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PostPosted: Sat Dec 26, 2009 2:25 pm    Post subject: When Greek Was an African Language: Reply with quote

When Greek Was an African Language: The Role of Greek Culture in Ancient and Medieval Nubia.

Journal of World History, March 2008
by Stanley M. Burstein

The article explores the history of Greek language in Nubia and examines its varying roles in ancient and medieval Nubian culture. It mentions the Hellenistic period, which was characterized by the spread of Greek and Greek culture across the Hellenistic kingdom. It is noted that when Greeks' influence in Nubia was recognized, no effort had been made to interpret how they worked within ancient and medieval Nubian culture. It is concluded that the influence of Greek had disappeared when contact with the Roman Empire was lost.

Excerpt from Article:
When Greek Was an African Language: The Role of Greek Culture in Ancient and Medieval Nubia*

stanley m. burstein

California State University, Los Angeles

of Greek Greek culture the territories of the former Persian of the defi characT he spreadHellenistic and empire was oneathroughoutninguntil the teristics of the period. For almost millennium, Arab conquests of the seventh century c.e., the acquisition of a Greek education and the ability to speak Greek were the keys to privilege throughout much of western Asia and Egypt. Not surprisingly, the study of this phenomenon has generated an enormous scholarly literature.1 Much less studied, however, has been the significance of Greek for the cultures of peoples living on the periphery of the Hellenistic kingdoms and their Roman and Islamic successor states. The purpose of this paper is to examine the role of Greek and Greek culture in one of those peripheral areas: ancient and medieval Nubia.2

* An earlier version of this article was delivered at Howard University as the 2005 Frank M. Snowden Jr. Lecture. I would like to express my gratitude to the Department of Classics and the Howard University chapter of Eta Sigma Phi for this honor. I would also like to thank the journal's referee and my colleague Dr. Choi Chatterjee for their comments on this paper. Any remaining flaws are solely the responsibility of the author. 1 Most of it is in articles. Useful introductions to the issues involved are Naphtali Lewis, Greeks in Ptolemaic Egypt (Oxford, 1986); and Amelie Kuhrt and Susan Sherwin-White, eds., Hellenism in the East (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987). 2 Nubia and Nubians in this paper refer to the Nile valley south of Egypt and its inhabitants, and Kush, Nobatia, Makuria, Alwah, etc. to the various states in the region. The standard history of Nubia is William Y. Adams, Nubia: Corridor to Africa (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1977). The archaeology is surveyed in David N. Edwards, The
Journal of World History, Vol. 19, No. 1 (c) 2008 by University of Hawai`i Press



journal of world history, march 2008

It is a huge story. Spatially it covers southern Egypt and the northern and central Sudan from the first cataract at modern Aswan to south of Khartoum. Chronologically it spans almost a millennium and a half from the Hellenistic period to the end of the middle ages. It is also a story that could not even begin to be told until recently. In part, this was because of the lack of sources that is the bane of all ancient historians. Until recently, native Nubian sources were almost entirely lacking, and only fragments remain of the once extensive classical and Arabic accounts of the region and its peoples. Lack of sources was not, however, the only problem. The historiography of Nubia is the oldest body of Western historical scholarship dealing with the African interior.3 Like any historiography, however, it reflects the biases of both the times in which historians of Nubia lived and the periods in which their sources were written. The central fact facing all historians of Nubia is that the surviving ancient and medieval accounts of Nubia are not only limited but profoundly Egyptocentric.4 Nubia and its peoples and cultures are rarely mentioned except when they are relevant to Egypt, and when they are mentioned, they are discussed from the perspective of Egypt. Not surprisingly, when modern histories of Nubia first began to be written in the nineteenth century c.e., they were largely based on classical and Arabic sources, supplemented by Egyptian texts and therefore they reflected the Egyptocentric views of their sources.5 Nubia was treated as little more than an extension of Egypt without a significant cultural tradition of its own. The problem was compounded, moreover, by the

Nubian Past: An Archaeology of the Sudan (London: Routledge, 2004). The ancient sources for Nubian history are collected in Tormod Eide et al., Fontes Historiae Nubiorum (FHN), 4 vols. (Bergen, 1994-2000); and the Medieval sources in Fr. Giovanni Vantini FSCJ, Oriental Sources Concerning Nubia (Heidelberg and Warsaw, 1975). 3 For Nubian historiography see Peter Shinnie, "The Development of Meroitic Studies since 1945" in African Studies since 1945, ed. Christopher Fyfe (London, 1976), pp. 169 - 78; Stanley M. Burstein, "The Kingdom of Meroe," in Graeco-Africana: Studies in the History of Greek Relations with Egypt and Nubia, by Stanley M. Burstein (New Rochelle, N.Y.: Aristide D. Caratzas, 1995), pp. 127 -46; "A New Kushite Historiography: Three Recent Contributions to Nubian Studies," Symbolae Osloenses 75 (2000): 190 - 97; and "Three Milestones in the Historiography of Ancient Nubia: Review Article," Symbolae Osloenses 78 (2003): 137 -41. For the history of Nubian archaeology, see William Y. Adams, "Paradigms in Sudan Archaeology," Africa Today 28 (1981): 15-32; Bruce G. Trigger, "Paradigms in Sudan Archaeology," International Journal of African Historical Studies 27 (1994): 323-44; and Edwards, Nubian Past, pp. 1-20. 4 Cf. Stanley M. Burstein, "The Origins of the Nubian State in Classical Sources," in Graeco-Africana, pp. 29 -39. 5 Cf. Adams, Nubia, pp. 1-10. The most comprehensive of the early histories was E. A. Wallis Budge, The Egyptian Sudan: Its History and Monuments, 2 vols. (London, 1907).

fact that their authors wrote during the heyday of European imperialism in Africa, and, not surprisingly, they shared the then-current popular view of Africans as inferior peoples, capable, at best, only of receiving and imitating influences from superior foreign cultures. These two factors mean that when the presence of the Greek language and Greek influence in Nubia was recognized, no effort was made to understand how they functioned within ancient and medieval Nubian culture. Greek objects found in Nubia were treated instead as indices of Hellenization, which was conceived as a one-sided process of acculturation involving the deliberate decision by non-Greek individuals--usually elites--to transform themselves and their society by abandoning their own culture in favor of Greek culture.6 The equation was simple. The greater the number of Greek objects and other examples of Greek influence, the greater the degree of Hellenization. One example will have to stand for many. After reviewing the evidence for Greek imports into Nubia, the great Hellenistic and Roman historian M. I. Rostovtzeff concluded that Hellenistic Meroe "with its Hellenistic palaces, its Hellenistic bath, its Ethiopian-Hellenistic statues and decorative frescoes, became a little Nubian Alexandria." 7 This situation has changed dramatically during the past half century. A new historiography of Nubia has emerged that treats Nubian culture as a distinct entity created by the inhabitants of the upper Nile valley and not as a remote outpost of Egyptian civilization doomed to ultimate decline and extinction because of its location in the interior of Africa. The catalysts for this change were two of the major developments of the Cold War period: the construction of the huge Aswan High Dam and the end of Europe's African empires. This is not the place to tell either the story of how the Soviet Union came to construct the Aswan High Dam or the story of the end of Europe's imperial dreams in Africa. What does concern us, however, is the fact that construction of the dam was preceded by the largest and

6 The concept of Hellenization has received relatively little critical analysis. The parallel process of Romanization, however, has been subjected to extensive criticism recently, particularly by archaeologists of Roman Britain and Gaul; cf. Jane Webster and Nick Cooper, eds., Roman Imperialism: Post-Colonial Perspectives, Leicester Archaeology Monographs 3 (Leicester, 1996); D. J. Mattingly, ed., "Dialogues in Roman Imperialism: Power, Discourse, and Discrepant Experience in the Roman Empire," Journal of Roman Archaeology, supplementary series 23 (1997); Jane Webster, "Creolizing the Roman Provinces," A JA, 105 (2001): 209 -25; and Greg Woolf, Becoming Roman: The Origins of Provincial Civilization in Gaul (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998). 7 M. I. Rostovtzeff, The Social and Economic History of the Roman Empire, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1957), 1:302.

journal of world history, march 2008

most complex archaeological salvage campaign in world history--the UNESCO-sponsored international effort to excavate and record every significant archaeological site in the two-hundred-mile stretch of the Upper Nile valley that would be flooded by Lake Nasser, the lake created by the dam.8 The result was the discovery and ongoing publication of a mass of new native Nubian sources--both textual and material--for the history of just about every aspect of ancient and medieval Nubian life. Decolonization, on the other hand, transformed the writing of African history, encouraging the emergence of a new historiography of Africa that placed Africans at the center of their history. The Sudan was no exception. As a result, it is possible for the first time to discuss the place of Greek and Greek culture in Nubia in a new way, one that focuses on its function as one element in the long history of a culture that was created by Nubians. The Hellenistic Period 9 When does the history of Greek and Greek culture in Nubia begin? At first glance we seem to have a firm date. According to the second century b.c.e. historian Agatharchides of Cnidus, the author of the standard classical account of the region, Greeks first entered Nubia when Ptolemy II campaigned there in the 270s b.c.e. Precise dates for the beginnings of complex historical processes are rarely what they seem, and, unfortunately, that is true in this case. While people from ancient Nubia are attested in the Aegean as early as the second millennium b.c.e.,10 direct Greek contact with the region began in 593 b.c.e., when the army of the twenty-sixth-dynasty Egyptian king Psamtek II campaigned in Nubia. Greek mercenaries were part of Psamtek's army, and they commemorated their role in his expedition in graffiti scratched on the colossi of Ramses II at Abu Sim-

8 Cf. Torgny Save-Soderbergh, Temples and Tombs of Ancient Nubia: The International Rescue Campaign at Abu Simbel, Philae and Other Sites (London: Thames & Hudson, 1987). 9 The discussion of the Hellenistic Period is based on Stanley M. Burstein, "The Hellenistic Fringe: The Case of Meroe," in Graeco-Africana, pp. 105-23. 10 Frank Snowden Jr., "Iconographic Evidence on the Black Populations in GrecoRoman Antiquity," in The Image of the Black in Western Art, vol. 1, From the Pharaohs to the Fall of the Roman Empire, by Jean Vercoutter, Jean Leclant, Frank M. Snowden Jr., and Jehan Desanges (New York: William Morrow, 1976), p. 136.

Burstein: When Greek Was an African Language

bel.11 Four centuries later, Greeks again entered Nubia. In the late 330s b.c.e., Alexander dispatched a small reconnaissance expedition into the region, allegedly to find the sources of the Nile, and a decade or two later Ptolemy I raided northern Nubia.12 Greek objects also occasionally reached Nubia before the 270s. A good example is a spectacular vase by the fifth century b.c.e. Athenian potter Sotades, now in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, that was the prized possession of a Nubian aristocrat buried in the west cemetery at Meroe. Ptolemy II's campaign, therefore, was not the first but at least the fourth time Greek soldiers operated in Nubia. Why Ptolemy II invaded Nubia is not clear, but Agatharchides suggests that he hoped to put an end to attempts by the kingdom of Kush in the central Sudan to expand its influence north toward the Egyptian border. The details of the campaign are lost, but the poet Theocritus (Idyll 16, lines 86 - 87) claimed that he "cut off a part of Black Aithiopia," presumably the socalled Dodecaschoenus--the roughly seventy-five-mile stretch of the Nile immediately south of the first cataract--together with the important gold mining region east of the Nile in the Wadi Allaqi. Inscriptions and coins fill out the picture, indicating that Ptolemy II also garrisoned some of the old Middle Kingdom forts in the second cataract area, and suggesting that his authority temporarily, at least, reached the modern border between Egypt and the modern Republic of the Sudan at Wadi Halfa. What set Ptolemy II's Nubian campaign apart from previous Greek incursions south of Egypt, however, was that it opened a period of sustained contact between Kush and Ptolemaic Egypt, and the reason for that was something new: Ptolemy's need to find a secure source of war elephants. The military use of elephants was millennia old in Asia. The Greeks and Macedonians first encountered them in battle, however, during Alexander's campaigns. Although the Ptolemies, like other Hellenistic kings, considered these living "tanks" an essential component of their armies, acquiring them was a problem because of their Seleucid rivals' monopoly of Indian elephants and mahouts. They had no choice except to find an African source for elephants and that led to the establishment of close relations between Ptolemaic Egypt and Kush that lasted for the remainder of the third century b.c.e. Armed elephant hunting

11 Russell Meiggs and David Lewis, eds., A Selection of Greek Historical Inscriptions to the End of the Fifth Century B.C. (Oxford, 1969), nr. 7. 12 Stanley M. Burstein, "Alexander, Callisthenes, and the Sources of the Nile," in Graeco-Africana, pp. 63-76.

journal of world history, march 2008

culture that contemporary historians of the Sudan still find useful. But what about the impact on Kushites and their culture? Military defeat, loss of territory, and foreign penetration of their territory on a scale unparalleled since the conquest of Nubia a millennium earlier by New Kingdom Egypt characterize the initial Kushite encounter with Ptolemaic Egypt. This would hardly seem at first glance a promising foundation for cultural exchange. Nevertheless, as mentioned earlier, scholars have long maintained that, despite all these negatives, contact with Ptolemaic Egypt inspired the kings of Kush to pursue a policy of deliberate Hellenization that ultimately transformed their capital Meroe into a "little Nubian Alexandria." The principal evidence for this thesis is a passage from the first-century b.c.e. historian Diodorus 16 describing a bloody confrontation in the third century b.c.e. between a Greek-educated king, Ergamenes--Arqamani--and the priesthood of Amon at Meroe. Specifically, according to Diodorus, study of Greek philosophy enabled Ergamenes to brush aside the priests' demand that he commit suicide and to enter "with his soldiers into the unapproachable place where stood, as it turned out, the golden shrine of the Ethiopians, put the priests to the sword, and after abolishing this custom, thereafter (sc. he) ordered affairs after his own will." The Greek bias of Diodorus's account is obvious, but archaeological evidence also leaves no doubt of the far-reaching impact of Ergamenes's revolution. Henceforth, Kushite political and religious life was centralized at Meroe. The old royal cemetery at Napata near the fourth cataract of the Nile was replaced by a new burial ground east of Meroe. Kushite royal iconography reveals that the kings of Kush also adopted a new, less Egyptianizing style of regalia. The evidence, moreover, indicates that in the third century b.c.e. Kushite kings transferred their patronage from Egyptian gods like Amon
to read more you have to clicl link below.
note- the territory loss by the kushites was taken back.

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PostPosted: Tue Jan 11, 2011 5:38 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

The Greek language belongs to family of Indo-European languages, and appears to have been in use in the region of Hellas as early as the 2nd millennium BC. There were number of similar dialects; we know this because nowhere in the myths is there ever question of the inhabitants of the various regions having difficulty communicating. Words with roots from another language must have belonged to pre-Hellenic dialect which subsequently absorbed by Greek language.

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