Kingdom of Kush

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Kingdom of Kush

Qes (Meroitic) [1]
c.1070 BC  c.350 AD
Kushite heartland and Kushite Empire of the 25th dynasty circa 700 BCE.jpg
Kushite heartland, and Kushite Empire of the Twenty-fifth Dynasty of Egypt, circa 700 BCE. [3]
Capital Napata, Meroë
Common languages Meroitic language, Nubian languages, Egyptian, [4] Cushitic [5]
Ancient Egyptian Religion
Historical era Iron Age to Late Antiquity
c.1070 BC 
 Capital moved to Meroe
591 BC
 c.350 AD
 Meroite phase [6]
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Blank.png New Kingdom of Egypt
Alodia Approximate extension of Alodia based on accounts of Ibn Hawqal.png
Nobatia Blank.png
Makuria The flag of the 'Kingdom of Dongola' (Makuria) in the "Book of all kingdoms" (C. 1350).png
Kingdom of Aksum Blank.png
Today part ofFlag of Sudan.svg  Sudan
Flag of Egypt.svg  Egypt

The Kingdom of Kush ( /kʊʃ,kʌʃ/ ; Egyptian: 𓎡𓄿𓈙𓈉 kꜣš, Assyrian: Rassam cylinder Ku-u-si.jpg Ku-u-si, in LXX Ancient Greek : Κυς and Κυσι; Coptic : ⲉϭⲱϣ; Hebrew : כּוּשׁ) was an ancient kingdom in Nubia, centered along the Nile Valley in what is now northern Sudan and southern Egypt.


The region of Nubia was an early cradle of civilization, producing several complex societies that engaged in trade and industry. [7] The city-state of Kerma emerged as the dominant political force between 2450 and 1450 BC, controlling the Nile Valley between the first and fourth cataracts, an area as large as Egypt. The Egyptians were the first to identify Kerma as “Kush" and over the next several centuries the two civilizations engaged in intermittent warfare, trade, and cultural exchange. [8]

Much of Nubia came under Egyptian rule during the New Kingdom period (1550-1070 BC). Following Egypt's disintegration amid the Late Bronze Age collapse, the Kushites reestablished a kingdom in Napata (now modern Karima, Sudan). Though Kush had developed many cultural affinities with Egypt, such as the veneration of Amun, and the royal families of both kingdoms often intermarried, Kushite culture was distinct; Egyptian art distinguished the people of Kush by their dress, appearance, and even method of transportation. [7]

King Kashta ("the Kushite") peacefully became King of Upper and Lower Egypt, while his daughter, Amenirdis, was appointed as Divine Adoratrice of Amun in Thebes. [9] :144–146 Piye invaded Egypt in the eighth century BC, establishing the Kushite-ruled Twenty-fifth Dynasty. Piye's daughter, Shepenupet II, was also appointed Divine Adoratrice of Amun. The monarchs of Kush ruled Egypt for over a century until the Assyrian conquest, finally being expelled by the Egyptian Psamtik I in the mid-seventh century BC. Following the severing of ties with Egypt, the Kushite imperial capital was located at Meroë, during which time it was known by the Greeks as Aethiopia. The Kingdom of Kush persisted as a major regional power until the fourth century AD when it weakened and disintegrated from internal rebellion. Meroë was captured and destroyed by the Kingdom of Aksum, marking the end of the kingdom and its dissolution into the three polities of Nobatia, Makuria and Alodia.

Long overshadowed by its more prominent Egyptian neighbor, [10] archaeological discoveries since the late 20th century have revealed Kush to be an advanced civilization in its own right. [10] The Kushites had their own unique language and script; maintained a complex economy based on trade and industry; mastered archery; and developed a complex, urban society with uniquely high levels of female participation. [10]


Kush in hieroglyphs
Kingdom of KushKingdom of KushKingdom of Kush
Kingdom of Kush


The native name of the Kingdom was recorded in Egyptian as k3š, likely pronounced [kuɫuʃ] or [kuʔuʃ] in Middle Egyptian, when the term was first used for Nubia, based on the New Kingdom-era Akkadian transliteration as the genitive kūsi. [11] [12] [13]

It is also an ethnic term for the native population who initiated the kingdom of Kush. The term is also displayed in the names of Kushite persons, [14] such as King Kashta (a transcription of k3š-t3 "(one from) the land of Kush"). Geographically, Kush referred to the region south of the first cataract in general. Kush also was the home of the rulers of the 25th Dynasty. [15]

The name Kush, since at least the time of Josephus, has been connected with the biblical character Cush, in the Hebrew Bible (Hebrew : כּוּשׁ), son of Ham (Genesis 10:6). Ham had four sons named: Cush, Put, Canaan, and Mizraim (Hebrew name for Egypt). According to the Bible, Nimrod, a son of Cush, was the founder and king of Babylon, Erech, Akkad and Calneh, in Shinar (Gen 10:10). [16] The Bible also makes reference to someone named Cush who is a Benjamite (Psalms 7:1, KJV). [17]

In Greek sources Kush was known as Kous (Κους) or Aethiopia (Αἰθιοπία). [18]


Kerma culture (2500-1500 BC)

Kerma culture
(c.2500 BC–c.1550 BC)
Wallpaper group-pmg-4.jpg
Kerma bowl, 1700-1550 BC. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Exposition Nubia, Land of the Black Pharaohs - Mirror. Kerma Period, 1700-1550 BC.jpg
Mirror. End of Kerma Period, 1700-1550 BC. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

The Kerma culture was an early civilization centered in Kerma, Sudan. It flourished from around 2500 BC to 1500 BC in ancient Nubia. The Kerma culture was based in the southern part of Nubia, or "Upper Nubia" (in parts of present-day northern and central Sudan), and later extended its reach northward into Lower Nubia and the border of Egypt. [19] The polity seems to have been one of several Nile Valley states during the Middle Kingdom of Egypt. In the Kingdom of Kerma's latest phase, lasting from about 1700–1500 BC, it absorbed the Sudanese kingdom of Sai and became a sizable, populous empire rivaling Egypt.

Egyptian Nubia (1500-1070 BC)

Mentuhotep II, the 21st century BC founder of the Middle Kingdom, is recorded to have undertaken campaigns against Kush in the 29th and 31st years of his reign. This is the earliest Egyptian reference to Kush; the Nubian region had gone by other names in the Old Kingdom. [20] Under Thutmose I, Egypt made several campaigns south. [21]

This eventually resulted in their annexation of Nubia c.1504 BC. Around 1500 BC, Nubia was absorbed into the New Kingdom of Egypt, but rebellions continued for centuries. After the conquest, Kerma culture was increasingly Egyptianized, yet rebellions continued for 220 years until c.1300 BC. Nubia nevertheless became a key province of the New Kingdom, economically, politically, and spiritually. Indeed, major pharaonic ceremonies were held at Jebel Barkal near Napata. [22] As an Egyptian colony from the 16th century BC, Nubia ("Kush") was governed by an Egyptian Viceroy of Kush.

Nubian Prince Heqanefer bringing tribute for King Tutankhamun, 18th dynasty, Tomb of Huy. Circa 1342 - c. 1325 BC Nubian Prince Hekanefer bringing tribute for King Tut, 18th dynasty, Tomb of Huy.jpg
Nubian Prince Heqanefer bringing tribute for King Tutankhamun, 18th dynasty, Tomb of Huy. Circa 1342 – c. 1325 BC
Counterweight for a necklace with three images of Hathor, Semna (1390-1352 BC), Egyptian Nubia. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Counterweight for a necklace with three images of Hathor. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (c)Hans Ollermann.jpg
Counterweight for a necklace with three images of Hathor, Semna (1390-1352 BC), Egyptian Nubia. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Resistance to the early eighteenth Dynasty Egyptian rule by neighboring Kush is evidenced in the writings of Ahmose, son of Ebana, an Egyptian warrior who served under Nebpehtrya Ahmose (1539-1514 BC), Djeserkara Amenhotep I (1514–1493 BC), and Aakheperkara Thutmose I (1493–1481 BC). At the end of the Second Intermediate Period (mid-sixteenth century BC), Egypt faced the twin existential threats—the Hyksos in the North and the Kushites in the South. Taken from the autobiographical inscriptions on the walls of his tomb-chapel, the Egyptians undertook campaigns to defeat Kush and conquer Nubia under the rule of Amenhotep I (1514–1493 BC). In Ahmose's writings, the Kushites are described as archers, "Now after his Majesty had slain the Bedoin of Asia, he sailed upstream to Upper Nubia to destroy the Nubian bowmen." [23] The tomb writings contain two other references to the Nubian bowmen of Kush. By 1200 BC, Egyptian involvement in the Dongola Reach was nonexistent.

Egypt's international prestige had declined considerably towards the end of the Third Intermediate Period. Its historical allies, the inhabitants of Canaan, had fallen to the Middle Assyrian Empire (1365-1020 BC), and then the resurgent Neo-Assyrian Empire (935–605 BC). The Assyrians, from the 10th century BC onwards, had once more expanded from northern Mesopotamia, and conquered a vast empire, including the whole of the Near East, and much of Anatolia, the eastern Mediterranean, the Caucasus and early Iron Age Iran.

Kingdom of Kush (1070 BC)

With the disintegration of the New Kingdom around 1070 BC, Kush became an independent kingdom centered at Napata in modern northern Sudan. [24] This more-Egyptianized "Kingdom of Kush" emerged, possibly from Kerma, and regained the region's independence from Egypt.

The extent of cultural/political continuity between the Kerma culture and the chronologically succeeding Kingdom of Kush is difficult to determine. The latter polity began to emerge around 1000 BC, 500 years after the end of the Kingdom of Kerma.

The Kushites buried their monarchs along with all their courtiers in mass graves. Archaeologists refer to these practices as the "Pan-grave culture". [25] This was given its name due to how the remains are buried. They would dig a pit and put stones around them in a circle. [26] Kushites also built burial mounds and pyramids, and shared some of the same gods worshiped in Egypt, especially Ammon and Isis. With the worshiping of these gods, the Kushites began to take some of the names of the gods as their throne names. [15]

The Kush rulers were regarded as guardians of the state religion and were responsible for maintaining the houses of the gods. Some scholars[ who? ] believe the economy in the Kingdom of Kush was a redistributive system. The state would collect taxes in the form of surplus produce and would redistribute to the people. Others believe that most of the society worked on the land and required nothing from the state and did not contribute to the state. Northern Kush seems to have been more productive and wealthier than the Southern area. [27]

Dental trait analysis of fossils dating from the Meroitic period in Semna, in northern Nubia near Egypt, found that they displayed traits similar to those of populations inhabiting the Nile, Horn of Africa, and Maghreb. Traits from mesolithic and southern Nubia around Meroe however indicated a closer affinity with other sub-Saharan dental records. It is indicative of a north-south gradient along the Nile river. [28]

Napatan period (750-542 BC)

Nubian conquest of Egypt (25th Dynasty)

Statues of various rulers of the late 25th Dynasty-early Napatan period: Tantamani, Taharqa (rear), Senkamanisken, again Tantamani (rear), Aspelta, Anlamani, again Senkamanisken. Kerma Museum. Rulers of Kush, Kerma Museum.jpg
Statues of various rulers of the late 25th Dynasty–early Napatan period: Tantamani, Taharqa (rear), Senkamanisken, again Tantamani (rear), Aspelta, Anlamani, again Senkamanisken. Kerma Museum.
Amun temple of Jebel Barkal, originally built during the Egyptian New Kingdom but greatly enhanced by Piye Temple Amon Napata elevation 2.jpg
Amun temple of Jebel Barkal, originally built during the Egyptian New Kingdom but greatly enhanced by Piye

By the 8th century BC, the new Kushite kingdom emerged from the Napata region of the upper Dongola Reach. The first Napatan king, Alara founded the Napatan, or 25th, Kushite dynasty at Napata in Nubia, now Sudan. Alara dedicated his sister to the cult of Amun at the rebuilt Kawa temple, while temples were also rebuilt at Barkal and Kerma. A Kashta stele at Elephantine, places the Kushites on the Egyptian frontier by the mid-eighteenth century. This first period of the kingdom's history, the 'Napatan', was succeeded by the 'Meroitic', when the royal cemeteries relocated to Meroë around 300 BC. [30]

Alara's successor Kashta extended Kushite control north to Elephantine and Thebes in Upper Egypt. Kashta's successor Piye seized control of Lower Egypt around 727 BC. [31] Piye's 'Victory Stela', celebrating these campaigns between 728-716 BC, was found in the Amun temple at Jebel Barkal. He invaded an Egypt fragmented into four kingdoms, ruled by King Peftjauawybast, King Nimlot, King Iuput II, and King Osorkon IV. [32] :115,120

Why the Kushites chose to enter Egypt at this crucial point of foreign domination is subject to debate. Archaeologist Timothy Kendall offers his own hypotheses, connecting it to a claim of legitimacy associated with Jebel Barkal. [33] Kendall cites the Victory Stele of Piye at Jebel Barkal, which states that "Amun of Napata granted me to be ruler of every foreign country," and "Amun in Thebes granted me to be ruler of the Black Land (Kmt)". According to Kendall, "foreign lands" in this regard seems to include Lower Egypt while "Kmt" seems to refer to a united Upper Egypt and Nubia. [33]

Piye's successor, Shabaqo, defeated the Saite kings of northern Egypt between 711-710 BC and installed himself as king in Memphis. He then established ties with Sargon II. [32] :120 Piye's son, Taharqa's army undertook successful military campaigns, as attested by the "list of conquered Asiatic principalities" from the Mut temple at Karnak and "conquered peoples and countries (Libyans, Shasu nomads, Phoenicians?, Khor in Palestine)" from Sanam temple inscriptions. [9] Imperial ambitions of the Mesopotamian based Assyrian Empire made war with the 25th dynasty inevitable. In 701 BC, Taharqa and his army aided Judah and King Hezekiah in withstanding a siege by King Sennacherib of the Assyrians (2 Kings 19:9; Isaiah 37:9). [34] There are various theories (Taharqa's army, [35] disease, divine intervention, Hezekiah's surrender) as to why the Assyrians failed to take the city and withdrew to Assyria. [36] Torok mentions that Egypt's army "was beaten at Eltekeh" under Taharqa's command, but "the battle could be interpreted as a victory for the double kingdom", since Assyria did not take Jerusalem and "retreated to Assyria." [9] :170

Pyramids of Nuri, built between the reigns of Taharqa (circa 670 BC) and Nastasen (circa 310 BC). Pyramids of Nuri (cropped).jpg
Pyramids of Nuri, built between the reigns of Taharqa (circa 670 BC) and Nastasen (circa 310 BC).

The power of the 25th Dynasty reached a climax under Taharqa. The Nile valley empire was as large as it had been since the New Kingdom. New prosperity [37] revived Egyptian culture. [38] Religion, the arts, and architecture were restored to their glorious Old, Middle, and New Kingdom forms. The Nubian pharaohs built or restored temples and monuments throughout the Nile valley, including Memphis, Karnak, Kawa, and Jebel Barkal. [39] [40] It was during the 25th dynasty that the Nile valley saw the first widespread construction of pyramids (many in modern Sudan) since the Middle Kingdom. [41] [42] [43] The Kushites developed their own script, the Meroitic alphabet, which was influenced by Egyptian writing systems c.700–600 BC, although it appears to have been wholly confined to the royal court and major temples. [44]

Assyrian conquest of Egypt

King Senkamanisken slaying enemies at Jebel Barkal. Senkamanisken slaying enemies at Jebel Barkal (detail).jpg
King Senkamanisken slaying enemies at Jebel Barkal.

Taharqa initially defeated the Assyrians when war broke out in 674 BC. Yet, in 671 BC, the Assyrian King Esarhaddon started the Assyrian conquest of Egypt, took Memphis, and Taharqo retreated to the south, while his heir and other family members were taken to Assyria as prisoners. However, the native Egyptian vassal rulers installed by Esarhaddon as puppets were unable to effectively retain full control, and Taharqa was able to regain control of Memphis. Esarhaddon's 669 BC campaign to once more eject Taharqa was abandoned when Esarhaddon died in Palestine on the way to Egypt. Yet, Esarhaddon's successor, Ashurbanipal, did defeat Taharqa, and Taharqa died soon after in 664 BCE. [32] :121

Taharqa's successor, Tantamani sailed north from Napata, through Elephantine, and to Thebes with a large army to Thebes, where he was "ritually installed as the king of Egypt." [9] :185 From Thebes, Tantamani began his reconquest [9] :185 and regained control of Egypt, as far north as Memphis. [46] Tantamani's dream stele states that he restored order from the chaos, where royal temples and cults were not being maintained. [9] :185 After defeating Sais and killing Assyria's vassal, Necho I, in Memphis, "some local dynasts formally surrendered, while others withdrew to their fortresses." [9] :185 Tantamani proceeded north of Memphis, invading Lower Egypt and, besieged cities in the Delta, a number of which surrendered to him.[ citation needed ] The Assyrians, who had a military presence in the Levant, then sent a large army southwards in 663 BC. Tantamani was routed, and the Assyrian army sacked Thebes to such an extent it never truly recovered. Tantamani was chased back to Nubia, but his control over Upper Egypt endured until c. 656 BC. At this date, a native Egyptian ruler, Psamtik I son of Necho, placed on the throne as a vassal of Ashurbanipal, took control of Thebes. [37] [47] The last links between Kush and Upper Egypt were severed after hostilities with the Saite kings in the 590s BC. [32] :121–122

The Kushites used the animal-driven water wheel to increase productivity and create a surplus, particularly during the Napatan-Meroitic Kingdom. [48]

Achaemenid period

Kushite delegation on a Persian relief from the Apadana palace (c. 500 BC) Reliefs in Persepolis ngrh hy tkht jmshyd 05.jpg
Kushite delegation on a Persian relief from the Apadana palace (c.500 BC)

Herodotus mentioned an invasion of Kush by the Achaemenid ruler Cambyses (c.530 BC). By some accounts Cambyses succeeded in occupying the area between the first and second Nile cataract, [49] however Herodotus mentions that "his expedition failed miserably in the desert." [46] :65–66 Achaemenid inscriptions from both Egypt and Iran include Kush as part of the Achaemenid empire. [50] For example, the DNa inscription of Darius I (r. 522–486 BC) on his tomb at Naqsh-e Rustam mentions Kūšīyā (Old Persian cuneiform: 𐎤𐎢𐏁𐎡𐎹𐎠, pronounced Kūshīyā) among the territories being "ruled over" by the Achaemenid Empire. [51] [50] Derek Welsby states "scholars have doubted that this Persian expedition ever took place, but... archaeological evidence suggests that the fortress of Dorginarti near the second cataract served as Persia's southern boundary." [46] :65–66

Meroitic period (542 BC-4th century AD)

Kushite civilization continued for several centuries. According to Welsby, "throughout the Saite, Persian, Ptolemaic, and Roman periods, the Kushite rulers - the descendants of the XXVth Dynasty pharaohs, and the guardians of the Temple of Amun at Jebel Barkal [52] - could have pressed their 'legitimate' claim for control of Egypt and they thus posed a potential threat to the rulers of Egypt." [46] :66–67 Aspelta moved the capital to Meroë, considerably farther south than Napata, possibly c. 591 BC, [53] just after the sack of Napata by Psamtik II. Martin Meredith states the Kushite rulers chose Meroë, between the Fifth and Sixth Cataracts, because it was on the fringe of the summer rainfall belt, and the area was rich in iron ore and hardwood for iron working. The location also afforded access to trade routes to the Red Sea. The Kush traded iron products with the Romans, in addition to gold, ivory and slaves. Yet, the Butana plain was stripped of its forests, leaving behind slag piles. [54] [55]

Jewelry found on the Mummy of Nubian King Amaninatakilebte (538-519 BCE), Nuri pyramid 10. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Jewelry found on the Mummy of Nubian King AMANINATAKILEBTE (538-519 BC). Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.jpg
Jewelry found on the Mummy of Nubian King Amaninatakilebte (538-519 BCE), Nuri pyramid 10. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Gold flower shaped diadem, found in the Pyramid of King Talakhamani (435-431 BCE), Nuri pyramid 16. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Gold flower shaped Diadem, found in te Pyramid of King Talakhamani (435-431 B.C.).jpg
Gold flower shaped diadem, found in the Pyramid of King Talakhamani (435–431 BCE), Nuri pyramid 16. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

In about 300 BC the move to Meroë was made more complete when the monarchs began to be buried there, instead of at Napata. One theory is that this represents the monarchs breaking away from the power of the priests at Napata. According to Diodorus Siculus, a Kushite king, "Ergamenes", defied the priests and had them slaughtered. This story may refer to the first ruler to be buried at Meroë with a similar name such as Arqamani, [56] who ruled many years after the royal cemetery was opened at Meroë. During this same period, the Kushite authority may have extended some 1,500 km along the Nile River valley from the Egyptian frontier in the north to areas far south of modern Khartoum and probably also substantial territories to the east and west. [57]

Ptolemaic period

There is no record of conflict between the Kushites and Ptolemies. However, there was a serious revolt at the end of Ptolemy IV and the Kushites likely tried to interfere in Ptolemaic affairs. [46] :67 It's suggested that this led to Ptolemy V defacing the name of Arqamani on inscriptions at Philae. [46] :67 "Arqamani constructed a small entrance hall to the temple built by Ptolemy IV at selchis and constructed a temple at Philae to which Ptolemy contributed an entrance hall." [46] :66 There's evidence of Ptolemaic occupation as far south as the 2nd cataract, but recent finds at Qasr Ibrim, such as "the total absence of Ptolemaic pottery" have cast doubts on the effectiveness of the occupation. [46] :67 Dynastic struggles led to the Ptolemies abandoning the area, so "the Kushites reasserted their control...with Qasr Ibrim occupied" (by the Kushites) and other locations perhaps garrisoned. [46] :67

Roman period

According to Welsby, after the Romans assumed control of Egypt, they negotiated with the Kushites at Philae and drew the southern border of Roman Egypt at Aswan. [46] :67 Theodor Mommsen and Welsby state the Kingdom of Kush became a client Kingdom, which was similar to the situation under Ptolemaic rule of Egypt. Kushite ambition and excessive Roman taxation are two theories for a revolt that was supported by Kushite armies. [46] :67–68 The ancient historians, Strabo and Pliny, give accounts of the conflict with Roman Egypt.

Meroitic prince smiting his enemies (early first century AD) Prince Arikankharer Slaying His Enemies, Meroitic, beginning of first century AD, sandstone - Worcester Art Museum - IMG 7535.JPG
Meroitic prince smiting his enemies (early first century AD)

Strabo describes a war with the Romans in the first century BC. According to Strabo, the Kushites "sacked Aswan with an army of 30,000 men and destroyed imperial Philae." [46] :68 a "fine over-life-size bronze head of the emperor Augustus" was found buried in Meroe in front of a temple. [46] :68 After the initial victories of Kandake (or "Candace") Amanirenas against Roman Egypt, the Kushites were defeated and Napata sacked. [58] Remarkably, the destruction of the capital of Napata was not a crippling blow to the Kushites and did not frighten Candace enough to prevent her from again engaging in combat with the Roman military. In 22 BC, a large Kushite force moved northward with intention of attacking Qasr Ibrim. [59] :149

Alerted to the advance, Petronius again marched south and managed to reach Qasr Ibrim and bolster its defenses before the invading Kushites arrived. Welsby states after a Kushite attack on Primis (Qasr Ibrim), [46] :69–70 the Kushites sent ambassadors to negotiate a peace settlement with Petronius. The Kushites succeeded in negotiating a peace treaty on favorable terms. [58] Trade between the two nations increased [59] :149 and the Roman Egyptian border being extended to "Hiera Sykaminos (Maharraqa)." [46] :70 This arrangement "guaranteed peace for most of the next 300 years" and there's "no definite evidence of further clashes." [46] :70

It is possible that the Roman emperor Nero planned another attempt to conquer Kush before his death in AD 68. [59] :150–151 Nero sent two centurions upriver as far as Bahr el Ghazal River in 66 AD in an attempt to discover the source of the Nile, per Senecas, [54] :43 or plan an attack, per Pliny. Kush began to fade as a power by the 1st or 2nd century AD, sapped by the war with the Roman province of Egypt and the decline of its traditional industries. [60] However, there is evidence of 3rd century AD Kushite Kings at Philae in demotic and inscription. [46] :71 It's been suggested that the Kushites reoccupied lower Nubia after Roman forces were withdrawn to Aswan. Kushite activities led others to note "a de facto Kushite control of that area (as far north as Philae) for part of the 3rd century AD. [46] :71 Thereafter, it weakened and disintegrated due to internal rebellion[ citation needed ]. The seat was eventually captured and burnt to the ground by the Kingdom of Aksum.[ citation needed ] Christianity began to gain over the old pharaonic religion and by the mid-sixth century AD the Kingdom of Kush was dissolved. [27]

Language and writing

Meroitic ostracon Meroitische Inschrift, Meroe 1. Jh. n. Chr., Aegyptisches Museum, Muenchen-1.jpg
Meroitic ostracon

The Meroitic language was spoken in Meroë and Sudan during the Meroitic period (attested from 300 BC). It became extinct about 400 AD. It is uncertain to which language family the Meroitic language is related. Kirsty Rowan suggests that Meroitic, like the Egyptian language, belongs to the Afro-Asiatic family. She bases this on its sound inventory and phonotactics, which she argues are similar to those of the Afro-Asiatic languages and dissimilar from those of the Nilo-Saharan languages. [61] [62] Claude Rilly proposes that Meroitic, like the Nobiin language, belongs to the Eastern Sudanic branch of the Nilo-Saharan family, based in part on its syntax, morphology, and known vocabulary. [63] [64] [65]

In the Napatan Period Egyptian hieroglyphs were used: at this time writing seems to have been restricted to the court and temples. From the 2nd century BC, there was a separate Meroitic writing system. The language was written in two forms of the Meroitic alphabet: Meroitic Cursive, which was written with a stylus and was used for general record-keeping; and Meroitic Hieroglyphic, which was carved in stone or used for royal or religious documents. It is not well understood due to the scarcity of bilingual texts. The earliest inscription in Meroitic writing dates from between 180–170 BC. These hieroglyphics were found engraved on the temple of Queen Shanakdakhete. Meroitic Cursive is written horizontally, and reads from right to left like all Semitic orthographies. [66] This was an alphabetic script with 23 signs used in a hieroglyphic form (mainly on monumental art) and in a cursive form. The latter was widely used; so far some 1278 texts using this version are known (Leclant 2000). The script was deciphered by Griffith, but the language behind it is still a problem, with only a few words understood by modern scholars. It is not as yet possible to connect the Meroitic language with other known languages. [44] For a time, it was also possibly used to write the Old Nubian language of the successor Nubian kingdoms. [67]

Technology, medicine, and mathematics


The natives of the Kingdom of Kush developed the Sakia which was called Kolē in the Kingdom. [68] The Sakia was developed during the Meroitic period to improve irrigation. The introduction of this machine had a decisive influence on agriculture especially in Dongola as this wheel lifted water 3 to 8 meters with much less expenditure of labor and time than the Shaduf, which was the previous chief irrigation device in the Kingdom. The Shaduf relied on human energy but the Sakia was driven by buffalos or other animals. [68] The people of Kerma, ancestors to the Kushites, built bronze kilns through which they manufactured objects of daily use such as razors, mirrors and tweezers. [69]

The "Great Hafir" at Musawwarat es-Sufra. This artificial reservoir was built to retain the rainfall of the short, wet season. It is 250 m in diameter and 6.3 m deep. Der grosse Hafir von Musawwarat fungiert jetzt als Tranke fur die Tiere und Herden in der Region.jpg
The "Great Hafir" at Musawwarat es-Sufra. This artificial reservoir was built to retain the rainfall of the short, wet season. It is 250 m in diameter and 6.3 m deep.

The Kushites invented reservoirs in the form of the Hafir, during the Meroitic period. 800 ancient and modern hafirs have been registered in the Meroitic town of Butana. [71] The functions of Hafirs were to catch water during the rainy season for storage, to ensure water is available for several months during the dry season as well as supply drinking water, irrigate fields, and water cattle. [71] The Great Reservoir near the Lion Temple in Musawwarat es-Sufra is a notable hafir built by the Kushites. [70] [71]

Bloomeries and blast furnaces could have been used in metalworking at Meroë. [72] Early records of bloomery furnaces dated at least to 7th and 6th century BC have been discovered in Kush. It is known that the ancient bloomeries that produced metal tools for the Kushites produced a surplus for sale. [73] [74] [75]


Nubian mummies studied in the 1990s revealed that Kush was a pioneer of early antibiotics. [76] Tetracycline was being used by Nubians, based on bone remains between 350 AD and 550 AD. The antibiotic was in wide commercial use only in the mid 20th century. The theory states that earthen jars containing grain used for making beer contained the bacterium streptomycedes, which produced tetracycline. Although Nubians were not aware of tetracycline, they could have noticed that people fared better by drinking beer. According to Charlie Bamforth, a professor of biochemistry and brewing science at the University of California, Davis, he said "They must have consumed it because it was rather tastier than the grain from which it was derived. They would have noticed people fared better by consuming this product than they were just consuming the grain itself." [77]


Based on engraved plans of Meroitic King Amanikhabali's pyramids, Nubians had a sophisticated understanding of mathematics as they appreciated the harmonic ratio. The engraved plans is indicative of much to be revealed about Nubian mathematics. [78] The ancient Nubians also established a system of geometry which they used in creating early versions of sun clocks. [79] [80] During the Meroitic period in Nubian history, the Nubians used a trigonometric methodology similar to the Egyptians. [81]


During the siege of Hermopolis in the 8th century BC, siege towers were built for the Kushite army led by Piye, in order to enhance the efficiency of Kushite archers and slingers. [82] After leaving Thebes, Piye's first objective was besieging Ashmunein. He gathered his army after their lack of success so far, and undertook the personal supervision of operations including the erection of a siege tower from which Kushite archers could fire down into the city. [83] Early shelters protecting sappers armed with poles trying to breach mud-brick ramparts gave way to Battering rams [82]

Bowmen were the most important force components in the Kushite military. [84] Ancient sources indicate that Kushite archers favored one-piece bows that were between six to seven feet long, with so powerful a draw strength that many of the archers used their feet to bend their bows. However, composite bows were also used in their arsenal. [84] Greek historian, Herodotus indicated that primary bow construction was of seasoned palm wood, with arrows made of cane. [84] Kushite arrows were often poisoned-tipped. [85] Elephants were occasionally used in warfare during the Meroitic period as seen in the war against Rome around 20 BC. [85]


The pyramids of Meroe - UNESCO World Heritage. Sudan Meroe Pyramids 30sep2005 2.jpg
The pyramids of Meroe – UNESCO World Heritage.

During the Bronze age, Nubian ancestors of the Kingdom of Kush built speoi (a speos is a temple or tomb cut into a rock face) between 3700 to 3250 BCE. This greatly influenced the architecture of the New kingdom. [87] Tomb monuments were one of the more recognizable expressions of Kushite architecture. Uniquely Kushite tomb monuments were found from the beginning of the empire, at el Kurru, to the decline of the Kingdom. These monuments developed organically from Middle Nile (e.g. A-group) burial types. Tombs became progressively larger during the 25th dynasty, culminating in Taharqa's underground rectangular building with "aisles of square piers...the whole being cut from the living rock." [46] :103 Kushites also created pyramids, [88] [89] mud-brick temples (deffufa), and masonry temples. [90] [91] Kushites borrowed much from Egypt, as it relates to temple design. Kushite temples were quite diverse in their plans, except for the Amun temples which all have the same basic plan. [46] :118 The Jebel Barkal and Meroe Amun temples are exceptions with the 150m long Jebel Barkal being "by far the largest 'Egyptian' temple ever built in Nubia." [46] :118 Temples for major Egyptian deities were built on "a system of internal harmonic proportions" based on "one or more rectangles each with sides in the ratio of 8:5" [46] :133 [92] Kush also invented Nubian vaults.

Piye is thought to have constructed the first true pyramid at el Kurru. Pyramids are "the archetypal tomb monument of the Kushite royal family" and found at "el Kurru, Nuri, Jebel Barkal, and Meroe." [46] :105 The Kushite pyramids are smaller with steeper sides than northern Egyptian pyramids. The Kushites are thought to have copied the pyramids of New Kingdom elites, as opposed to Old and Middle Kingdom pharaohs. [46] :105–106 Kushite housing consisted mostly of circular timber huts with some apartment houses with several two-room apartments. The apartment houses likely accommodated extended families.

The Kushites built a stone-paved road at Jebel Barkal, are thought to have built piers/harbors on the Nile river, and many wells. [93]

Kush and Egyptology

On account of the Kingdom of Kush's proximity to Ancient Egypt — the first cataract at Elephantine usually being considered the traditional border between the two polities — and because the 25th dynasty ruled over both states in the 8th century BC, from the Rift Valley to the Taurus mountains, historians have closely associated the study of Kush with Egyptology, in keeping with the general assumption that the complex sociopolitical development of Egypt's neighbors can be understood in terms of Egyptian models. [94] As a result, the political structure and organization of Kush as an independent ancient state has not received as thorough attention from scholars, and there remains much ambiguity especially surrounding the earliest periods of the state. Edwards [94] has suggested that the study of the region could benefit from increased recognition of Kush as a state in its own right, with distinct cultural conditions, rather than merely as a secondary state on the periphery of Egypt.

Kushite images

See also

Related Research Articles

Taharqa Egyptian Pharaoh

Taharqa, also spelled Taharka or Taharqo, was a pharaoh of the Twenty-fifth Dynasty of Egypt and qore (king) of the Kingdom of Kush, from 690 to 664 BC. He was one of the "Black Pharaohs" who ruled over Egypt for nearly a century.

Meroë Ancient city along the eastern bank of the Nile River in Northern Sudan

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.

Nubian pyramids

Nubian pyramids are pyramids that were built by the rulers of the ancient Kushite kingdoms. The area of the Nile valley known as Nubia, which lies within the north of present-day Sudan, was home to three Kushite kingdoms during antiquity. The first had its capital at Kerma. The second was centered on Napata. Finally, the last kingdom was centered on Meroë. They are built of granite and sandstone. The pyramids were partially demolished by Italian treasure hunter Giuseppe Ferlini in the 1830s.

Third Intermediate Period of Egypt

The Third Intermediate Period of ancient Egypt began with the death of Pharaoh Ramesses XI in 1070 BC, which ended the New Kingdom, and was eventually followed by the Late Period. Various points are offered as the beginning for the latter era, though it is most often regarded as dating from the foundation of the Twenty-Sixth Dynasty by Psamtik I in 664 BC, following the expulsion of the Nubian Kushite rulers of the Twenty-fifth Dynasty by the Assyrians under King Assurbanipal. The concept of a "Third Intermediate Period" was coined in 1978 by British Egyptologist Kenneth Kitchen.

Jebel Barkal

Jebel Barkal or Gebel Barkal is a very small mountain located some 400 km north of Khartoum, in Karima town in Northern State in Sudan, on a large bend of the Nile River, in the region called Nubia. The mountain is 98 m tall, has a flat top, and apparently was used as a landmark by the traders in the important route between central Africa, Arabia, and Egypt, as the point where it was easier to cross the great river. In 2003, the mountain, together with the historical city of Napata, were named World Heritage Sites by UNESCO. The Jebel Barkal area houses the Jebel Barkal Museum. The Jebel Barkal pyramids are one example of Nubian pyramids.


Napata was a city of ancient Kush at the fourth cataract of the Nile. It is located approximately 1.5 kilometers from the right side of the river at the site of modern Karima, Sudan. It was the southernmost permanent settlement in the New Kingdom of Egypt and home to Jebel Barkal, the main Kushite cult centre of Amun. It was the sometime capital of the Twenty-fifth Dynasty of Egypt and, after its fall in 663 BC, of the Kingdom of Kush. In 593 BC, it was sacked by the Egyptians and the Kushite capital was relocated to Meroë. Even after this move, Napata continued to be the kingdom's primary religious centre. The city was sacked a second time by the Romans in 23 BC but was rebuilt and continued as an important centre of the Amun cult.

Kashta Kushite King of Napata

Kashta was an 8th century BC king of the Kushite Dynasty in ancient Nubia and the successor of Alara. His nomen k3š-t3 "of the land of Kush" is often translated directly as "The Kushite". He was succeeded by Piye, who would go on to conquer ancient Egypt and establish the Twenty-Fifth Dynasty there.

Alara of Kush Kushite King of Napata

Alara was a King of Kush, who is generally regarded as the founder of the Napatan royal dynasty by his 25th Dynasty Kushite successors and was the first recorded prince of Kush. He unified all of Upper Nubia from Meroë to the Third Cataract and is possibly attested at the Temple of Amun at Kawa. Alara also established Napata as the religious capital of Kush. Alara himself was not a 25th dynasty Kushite king since he never controlled any region of Egypt during his reign compared to his two immediate successors: Kashta and Piye respectively. Nubian literature credits him with a substantial reign since future Nubian kings requested that they might enjoy a reign as long as Alara's. His memory was also central to the origin myth of the Kushite kingdom, which was embellished with new elements over time. Alara was a deeply revered figure in Nubian culture and the first Kushite king whose name came down to scholars.

National Museum of Sudan

The National Museum of Sudan or Sudan National Museum, abbreviated SNM, is a double storied building constructed in 1955 and established as a museum in 1971. The building and its surrounding gardens house the largest and most comprehensive Nubian archaeological collection in the world including objects from the Paleolithic through to the Islamic period originating from every site of importance in the Sudan.

Senkamanisken was a Kushite King who ruled from 640 to 620 BC at Napata. He used royal titles based on those of the ancient Egyptian pharaohs.

Atlanersa Kushite king of the Napatan kingdom of Nubia in the 7th century BC

Atlanersa was a Kushite ruler of the Napatan kingdom of Nubia, reigning for about a decade in the mid-7th century BC. He was the successor of Tantamani, the last ruler of the 25th Dynasty of Egypt, and possibly a son of Taharqa or less likely of Tantamani, while his mother was a queen whose name is only partially preserved. Atlanersa's reign immediately followed the collapse of Nubian control over Egypt, which witnessed the Assyrian conquest of Egypt and then the beginning of the Late Period under Psamtik I. The same period also saw the progressive cultural integration of Egyptian beliefs by the Kushite civilization.

Amanitore Queen of Kush

Amanitore was a Nubian Kandake, or queen regnant, of the ancient Kushitic Kingdom of Meroë, which also is referred to as Nubia in many ancient sources. Alternative spellings include Candace and Kentake. In Egyptian hieroglyphics the throne name of Amanitore reads as Merkare. Many Kandakes are described as warrior-queens who led forces in battle.

Nubia Region along the Nile river, which is located in northern Sudan and southern Egypt

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. 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.

Abar (Queen) Queen consort of Nubia and Egypt

Abar was a Nubian queen of the Kingdom of Kush dated to the Twenty-fifth Dynasty of Egypt. She is known from a series of stela found in Sudan and Egypt. Her appearances mark her as the niece of King Alara of Nubia, the wife of King Piye and the mother of King Taharqa.

Twenty-fifth Dynasty of Egypt Ethiopian period of Ancient Egypt

The Twenty-fifth Dynasty of Egypt, also known as the Nubian Dynasty or the Kushite Empire, was the last dynasty of the Third Intermediate Period of Egypt that occurred after the Nubian invasion.

Roman relations with Nubia

Between the Roman Empire and Nubia, the land immediately south of Egypt, there was a relationship and interaction that lasted seven centuries, from the first century BC to the seventh century AD.

Temple of Amun, Jebel Barkal

The Temple of Amun is an archaeological site at Jebel Barkal in Northern State, Sudan. It is situated about 400 kilometres (250 mi) north of Khartoum near Karima. The temple stands near a large bend of the Nile River, in the region that was called Nubia in ancient times. The Temple of Amun, one of the largest temples at Jebel Barkal, is considered sacred to the local population. Not only was the Amun temple a main centre of what at one time was considered to be an almost universal religion, but, along with the other archaeological sites at Jebel Barkal, it was representative of the revival of Egyptian religious values. Up to the middle of the 19th century, the temple was subjected to vandalism, destruction, and indiscriminate plundering, before it came under state protection.

Sack of Thebes Assyrian plunder of Kushite Thebes

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.

Military of ancient Nubia

Nubia is a region along the Nile river encompassing the area between the first cataract of the Nile as well as the confluence of the blue and white Niles or, more strictly, Al Dabbah. Nubia was the seat of several civilizations of ancient Africa, including the Kerma culture, the kingdom of Kush, Nobatia, Makuria and Alodia.


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Further reading