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Ancient Aethiopia, (Greek : Αἰθιοπία, romanized: Aithiopía; also known as Ethiopia) first appears as a geographical term in classical documents in reference to the upper Nile region, as well as certain areas south of the Sahara desert. Its earliest mention is in the works of Homer: twice in the Iliad , and three times in the Odyssey . The Greek historian Herodotus specifically uses the appellation to refer to such parts of Africa as were then known within the inhabitable world.
In classical antiquity, Africa (or 'Ancient Libya') referred to what is now known as the Maghreb and south of the Libyan Desert and Western Sahara, including all the desert land west of the southern Nile river. Geographical knowledge of the continent gradually grew, with the Greek travelogue Periplus of the Erythraean Sea (1st century AD) describing areas along the Red Sea (Erythraean Sea).
The Greek name Aithiopia (Αἰθιοπία, from Αἰθίοψ, Aithíops, 'an Ethiopian') is a compound derived of two Greek words: αἴθω, aíthō, 'I burn' + ὤψ, ṓps, 'face'. According to the Perseus Project, this designation properly translates in noun form as burnt-face and in adjectival form as red-brown. As such, it was used as a vague term for dark-skinned populations since the time of Homer. The term was applied to such peoples when within the range of observation of the ancient geographers, primarily in what was then Nubia. With the expansion of geographical knowledge, the exonym successively extended to certain other areas below the Sahara.
Homer (c. 8th century BC) is the first to mention "Aethiopians" (Αἰθίοπες, Αἰθιοπῆες), writing that they are to be found at the east and west extremities of the world, divided by the sea into "eastern" (at the sunrise) and "western" (at the sunset). In Book 1 of the Iliad , Thetis visits Olympus to meet Zeus, but the meeting is postponed, as Zeus and other gods are absent, visiting the land of the Aethiopians.
Hesiod (c. 8th century BC) speaks of Memnon as the "king of the Ethiopians."
In 515 BC, Scylax of Caryanda, on orders from Darius I of the Achaemenid Empire, sailed along the Indus River, Indian Ocean, and Red Sea, circumnavigating the Arabian Peninsula. He mentioned "Aethiopians", though his writings on them have not survived.
Hecataeus of Miletus (c. 500 BC) is also said to have written a book about 'Aethiopia,' but his writing is now known only through quotations from later authors. He stated that 'Aethiopia' was located to the east of the Nile, as far as the Red Sea and Indian Ocean. He is also quoted as relating a myth in which the Skiapods ('Shade feet'), whose feet were supposedly large enough to serve as shade, lived there.[ citation needed ]
In his Histories (c. 440 BC), Herodotus presents some of the most ancient and detailed information about "Aethiopia". He relates that he personally traveled up the Nile to the border of Egypt as far as Elephantine (modern Aswan). In his view, "Aethiopia" is all of the inhabited land found to the south of Egypt, beginning at Elephantine. He describes a capital at Meroë, adding that the only deities worshipped there were Zeus (Amun) and Dionysus (Osiris). He relates that in the reign of Pharaoh Psamtik I (c. 650 BCE), many Egyptian soldiers deserted their country and settled amidst the Aethiopians.
Herodotus tells us that king Cambyses II (c. 570 BC) of the Achaemenid Empire sent spies to the Aethiopians "who dwelt in that part of Libya (Africa) which borders upon the southern sea." They found a strong and healthy people. Although Cambyses then campaigned toward their country, by not preparing enough provisions for the long march, his army completely failed and returned quickly.
In Book 3, Herodotus defines "Aethiopia" as the farthest region of "Libya" (i.e. Africa):
Where the south declines towards the setting sun lies the country called Aethiopia, the last inhabited land in that direction. There gold is obtained in great plenty, huge elephants abound, with wild trees of all sorts, and ebony; and the men are taller, handsomer, and longer lived than anywhere else.
The Egyptian priest Manetho (c. 300 BC) listed Kushite (25th) dynasty, calling it the "Aethiopian dynasty." Moreover, when the Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek (c. 200 BC), the Hebrew appellation "Kush, Kushite" became in Greek "Aethiopia, Aethiopians", appearing as "Ethiopia, Ethiopians" in the English King James Version .
Agatharchides provides a relatively detailed description of the gold mining system of Aethiopia. His text was copied almost verbatim by virtually all subsequent ancient writers on the area, including Diodorus Siculus and Photius.
The Greek travelogue from the 1st-century AD, known as the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea , initially describes the littoral, based on its author's intimate knowledge of the area. However, the Periplus does not mention any dark-skinned "Ethiopians" among the area's inhabitants. They only later appear in Ptolemy's Geographia in a region far south, around the "Bantu nucleus" of northern Mozambique.
Several personalities in Greek and medieval literature were identified as Aethiopian, including several rulers, male and female:
In Greek mythology, Andromeda is the daughter of the king of Aethiopia, Cepheus, and his wife, Cassiopeia. When Cassiopeia boasts that she is more beautiful than the Nereids, Poseidon sends the sea monster Cetus to ravage the coast of Aethiopia as divine punishment. Andromeda is chained to a rock as a sacrifice to sate the monster, but is saved from death by Perseus, who marries her and takes her to Greece to reign as his queen.
The aegis, as stated in the Iliad, is a device carried by Athena and Zeus, variously interpreted as an animal skin or a shield and sometimes featuring the head of a Gorgon. There may be a connection with a deity named Aex or Aix, a daughter of Helios and a nurse of Zeus or alternatively a mistress of Zeus. The aegis of Athena is referred to in several places in The Iliad. "It produced a sound as from a myriad roaring dragons and was borne by Athena in battle ... and among them went bright-eyed Athene, holding the precious aegis which is ageless and immortal: a hundred tassels of pure gold hang fluttering from it, tight-woven each of them, and each the worth of a hundred oxen."
Cambyses II was the second King of Kings of the Achaemenid Empire from 530 to 522 BC. He was the son and successor of Cyrus the Great and his mother was Cassandane.
Thebes, known to the ancient Egyptians as Waset, was an ancient Egyptian city located along the Nile about 800 kilometers (500 mi) south of the Mediterranean. Its ruins lie within the modern Egyptian city of Luxor. Thebes was the main city of the fourth Upper Egyptian nome and was the capital of Egypt for long periods during the Middle Kingdom and New Kingdom eras. It was close to Nubia and the Eastern Desert, with its valuable mineral resources and trade routes. It was a cult center and the most venerated city during many periods of ancient Egyptian history. The site of Thebes includes areas on both the eastern bank of the Nile, where the temples of Karnak and Luxor stand and where the city was situated; and the western bank, where a necropolis of large private and royal cemeteries and funerary complexes can be found.
Agenor was in Greek mythology and history a Phoenician king of Tyre. Doric Greek historian Herodotus, born in the city of Halicarnassus under the Achaemenid Empire, estimated that Agenor lived either 1000 or 1600 years prior to his visit to Tyre in 450 BC at the end of the Greco-Persian Wars.
In Greek mythology, Epaphus, also called Apis or Munantius, was a king of Egypt.
Agatharchides or Agatharchus of Cnidus was a Greek historian and geographer.
Meroë was an ancient city on the east bank of the Nile about 6 km north-east of the Kabushiya station near Shendi, Sudan, approximately 200 km north-east of Khartoum. Near the site is a group of villages called Bagrawiyah. This city was the capital of the Kingdom of Kush for several centuries from around 590 BC, until its collapse in the fourth century CE. The Kushitic Kingdom of Meroë gave its name to the "Island of Meroë", which was the modern region of Butana, a region bounded by the Nile, the Atbarah and the Blue Nile.
Dione was an ancient Greek goddess, Titaness primarily known from Book V of Homer's Iliad, where she tends to the wounds suffered by her daughter Aphrodite.
In Greek mythology, Memnon was a king of Ethiopia and son of Tithonus and Eos. As a warrior he was considered to be almost Achilles' equal in skill. During the Trojan War, he brought an army to Troy's defense and killed Antilochus during a fierce battle. The death of Memnon echoes that of Hector, another defender of Troy whom Achilles also killed out of revenge for a fallen comrade, Patroclus.
In Greek mythology, Cepheus is the name of two rulers of Aethiopia, grandfather and grandson.
Lake Tritonis, was a large body of fresh water in northern Africa that was described in many ancient texts. Classical-era Greek writers placed the lake in what today is southern Tunisia. In details of the late myths and personal observations related by these historians, the lake was said to be named after Triton. According to Herodotus it contained two islands, Phla, which the Lacedaemonians were to have colonized, according to an oracle, and Mene.
The Latin name Libya referred to the region west of the Nile generally corresponding to the Atlantic Mountains according to Diodorus. Its people were ancestors of the modern Libyans. They occupied the area for thousands of years before the beginning of recorded ancient Egyptian history. Climate changes affected the locations of the settlements.
The Erythraean Sea was a former maritime designation that always included the Gulf of Aden and at times other seas between Arabia Felix and the Horn of Africa. Originally an ancient Greek geography, it was used throughout Europe until the 18-19th century. At times the name frequently extended beyond the Gulf of Aden—as in the famous 1st-century Periplus of the Erythraean Sea—to include the present-day Red Sea, Persian Gulf, and Indian Ocean as a single maritime area.
Nubia is a region along the Nile river encompassing the area between the first cataract of the Nile and the confluence of the Blue and White Niles, or more strictly, Al Dabbah. It was the seat of one of the earliest civilizations of ancient Africa, the Kerma culture, which lasted from around 2500 BC until its conquest by the New Kingdom of Egypt under Pharaoh Thutmose I around 1500 BC, whose heirs ruled most of Nubia for the next 400 years. Nubia was home to several empires, most prominently the Kingdom of Kush, which conquered Egypt in eighth-century BC during the reign of Piye and ruled the country as its 25th Dynasty.
The Kingdom of Kush was an ancient kingdom in Nubia, centered along the Nile Valley in what is now northern Sudan and southern Egypt.
The Macrobians (Μακροβίοι) was an ancient Proto-Somali tribal kingdom positioned in the Horn of Africa mentioned by Herodotus. It is one of the legendary peoples postulated at the extremity of the known world, in this case in the extreme south, contrasting with the Hyperboreans in the extreme east.
White Aethiopians is a term found in ancient Roman literature, which may have referred to various non-"Negro" and light-complexioned populations inhabiting the Aethiopia region of antiquity. The exonym is used by Pliny the Elder, and is also mentioned by Pomponius Mela, Ptolemy and Orosius. These authorities do not, however, agree on the geographical location of the White Aethiopians.
The Western Desert of Egypt is an area of the Sahara that lies west of the river Nile, up to the Libyan border, and south from the Mediterranean sea to the border with Sudan. It is named in contrast to the Eastern Desert which extends east from the Nile to Red Sea. The Western Desert is mostly rocky desert, though an area of sandy desert, known as the Great Sand Sea, lies to the west against the Libyan border. The desert covers an area of 680,650 km2 (262,800 sq mi) which is two-thirds of the land area of the country. Its highest elevation is 1,000 m (3,300 ft) in the Gilf Kebir plateau to the far south-west of the country, on the Egypt-Sudan-Libya border. The Western Desert is barren and uninhabited save for a chain of oases which extend in an arc from Siwa, in the north-west, to Kharga in the south. It has been the scene of conflict in modern times, particularly during the Second World War.
The Sack of Thebes took place in 663 BC in the city of Thebes at the hands of the Neo-Assyrian Empire under king Ashurbanipal, then at war with the Kushite Twenty-fifth Dynasty of Egypt under Tantamani, during the Assyrian conquest of Egypt. After a long struggle for the control of the Levant which had started in 705 BC, the Kushites had gradually lost control of Lower Egypt and, by 665 BC, their territory was reduced to Upper Egypt and Nubia. Helped by the unreliable vassals of the Assyrians in the Nile Delta region, Tantamani briefly regained Memphis in 663 BC, killing Necho I of Sais in the process.