EXC 2060 A3-10 - What are "state gods"? Kingship and Cult in Meroe (3rd century BC to 3rd century AD)

Funding Source
DFG - Cluster of Excellence
Project Number
EXC 2060/1
  • Description

    The beginning of the Meroitic period of the kingdom of Kush, the southern neighbor of Egypt, is generally set at the time of the transfer of the royal cemetery of Napata at Jebel Barkal to Meroe (around 270 BC). In many aspects of culture, there is an observable difference in comparison to the preceding Napatan period in which adaptations of the pharaonic world of symbolic representation played a central role. Certain peculiarities in the pictorial media survive, especially in the royal iconography, which we know since the 25th dynasty (the Kushitic rule in Egypt), and principles of Egyptian design continue to determine Meroitic art. But the Egyptian influence is reduced, reliefs and freestanding sculptures show much more a stronger indigenous component. A salient feature of this dynamic is that native deities are depicted that were previously not represented in the official pantheon, such as Apedemak or Sebiumeker for example. The proposed project asks about the relationship between tradition and innovation in the various areas of the Meroitic culture that can be accessed through archaeological sources. By means of different media, for example images (both flat and freestanding), texts (on steles and in temple inscriptions), religious and secular architecture, objects of material culture etc., we have access to the various spheres of culture, to society, economy, religion, cultural history or political history. With regard to the main topic of the Cluster, the following questions are of particular interest for the connection between religion and politics. Is the emergence of new, indigenous deities linked to a new political strategy as well? In what connection do these deities stand to the Meroitic kingship? Not only are new gods represented and named in addition to the well-known (Egyptian) gods in temple reliefs or statues, but they are worshipped in sanctuaries of a type that is not attested in previous periods. One-room temples are now being created that combine all the functional zones of the cult in a single room. For the deities adopted from Egypt, also multi-room temples are built in the Meroitic era, on the Egyptian model, according to which the various parts of the rites take place in different spaces. The question is whether the change in religious practice is also reflected in a change in political practice. It is already known that in Kush the ideology of kingship and the type of "realpolitical" rule that derived from it functioned differently than in Egypt. But how should we understand the connection to religion-to the actions in the cult, to the design of temples, to the gods' names and epithets, to the iconography and the contexts of objects found in sacred space-in relation to political acts and external contacts, in particular to the Mediterranean world at the change of the eras? To what extent are indigenous traditions to be assumed to be at work here, and which are the innovations that can be recognized? One focus will be the study of the deity Apedemak, the lion-headed chief god of the Meroitic kingdom. Apedemak is the most widely attested deity in both chronological and spatial terms; he is also the best documented deity in inscriptions. The sources for Apedemak include "lion temples" in various places, representations in relief and statuary, inscriptions and objects of the minor arts. While his name and appearance have long been known, his religious-political classification is still open. Apedemak seems to have been the new "state god" of the Meroitic kingdom, even though Amun, who was originally imported from Egypt and who had the status of "state god" in the Napatan period, also appears prominently. However, what the relationship between the Egyptian Amun and the Meroitic Apedemak is, how far their functions are complementary or overlap, is still unknown. Therefore, a study of Apedemak must also include an intensive study of the god Amun in the Meroitic kingdom. For both deities, the connection with kingship is particularly close, for which reason Apedemak and Amun are well suited for a case study with respect to the questions that have been proposed above for this project. Here the strategies of legitimation (recognition), of the supernatural incarnation of the caring sovereign (lord of life and procreation, as in the kingship ideology of the earthly rulers) and warlord (Apedemak has many attributes of a warlike god; Amun, according to the Napatan texts, commands the army), can be analyzed on both the sacred as well as the pragmatic ("real-political") levels. With this case study of Apedemak, as the most important god of the Meroites, and his relationship to Amun, there is also the opportunity to rethink the political concept of an "imperial" or "state" god-a terminology that is used in Egyptology without critical reflection. What is an "imperial god" or a "state god" in the polytheistic world view and in a culture in which every god is present in different local forms and also nationwide? Is it possible to reduce the idea of ​​a universal supernatural entity to an "imperial" or "state" god? With a differentiated view of Apedemak and Amun, their position in the world of the gods and specific relationship to the king, new insight into the history of the concept (imperial/state god) and the usefulness and limits, or the effective formulation, of such concepts may be expected.
  • Persons