Africa in 400 BC

The Kingdom of Kush in 400 BCE.

The Kingdom of Kush or Cush was an ancient African state centered on the confluences of the Blue Nile, White Nile and River Atbara in what is now the Republic of Sudan. It was one of the earliest civilizations to develop in the Nile River Valley. Having also been referred to as Nubia, and as "Ethiopia" in ancient Greek and Greco-Roman records, the Kushites left their mark on various aspects of the ancient world and their legacy is still readily discernible from the various archaeological field sites scattered throughout modern Sudan.


The Kingdom of Kush was established circa 1070 BCE.[1] The first cultures arose in Sudan before the time of a unified Egypt. The earliest signs of which show a continuity in developing Nile valley cultures comes from the Khartoum Neolithic, where we see the beginnings of food production in the region.[2] As these centers evolved, local societies began to amalgamate into confederations, depending on different strategies distinct from earlier semi-nomadic lifestyles[3]. One such polity, called the "A-group" emerged in lower Sudan around 3800 BCE, and were contemporaneous with the pre-dynastic Naqada people of upper Egypt, sharing an almost identical culture.[4] After the demise of the A-group, archaeological evidence attesting to permanent settlements is scant. The culture called the "C-group", who founded the Kingdom of Kush began to appear consistently in Egyptian accounts and the archaeological record. It is through Egyptian, Hebrew, and Greco-Roman records that most of our knowledge of Kush comes.

The Egyptians took control of Kush in ca. 1520 BCE, but their grip on the area would decline over the next five hundred years, until the Kushites became independent. The Kushites buried their monarchs along with all their courtiers in mass graves. Archaeologists refer to these practices as the "Pan-grave culture".[5] The Kushites also built burial mounds and pyramids, and shared some of the same gods worshiped in Egypt, especially Amun and Isis. Curiously, during Egypt's expansion into Kushite territory during the New Kingdom, upon discovering the site at Gebel-Barkal the Egyptians believed they had found the remnants of an ancient Egyptian kingship and culture as well as the origin of Amun and the Hedjet (or "white crown").[6]

25th Dynasty of Egypt

In Ancient Egypt, Libyan princes had taken control of the delta under Shoshenq I in 945 BCE, founding the so-called Libyan or Bubastite dynasty that would rule for some 200 years. Sheshonq also gained control of southern Egypt by placing his family members in important priestly positions. However, Libyan control began to erode as a rival dynasty in the delta arose in Leontopolis, and Kushites threatened from the south. Around 727 BCE the Kushite king Piye invaded northward, seizing control of Thebes and eventually the Delta.[7]. His dynasty, the Twenty-fifth dynasty of Egypt, continued until about 653 BCE. The 25th dynasty was based at Napata, in what is now Sudan. Alara is universally regarded as the founder of the 25th Kushite dynasty by his successors. The power of the 25th Dynasty reached a climax under the pharaohs Piye and Taharka.

Pharaoh Taharka spent half his time as ruler of Egypt restoring its earlier cultural achievements while also fending off Assyrian power in the east. In 674, he defeated an invading Assyrian army under the leadership of Esarhaddon. Three years later, he would be defeated in three battles that would force Kush out of Egypt altogether. Why the Kushites chose to enter Egypt at this crucial point of foreign domination is subject to debate. Archaeologist Timmothy Kendall offers his own hypotheses, connecting it to a claim of legitimacy associated with Gebel Barkal.[8] Kendall cites the stele of Pharaoh Piye, 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)". Noteworthy is that 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.[9]

Move to Meroë

It is clear from various historical records that Aspelta's successors moved their capital to Meroë, considerably farther south than Napata. The exact date this change was made is uncertain but some historians believe it was during Aspelta's reign, in response to the Egyptian invasion of Lower Nubia. One reason for the move is that Napata was militarily strategic and lacked natural defenses. Napata was located at the narrowest crossing point on the Nile and was largely a temple and market city.

Other historians believe it was the attraction of iron working that drove the Kushites to move their capital south to Meroë where, unlike at Napata, there were large forests that could fire the blast furnaces. The arrival of Greek merchants throughout the region also meant that Kush was no longer dependent on trade along the Nile. Instead, it could export its goods to the Red Sea and the Greek trading colonies there. The Kushites used the animal-driven water wheel to increase productivity and create a surplus. Particularly during the Napatan-Meroitic Kingdom.[10]

No royal residence has been found north of Meroë and it is possible Napata had always been the religious centre of the Kushite empire, but was never fortified. However, Napata clearly remained an important center, with the kings and candaces being crowned and buried there for many centuries, even when they lived at Meroë.

In about 300 BCE 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. Diodorus Siculus tells a story about a Meroitic ruler named Ergamenes who was ordered by the priests to kill himself, but broke tradition and had the priests executed instead. Ergamenes may refer to Arrakkamani, the first ruler to be buried at Meroë or to a similar hame such as Arqamani,[11] who ruled many years after the royal cemetery was opened at Meroë. Another theory is that the capital had always been based at Meroë. During this same period, 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.[12]

Kushite civilisation continued for several centuries. In the Napatan Period Egyptian hieroglyphs were used: at this time writing seems to have been restricted to the court and temples.[13] From the second century BCE there was a separate Meroitic writing system.[13] This was an alphabetic script with twenty-three signs used in a hieroglyphic form (mainly on monumental art) and in a cursive form.[13] 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.[13] It is not as yet possible to connect the Meroitic language with other known languages.[13]

Strabo describes a war with the Romans in the first century BCE. After the initial victories of Candace Amanirenas against Roman Egypt, the Kushites were defeated and Napata sacked.[14] The Kushites succeeded in negotiating a peace treaty on favourable terms.

In 70 CE, the ruler of the Kushite Empire was named Amanikhatashan. Kushite cavalry aided the Romans in the capture of Jerusalem during the Great Jewish Revolt at this time.

The kingdom of Kush began to fade as a power by the first or second century CE, sapped by the war with the Roman province of Egypt and the decline of its traditional industries.[15]

In the Bible

The name given this civilization comes from the Old Testament where Cush (Hebrew: כוש) was one of the sons of Ham (Genesis 10:6) who settled in Northeast Africa. In the Bible and at different times in the ancient world, a large region covering northern Sudan, modern day southern Egypt, and parts of Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Somalia was known as "Cush". The Hebrew Bible refers to "Cush" on a number of occasions, though various English translations translate this as "Nubian", "Ethiopia", "Sudan", and "Cushite" (Unseth 1999). Moses' wife, Tzipporah, is described as a Kushite in the Book of Numbers 12:1. Some contend that this Cush was in southern Arabia. (See Biblical Cush for a full discussion). All of this is complicated by the fact that the Septuagint translated "Cush" as "Aethiopia", leading to the misleading conclusion that "Cush" should be equated with the borders of present day "Ethiopia".


  1. Morkot, Roger G. "On the Priestly Origin of the Napatan Kings: The Adaptation, Demise and Resurrection of Ideas in Writing Nubian History" in O'Connor, David and Andrew Reid, eds. Ancient Egypt in Africa (Encounters with Ancient Egypt) (University College London Institute of Archaeology Publications) Left Coast Press (1 Aug 2003) ISBN: 978-1598742053 p.151
  2. Trigger B., Kemp B. "Ancient Egypt: a social history", pp. 41
  3. "Early Chiefdoms in Sudan: Nubian, Punite, and Libyan". Ancient Sudan.
  5. Pan Grave Culture - By K. Kris Hirst
  6. H. Kushite Resurgence: The Nubian Conquest of Egypt: 1080-650 BC. - Nubianet
  7. Shaw (2002) p. 345
  8. Kendall, T.K., 2002. Napatan Temples: a Case Study from Gebel Barkal. The Mythological Nubian Origin of Egyptian Kingship and the Formation of the Napatan State. Tenth International Conference of Nubian Studies. Rome, September 9–14, 2002.
  9. Ibid
  10. William Y. Adams, Nubia: Corridor to Africa (Princeton University Press, 1977) 346-7, and William Y. Adams,
  11. Fage, J. D.: Roland Anthony Oliver (1979) The Cambridge History of Africa, Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-21592-7 p. 228 [1]
  12. Edwards, page 141
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 13.4 Meroitic script
  14. Arthur E. Robinson, "The Arab Dynasty of Dar For (Darfur): Part II", Journal of the Royal African Society (Lond). XXVIII: 55-67 (October, 1928_
  15. The Story of Africa| BBC World Service


  • Edwards, David N. (2004). The Nubian Past. London: Routledge. pp. 348 Pages. ISBN 0-41536-987-8. 
  • Leclant, Jean (2004). The empire of Kush: Napata and Meroe. London: UNESCO. pp. 1912 Pages. ISBN 1-57958-245-1. 
  • Oliver, Roland (1978). The Cambridge history of Africa. Vol. 2, From c. 500 BC to AD 1050. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 858 Pages. ISBN 0-52121-592-3. 
  • Oliver, Roland (1975). The Cambridge History of Africa Volume 3 1050 – c. 1600. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 816 Pages. ISBN 0-52120-981-1. 
  • Shillington, Kevin (2004). Encyclopedia of African History, Vol. 1. London: Routledge. pp. 1912 Pages. ISBN 1-57958-245-1. 
  • Török, László (1998). The Kingdom of Kush: Handbook of the Napatan-Meriotic Civilization. Leiden: BRILL. pp. 589 Pages. ISBN 9-00410-448-8. 

External links

This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Kingdom of Kush. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

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