Aerial view of the pyramids at Meroe.
The area of the Nile valley known as Nubia that lies within present day Sudan was home to three Kushite kingdoms during antiquity: the first with its capital at Kerma (2400–1500 BC), that centered on Napata (1000–300 BC) and, finally, that of MeroŽ (300 BC–300).
Each of these kingdoms were strongly culturally, economically, politically and militarily influenced by the powerful pharaonic Egyptian empire to the north — and the Kushite kingdoms in turn competed strongly with Egypt, to the extent that during the late period of ancient Egyptian history the kings of Napata conquered and unified Egypt itself, ruling as the pharaohs of the Twenty-fifth Dynasty.
The Napatan domination of Egypt was relatively brief — ending with the Assyrian conquest in 656 BC, but its cultural impact was enormous, and this coalesced into an extraordinary burst of pyramid-building activity that was sustained throughout the existence of Napata's successor kingdom, MeroŽ.
Approximately 220 pyramids were eventually constructed at three sites in Nubia to serve as tombs for the kings and queens of Napata and MeroŽ. The first of these were built at the site of el-Kurru. These include the tombs of King Kashta and his son Piye (Piankhi), together with Piye's successors Shabaka, Shabataka and Tanwetamani, and 14 queens' pyramids.
Later Napatan pyramids were sited at Nuri, on the west bank of the Nile in Upper Nubia. This necropolis was the burial place of 21 kings and 52 queens and princes. The oldest and largest pyramid at Nuri is that of the Napatan king and twenty-fifth dynasty pharaoh Taharqa.
The most extensive Nubian pyramid site is at MeroŽ, which is located between the fifth and sixth cataracts of the Nile, approximately one hundred kilometres north of Khartoum. During the Meroitic period over forty kings and queens were buried there.
The physical proportions of Nubian pyramids differ markedly from the Egyptian edifices that influenced them: they are built of stepped courses of horizontally positioned stone blocks, and range from approximately six to thirty metres in height, but rise from fairly small foundation footprints that rarely exceed eight metres in width, resulting in tall, narrow structures inclined at around seventy degrees. Most also have small Egyptian-inspired offering temple structures abutting their base. By comparison, Egyptian pyramids of similar height generally had foundation footprints that were at least five times larger, and were inclined at angles of between forty and fifty degrees.
All of the pyramid tombs of Nubia were plundered in ancient times, but wall reliefs preserved in the tomb chapels reveal that their royal occupants were mummified, covered with jewelery and laid to rest in wooden mummy cases. At the time of their exploration by archaeologists in the 19th and 20th centuries, some pyramids were found to contain the remains of bows, quivers of arrows, archers' thumb rings, horse harnesses, wooden boxes and furniture, pottery, colored glass and metal vessels, and many other artefacts attesting to extensive Meroitic trade with Egypt and the Hellenistic world.
- Pyramids of Nubia (http://www.narmer.pl/pir/pirnub_en.htm) – A site detailing the three major pyramid sites of ancient Nubia.
- Nubian Pyramids (http://www.homestead.com/wysinger/nubian105.html) – A site featuring numerous photographs of the pyramids at MeroŽ.
- Aerial Photographs of Sudan (http://perso.wanadoo.fr/kap-chagny/page44.html) – A site featuring spectacular aerial photographs of the pyramids and temples at el-Kurru, Nuri and MeroŽ.