Ancient Egypt's Decline & Nubian Art

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  • 0:00 Nubia and Its Artwork
  • 0:48 Nubia and Egypt
  • 2:01 Examples of Nubian Art
  • 4:16 The Decline of the…
  • 5:03 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: David Juliao

David has a bachelor's degree in architecture, has done research in architecture, arts and design and has worked in the field for several years.

In this lesson, explore the art of one of the earliest inhabitants of the Nile Valley, the Nubians. Learn about the architecture and artwork of this ancient civilization and how it sprang from their relationship with and wars against the Egyptian empire.

Nubia and Its Artwork

One of the earliest known civilizations, the Nubians, were a tribe located in an area that covered parts of today's Sudan and Southern Egypt. They became important thanks to their prime location on trade routes where valuable materials like incense, ebony, and ivory were in constant negotiation. They also for had rich deposits of gold, which they exploited and used for political power, economic power, and decoration in their artwork.

The Nubians' lack of a written language caused most of their knowledge to be lost. Therefore, most of the information about their culture and artwork came from Egyptian sources like paperwork and painting. However, these might not be completely trustworthy because of prejudices Egyptians had against other cultures and empires.

Nubia and Egypt

Political relations between Nubia and Egypt were complex, to say the least. On one hand, Nubian citizens were respected among the Egyptian society and army; on the other, Egypt started to violate Nubian borders as early as 3100 BCE. Egypt erected military buildings and gold mines to exploit Nubian resources, which were then abundant on the Nubian desert.

By the late period of ancient Egyptian history, also known as New Kingdom (1550-1070 BCE), Egypt conquered Nubia and took over the whole kingdom. They established various figures of power there, such as Viceroys, with the intention of administering Nubian resources and using the money collected from tributes to increase the riches of the Egyptian kingdom.

With Nubia annexed to Egypt, many workers from the southern tribe worked on erecting several Egyptian temples in different locations, dedicated to gods from both the Egyptian and Nubian mythology. However, the situation changed in the 25th Dynasty period, from 773-664 BCE, when the Nubian Kingdom of Kush conquered Egypt and designated Memphis, Egypt's capital city at the time, as their own. They also selected Nubia as the place for rulers to be buried.

Examples of Nubian Art

Nubian art focused mostly on temples, so the most relevant examples are from architecture. Let's examine some of their most famous monuments.

Located in the southernmost part of Egypt, close to the border of modern Sudan, the Abu Simbel Temple consists of two massive monuments erected by orders of Egyptian Pharaoh, Ramses II. The complex is comprised of the Great Temple and the Small Temple. The Great Temple was dedicated to several gods and to Ramses II himself. It was carved on a solid rock cliff and features four sitting statues at the entrance representing Ramses II. The medium size statues between the legs of Ramses II represented the family of the pharaoh, and smaller statues at his feet depicted his conquered enemies. The Small Temple was dedicated to the goddess Hathor and Queen Nefertari, Ramses' wife. It is similar to the greater structure, featuring four statues of Ramses II and two of Nefertari at the entrance. The queen was represented of the same size as Ramses II, which was rare at the time and was probably an homage to her prestige and importance.

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