Meroitic Palaces and Queens

When we were learning about Meroitic palaces in class, I was intrigued when Professor Walsh mentioned that some Meroitic palaces were built solely for queens. For my final project, I am delving more deeply into Meriotic queens and their palaces with the goal of designing a palace for a Meroitic queen.

In my preliminary research, it became clear that the palace of Amanishakheto, a Meroitic queen who ruled from about 10 BCE to 1 CE, has been quite thoroughly researched and excavated. Onderka et al. describe Amanishakheto’s palace as large and write that more than 60 of its rooms have been well-preserved (Onderka et al. 2017, p. 116). As we’ve seen with other Meroitic palaces, Amanishakheto’s palace features an entrance ramp (Maillot, 2015, p. 82), (Onderka and Vrtal 2016, p. 114). A bead and dish depicting the goddess Mut were found in one of the palace’s rooms (Onderka et al. 2017, p. 118). In this particular depiction of Mut, the authors note that her maternal qualities are emphasized (Onderka et al. 2017, p. 118). I am interested in how the portrayal of religious figures in architecture may or may not have differed between palaces designed for kings and those meant for queens and will pay close attention to this when creating my final project.

Meroitic palace entrance ramps (Maillot, 2015, p. 82)

Room WBN 119 in Amanishakheto’s palace (Onderka et al. 2017, p. 118)

Dish with the depiction of the goddess Mut (Onderka et al. 2017, p. 118)

“Section through the N-S axis of the trench T35 showing the floor level in rooms WBN 119 and 120, and the level of foundations of the main walls of [Amanishakheto’s] palace (left) (Illustration: Alexander Gatzsche)” (Onderka et al. 2017, p. 120)

Looking beyond just Meroitic queens’ palaces, Fluehr-Lobban discusses how depictions of Meroitic queens were incorporated into the architecture of other structures to emphasize queens’ status as warriors. In Queen Shanakdakhete’s mortuary chapel, she is shown donning the helmet crown of the regent (Fluehr-Lobban 1998, p. 6). In a wall painting in Meroe, Queen Amanirenas is represented with a bow, arrows, spear, and a group of her captives (Fluehr-Lobban 1998, p. 6). Although these examples are not specific to Meroitic queens’ palaces, they demonstrate how architecture affirmed to onlookers that Meroitic queens were strong and had military affiliations. I am curious if similar warrior-type depictions were present in the architecture of Meroitic queens’ palaces, and I hope to look into this more throughout my research.

South wall of Queen Shanakdakhete’s funerary chapel depicting the queen enthroned (Credit: The British Museum)

Sculpture of Queen Amanirenas on a pyramid wall in Barwa, Sudan (Credit: African Heritage Blog)

-Lydia DeFusto


Fluehr-Lobban, C. (1998) “Nubian Queens in the Nile Valley and Afro-Asiatic Cultural History.” Ninth International Conference for Nubian Studies, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Maillot, M. (2015) “The Meroitic Palace and Royal City.” Sudan & Nubia 19.

Onderka, P & Vital, V. (2016) “Preliminary Report on the Eleventh Excavation Season of the Archaeological Expedition to Wad Ben Naga.” Annals of the Náprstek Museum. 

Onderka, P, Vital, V & Gatzsche, A. (2017) “Preliminary Report on the Twelfth Excavation Season of the Archaeological Expedition to Wad Ben Naga.” Annals of the Náprstek Museum.