Apparently in honor of African American Heritage Month (aka "Black History Month"), National Geographic
chose the above cover for its February 2008 issue. It reads: "The Black
Pharaohs: Conquerors of Ancient Egypt." While the effort is to be
applauded, there are still some questionable conclusions reached by the
author, Robert Draper. Nevertheless, his candor in addressing European
racism in hiding the Black Pharaohs from the world is admirable.
was the first of the so-called black pharaohs—a series of Nubian kings
who ruled over all of Egypt for three-quarters of a century as that
country’s 25th dynasty. … The black pharaohs reunified a
tattered Egypt and filled its landscape with glorious monuments,
creating an empire that stretched from the southern border at
present-day Khartoum all the way north to the Mediterranean Sea. They
stood up to the bloodthirsty Assyrians, perhaps saving Jerusalem in the
process.”—Pages 38, 39.
recently, theirs was a chapter of history that largely went untold.
Only in the past four decades have archaeologists resurrected their
story—and come to recognize that the black pharaohs didn’t appear out
of nowhere. They sprang from the robust African civilization that had
flourished on the southern banks of the Nile for 2,500 years, going
back at least as far as the first Egyptian dynasty.”—Page 39.
Sudan’s pyramids—greater in number than all of Egypt’s—are haunting
spectacles in the Nubian Desert….[H]undreds of miles north, at Cairo or
Luxor, curiosity seekers arrive by the busload to jostle and crane for
views of the Egyptian wonders, Sudan’s seldom-visited pyramids at El
Kurru, Nuri, and Meroë stand serenely amid an arid landscape that
scarcely hints of the thriving culture of ancient Nubia.”—Page 39.
ancient world was devoid of racism. At the time of Piye’s historic
conquest, the fact that his skin was dark was irrelevant. Artwork from
ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome shows a clear awareness of racial
features and skin tone, but there is little evidence that darker skin
was seen as a sign of inferiority. Only after the Europeans powers
colonized Africa in the 19th century did Western scholars pay attention to the color of the Nubians’ skin, to uncharitable effect.”—Page 39.
Nubians vs. Assyrians
the east, the Assyrians were fast building their own empire. In 701
b.c., when they marched into Judah in present-day Israel, the Nubians
decided to act. At the city of Eltekeh, the two armies met. And
although the Assyrian emperor, Sennacherib, would brag lustily that he
‘inflicted defeat upon them,’ a young Nubian prince, perhaps 20, son of
the great pharaoh Piye, managed to survive. That the Assyrians, whose
tastes ran to wholesale slaughter, failed to kill the prince suggests
their victory was anything but total. In any even, when the Assyrians
left town and massed against the gates of Jerusalem, that city’s
embattled leader, Hezekiah, hoped his Egyptian allies would come to the
rescue. The Assyrians issued a taunting reply, immortalized in the Old
Testament’s Book of II Kings: ‘Thou trustest upon the staff of this
bruised reed [of] Egypt, on which if a man lean, it will go into his
hand, and pierce it: So is Pharaoh king of Egypt unto all that trust on
him.’”—Pages 44, 48.
21st Century Eurocentricity?
that golden age in the African desert does little to advance the case
of Afrocentric Egyptologists, who argue that all ancient Egyptians,
from King Tut to Cleopatra, were black Africans. Nonetheless, the saga
of the Nubians proves that a civilization from deep in Africa not only
thrived but briefly dominated in ancient times, intermingling and
sometimes intermarrying with their Egyptian neighbors to the north.
(King Tut’s own grandmother, the 18th-dynasty Queen Tiye, is claimed by some to be of Nubian heritage.)”—Page 44.
The Black Pharaohs
An ignored chapter of history tells of a time when kings from deep in Africa conquered ancient Egypt.
By Robert Draper
National Geographic Contributing Writer
Photograph by Kenneth Garrett
In the year 730 B.C.,
“Harness the best steeds of your stable,” he
North on the Nile