But this approach ignores the emergence further south on the Nile of the kingdom known to the Egyptians as Kush, in the region called Nubia – the area now covered by southern Egypt and Northern Sudan.
The relationship between Egypt and Kush was a complex one, which changed depending on the political and economic climate of the time.
“Nubia was the meeting place of the Mediterranean and African civilisation. The relationship between Egypt and upper Nubia was completely different from time to time and period to period. If the Egyptian king’s power is widespread it catches everything under its control and Nubia comes under Egyptian authority, but if it is weak, then upper Nubia is ruled by itself.”
Osama Abdel Meguid, Director of the Nubian Museum in Aswan.
KERMA AND NAPATA
The Kushites were first based in Kerma, and then at Napata – both towns in what is now northern Sudan.
Kerma was an advanced society and archaeological evidence shows that ceramics were being produced by 8,000 BC – earlier than in Egypt. By about 1700 BC, the town had grown into a town of 10,000 people with a complex hierarchical society.
Egypt could not ignore its southern neighbour although its interest was predominantly economic. Nubia was rich with minerals such as stones needed for the building of temples and tombs, and gold, needed for jewelry. Indeed Kush was one of the major gold producers of the ancient world.
At one stage Nubia, was occupied by Egypt for about 500 years and then the tables turned. From around 850 BC, the Egyptian state fell into such decline that what became known as the twenty-fifth dynasty rose in Nubia, with authority over all of Egypt.
This dynasty based at Napata was known as the ‘Ethiopian’ dynasty. Although it was heavily influenced by Egyptian culture and religion, it was in many ways the first great African power.
“They dealt like Egyptians, they dressed like Egyptians, but they were still proud of their black faces.”
Osama Abdel Meguid, Director of the Nubian Museum in Aswan.
In 713 BC King Shabaka came to power in Kush and brought the Nile Valley as far as the Delta under his control. The name of one of his successors, King Taharqa, is found on inscriptions throughout the Valley.
MOVING TO MEROE
The dynasty ended following a military defeat at the hands of the Assyrians and in about 600 BC the capital of the Kushite kingdom was moved from Napata to Meroe, further south along the Nile.
This, symbolically, was a move closer to black Africa, and the kingdom that grew up around Meroe was one that very much reflected African influences. The Meroites have been given much less historical attention than the Egyptians but in many ways it was a kingdom that rivaled Egypt in material wealth and distinctive cultural development.
“From the graves and from the images painted on tombs we can see that people looked much more African than Mediterranean. The jewelry is really of an African nature – like anklets, bracelets, ear studs and earrings – and you can still find the style of the jewelry used by the Meroites on tribes of the savannah belt south of Khartoum.”
Dr Salah el-Din Muhammed Ahmed, Director of Fieldwork at the National Museum in Khartoum.
Listen to Dr Salah El-Din Muhammed Ahmed, Director of Fieldwork at the National Museum, Khartoum, describing Meroite features as African
Meroe was a complex, advanced and politically stable society. It relied on elected kingship with elaborate coronation ceremonies in which the Queen mother played an important role. Excavations of the large ancient city have revealed palaces, royal baths and temples.
Meroe’s wealth was partly based on trade and commerce, particularly after the Second Century when the camel was introduced to Africa and there was a flourishing of caravan routes across the continent. Its position gave Meroe strategic access to trading outlets on the Red Sea. Pottery, jewelry and woven cloth were all produced to a high standard of craftsmanship.
The kingdom also had the resources needed for the smelting of iron: ore, water from the Nile and wood from acacia trees to make charcoal. Iron gave the Meroites spears, arrows axes and hoes, allowing them to develop a mixed farming economy to exploit to the full the tropical summer rainfall.
Although influenced by the Egyptian state gods, such as Amun, Meroe developed its own forms of religious worship. The most important regional deity was the Lion God, Apedemek – often portrayed with a lion’s head on a human body.
As Meroe became more distanced from Egypt, so too was the Egyptian language replaced as the spoken language of the court. Instead a Meroitic alphabet and script were introduced, which to this day researchers have been unable to decipher.
The Kingdom of Meroe began to fade as a power by the first or second century AD, sapped by war with Roman Egypt and the decline of its traditional industries. The iron industry had used up huge quantities of charcoal leading to deforestation and the land began to lose its fertility.
In around 350 AD, an army led by Ezana, King of the growing kingdom of Axum in what is now Ethiopia, invaded Meroe – but by then Meroites had already dispersed, replaced by a people described by the Axumites as Noba.
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The Kingdom of Kush was an ancient civilization in Africa. It is often referred to as Nubia and had close ties to Ancient Egypt.
Where was the Kingdom of Kush located?
The Kingdom of Kush was located in Northeast Africa just south of Ancient Egypt. The main cities of Kush were situated along the Nile River, the White Nile River, and the Blue Nile River. Today, the land of Kush is the country of Sudan.
How long did the Kingdom of Kush rule?
The Kingdom of Kush lasted for over 1400 years. It was first established around 1070 BCE when it gained its independence from Egypt. It quickly became a major power in Northeast Africa. In 727 BCE, Kush took control of Egypt and ruled until the Assyrians arrived. The empire began to weaken after Rome conquered Egypt and eventually collapsed sometime in the 300s CE.
The Kingdom of Kush had two different capital cities. The first capital was Napata. Napata was located along the Nile River in Northern Kush. Napata served as the capital during the height of Kush’s power. Sometime around 590 BCE, the capital moved to the city of Meroe. Meroe was further south providing a better buffer from the fighting with Egypt. It also was a center for ironworking, an important resource for the kingdom.
Similar to Ancient Egypt
The Kingdom of Kush was very similar to Ancient Egypt in many aspects including government, culture, and religion. Like the Egyptians, the Kushites built pyramids at burial sites, worshiped Egyptian gods, and mummified the dead. The ruling class of Kush likely considered themselves Egyptian in many ways.
Iron and Gold
Two of the most important resources of Ancient Kush were gold and iron. Gold helped Kush to become wealthy as it could be traded to the Egyptians and other nearby nations. Iron was the most important metal of the age. It was used to make the strongest tools and weapons.
Culture of Kush
Outside of the Pharaoh and the ruling class, the priests were the most important social class in Kush. They made the laws and communicated with the gods. Just below the priests were the artisans and scribes. Artisans worked the iron and gold that was such an important part of the Kushite economy. Farmers were also respected as they provided the food for the country. At the bottom were servants, laborers, and slaves.
Like the Egyptians, religion played an important role in the lives of the Kushites. They believed strongly in the afterlife. Women played an important role and could be leaders in Kush. Many of the Kushite leaders were queens.
Interesting Facts about the Kingdom of Kush
- In battle, Kush was famous for its archers and the bow and arrow were often depicted in the art of Ancient Kush. Sometimes the region was called the “Land of the Bow” because of its famous archers.
- One of the most famous leaders of Kush was Piye who conquered Egypt and became pharaoh of Egypt.
- Most of the people of Kush were farmers. Their primary crops were wheat and barley. They also grew cotton to make clothing.
- The pyramids of Kush tended to be smaller than the pyramids of Egypt. The burial chambers were located below the pyramids. Many of these pyramids were built near the city of Meroe and can still be seen today.
- The priests were so powerful they could decide when it was time for the king to die.
- People didn’t live very long in Kush. The average person was expected to live only 20 to 25 years.
- Besides gold and iron, other important trade items included ivory, slaves, incense, feathers, and wild animal hides.
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Kids learn about the history of the Kingdom of Kush (also called Nubia) including their culture and architecture. This ancient civilization just south of Egypt became powerful through trade in iron and gold.