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12.4: Nubia

  • Page ID
    72297
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    Learning Objective

    • Explain some of the sources of wealth that the Kingdom of Kush had access to

    Key Points

    • Nubia is a region along the Nile river located in what is today northern Sudan and southern Egypt. It was one of the earliest civilizations of ancient Northeastern Africa, with a history that can be traced from at least 2000 BCE, and was home to one of the African empires.
    • Before the 4th century, and throughout classical antiquity, Nubia was known as Kush, or, in Classical Greek usage, included under the name Ethiopia (Aithiopia). With the disintegration of the New Kingdom around 1070 BCE, Kush became an independent kingdom centered at Napata in modern central Sudan.
    • Alara, a King of Kush who is the first recorded prince of Nubia, founded the Napatan, or Twenty-fifth, Kushite dynasty at Napata in Nubia, now the Sudan. Alara’s successor, Kashta, extended Kushite control north to Elephantine and Thebesin Upper Egypt. Kashta’s successor, Piye, seized control of Lower Egypt around 727 BCE, creating the Twenty-fifth dynasty of Egypt.
    • The power of the Twenty-fifth dynasty reached a climax under Taharqa. The Nile valley empire was as large as it had been since the New Kingdom. New prosperity revived Egyptian culture. Religion, the arts, and architecture were restored to their glorious Old, Middle, and New Kingdom forms. It was during the Twenty-fifth dynasty that the Nile valley saw the first widespread construction of pyramids (many in modern Sudan) since the Middle Kingdom.
    • After brief military successes, Taharqa’s successor, Tantamani, was chased back to Nubia, and never threatened the Assyrian Empire again. A native Egyptian ruler, Psammetichus I, was placed on the throne as a vassal of Ashurbanipal.
    • Aspelta moved the capital to Meroë, considerably farther south than Napata, possibly in 591 BCE. In about 300 BCE the move to Meroë was made more complete when the monarchs began to be buried there, instead of at Napata. Kush began to fade as a power by the 1st or 2nd century CE.

    Terms

    Nubia

    A region along the Nile river located in what is today northern Sudan and southern Egypt. It was one of the earliest civilizations of ancient Northeastern Africa, with a history that can be traced from at least 2000 BCE, and was home to one of the African empires. Before the 4th century, and throughout classical antiquity, it was known as Kush, or, in Classical Greek usage, included under the name Ethiopia (Aithiopia).

    the Middle Kingdom

    The period in the history of ancient Egypt between about 2000 BCE and 1700 BCE, stretching from the establishment of the Eleventh dynasty to the end of the Twelfth dynasty, although some writers include the Thirteenth and Fourteenth dynasties in the Second Intermediate Period.

    the Twenty-fifth dynasty

    The last dynasty of the Third Intermediate Period of Ancient Egypt. It was a line of rulers originating in the Nubian Kingdom of Kush—in present-day northern Sudan and southern Egypt—and most saw Napata as their spiritual homeland. They reigned in part or all of Ancient Egypt from 760 BCE to 656 BCE. Their reunification of Lower Egypt, Upper Egypt, and Kush (Nubia) created the largest Egyptian empire since the New Kingdom. They assimilated into society by reaffirming Ancient Egyptian religious traditions, temples, and artistic forms, while introducing some unique aspects of Kushite culture.

    the Old Kingdom

    The name given to the period in the 3rd millennium BCE when Egypt attained its first continuous peak of civilization—the first of three so-called “Kingdom” periods that mark the high points of civilization in the lower Nile Valley (the others being the Middle Kingdom and the New Kingdom).

    Kush

    An ancient Nubian kingdom situated on the confluences of the Blue Nile, White Nile, and River Atbara in what is now the Republic of Sudan. It was centered at Napata in its early phase. After its King Kashta invaded Egypt in the 8th century BCE, its emperors ruled as pharaohs of the Twenty-fifth dynasty of Egypt for a century, until they were expelled by the Assyrians under the rule of Esarhaddon.

    the New Kingdom

    The period in ancient Egyptian history between the 16th century BCE and the 11th century BCE, covering the Eighteenth, Nineteenth, and Twentieth dynasties of Egypt. It followed the Second Intermediate Period and was succeeded by the Third Intermediate Period. It was Egypt’s most prosperous time and marked the peak of its power.

    Nubia: Introduction

    Nubia is a region along the Nile river located in what is today northern Sudan and southern Egypt. It was one of the earliest civilizations of ancient Northeastern Africa, with a history that can be traced from at least 2000 BCE, and home to one of the African empires. There were a number of large Nubian kingdoms throughout the Postclassical Era, the last of which collapsed in 1504 CE, when Nubia became divided between Egypt and the Sennar sultanate, resulting in the Arabization of much of the Nubian population. Nubia was again united within Ottoman Egypt in the 19th century, and within the Kingdom of Egypt from 1899 to 1956.

    Kush

    Before the 4th century, and throughout classical antiquity, Nubia was known as Kush, or, in Classical Greek usage, included under the name Ethiopia (Aithiopia). 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. During the New Kingdom of Egypt, Nubia (Kush) was an Egyptian colony, from the 16th century BCE. With the disintegration of the New Kingdom around 1070 BCE, Kush became an independent kingdom centered at Napata in modern central Sudan.

    Control of Egypt

    Alara, a King of Kush who is the first recorded prince of Nubia, founded the Napatan, or Twenty-fifth, Kushite dynasty at Napata in Nubia, now the Sudan. Alara’s successor Kashta extended Kushite control north to Elephantine and Thebesin Upper Egypt. Kashta’s successor, Piye, seized control of Lower Egypt around 727 BCE, creating the Twenty-fifth dynasty of Egypt.

    Piye was defeated by the Assyrian king Shalmaneser V and then his successor Sargon II in the 720s BCE.
    The power of the Twenty-fifth dynasty reached a climax underPiye’s son, Taharqa. The Nile valley empire was as large as it had been since the New Kingdom. New prosperity revived Egyptian culture. 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. 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. Writing was introduced to Kush in the form of the Egyptian-influenced Meroitic script circa 700–600 BCE, although it appears to have been wholly confined to the royal court and major temples.

    image
    A map showing the full extent of the Kushite Empire in 700 BCE.

    Between 674 and 671 BCE the Assyrians began their invasion of Egypt under King Esarhaddon. Assyrian armies had been the best in the world since the 14th century BCE, and they conquered this vast territory with surprising speed. Taharqa was driven from power by Esarhaddon and fled to his Nubian homeland. However, the native Egyptian vassal rulers installed by Esarhaddon as puppets were unable to effectively retain full control for long without Assyrian aid. Two years later, Taharqa returned from Nubia and seized control of a section of southern Egypt as far north as Memphis from Esarhaddon’s local vassals. Esarhaddon’s successor, Ashurbanipal, sent a Turtanu (general) with a small but well-trained army that once more defeated Taharqa and ejected him from Egypt, and he was forced to flee back to his homeland in Nubia, where he died two years later.

    Taharqa’s 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 routed, and the Assyrian army sacked Thebes to such an extent that it never truly recovered. Tantamani was chased back to Nubia, and never threatened the Assyrian Empire again. A native Egyptian ruler, Psammetichus I, was placed on the throne as a vassal of Ashurbanipal.

    Move to Meroë

    Aspelta, a ruler of the kingdom of Kush from c. 600 to c. 580 BCE, moved the capital to Meroë, considerably farther south than Napata, possibly in 591 BCE. 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.

    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. 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. From the 2nd century BCE there was a separate Meroitic writing system. This was an alphabetic script with twenty-three 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. The script was deciphered, but the language behind it is still a problem, with only a few words understood by modern scholars.

    Kush began to fade as a power by the 1st or 2nd century CE, sapped by the war with the Roman province of Egypt and the decline of its traditional industries. Christianity began to gain over the old pharaonic religion, and by the mid-6th century CE the Kingdom of Kush was dissolved.

    Thumbnail for the embedded element "Nubia the forgotten kingdom 1"

    A YouTube element has been excluded from this version of the text. You can view it online here: http://pb.libretexts.org/ewc/?p=296

    Nubia: The Forgotten Kingdom, Julie Anderson and Salah Ahmed (2003), Dicovery Channel

    Various pharaohs of Nubian origin are held by some Egyptologists to have played an important part towards the area in different eras of Egyptian history, particularly the Twelfth dynasty. These rulers handled matters in typical Egyptian fashion, reflecting the close cultural influences between the two regions.

    The eventual influx of Arabs and Nubians to Egypt and Sudan had contributed to the suppression of the Nubian identity following the collapse of the last Nubian kingdom around 1504. A major part of the modern Nubian population became totally Arabized, and some claimed to be Arabs. A vast majority of the Nubian population is currently Muslim, and the Arabic language is their main medium of communication in addition to their indigenous old Nubian language.

    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 Twenty-fifth dynasty ruled over both states in the 8th century BCE, from the Rift Valley to the Taurus mountains, historians have closely associated the study of Kush with Egyptology. This is in keeping with the general assumption that the complex sociopolitical development of Egypt’s neighbors can be understood in terms of Egyptian models. 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.

    image
    The Nubian region today. With the end of colonialism and the establishment of the Republic of Egypt (1953) and the secession of the Republic of Sudan from unity with Egypt (1956), Nubia was divided between Egypt and Sudan. During the early-1970s, many Egyptian Nubians were forcibly resettled to make room for Lake Nasser after the construction of the dams at Aswan. Nubian villages can now be found north of Aswan on the west bank of the Nile and on Elephantine Island, and many Nubians now live in large cities, such as Cairo.
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