Interesting occurrences were happening in the Meroitic Kushite Kingdom (approximately modern Sudan) in the 3rd century BCE that caught the attention of ancient Greek scholars. At that time, a powerful leader known variously as Arkamani or Arkakamani was in command at the kingdom’s capital of Meroë. He was also known by the name Ergamenes to Greek commentators, such as Agatharchides (c. 2nd century BCE) and Diodorus Siculus (c. 1st century BCE). According to the Greeks, Arkamani (as we will call him from now on) was a contemporary of the Ptolemaic Egyptian pharaoh, Ptolemy II Philadelphus (r. 285-246 BCE). And although Arkamani wanted to resist Ptolemaic Egyptian power and culture, he personally was said to have made use of what Greek scholars had to offer. According to Diodorus Siculus, Arkamani “had a Greek education and had studied philosophy” (Library of History, III.6). All in all, he comes across as a highly intelligent and formidable figure.
Arkamani, during his reign, brought about many reforms and changes to the Meroitic Kushite Kingdom, touching on several aspects of life for the people in his realm. Reform of the kingdom’s language was instituted, with Egyptian hieroglyphics being phased out and replaced with Meroitic writing. Arkamani also strengthened the power and influence of the crown in the kingdom. Similarly, he maneuvered himself into a greater position of power over religious leaders in the Kushite kingdom. According to legend, he was heavy handed or even murderous in his campaigns against the priestly class. Diodorus Siculus wrote, “he entered with his soldiers into the unapproachable place where stood, as it turned out, the golden shrine of the Ethiopians, [and] put the priests to the sword…” (Library of History, III.6). Whether this massacre was literal or figurative, however, remains in debate.
Despite the obscurity of specific details from his reign, Arkamani was undoubtedly a historical figure. In fact, inscriptions referencing him have been found at the site of ancient Meroë. Yet, as of now, archaeology and ancient folklore still are not able to combine in a way to lift the reign of Arkamani up out of the fog of obscurity.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Pyramiden von Meroë, by Ernst Weidenbach (c. 1818-1882), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and the New York Public Library Digital Collections).
- The Library of History, by Diodorus Siculus, edited by Giles Laurén (Sophron Editor, 2014).