Evidence of Nubian activity in the Egyptian temples of Lower Nubia spans a period of more than one thousand years: from a bark stand dedicated by the Kushite king Taharqa (690-664 BCE) to Nubian prayer inscriptions engraved in the mid-fifth century CE. Nubian priests, administrators, and worshippers were intimately involved in the hierarchy of Egyptian temples in Lower Nubia. For the first time, this book considers all Nubian prayer inscriptions – written in 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.
Chapter one describes the Lower Nubian kings who arrived at Philae bearing tithes as decreed by Ptolemaic rulers who conquered Lower Nubia. Chapter two describes the annexation of Philae and Dakka by the rulers of Meroe who defended the temples militarily while supplying them with royal donations of gold. Meroitic royal cartouches at Philae and Dakka attest to the unfettered access obtained during this period. Of particular interest is the Feast of Entry, which exhibits many similarities to Meroitic royal funerary rites, performed by members of one Nubian family attested for eight generations at Philae and Dakka. Chapter three describes the priests who served the Blemmye kings in the fourth century CE, the last worshippers at the temples of Philae, whose rites were performed for Blemmye gods in addition to Isis and Osiris.
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. Drawing on comparanda from the Meroitic religious sphere, this book presents a complete overview of Nubian religion as practiced in the temples of Philae and Dakka.
"The important role of Nubians in the worship of Isis at Philae and throughout the Dodecaschoenus has frequently been ignored in studies of these important temples. Far more than simple worshippers or pilgrims, Nubians were major participants in the clergy of the temples and served as both financial supporters of temple and cult and military defenders of the temples at Philae and the right of the Nubians to worship there. This study of the Nubian prayer inscriptions and associated ritual scenes during the first half of the first millennium of the common era throws much light on the religious, political, economic, and social factors involved. For anyone interested in Isis in (late) antiquity, this volume should provide absorbing new material." Janet H. Johnson, Morton D. Hull Distinguished Service Professor of Egyptology, University of Chicago.
"Solange Ashby has written a historical masterpiece that will surely serve as the avant-garde in both Nubian Studies and Egyptology. Calling Out to Isis is both theoretically and methodologically innovative in the way that it reveals the significance of Nubian epigraphy in illuminating the rites and cultural practices of the premier Isis Temple in ancient Egypt." Salim Faraji, PhD, Professor of Africana Studies, California State University Dominguez Hills.
Below - Multiple excerpts from Julien Cooper, Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt 57 (2021), 329–32:
“The author’s categorization of three “Phases” of Nubian interaction serves as an incredibly useful signpost to different historical-political interactions at the temple and is a notable discovery in itself, marking the crescendos of Nubian activity in the temple.”
“The differing scripts and languages used by Nubians at Philae reflect the power relations and territorial ownership of Philae (p.
28). In Phase I only Demotic is used (11 inscriptions), in a time when the priesthood was a largely Egyptian-orientated temple
hierarchy somewhat populated by local Nubians. In Phase II (29 inscriptions), when Meroitic power extended to Philae,
inscriptions in Meroitic, Demotic, and Greek are attested, so too in Phase III (27 inscriptions) when the Blemmyes ruled over a
highly mixed frontier where Greek was now used as a pan-Nubian lingua franca.” (p. 330)
“Throughout the book, Ashby is able to garner a significant amount of textual, art-historical, and archaeological material from
diverse source-bases in the Egyptian, Meroitic, Hellenistic, and Roman worlds to infer her findings, no easy task considering the
breadth of this material.” (p. 332)
“Ashby’s approach combining epigraphy with social history on the frontier is particularly welcome in developing a nuanced and
unique view of Egypt-Nubian relations, as well as rightly stressing the Nubian context of these temple institutions.” – p. 332
“This book raises many pertinent issues on how we consider the social function of temples on the Nubian frontier as serving and being controlled by multiple communities. The work presents cogent conclusions that underscore the relations between different communities of temple users, exemplifying the largely ignored “Nubian” dimension in Philae and subjecting the Nubian community to close scrutiny.” (p. 332)
"...the large collection of Nubian inscriptions presented in this book and studied as a whole for the first time, no matter what writing system or language was used, creates a useful synthesis to understand the complexity of the religious life in Lower Nubia at the beginning of our era...it represents an important contribution to our knowledge of the cult of Isis in Nubia. It will also serve as a well-documented example for the larger debate regarding the Roman Empire interactions with the external world." Vincent Francigny, Sudan and Nubia 25, 2021
"[T]his is a highly recommended book offering a wealth of information on the Nubian and Meroitic presence in Lower Nubia, and relations to Roman and Byzantine powers in Egypt. Ashby’s systematic approach and expansion of research into the fifth century CE was hitherto only sporadically undertaken." (p. 242) Josefne Kuckertz, Afr Archaeol Rev (2022) 39:241–243
Below - Multiple excerpts from Caitlín E. Barrett, Journal of Roman Archaeology (2022), pp. 1-13
"A[shby].’s meticulous work thus enables her to construct a sweeping, but also impressively detailed, social-historical account of the entangling of politics and religion in Philae and Lower Nubia over a period of almost 500 years. Also striking is the subtlety with which this book negotiates the interplay of macro-scale and micro-scale history. (p.5)
One of the most exciting features of A.’s book is her emphasis on the agency of all the peoples and groups involved in cross-cultural interactions in northern Nubia. In addition to pushing back against Egyptocentric, Hellenocentric, or Romanocentric assumptions, she also draws crucial distinctions between the goals and strategies of different Nubian actors…
Calling Out to Isis does away with such flattening imprecision. A. makes a compelling case that the interests of Lower Nubian individuals were often quite distinct from those of Meroe (12–17), and that far from claiming any overarching shared identity, many Nubians would have “conceived of themselves as belonging to a clan lineage, rather than having a larger ethnic group” (17). Indeed, the “Nubians” of A.’s three epigraphic phases appear to belong to quite different worlds, pursuing different activities and affiliated with different polities (274). (p. 5)
Although it is not explicitly framed as an intervention in theoretical debates on anthropological or sociological definitions of identity or ethnicity, Calling Out to Isis provides in many ways a model of subtle and nuanced discussion of the complexity of group identification in antiquity...She offers a sensitive and judicious treatment of the ethnic, cultural, and (especially in the latest phase) religious diversity of northern Nubia. (p. 6)
Although Calling Out to Isis is primarily framed as a work of Nubiology and Egyptology, the book also makes several major contributions of cross-disciplinary significance. This is an important study, which will be necessary reading material not only for specialists in Nubia and Egypt, but equally for historians and archaeologists of the Roman world from the early Imperial period through Late Antiquity (p. 6)
A. explicitly positions the book as an intervention in several longstanding scholarly discussionsconcerning the internationalization of Isis worship, the rise of Christianity, and the nature of interactions at the frontiers of ancient empires (4–9)…In positioning Nubians and Nubian evidence at the heart of these discussions, Calling Out to Isis demonstrates the crucial role that Nubiology has to play within interdisciplinary debates – and, as a result, the need for Egyptologists, Classicists, and scholars of early Christianity to look southward. (p. 7)
Greek and Roman imports at Nubian sites have attracted increasing scholarly attention, but the other side of this equation – the study of Nubian imports and emulations in the Greco-Roman world – also holds great promise. In deepening and enriching our understanding of Nubian society and religious practice, Calling Out to Isis opens up new directions for scholars to pursue such lines of research. (p. 10) All of which is to say: for readers with research commitments in Roman archaeology, Calling Out to Isis raises many exciting new possibilities for studying not only the international expansion of the worship of Philae’s chief goddess, but also the more general subject of northeastern Africa in connection with the Greco-Roman world. A.’s meticulous research reminds us that such connections cannot be framed exclusively in terms of Egyptian encounters with Greeks and Romans; we need to consider the agency of Nubian individuals and the international impact of Nubian practices, objects, and ideas. Calling Out to Isis elegantly demonstrates the importance of centering Nubia and Nubians within interdisciplinary narratives about the ancient world." (pp. 10-11)