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Kush Empire

Brief history of the Kush empire.

In the fourth millennium b.c.e. the ancient Egyptians colonized a region around the first cataract of the Nile River.

Along its length the flow of the river’s waters is interrupted by cataracts, or shallow areas with rocks, islands, and rapids. These cataracts are conventionally numbered from south to north, since this is the direction in which the Nile River flows.

This region was called Nubia, divided into Upper Nubia to the south and Lower Nubia to the north (again, because of the direction of the river’s flow). Because Egypt maintained control of these regions to the south, Egyptian civilization was spread southward into the interior of the African continent.

A kingdom grew up along the Nile, in the floodplain between the first and third cataracts. The Egyptians called this kingdom Kush. Thus, Nubia refers to the region, roughly modern-day Sudan; Kush refers to the people and their kingdom.

The kingdom of the Kush functioned as a major center for trade. Goods from the southern part of Africa, including gold, ebony, ivory, exotic animals, and slaves, passed through Kush on the way to points north. While at various points in their history the Kush ruled their own independent kingdom in Upper Nubia, at other points they were an Egyptian colony, and Lower Nubia remained a colony through most of its history.

Throughout their history, the Kush thought of themselves principally as Egyptian, and their religion, architecture, government, and other aspects of their culture were essentially Egyptian.As trade with Egypt increased, the region’s power grew, but during the Middle Kingdom (2040–1640 b.c.e.) Egypt expanded into Nubia.

The region remained politically disorganized until the first in a series of three kingdoms was established. The kingdom of Kerma lasted from about 2400 to 1500 b.c.e. Kerma’s kings accumulated enough power to build large walls, tombs, and other structures.

Kerma is the name of the modern city on which the kingdom was built; the name used at the time is unknown. During the New Kingdom (1550–1070 b.c.e.), Egypt expanded further into Nubia and built a new capital at Napata, which lasted from 1000 to 300 b.c.e. and which was powerful enough to turn around and conquer Egypt, with its kings ruling Egypt as Egypt’s 25th Dynasty in the eighth century b.c.e. until Assyria invaded Egypt in the seventh century b.c.e.

The Assyrian invasion pushed the Kushites southward. The result was that much of their contact with Egypt, as well as with the Middle East and Europe, was closed of. In 591 b.c.e. the Assyrians conquered Napata, so the Kushites relocated their capital to Meroë. The Meroitic Kingdom lasted to about 300 c.e. Rather than focusing its attention northward, to Egypt, the Meroitic Kingdom looked southward.

During the Napata and Meroitic kingdoms, the Kush embarked on a program of pyramid building that rivaled that of the Egyptians.

Establishing the chronology of Kushite dynasties has posed particular problems for historians and archaeologists. In most cases, they have to estimate dates. The principal evidence they use consists of inscriptions from tombs and pyramids. On this basis, historians have determined that the first ruler of the Napata Kingdom was Alara. He was followed by Kashta, who ruled from about 770 to 750 b.c.e. The first ruler of the Meroitic Kingdom was Aspelta, who was followed by a long succession of kings and even several queens, particularly at er the start of the Common Era.

Knowledge about the line of succession ends at about 355 c.e.The most noteworthy dynasty that ruled the Kushites was the succession of monarchs who made up the 25th Dynasty of Egypt (770–657 b.c.e.). This dynasty included five Kushite pharaohs, all successors to Kashta: Piye (r. 750 to 712 b.c.e.), his brother Shabaka (r. 712–698 b.c.e.), Shebitku (r. 698–690 b.c.e.), Taharqa (r. 690–664 b.c.e.), and Tantamani (r. 664 to 657 b.c.e.).

The ruling dynasties of Kush resembled those of Egypt, with several exceptions. First, the pharaohs of Kush ruled according to law rather than divine right. This law was created and interpreted by priests. h e pharaoh, then, was elected from the royal family, with descent following the mother’s rather than the father’s line. For this reason Kush produced a number of queens, in contrast to most of the other civilizations of the world at that time.

The Meroitic Kingdom remained powerful through the second half of the first millennium b.c.e. It went through a period of decline until it was defeated and its commercial and trading power was taken over by the kingdom of Axum to the east.

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