an important ancient city in Upper Nubia (Kush), 960 kilometers (600 miles) up the Nile River from Aswan and 20 kilometers (12.5 miles) downstream from the Fourth Cataract, near present-day Karima, Sudan (18°32′N, 31°49′E). Napata's chief landmark is the 102-meter- (335-foot-) high sandstone butte known today as Gebel Barkal. Napata was the prime river crossing on the direct overland trade route that connected the regions of the Fifth Cataract and the Third. During the New Kingdom, Napata was the uppermost permanent settlement in the Egyptian Nubian empire, lying in the southernmost district, called Karoy (Kʒry), and it became the chief Nubian seat of the Egyptian state god Amun. Later, during and after the twenty-fifth dynasty, it became the cult center and sometime capital of the Egyptianized kingdom of Kush.

The Egyptians had first occupied Napata during the eighteenth dynasty reign of Thutmose III (r. 1504–1452 BCE), probably following the final overthrow of the Kushite monarchy at Kerma. According to his Barkal stela, Thutmose established his frontier there, built a fortress called “Repelling the Foreigners,” and identified Gebel Barkal as a residence of Amun. The stela, addressed to the local inhabitants, implies a preexisting town, which had possibly been an outpost of the Kerma kingdom. Kerma sherds have been found at the site in unstratified conditions; and Neolithic and Protohistoric (“Pre-Kerma”) sherds indicate even earlier settlements. Napata is the first named on the Amada Stela of Amenhotpe II (r. 1454–1419 BCE), who claims to have hung a slain Syrian prince from its walls.

The Egyptians called Gebel Barkal alternately Pʒ Ḏww'b (“The Pure Mountain”) and Nswt (or Nst)-Tʒwy (“Thrones [or “Throne”] of the Two Lands”), thus identifying it as the source of Amun's most ancient epithet “Lord of the Thrones of the Two Lands.” They attached cosmogonic significance to the mountain because of its freestanding, 74 meters (250-foot) high pinnacle, which appeared to them variously as an erect phallus and as a royal uraeus (the rearing cobra). The mountain, thus, was seen both as a home of the creator god and as a primary source of kingship. The pharaohs of both the eighteenth dynasty and the nineteenth claimed to derive a part of their royal authority from this Amun; by the eighth century BCE, the kings of the neo-Kushite state at Napata would justify their rule over Egypt by the claimed primacy of the kingship given to them by this god.

The Barkal sanctuary was developed in the fifteenth century BCE, under Thutmose III and IV, possibly over a preexisting Kerma sanctuary, but under Akhenaten (r. 1372–1355 BCE), efforts were made to destroy it and the cult. It was rebuilt under Tutankhamun and/or Horemheb in the later fourteenth century BCE, massively enlarged by Sety I and Ramesses II at the turn of the thirteenth century BCE. Subsequently, all evidence for Egyptian activity ceases at Napata, and in the twentieth dynasty, the Egyptians apparently abandoned the site. No trace of the New Kingdom town has been found, but the ledges at nearby Hillet el-Arab are honeycombed with plain rock tombs of probable New Kingdom date.

Napata was revived in the mid-eighth century BCE by the Nubian chiefs buried at nearby el-Kurru. Alara and Kashta built a temple and a palace of mud brick. With the late eighth-century BCE conquest of Upper Egypt by Piya, the city briefly became an imperial capital, and the great Amun temple of the New Kingdom (B 500) was fully restored, in stone. The king's son and third successor, Taharqa, added some new temples (B 200, 300) and developed, on the opposite bank, the important suburbs of Sanam Abu Dom and Nuri. At Nuri, Taharqa built his own pyramid and established a royal cemetery that would be used by nineteen of his successors and their queens until the fourth century BCE.

After the twenty-fifth dynasty's ouster from Egypt by Assyria in 663 BCE, it continued in absentia to claim rule over Egypt by the authority of the Napatan god. Thus in 593 BCE, Napata was attacked and ravaged by the Egyptian army of Psamtik II, which forced the move of the Kushite court to Meroë, some 250 kilometers (160 miles) to the southeast.

The Barkal sanctuary was maintained throughout Napatan and Meroitic times. During the third and first centuries BCE, the area west of the mountain was developed as a royal cemetery; in the early first century CE, the sanctuary underwent its last major restoration and enlargement. This activity was doubtless prompted by the second destruction of Napata, in 24 BCE, by the Roman general Petronius. The only urban remains of Napata yet recovered belong to this period. Throughout the history of Kush, Napata remained an important cult center and site for both coronations and royal burials.


  • Dunham, Daws. The Barkal Temples. Boston, 1970.
  • Kendall, Timothy. “Kings of the Sacred Mountain: Napata and the Kushite Twenty-fifth Dynasty of Egypt.” In Sudan: Ancient Kingdoms of the Nile, edited by Dietrich Wildung, pp. 161–171. Paris and New York, 1997.
  • Reisner, George A. “The Barkal Temples in 1916.” Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 4 (1917), 213–227.
  • Reisner, George A. “The Barkal Temples in 1916 (Continued).” Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 5 (1918), 99–112.
  • Reisner, George A. “The Barkal Temples in 1916 (Continued).” Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 6 (1920), 247–264.
  • Reisner, George A., and M. B. Reisner. “Inscribed Monuments from Gebel Barkal.” Zeitschrift für die Altestementliche Wissenschaft 66 (1931), 76–100.

Timothy Kendall