The best books on ancient Nubia

Who am I?

I became interested in the art and written language of ancient Egypt due to its beauty and antiquity. Writing is art and art often contains text in this oldest written African language. I am fascinated with the process of religious change, intercultural interaction, and resistance to colonization. All of these themes are present in the study of the last functioning Egyptian temple, Philae, which is dedicated to the worship of Isis. What is often omitted from the history of this exceptional Egyptian temple is the fact that it was Nubians who defended and sustained the traditional religious practices long after most Egyptians had converted to Christianity. I wrote my book to research and share this neglected history.


I wrote...

Calling Out to Isis: The Enduring Nubian Presence at Philae

By Solange Ashby,

Book cover of Calling Out to Isis: The Enduring Nubian Presence at Philae

What is my book about?

While many books have explored the expansion of the worship of the goddess Isis outside of Egypt throughout the Mediterranean and in Greece and Rome, the worship of Isis by Nubians has largely been ignored.

This book argues that the enduring religious presence of Nubian worshippers, over a period of one thousand years, profoundly influenced the unique rites performed at the temples of Philae and Dakka, in addition to introducing the worship of Nubian gods into the temple cult. For the first time, this book considers all Nubian prayer inscriptions – written in Egyptian Demotic, Meroitic, and Greek – to reveal that Nubian piety at Philae occurred in three discrete phases in which very different groups of Nubians arrived at Philae to perform rites.

The books I picked & why

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Ancient Nubia: African Kingdoms on the Nile

By Marjorie M. Fisher (editor), Peter Lacovara (editor), Salima Ikram (ed)

Book cover of Ancient Nubia: African Kingdoms on the Nile

Why this book?

A beautiful coffee table book, complete with stunning photographs by Chester Higgins, this publication includes maps, general articles about Nubia, and a gazetteer of stunning sites from Gebel Qeili and Naqa in the south to Philae, Elephantine, and Aswan in the North. The general articles range from art and architecture, kings and kingship, religion, texts, and women in ancient Nubia. This book is a beautiful and welcoming introduction to the vibrant land of ancient Nubia.


Sacred Nile

By Chester HIggins, Betsy Kissam,

Book cover of Sacred Nile

Why this book?

Can you tell I am a fan of Chester Higgins? This book traces the flow of the Sacred Nile from south to north, connecting the highlands of Ethiopia, the heartland of the kingdoms of Kush (Kerma, Napata, Meroe), and the better-known treasures of ancient Egypt. All of this is depicted in stunning photographs, while the cultural and historical connections between these lands that border the Nile are lovingly described as a spiritual connection to the waters of the sacred Nile.


Roots of Nubian Christianity Uncovered: The Triumph of the Last Pharaoh

By Salim Faraji,

Book cover of Roots of Nubian Christianity Uncovered: The Triumph of the Last Pharaoh

Why this book?

“Long after ancient Egypt had been subdued by the Ptolemies and Rome, ancient Nubian civilization continued to thrive in late antiquity as an independent kingdom, first as a classical pharaonic culture and then as a Christian polity until the 15th century...like other forms of African Christianity that have been shaped by African traditional religions and culture. Nubian Christianity was fundamentally African.” Dr. Faraji’s book is a perfect complement to my own. As I trace the very late survivals of traditional pharaonic religion among the Nubians, Dr. Faraji teases out the earliest appearance of Christianity and traces its connections to the religions that preceded it.

The Image of the Black in Western Art, Volume I: From the Pharaohs to the Fall of the Roman Empire

By David Bindman (editor), Henry Louis Gates (editor),

Book cover of The Image of the Black in Western Art, Volume I: From the Pharaohs to the Fall of the Roman Empire

Why this book?

While this book is problematic in that it tries to posit ancient Egyptian art as “Western art”, it includes excellent articles by esteemed scholars of Egypt and Nubia as well as copious images of ancient art from the Nile Valley (Egypt and Nubia) and Greek and Roman art depicting Black people. Despite the incorrigible racism expressed in the Introduction, the scholarly articles included in the book are replete with detailed information about the Africans who lived along the Nile River.


Arts of Ancient Nubia: MFA Highlights

By Denise Doxey (contributor),

Book cover of Arts of Ancient Nubia: MFA Highlights

Why this book?

Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts has the best Nubian collection in the United States and one of the very best in the world. This publication of Nubian jewelry held by the MFA is exceptional in its breadth: ceramics, stelae, figurines, faience and ivory inlays, and jewels of gold, silver, precious stones, and beadwork. The artifacts span 3000 years of Nubian history produced during the three Kushite kingdoms: Kerma (2650-1550 BCE), Napata (750-332 BCE), and Meroe (332 BCE - 300 CE).


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Nubia, the Nile river, and Boston?

5,215 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Nubia, the Nile river, and Boston.

Nubia Explore 5 books about Nubia
The Nile River Explore 23 books about the Nile river
Boston Explore 97 books about Boston

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The British Museum Dictionary of Ancient Egypt, Season of Migration to the North, and The Inner Guide to Egypt: A Magical Journey to the Land of the Pharaohs: 1 if you like this list.