Make your own free website on


 The X Group or Ballana Culture
The Blemmyes, ca A.D. 250-500
The Noubadian Kingdom, ca. A.D. 350-550

With the Roman world in turmoil, and Meroe in decline, a people from east of the Nile known to the Greeks as Blemmyes and to the Arabs as Bedja, rapidly overran much of Egypt and Lower Nubia. Although expelled from Egypt, they were able to establish themselves in the region of Nubia ; ust south of Aswan. Although they continued the religion of the pharaohs, their rulers used the Greek forms of contemporary Roman Imperial titles. The Oriental Institute excavated near Kalabsha and recovered many fragments of decoration from one of the Blemmyes' most important holy places, as well as pieces of their unusual and beautiful pottery 

South of the Blemmyes, the Meroitic province of Lower Nubia collapsed by about A. D. 300, and by 375, the kingdom of the Noubades, now known as Nubians was established with its capital near the modern Sudanese Border. Great moundtombs of its kings at Qustul and Ballana contained much wealth, in crowns, jewels, and great weapons, including long African spear-swords, now in the Cairo Museum. The Oriental Institute's own excavations there discovered that the tumuli themselves were only part of larger complexes of chapels and sacrificial pits. Like the Meroitic rulers they supplanted, the Noubadians used pharaonic symbols and worshipped ancient gods. They joined with the Blemmyes in attacks on Upper Egypt in defense of the old religion against the newly dominant Christianity.
..."Archaeologically, the post-Meroitic dark age in Lower Nubia is filled by the cultural remains which Reisner designated sixty years ago as the "X Group"{.W. Y. Adams in X Group culture.. }
..."As always, Reisner interpreted the unfamiliar "X Group" grave type as evidence of the coming of a new people... The cultural theories of Reisner found instant confirmation in the anatomical evidence of the X-Group skeletons as adduced by Elliot Smith: "The X Group people were strongly Negroid aliens who had suddenly made their way north into Nubia, bringing with them a mode of burial and type of pottery which Dr Reisner has declared to be distinctly non-Egyptian..."
"It seemed, in sum, that a new group of southern barbarians had taken possession of the whole of Lower Nubia, displacing Romans and Meroitic alike"...
..."Modern anthropological research has not confirmed the theory of "X Group" racial distinctness vis--vis the preceding Meroitic population in Lower Nubia"....
..."Given the present state of our knowledge, the continued use of the non-committal and misleading 'X-Group' designation seems unjustified. The name 'Ballana Culture', proposed several years ago by Trigger, is manifestly preferable... It identifies a particular stage of Nubian cultural development with its principal monumental expression, and provides a name which instantly enables us to differentiate between the culture of Lower Nubia and the related but in some ways distinct post-Meroitic culture of the steppelands, which is designated by Trigger as the Tanqasi Culture...
"If the archaeological remains of the Meroitic and Ballana phases point unmistakably to cultural and social continuity, there nevertheless remain important differences between them which must be explained. In the cultural sphere we have to account for the disappearance of many of the higher art which had long been characteristic of Kushite civilization, and at the same time for the revival of burial rites which seem to hark all the way back to pre-pharaonic Kerma. In the political sphere we have to recognize the appearance of a new, independent monarchy in Lower Nubia which nevertheless represents the last, barbarized manifestation of the pharaonic tradition. To further complicate the picture we have a fairly considerable number of late classical texts which make no mention of Meroe or Meroites, but allude repeatedly to two seemingly new peoples, the Blemmyes and Nobatae. Finally, we have possible evidence of linguistic discontinuity between the Meroitic and Post-Meroitic periods which cannot be ignored...."
"Remains of the Ballana Culture have been found from Shellal in the North to Sesebi, in the Abri-Delgo Reach, in the South... Ballana sites-both villages and cemeteries- are notably smaller and more dispersed than are those of the Meroitic period...."
"The typical Ballana tumulus was from 12 to 40 feet in diameter, and might rise to a maximum height of 15 feet... The tumuli of kings and nobles could reach far larger proportions. In the ordinary tombs there was no adjoining offering chamber or surface decoration of the earth mound. As in the Meroitic period, many graves seem to have lacked any kind of superstructure; in some places there are whole cemeteries without any tumuli. In their subterranean arrangements, the Ballana graves show the same variety of chamber types as do Meroitic graves. Although cave graves are rare, the basic two-fold division between vaulted chamber-tombs and niche graves, and the further division of the latter into end-niche and side-niche types, persists throughout the Ballana period. However, the relative proportions of the two main types are reversed: simple niche graves are much more common than are vaulted tombs in the Post-Meroitic period. A further innovation may be seen in the re-introduction of the contracted burial posture, and of the southward orientation of the body in place of the traditional westward orientation of Meroitic times. The great majority of contracted burials are found in niche-graves; they may represent nothing more than a natural adaptation to this rather constricted type of grave chamber. The bodies in chamber-tombs are most often extended on the back, as in Meroitic times. The practise of wrapping the dead in a shroud remained usual throughout the Ballana period. The funerary offerings in Ballana graves are of the same general types as are found in Meroitic graves, but are considerably reduced in number and variety. Quantities of cheap, locally made pottery are the most common grave furnishings. Other objects, except beads, are rare, and imported goods exceptionally so. Weapons of one kind and another are found in a good many cases; they include iron spear and arrow heads, leather quivers of a striking and elaborate design, leather bowguards, and archers' stone rings..."
"The absence of monumental architecture is one of the most distinctive and surprising features of the Ballana period. Not only was there no further building in stone, but the older temples and/or palaces which had been built at Gebel Adda and at Meinarti in late Meroitic times were deliberately destroyed. This seems to have been a matter of policy rather than an accident of war..."
"What little we know of everyday life in Ballana times comes chiefly from the remains of a few towns and villages which were founded in Meroitic times but continued to be occupied later... At none of these places was there any significant break in the continuity of social and cultural development between Meroitic and post-Meroitic times..."
"...One of the few Nubian manufactures which seems to have flourished widely in the Ballana period was the pottery-making. It shows, however, an almost complete break with the traditions of Meroitic times, and the final disappearance of any vestige of ancient Egyptian influence. The lack of correspondence between Meroitic and X Group pottery was one of the factors long regarded as evidence for an "X Group" invasion..." "...Ballana pottery is so closely similar to that of Byzantine Egypt, and so different from its Meroitic predecessor...." "Pottery vessels seem to have been the only luxury goods which were enjoyed in any quantity by the Ballana people. They are found in enormous numbers not only in the graves, but even abandoned on the floors of houses..."
"Iron was certainly another industry of the Ballana period, although it is by no means abundant either in houses or in graves"....." Another industry of Ballana times which is attested by a few chance finds is that of basket-making..."
"Most of the other manufactured goods which are sometimes found in Ballana graves are the same as, or closely similar to, those of the Meroitic period, and many of them appear to have been imported..."
" Throughout most of Nubia, archaeological remains of the Ballana culture give the impression of a decentralized agrarian society, poorer but more self-sufficient than the society of Meroitic times. Although differences of wealth are perceptible from family to family and from village to village, there is no conspicuously differentiated middle class...."


Main Page