The Kushite Kingdom of Meroe (c. 300 BC – AD 350) occupied a vast territory of present-day Sudan and the southern fringes of Egypt. The kingdom played a key role in the region facilitating trade between the Graeco-Roman world and African states and beyond, and its position was further strengthened by iron production that centred in the region around the capital city of Meroe, presently known for its necropolis with numerous royal pyramids. Advances in agriculture and land management, such as the adoption of saqia, an animal-powered waterwheel, and development of a system of water dams and reservoirs, allowed for cultivation of fields located away from the Nile and facilitated large-scale livestock rearing, contributing to the kingdom’s prosperity. However, after several centuries, this once-powerful and prosperous kingdom collapsed, and the circumstances surrounding its demise remain unclear and open to speculation. The available historical and archaeological evidence points to several likely causative factors, with the most frequently cited being political and economic instability, and social unrest. From the 2nd to 4th centuries AD, the kingdom’s northern border became unstable due to the crisis of the Roman Empire and decline of Roman Egypt, combined with nomadic invasions from the surrounding deserts. At the same time, the central area of the kingdom became a focal point for the migration of the Noba, the Nubian-speaking tribes from the western peripheries, whereas the southern fringes of the kingdom were under constant threat from the expanding Kingdom of Axum. Meroe’s economy was in decline due to the state’s apparent inability to sustain a profitable trade with African states when demand for luxury goods and materials from the troubled Roman Empire fell, and trade routes along the Nile were no longer safe.
Another plausible, but less frequently explored cause for the collapse of the Kingdom of Meroe is environmental changes, which this project seeks to investigate. It is possible that what once made the kingdom great put a strain on the environment and became the very reason for its collapse. The overexploitation of the land for agricultural purposes to sustain a growing population and to produce a surplus for élites, and deforestation to meet the demands of the iron industry will have likely resulted in dramatic changes in the natural environment. These will have directly affected the lives of the local population, leading to changes in their subsistence and health, and increased movements of peoples within and between the kingdom and neighbouring regions during the Meroitic (c. 300 BC – AD 350) and Post-Meroitic (AD 350 – c. 600) periods.