Thursday, April 09, 2015

Taharqa, The Black Pharaoh exhibit coming to Copenhagen April 26, 2015

A history resource article by  © 2015

As someone who became fascinated by the Nubian period in ancient Egypt after watching "The Silver Pharaoh", an episode of "Secrets of the Dead" on PBS, I was especially excited when I received a press release today about a new exhibit coming to the NY Carlson Glyptotek Museum in Copenhagen, Denmark - TAHARQA THE BLACK PHARAOH.

A pharoah of the 25th Egyptian dynasty and king of the Kingdom of Kush, located in Northern Sudan, Taharqa was the son of Piye, the Nubian king who conquered Egypt in the 8th century BCE.  His reign was marked by conflict with the Assyrians and their emperor Sennacherib.  As a builder, Taharqa built the largest pyramid in the Napatan region and completed additions to the Temple at Karnak, a new temple at Kawa and a temple at Jebel Barkal.

It is thought by some scholars that Taharqa is the Kushite king Tirhakah, referred to in the Bible, who waged war against Sennacherib during the reign of King Hezekiah of Judah although the biblical dates are off by about ten years.  He may also be Sethos who achieved victory over Sennecherib by praying to the gods and winning when the gods sent  "a multitude of field-mice, which devoured all the quivers and bowstrings of the enemy, and ate the thongs by which they managed their shields." - Herodotus, The Histories (450 BCE)

It was not all victories for Taharqa, however.  In the 20th year of his reign, the Assyrian king Esarhaddon captured and sacked Memphis, taking hostage many members of the royal family including Taharqa's young son, Ushankhuru.  Taharqa fled south but continued to direct resistance efforts in Lower Egypt.  When Esarhaddon died and his son Ashurbanipal ascended the Assyrian throne, Ashurbanipal once more invaded Egypt and soundly defeated Taharqa, who fled to Thebes.  Taharqa died there in 664 BCE.  


Bronze statue of Ashurbanipal outside the Asian Art Museum
in San Francisco, CA.  Photographed by Mary Harrsch © 2006
Taharqa was succeeded by his nephew, Tantamani, who marched north and, temporarily, reoccupied all of Egypt, killing Necho I, appointed king by the Assyrians.  But the Assyrians returned and defeated Tantamani in the Delta then marched as far south as Thebes and sacked the city.  The Assyrian reconquest effectively ended Nubian control of Egypt although Tantamani's authority was still recognized in Upper Egypt until the 8th Year of his reign. In 656 BCE the navy of Psamtik I, son of the slain Assyrian client king Necho I, peacefully took back control of Thebes and effectively unified all of Egypt.

Press release excerpt:

Egyptian with a twist
Featuring more than 70 archaeological finds, the exhibition sums up a time when Egyptian and African traits and cultures fuse together. The invading forces from the south appear almost more Egyptian than the Egyptians themselves. Pyramids are built, old traditions and gods are revived, and hieroglyphs and Egyptian iconography are appropriated by the new regime. Very notably, this revival prompts a highly distinctive mode of expression, as is evident in the depiction of Taharqa’s clearly Negroid features on an otherwise classical sphinx, a prominent loan from the British Museum, which has made the extraordinary gesture of allowing the Glyptotek to display one of the highlights from its own collection.

The exhibition also points to how the African roots of the Nubians are apparent in connection with their funerary customs, as well as to how their culture remained strongly influenced by Egypt even after they retreated back to Nubia.

Closer to Taharqa
The exhibition zooms in and out on its subject, presenting temple finds of varying scope and scale as well as small, but highly sophisticated artefacts from Nubian tombs and palaces. The vast majority of the archaeological finds on display were excavated in Meroë and Kawa in present-day Sudan, where large-scale archaeological excavations are still in progress. Through photographic documentation, including reports from the Glyptotek’s most recent expedition in the area, and through reconstructions of the arrays of objects that appeared to the archaeologists working there in the present, some 2,500 years after the last black pharaohs trod the Earth, the exhibition seeks to capture echoes of the glories of the past.

The exhibition supplements the Glyptotek’s rich collections from the period with important loans from the National Museum of Denmark and the British Museum. In preparation of this exhibition, the Glyptotek has carried out extensive restoration and conservation work on a number of archaeological finds. Two large stelae that were completely smashed during transit from Sudan some hundred years ago have now been put back together, like a particularly challenging puzzle, and are now ready to be put on public display for the first time ever. They are presented here alongside two other stelae, also owned by the Glyptotek, which were found at the same site: Taharqa’s large temple in Kawa.


The exhibit will be on display from April 26 - June 28, 2015.  Sadly, I won't be able to attend this exhibit personally but encourage anyone planning to be in Denmark in the next couple of months to add this exhibit to your itinerary.  As a descendant of Harald Bluetooth (at least according to one of my cousins who is a hard core genealogist), I do hope to visit Denmark someday, but I'm afraid I have other commitments in the next few months.