III. C. Jebel Barkal as Manifestation of the Royal Crown
PDF Print E-mail

As soon as ancient viewers had recognized a uraeus on the Jebel Barkal cliff, they would surely, at the same moment, have tried to conceptualize the mountain as a great royal head or crown emerging from the earth.  We have an inkling of this already in the first Piankhy stela, in which the king calls Amun by a unique epithet:  Neb Nesut Tawy Dehen Wa’ab (“Lord of the Thrones of the Two Lands of ‘Pure Cliff’ “) as opposed to the usual Neb Nesut Tawy hery-ib Dju Wa’ab (“Lord of the Thrones of the Two Lands, who is in Pure Mountain”).  The word dehen has two meanings, both of which have been cleverly deployed here: “cliff” and “forehead/forehead with uraeus.”  In its spelling in the stela, the only determinative used is of a head in profile, which would seem to name the mountain as the “Pure Forehead” (Reisner 1931, 90; Zibelius-Chen 1989, 198.  Cf. also Adrom 2004).  

In stelae of the late Napatan kings Nastasen and Aktisanes (late fourth-early third centuries BCE), we find occasional use of a hieroglyph in the shape of a dome from which rises a uraeus (fig. 45). In most examples of its application, the sign appears as a determinative in the writing of the city name "Napata" where it is used as a subsitute for more common determinatives meaning “mountain.”  From this context there is no doubt that the sign pictured Jebel Barkal, the specific “mountain-with-uraeus” of Napata (Priese 1977, 261; Kendall 2008, 131).  One occurrence of this hieroglyph, however, is particularly revealing.  This occurs in the lunette of the Nastasen stela in lines accompanying the figure of the king’s mother, who is shown on the left side (fig. 46).  The text informs us that the lady “gave the crown (i.e. to her son) in Napata because her father (i.e. Amun) caused to be established (there) the ka of the crown of Re-Horakhty.”  Here the Jebel Barkal hieroglyph is used as a determinative of the word ka (“divine image/double”), which can only mean that the “divine image/double” of the “crown of Re-Horakhty” was the mountain itself.  In other words, the queen crowned her son at Jebel Barkal, because Amun had made it in the shape of the royal crown!  This remark is easily understood when the mountain is seen from the northeast in the late afternoon light.  In silhouette it resembles a great royal head or crown with uraeus (fig. 47a, b).  Since Re-Horakhty was the solar god closely associated with the king, ancient local authorities would have determined that his crown (manifested in the profile of the mountain) had to be worn by the Kushite monarchs, his earthly counterparts.

Fig. 45: The name of the god “Amun of Napata” as written several times on the stela of Nastasen, late fourth century BCE.  The city name is followed by the sign “water” (indicating proximity to the Nile) and by a dome-shaped sign with uraeus, indicating Jebel Barkal. Egyptian Museum, Berlin.  (Schaefer 1901)



Fig 46: Drawing of the text written over the image of the king’s mother. Stela of Nastasen (late fourth century BCE). (Drawing by T. Kendall).




Fig. 47a: Jebel Barkal, seen from the northeast side at sunset. The shape of the mountain is that of the Kushite “cap crown.” (Photo: T. Kendall).

Fig. 47b: Profile of Shebitqo (Shabataka), from the chapel of Osiris-Hekadjet at Karnak. (Image reversed to conform with Fig. 47a). (Myśliwiec 1988, pl. XXXIV).


Types of royal headgear that conformed closely to the shape of the skull are known to have been worn by Egyptian royalty since the Fourth Dynasty.  Davies (1982) has shown that such crowns, worn by kings from the late Middle Kingdom, were called khepresh, which was the name of - and evolved into - the well-known “Blue Crown” near the start of Dynasty 18 (See also Bryan 2007).  Leahy (1992), who tracked the later history of both the “cap” and Blue Crowns, concluded that their histories were continuous from the New Kingdom, and that “cap crowns” became standard royal headwear in the eighth and seventh centuries BCE in both Kush and Egypt and were not unique or original to the Kushite rulers – with the exception of the detail of the double uraeus.   As he stated (1992, 237):

“[The cap crown] enjoyed considerable popularity in the Ramesside Period, and continued to be shown between then and the arrival of the Kushites, who …then gave special prominence to it.  Those who believe the Kushite headgear to be different have to argue that the very strong similarities to this traditional Egyptian cap are coincidental.”

I would argue that because at least seven centuries earlier the Egyptians, too, had been aware of a “uraeus” on Jebel Barkal, we probably should at least be prepared to entertain a suspicion that one or another Egyptian forms of the cap crown, known since the Eighteenth Dynasty, may also have consciously imitated the shape of Jebel Barkal (figs. 48).  Preposterous as this may seem to many Egyptologists, I will demonstrate below that, soon after its discovery by the Egyptians, Jebel Barkal became an important center of kingship and coronation ritual - just as it did later during Dynasty 25 and Napatan times in Kush - and it became a place, virtually identical to Luxor Temple, identified as a source of kingship and the royal ka (See III, H). (On the history of the Kushite crowns, see Török 1987.)

Fig. 48:  Head thought to represent a late Ramesside king or a high priest of Amun, possibly Herihor.  Brooklyn Museum  (Spanel 1988, 108-109).


Iconography of Jebel Barkal derived from the aforementioned dome-shaped hieroglyph can be observed at least three more times in Kushite art.   That the mountain was seen a “head” is again suggested by the image of a god of indeterminate sex pictured in the chapel reliefs of royal tomb Beg. N. 11 in the North cemetery at Meroë (fig. 49a, b).   This figure apparently represents a deified Jebel Barkal presiding over registers of smaller figures, recognizable as the gods believed to dwell within the mountain (Kendall 2008, 131-133).  Another example is the dome-shaped inlay plaque (lacking the uraeus, which may have been a separate inlay), found at Jebel Barkal, which is carved in relief with an image of the enthroned god Shu and his consort Tefnut, showing that they, too, were occupants of the mountain (fig. 33c).  We encounter the dome shape again, now translated to three-dimensions, in a hollow sandstone shrine found in B 500, which must have been made as a model of the mountain. This object originally contained a seated, cast metal (?) figure of the god (now lost), which had been concealed behind a removable door, once fitted and cemented into the rabbeted rectangular opening of the naos.  Of cast metal, this door panel (also lost) would almost certainly have possessed a uraeus on its front.  On either side of the door, the surface of the shrine is carved in relief with mirrored figures of the king, followed by lion- and human-headed goddesses, apparently symbolizing the “Eye of Re”/”Eye of Horus” in her transformations (fig. 50a, b).  

Fig. 49a: Figure with head in the shape of the Jebel Barkal hieroglyph, suggesting the mountain personified as a deity. From tomb chapel Beg. N. 11, second century BCE, rebuilt inside entry to Sudan National Museum, Khartoum. (Photo: T. Kendall).

Fig. 49 b: Drawing showing the deified Jebel Barkal in context, facing a group of gods believed to dwell within the mountain: top register: Hathor, Thoth, (approaching queen) Re, Nephthys, Ma’at, the rearing uraeus, Amun-Kamutef, and Horus Iunmutef (“Pillar of his Mother”), and below, the myriad goddesses subsumed within the “Eye, Uraeus.” (Lepsius 1842-1845, Bl. 31)

Fig. 50a-b: Dome-shaped sandstone shrine as a model of Jebel Barkal, inscribed with the throne name of the late Meroitic king Amanikhereqerem (second century CE). Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts (21.3234).