Wonders of the African World (1999) by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.