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For the subsequent rule in Egypt, see Twenty-fifth dynasty of Egypt.
For the South Asian empire, see Kushan empire.
Kingdom of Kush (Ancient Kush)

1070 BC–AD 350


Capital Kerma; Napata; later Meroe
Languages Meroitic, Nubian
Religion Ancient Egyptian religion
Government Monarchy
 -  Established 1070 BC
 -  Capital moved to Napata 780 BC
 -  Capital moved to Meroe 591 BC
 -  Disestablished AD 350
 -  Egyptian phase[1] est. 100,000 
 -  Meroite phase[1] est. 1,150,000 

The Kingdom of Kush or Kush was an ancient African kingdom situated on the confluences of the Blue Nile, White Nile and River Atbara in what is now the Republic of Sudan.

Established after the Bronze Age collapse and the disintegration of the New Kingdom of Egypt, it was centered at Napata in its early phase. After king Kashta ("the Kushite") invaded Egypt in the 8th century BC, the Kushite kings ruled as Pharaohs of the Twenty-fifth dynasty of Egypt for a century, until they were expelled by Psamtik I in 656 BC.

During Classical Antiquity, the Kushite imperial capital was at Meroe. In early Greek geography, the Meroitic kingdom was known as Ethiopia. The Kushite kingdom with its capital at Meroe persisted until the 4th century AD, when it weakened and disintegrated due to internal rebellion.

By 1st century AD The Kushite capital was subsequently captured by the Beja Dynasty, who tried to revive the empire. The Kushite capital was eventually captured and burnt to the ground by the Kingdom of Axum.


Kush in hieroglyphs

The native name of the Kingdom was probably Kaš, recorded in Egyptian as kꜢš.

Kush is an Egyptian term to refer to the region south of the first cataract in general. The name can identify more specifically the area south of the second cataract where the Kingdom of Kush existed from the First Intermediate Period to the early new Kingdom. Kush also was the home of the rulers of the 25th dynasty.[2]

The name Kash is believed by scholars to be connected to the Biblical character Cush, in the Hebrew Bible (Hebrew: כוש), son of Ham (Genesis 10:6). Ham had four sons named; Cush, Put, Canaan and Mizraim (Hebrew word for Egypt). (1 Chronicles 1:8) The names of Hams four sons are all regions with in the ancient middle east, and some of these regions still have their names.

Kush was the first African Kingdom in Africa.[3] The conventional name "kingdom of Kush" was introduced in 19th-century Egyptology.

Some scholars 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 seemed to be more productive and wealthier than the Southern area.[4]


Mentuhotep II (21st century BCE 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.[5]

During the New Kingdom of Egypt, Nubia (Kush) was an Egyptian colony, from the 16th century BCE governed by an Egyptian Viceroy of Kush. With the disintegration of the New Kingdom around 1070 BCE, Kush became an independent kingdom centered at Napata in modern central Sudan.[6]

The Kushites buried their monarchs along with all their courtiers in mass graves. Archaeologists refer to these practices as the "Pan-grave culture".[7] This was given its name due to the way in which the remains are buried. They would dig a pit and put stones around them in a circle.[8] 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.[9]

The Kush rulers were regarded as guardians of the state religion and were responsible for maintaining the houses of the gods.[4]

25th Dynasty of Egypt

In Ancient Egypt, Libyan princes had taken control of the delta under Sheshonq 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. In 711 King Sheshonq made Memphis his northern Capital. [11] 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 Egypt, seizing control of Thebes and eventually the Delta.[12] His dynasty, the Twenty-fifth dynasty of Egypt, continued until about 653 BCE. Piye attempted to regain a foothold in the Near East, but was defeated by the Assyrian king Shalmaneser III in the 720's BC. The 25th dynasty was based at Napata, in Nubia, what is now The 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 Taharqa. The Nile valley empire was as large as it had been since the New Kingdom. The 25th dynasty ushered in a renaissance period for Ancient Egypt.[13] Religion, the arts, and architecture were restored to their glorious Old, Middle, and New Kingdom forms. Pharaohs, such as Taharqa, built or restored temples and monuments throughout the Nile valley, including at Memphis, Karnak, Kawa, Jebel Barkal, etc.[14] 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.[15][16][17]

Taharqa was the son of Piye and the first seventeen years of his reign were very prosperous for Kush.[18] During this period Writing was introduced to Kush (Nubia), in the form of the Egyptian influenced Meroitic script circa 700–600 BC, although it appears to have been wholly confined to the Royal Court and Major Temples.[19] Egypt's international prestige declined considerably towards the end of the Third Intermediate Period. Its Semitic allies in the Southern Levant had fallen to the Assyrian Empire. The Semitic Assyrians, from the 10th century BC onwards, had expanded from their northern Mesopotamian homeland, and conquered a vast empire, including the whole of the Near East, and much of Asia Minor, the eastern Mediterranean, the Caucasus and ancient Iran. By 700 BC war between the two Empires became inevitable. Taharqa enjoyed some initial success in his attempts to regain influence in the Near East. He aided King Hezekiah from attack by Sennacherib and the Assyrians (2 Kings 19:9;Isaiah 37:9), however disease among the Assyrian army appears to have been the main cause of failure to take the Jerusalem. Eventually, the Assyrian King Sennacherib defeated and drove the Nubians and Egyptians from the region. Between 674 and 671 BC the Assyrians began their invasion of Egypt under King Esarhaddon, the successor of Sennacherib. The Assyrians conquered this vast territory with surprising speed. Taharqa was driven from power by Esarhaddon, and fled to his Nubian homeland. Esarhaddon describes "installing local kings and governors" and "All Ethiopians I deported from Egypt, leaving not one to do homage to me". However, the native Egyptian vassal rulers installed by Esarhaddon were unable to retain control for long. Two years later, Taharqa returned from Nubia and seized control of a section of Egypt as far north as Memphis. Esarhaddon prepared to return to Egypt and once more eject Taharqa, however he fell ill and died in his Capital Nineveh, before he left Assyria. His successor, Ashurbanipal, sent a Turtanu (general) with a small army which ejected Taharqa from Egypt, and he was forced to flee back to Nubia, where he died two years later. His successor, Tanutamun, attempted to regain Egypt. He successfully defeated Necho, the subject ruler installed by Ashurbanipal, taking Thebes in the process. The Assyrians, who had a military presence in the north, then sent a large army southwards. Tantamani was heavily routed and the Assyrian army sacked Thebes to such an extent it never truly recovered. Tantamani managed to escape back to Nubia, but never threatened the Assyrian Empire again. A native ruler, Psammetichus I was placed on the throne, as a vassal of Ashurbanipal[20]

[18] 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 Gebel Barkal.[21] 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.[22]

Move to Meroë

Aspelta moved the capital to Meroë, considerably farther south than Napata, possibly in 591 BC.[23] It is also possible that Meroë had always been the Kushite capital.

Historians believe that the Kushite rulers may have chosen Meroë as their home because, unlike Napata, the region around Meroë had enough woodlands to provide fuel for iron working. In addition, Kush was no longer dependent on the Nile to trade with the outside world; they could instead transport goods from Meroë to the Red Sea coast, where Greek merchants were now traveling extensively.

The Kushites used the animal-driven water wheel to increase productivity and create a surplus, particularly during the Napatan-Meroitic Kingdom.[24]

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,[25] who ruled many years after the royal cemetery was opened 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.[26]

Kushite civilization 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.[27] From the 2nd century BC there was a separate Meroitic writing system.[27] This was an alphabetic script with 23 signs used in a hieroglyphic form (mainly on monumental art) and in a cursive form.[27] 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.[27] It is not as yet possible to connect the Meroitic language with other known languages.[27]

Strabo describes a war with the Romans in the 1st century BC. After the initial victories of Kandake (or "Candace") Amanirenas against Roman Egypt, the Kushites were defeated and Napata sacked.[28] 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. Indeed, it seems that Petronius's attack might have had a revitalizing influence on the kingdom. Just three years later, in 22 BC, a large Kushite force moved northward with intention of attacking Qasr Ibrim. Alerted to the advance, Petronius again marched south and managed to reach Qasr Ibrim and bolster its defences before the invading Kushites arrived. Although the ancient sources give no description of the ensuing battle, we know that at some point the Kushites sent ambassadors to negotiate a peace settlement with Petronius. By the end of the second campaign, however, Petronius was in no mood to deal further with the Kushites.[29]:149 The Kushites succeeded in negotiating a peace treaty on favourable terms.[28] and trade between the two nations increased.[29]:149

It is possible that the Roman emperor Nero planned another attempt to conquer Kush before his death in 68 AD.[29]:150-151 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.[30] Christianity began to gain over the old phaoronic religion and by the mid-sixth century AD the Kingdom of Kush was dissolved.[4]

See also



External links

  • Dan Morrison, "Ancient Gold Center Discovered on the Nile", National Geographic News
  • "Civilizations in Africa: Kush", Washington State University
  • African Kingdoms | Kush
  • Ancient Sudan (Nubia) website
  • (June 19, 2007).
  • Vol. 49, (1929), pp. 303-317
  • Kerma website Official website of the Swiss archeological mission to Sudan.

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