Blemmyes

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For the legendary creatures see Headless men.

The Blemmyes (Latin Blemmyae) were a nomadic Nubian tribe described in Roman histories of the later empire. From the late 3rd century on, along with another tribe, the Nobadae, they repeatedly fought the Romans. They were said to live in Africa, in Nubia, Kush, or Sudan.[1]

They also became fictionalized as a legendary race of acephalous (headless) monsters who had eyes and mouths on their chest.

In antiquity[edit]

The Greek geographer Strabo describes the Blemmyes as a peaceful people living in the East Desert near Meroe.

Their cultural and military power started to enlarge to such a level that in 197 Pescennius Niger asked a Blemmye king of Thebas to help him in the battle against the Roman Emperor Septimius Severus. In 250 the Roman Emperor Decius took a lot of effort to win over an invasion army of Blemmyes. A few years later, in 253, they attacked Lower Aegyptus (Thebais) again but were quickly defeated. In 265 they were defeated again by the Roman Prefect Firmus who later in 273 would rebel against the Empire and the Queen of Palmyra Zenobia with the help of the Blemmyes themselves. The Roman general Probus took some time to defeat the usurper and his allies but couldn't prevent the occupation of Thebais by the Blemmyes. That meant another war and the almost entire destruction of the Blemmyes army (279-280).

In the reign of Diocletian the province of Lower Aegyptus (Thebais) was again occupied by the Blemmyes. In 298, Diocletian made peace with the Nobatae and Blemmyes tribes, agreeing that Rome move its borders north to Philae (South Egypt, south of Aswan) and pay the two tribes an annual gold stipend.[2]

Culture[edit]

Near East in 565 AD, showing Blemmyes and its neighbors.

The Blemmyes occupied a considerable region in current day Sudan. There were some important cities like Faras, Kalabsha, Ballana and Aniba, and they were all fortified with walls and towers of a mixture of Egyptian, Hellenic, Roman and Nubic elements.

Their culture had also the influence of the Meroitic culture. Blemmyes religion was centered in the temples of Kalabsha and Philae, the former being a huge masterpiece of Nubian architecture where a solar lion-like divinity named Mandulis was worshiped. Philae was a place of mass pilgrimage with temples for Isis, Mandulis and Anhur, and where the Roman Emperors Augustus and Trajan made many contributions with new temples, plazas and monumental works.

In literature[edit]

Shakespeare alludes to the myths surrounding Blemmyes as headless beings:

Headless blemmyes representing Avarice and Gluttony in a Gothic fresco (1511) from the nave at Dalbyneder Church, Denmark

"And of the Cannibals that each other eat,
The Anthropophagi, and men whose heads
Do grow beneath their shoulders."
-Shakespeare, Othello

"Who would believe that there were mountaineers
Dew-lapp'd like bulls, whose throats had hanging at 'em
Wallets of flesh? or that there were such men
Whose heads stood in their breasts?"
-Shakespeare, The Tempest

Blemmyes appeared in the 2000 novel The Amazing Voyage of Azzam by Kelly Godel, as cannibalistic tribesmen who guard a lost treasure of King Solomon. They use clubs, spears, and blow darts as weapons.

The Blemmyae also appear in Valerio Manfredi's novel The Tower, where they are portrayed as the murderous desert guardians of an ancient and terrible secret.

A Blemmye appears in Bruce Sterling's 2005 short story The Blemmye's Strategem.

The Blemmyae appear in The Monstrumologist (2009) in the young adult horror novel by Rick Yancey.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ History of Blemmyes and nomads in southern Egypt and Nubia, Saudi Aramco World, May/June 1998.
  2. ^ According to Diocletian#Conflict in the Balkans and Egypt version 23 September 2011.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

[2]