Aspelta became the fourth king of Napata after the Assyrians’ defeat of Pharaoh Tantamani- which consequently ended the Nubia kingdom’s reign over Egypt. His efforts were mostly directed at reinforcing the Nubian territory and also improving its civilization.
Overall, he had an eventful reign- with many battles, victories, and losses. Interestingly, Aspelta led many ingenious initiatives that his successors either sustained or further developed.
Unlike several Nubian kings with too many gaps in their records, there are plenty of historical and archeological findings traceable to events during Aspelta’s reign. All of the excavated records about Aspelta provided insights on how much he desired and worked towards bringing Egypt under Nubian rule again.
Who was Aspelta?
During this time, it’s common practice in Nubia that religious and military leaders have a hand in selecting who the next monarch will be. Religious and military leaders were directly involved in the selection process because they believed the King must be known and approved by the gods. Religious leaders conducted and validated the selection process. The kings also had to show military readiness and, therefore, be qualified to defend the land and its people.
After King Anlamani’s death, Aspelta underwent the same selection and confirmation process. He was finally crowned King of Nubia in Napata. Napata is the capital city and regarded as the holy city and the seat of power.
In terms of marriages and family lineage, Aspelta had several wives. Their names were Artaha, Asata, Aranatle-qo’s mother Henuttakhebit, and Weqemale. Some of the discoveries have also hinted that he probably later got engaged to his sister, Madiqen.
However, this is yet to be validated. It was common practice at the time that kings can have more than one wife. Although no historical or archeological records suggest whether Aspelta had several children, reliable evidence shows that he had at least a son and two daughters. His son Aramatle-qo became King after marrying his two sisters, Amanitakaye and Akhe-qa.
In all of the two decades as Napata’s monarch, Aspelta dealt with external and internal enemies. While the Egyptians and their allies were the most apparent foes, Aspelta also experienced levels of insubordination and conspiracy from a sect of priests serving at the palace temple.
Aspelta’s notable works and achievements
Aspelta was notably one of the Nubian kings that promoted arts and crafts by building statues and impressive monuments. Some of the most amazing artifacts were discovered and traced back to Aspelta’s reign.
One notable archaeologist, George Reisner, worked extensively on finding clues about King Aspelta and other Nubian kings. Two of Reisner’s excavations in 1916 and 1920 have provided significant materials, imageries, and craft, which now forms part of the world’s stories about Aspelta. Other top archaeologists from Harvard University and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston have also made their discoveries.
King Aspelta mainly had interests in stele (stelas, plural) – a beautifully carved stone or wooden structure with inscriptions. Stelas, are usually created to serve as reminders or monuments for documenting historical events, similar to Egyptian hieroglyphics found on the walls of pyramids and catacombs. Considering all the stone inscriptions detailing events and activities in his reign, Aspelta is arguably the most detailed King of Nubia.
Nearly most of the information on Aspelta was gathered from the many stelas excavated. This information indicates that he most likely had workers who were explicitly assigned responsibilities to document his reign’s accounts and keep them safe for record purposes.
As you’ll find with most cultures in Africa, many remarkable items associated with a king are usually buried with them when they die. Similarly, vast information on Aspelta was obtained after discovering his tomb in Nuri, the west side of the Nile.
Currently, the tomb’s structure is still the most intact burial structure for a Nubian king discovered. The tomb contained a sculptured version of his sarcophagus and certain writings from the Egyptian Book of the Living. Tens of crafts and carvings dating over 2600 years were also gathered and transported to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
The invasion of Napata and the move to Meroe
Over time, there has been increasing evidence linking Egypt’s earliest developments to indigenous Nubians’ activities and efforts. King Piye’s conquest of Egypt in 732 B.C. paved the way for the Nubian tribe to bring much of their innovations and skills to Egypt. Hence, for seventy years, and under different Nubian kings, Egypt directly benefitted from the Nubians’ exported opportunities. In Aspelta’s case, however, Egypt was able to amass some of the essential products from Nubia as spoils of war.
Note that at some point, Aspelta had started making plans on a possible recapture of some parts of upper Egypt and its environs. He had successfully grown his influence in a short while. He was fast advancing to a vantage position that could have enabled him to establish some authority. However, this was short-lived when the ruling Pharaoh at the time- Pharaoh Psamtik II, got wind of the development by intuition or spy information gathering.
He consequently moved against Aspelta and invaded Napata in 592 B.C. The city was burned to the ground. Psamtik II’s army carted away some of Nubia’s most treasured valuables, which they took back with them to Egypt.
This attack on Napata is widely believed to have made Aspelta move the capital city and the seat of power from Napata to the southern city of Meroe. Subsequent kings after him also embraced this decision and continued to rule from Meroe.
As a recap, here is a summary of our discussions on King Aspelta:
- Aspelta was the fourth king to rule in Kush after Egypt was regained from Nubian control.
- He took over power from his elder brother Anlamani in 600 B.C. and ruled till 580 B.C.
- Aspelta was crowned King in the holy city of Napata, and he ruled from there for about eight years until the invasion.
- His wives were Artaha, Asata, Aranatle-qo’s mother Henuttakhebit, and Weqemale. He was also said to have gotten engaged to Madiqen- his sister.
- Aspelta made great efforts in promoting art and civilization in Nubia.
- Most of what is known about Aspelta was derived from George Reisner’s archaeological findings and other teams of archeologists from Harvard University and the MFA in Bolton.
- Aspelta made a lot of stele in his time, which he used for recording accounts of his reign as King.
- Some of the stele and other useful archeological findings were found in his tomb on the west side of the Nile (in Nuri).
- Aspelta made plans to regain control of some of the Egyptian territory that was finally lost during the reign of Tantamani.
- Pharaoh Psamtik II invaded Napata city in 592 B.C., forcing Aspelta to move the capital city to Meroe.
From all the information available about Aspelta, historians think he was still one of the best kings to rule Nubia – especially after King Piye. This is because many of Aspelta’s political and development reforms significantly sustained ancient Nubia for a relatively long time.