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Nubia is a region along the Nile river encompassing the area between the first cataract of the Nile (just south of Aswan in southern Egypt) and the confluence of the blue and white Niles (south of Khartoum in central Sudan) or, more strictly, Al Dabbah. It was the seat of one of the earliest civilizations of ancient Africa, the Kerma culture, which lasted from around 2500 BC until its conquest by the New Kingdom of Egypt under pharaoh Thutmose I around 1500 BC. Nubia was home to several empires, most prominently the kingdom of Kush, which conquered Egypt during the 8th century BC during the reign of Piye and ruled the country as its Twenty-fifth Dynasty (to be replaced a century later by the native Egyptian Twenty-sixth Dynasty).
The collapse of Kush, in the 4th century AD after more than a thousand years of existence, was precipitated by an invasion by Ethiopia's Kingdom of Aksum and saw the rise of three Christian kingdoms, Nobatia, Makuria and Alodia. Makuria and Alodia also lasted for roughly a millennium. Their eventual decline initiated not only the partition of Nubia into the northern half conquered by the Ottomans and the southern half by the Sennar sultanate in the 16th century, but also a rapid Islamization and partial Arabization of the Nubian people. Nubia was again united with the Khedivate of Egypt in the 19th century. Today, the region of Nubia is split between Egypt and Sudan.
|Nubia in hieroglyphs|
Curved land of the Nubians
Nehset / Nehsyu / Nehsi
N?st / N?syw / N?sj
Nubia / Nubians
The name Nubia is derived from that of the Noba people, nomads who settled the area in the 4th century AD following the collapse of the kingdom of Meroë. The Noba spoke a Nilo-Saharan language, ancestral to Old Nubian. Old Nubian was mostly used in religious texts dating from the 8th and 15th centuries. Before the 4th century, and throughout classical antiquity, Nubia was known as Kush, or, in Classical Greek usage, included under the name Ethiopia (Aethiopia).
Historically, the people of Nubia spoke at least two varieties of the Nubian language group, a subfamily that includes Nobiin (the descendant of Old Nubian), Kenuzi-Dongola, Midob and several related varieties in the northern part of the Nuba Mountains in South Kordofan. Until at least 1970, the Birgid language was spoken north of Nyala in Darfur, but is now extinct. However, the linguistic identity of the ancient Kerma Culture of southern and central Nubia (also known as Upper Nubia), is uncertain, with some suggesting that it belonged to the Cushitic branch of Afroasiatic languages, and other more recent research indicating that the Kerma culture instead belonged to the Eastern Sudanic branch of Nilo-Saharan languages, and that other peoples of northern (or Lower) Nubia north of Kerma (such as the C-group culture and the Blemmyes) spoke Cushitic languages before the spread of Eastern Sudanic languages from southern (or Upper) Nubia.
Nubia was divided into three major regions: Upper, Middle, and Lower Nubia, in reference to their locations along the Nile. Lower refers to regions downstream and upper refers to regions upstream. Lower Nubia lies between the First and the Second Cataracts, within the current borders of Egypt. Middle Nubia lies between the Second and the Third Cataracts. Upper Nubia lies south of the Third Cataract.
In prehistoric times, north Africa was mostly occupied by nomadic cattle herders. The Khartoum Mesolithic was a highly advanced culture in southern Nubia (near modern Khartoum). They created sophisticated pottery that is "perhaps the oldest known in the world.":17
By the 5th millennium BC, the people who inhabited what is now called Nubia participated in the Neolithic revolution. The Sahara became drier and people began to domestic sheep, goats, and cattle. Saharan rock reliefs depict scenes that have been thought to be suggestive of a cattle cult, typical of those seen throughout parts of Eastern Africa and the Nile Valley even to this day. Nubian rock art depicts hunters using bows and arrows in the neolithic period, which is a precursor to Nubian archer culture in later times.
Megaliths discovered at Nabta Playa are early examples of what seems to be one of the world's first astronomical devices, predating Stonehenge by almost 2,000 years. This complexity as observed at Nabta Playa, and as expressed by different levels of authority within the society there, likely formed the basis for the structure of both the Neolithic society at Nabta and the Old Kingdom of Egypt.
Nubia has one of the oldest civilizations in the world. This history is often intertwined with Egypt to the north.:16 Around 3500 BC, the second "Nubian" culture, termed the Early A-Group, arose in Lower (Northern) Nubia They were sedentary agriculturalists.:6 They were also engaged in trade with the Egyptians and exported gold. This trade is testified archaeologically by large amounts of Egyptian commodities deposited in the A-Group graves. The imports consisted of gold objects, copper tools, faience amulets and beads, seals, slate palettes, stone vessels, and a variety of pots. During this time, the Nubians began creating distinctive black topped, red pottery.
Around 3100 BC the A-group transitioned from the Early to Classical phases. "Arguably royal burials are known only at Qustul and possibly Sayala.":8 During this period, the wealth of A-group kings rivaled Egyptian kings. Royal A-group graves contained gold and richly decorated pottery.:19 Some scholars believe Nubian A-Group rulers and early Egyptian pharaohs used related royal symbols. Similarities in rock art of A-Group Nubia and Upper Egypt support this position. Scholars from the University of Chicago Oriental Institute excavated at Qustul (near Abu Simbel - Modern Sudan), in 1960-64, and found artifacts which incorporated images associated with Egyptian pharaohs. From this Williams concluded that "Egypt and Nubia A-Group culture shared the same official culture", "participated in the most complex dynastic developments", and "Nubia and Egypt were both part of the great East African substratum". Williams also wrote that Qustul in Nubia "could well have been the seat of Egypt's founding dynasty". David O'Connor wrote that the Qustul incense burner provides evidence that the A-group Nubian culture in Qustul marked the "pivotal change" from predynastic to dynastic "Egyptian monumental art". However, "most scholars do not agree with this hypothesis", as more recent finds in Egypt indicate that this iconography originated in Egypt not Nubia, and that the Qustul rulers adopted/emulated the symbols of Egyptian pharaohs.
Around 3300 BC writing was developed in Egypt. In their writings, Egyptians referred to Nubia as "Ta-Seti", or "The Land of the Bow," since the Nubians were known to be expert archers. More recent and broader studies have determined that the distinct pottery styles, differing burial practices, different grave goods and the distribution of sites all indicate that the Naqada people and the Nubian A-Group people were from different cultures. Kathryn Bard further states that "Naqada cultural burials contain very few Nubian craft goods, which suggests that while Egyptian goods were exported to Nubia and were buried in A-Group graves, A-Group goods were of little interest further north." There's no evidence that the pharaohs of the First dynasty buried at Abydos were of Nubian origin.
East and West of Nubia, a uniform culture of nomadic herders, called the Gash group, existed from 3000 to 1500 BC.:8
In Lower Nubia, the A-group moved from the Classical to Terminal phase. At this time, Kings at Qustul likely ruled all of Lower Nubia and demonstrated the political centralization of Nubian society.:21 The A-Group culture came to an end around 3100 and 2900 BC, when it was apparently destroyed by the First Dynasty rulers of Egypt. There are no records of settlement in Lower Nubia for the next 600 years. Old Kingdom Egyptian dynasties (4th to 6th) controlled uninhabited Lower Nubia and raided Upper Nubia.
Pre-Kerma developed into the Middle phase Kerma group. Some A-group people (transitioning to C-group) settled the area and co-existed with the Pre-Kerma group.:25 Like other Nubian groups, the Kerma group and C-group peoples made an abundance of red pottery with black tops. However, Kerma group and C-group pottery had different shapes.:29 Traces of C-group peoples in Upper Nubia vanish by 2000 BC and Kerma culture began to dominate Upper Nubia.:25 The power of an independent Upper Nubia increased around 1700 BC and Upper Nubia came to dominate Lower Nubia.:25 An Egyptian official, Harkhuf, mentions that Irtjet, Setjet, and Wawat all combined under a single ruler. By 1650 BC, Egyptian texts started to refer to only two kingdoms in Nubia, Kush and Shaat.:32,38. Kush was centered at Kerma and Shaat was centered on Sai island.:38 Bonnet posits that Kush actually ruled all of Upper Nubia, since 'royal' graves were much larger in Kush than Shaat and Egyptian texts other than the Execration lists only refer to Kush (and not Shaat).:38–39
C-group Nubians resettled Lower Nubia by 2400 BC.:25 As trade between Egypt and Nubia increased, so did wealth and stability. Nubia was divided into a series of small kingdoms. There is debate over whether these C-Group peoples, who flourished from 2500 BC to 1500 BC, were another internal evolution or invaders. O'Connor states "a transition from A group into a later culture, the C-group, can be traced" and the C-group culture was typical of Lower Nubia from 2400 to 1650 BC.:25 Although living in close proximity, there was very little Nubian acculturation to Egyptian culture. Some notable exceptions are C-group Nubians during the 15th dynasty, isolated Nubian communities in Egypt, and some bowmen communities.:56 This indicates Nubians were resistant to Egyptian culture. C-Group pottery is characterized by all-over incised geometric lines with white infill and impressed imitations of basketry. Lower Nubia was controlled by Egypt from 2000 to 1700 BC and Upper Nubia from 1700 BC.
From 2200 to 1700 BC another culture appeared in Lower Nubia, the Pan Grave culture.:20 Some of the Pan Grave culture people, were likely the Medjay (m,) arriving from the desert east of the Nile river. One feature of Pan Grave culture was burial in shallow graves. The Pan Graves and C-Group definitely interacted. Pan Grave pottery is characterized by incised lines of a more limited character than those of the C-Group, generally having interspersed undecorated spaces within the geometric schemes.
In 2300 BC, Nubia was first mentioned in Old Kingdom Egyptian accounts of trade missions. The Egyptians referred to Lower Nubia as Wawat, Irtjet, and Setju, while they referred to Upper Nubia as Yam, while some authors believe that Irtjet and Setju also could have been in Upper Nubia.:32 They referred to Nubians dwelling near the river as Nehasyu.:26 From Aswan, right above the First Cataract, the southern limit of Egyptian control at the time, Egyptians imported gold, incense, ebony, copper, ivory, and exotic animals from tropical Africa through Nubia. Relations between the Egyptians and Nubians show peaceful cultural interchange and cooperation, including mixed marriages. Nubian bowmen settled at Gebelein during the First Intermediate Period married Egyptian women, were buried in Egyptian style, and soon are no longer distinguishable from Egyptians.":56 Some Egyptian pharaohs may have been of Nubian origin.Mentuhotep II of the 11th dynasty "was quite possibly of Nubian origin".Amenemhet I, founder of the 12th dynasty, "may have had a Nubian mother". However, According to Yurco, "Egyptian rulers of Nubian ancestry had become Egyptians culturally; as pharaohs, they exhibited typical Egyptian attitudes and adopted typical Egyptian policies".
After a period of withdrawal, Middle Kingdom Egypt conquered Lower Nubia (with some difficulty):25 from 2000 to 1700 BC.:8 By 1900 BC, King Sesostris I began building a series of towns below the Second Cataract with heavy fortresses that had enclosures and drawbridges.:19Sesotris III also relentlessly pushed his kingdom's expansion into Nubia (from 1866 to 1863 BC) where he erected massive river forts including Buhen, Semna, Shalfak and Toshka at Uronarti These were to gain more control over the trade routes in Lower Nubia and direct access to trade with Upper Nubia, which was independent and increasingly powerful during this time. These Egyptian garrisons seemed to have peaceful relations with the local Nubian people, but little interaction during the period..
Medjay was the name given by ancient Egypt to nomadic desert dwellers from east of the Nile river. The term was variously used to describe a location, the Medjay people, or their role/job in the kingdom. They became part of the Egyptian military as scouts and minor workers.. Over time, they were incorporated into the Egyptian army. In the army, the Medjay served as garrison troops in Egyptian fortifications in Nubia and patrolled the deserts as a kind of gendarmerie, or elite paramilitary police force. This was done in the hope of preventing their fellow Medjay tribespeople from further attacking Egyptian assets in the region. The Medjay were often used to protect valuable areas, especially royal and religious complexes. Though they are most notable for their protection of the royal palaces and tombs in Thebes and the surrounding areas, the Medjay were known to have been used throughout Upper and Lower Egypt. Later, they were even used during Kamose's campaign against the Hyksos and became instrumental in making the Egyptian state into a military power. After the First Intermediate Period of Egypt, the Medjay district was no longer mentioned in the written record.
From the Middle Kerma phase, the first Nubian kingdom to unify much of the region arose. The Classic Kerma Culture, named for its royal capital at Kerma, was one of the earliest urban centers in the Nile region In fact, Kerma is the oldest city in Africa outside of Egypt.:50–51 The Kerma group spoke, either languages of the Cushitic branch or, according to more recent research, spoke Nilo-Saharan languages of the Eastern Sudanic branch. Although somewhat similar, Upper Nubia Kerma Culture and Lower Nubia C-group culture were different, with pottery shape being one example.
By 1650 BC (Classic Kerma phase), the kings of Kerma were powerful enough to organize the labor for monumental town walls and large mud brick structures, such as the Eastern and Western Deffufas (50 by 25 by 18 meters). They also had rich tombs, with possessions for the afterlife and large human sacrifices. George Andrew Reisner excavated sites at the royal city of Kerma and found distinctive Nubian architecture, such as large (90 meters in diameter) pebble covered tombs, a large circular dwelling, and a palace-like structure.:41 Classic Kerma, Nubian rulers employed "a good many Egyptians", according to the Egyptian Execration texts.:57
Kerma culture was militaristic, as attested by the many archer burials and bronze daggers/swords found in their graves.:31 Other signs of Nubia's military prowess are the frequent use of Nubians in Egypt's military and Egypt's need to construct numerous fortresses to defend their southern border from the Nubians.:31 Despite assimilation, the Nubian elite remained rebellious during Egyptian occupation. There were numerous rebellions and "military conflict occurred almost under every reign until the 20th dynasty.":102–103 At one point, Kerma came very close to conquering Egypt. Egypt suffered a serious defeat at the hands of the Kingdom of Kush. According to Davies, head of the joint British Museum and Egyptian archaeological team, the attack was so devastating that, if the Kerma forces had chosen to stay and occupy Egypt, they might have eliminated it for good and brought the nation to extinction. During Egypt's Second Intermediate period, the Kushites reached the height of their Bronze Age power and completely controlled southern trade with Egypt.:41 They maintained diplomatic ties with the Thebans and Hyksos until the New Kingdom pharaohs brought all of Nubia under Egyptian rule from 1500 to 1070 BC.:41 After 1070 BC, there were continued hostilities with Egypt, leading Nubians to concentrate in Upper Nubia.:58 Within 200 years, a fully formed Kushite state, based at Napata, began to exert its influence on Upper (Southern) Egypt.:58–59
When the Middle Kingdom Egyptians pulled out of the Napata region around 1700 BC, they left a lasting legacy that was merged with indigenous C-group customs. Archaeologists have found several large C-group tombs. Egyptians remaining at the garrison towns started to merge with the C-group Nubians in Lower Nubia. The C-group quickly adopted Egyptian customs and culture, as attested by their graves. The C-group Nubians and remaining Egyptians were living together in garrison towns, which was not the case prior.:41 After Upper Nubia annexed Lower Nubia around 1700 BC, the Kingdom of Kush began to control the area. At this point, C-group Nubians / Egyptians began to proclaim their subordination to the Kushite King in their inscriptions, which was a first in Africa outside of Egypt.:41 Egypt conquered Lower (and Upper) Nubia from 1500 to 1070 BC. However, the Kingdom of Kush survived longer than that of Egypt.
After the Theban 17th dynasty New Kingdom of Egypt (c. 1532-1070 BC) expelled the Canaanite Hyksos from Egypt, they turned their imperial ambitions to Nubia. By the end of the reign of Thutmose I (1520 BC), all of Lower Nubia had been annexed. After a long campaign, Egypt also conquered its formidable enemy, the Kingdom of Kerma in Upper Nubia, for the first time and held both areas until 1070 BC.:101–102:25 The Egyptians destroyed Kerma's kingdom and capital and expanded the Egyptian empire to the Fourth Cataract. The Egyptians built a new administrative center at Napata, and used the area to produce gold and incense. The Nubian gold production made Egypt a prime source of the precious metal in the Middle East. The primitive working conditions for the slaves are recorded by Diodorus Siculus, who saw some of the mines at a later time. One of the oldest maps known is of a gold mine in Nubia, the Turin Papyrus Map dating to about 1160 BC; this map is also one of the earliest characterized road maps in existence.
Nubians were an integral part of New Kingdom Egyptian society. Some scholars state that Nubians were included in the Egyptian 18th dynasty royal family.Ahmose-Nefertari was thought by some scholars such as Flinders Petrie to be of Nubian origin because she is most often depicted with black skin.:17 However, scholars such as Joyce Tyldesley, Sigrid Hodel-Hoenes, and Graciela Gestoso Singer, argued that her skin color is indicative of her role as a goddess of resurrection, since black is both the color of the fertile land of Egypt and that of the underworld.:90
In 1098-1088 BC, Thebes was "the scene of a civil war-like conflict between the High Priest of Amun of Thebes Amenhotep and the Viceroy of Kush Panehesy (= the Nubian)." Thebes was chaotic and there were great tomb robberies. Instead of sending soldiers to restore order, Ramesses XI put Panehesy in control of that area's military and appointed him Director of Granaries." Panehesy stationed his troops in Thebes to protect the city from thieves, but it resembled a military occupation of Thebes to the High Priest. This put Panehesy at odds with the High Priest and later led to the Civil war in Thebes.:104–105 By 1082 BC, Ramesses XI finally sent help to the High Priest. Panehesy continued his revolt and the city of Thebes suffered from "war, famine, and plunderings.":106. Panehesy had some initial success and the High Priest fled Thebes. Panehesy pursued the High Priest, as far as Middle Egypt before Egyptian forces pushed Panehesy and his troops out of Egypt and into Lower Nubia.:106 Ramesses sent new leadership to Thebes, with Herihor being named the new High Priest of Thebes (and effectively King of Southern Egypt) and Paiankh being named the new Viceroy of Kush. Paiankh recaptured former Egyptian holdings in Lower Nubia as far as the second Nile cataract, but could not defeat Panehesy in Lower Nubia. Panehesy ruled in Lower Nubia until his death.:106 Herihor's descendants became Egypt's 21st and 22nd dynasties.
There are competing theories on the origins of the Kushite kings of the 25th dynasty. Some believe they were Nubian officials that learned "state level organization" by administering Egyptian held Nubia from 1500 to 1070 BC.:59 An example would be the rebel Viceroy of Kush, Panehesy, who came to rule Upper Nubia and some of Lower Nubia after the withdrawal of Egyptian forces.:110 Other scholars believe they are descended from families of the Egyptianized Nubian elite supported by Egyptian priests,, or Egyptian settlers. Children of elite Nubian families were sent to be educated in Egypt and then returned to Kush to be appointed in bureaucratic positions to ensure their loyalty. During the Egyptian occupation of Nubia, there were temple towns with Egyptian cults, but "production and redistribution" was based mostly on indigenous social structures.:111
The El Kurru chiefdom likely played a major role in the development of the Kingdom of Kush due to its access to gold producing areas, control of caravan routes,:112 higher prevalence of arable land, and participation in international trade.:121 "There can be no doubt that el-Kurru was the burial place of the ancestors of the Twenty-Fifth Dynasty.":112 The early el-Kurru burials resemble Nubian Kerma/C-group traditions (contracted body, circular stone structures, burial on a bed):121. However, by 880 to 815 BC, Nubian burials at el-Kurru became more Egyptian in style with "mastabas, or pyramid on mastabas, chapels, and rectangular enclosures.":117,121–122 Alara, the first el-Kurru prince, and his successor, Kashta, were buried at el-Kurru.:123 Later documents mention Alara as the 25th dynasty's founder and he was "central to a myth of the origins of the kingdom.":124–126 Alara's sister was the priestess of Amun, which created a system of royal secession and an "ideology of royal power in which Kushite concepts and practice were united with contemporary Egyptian concepts of kingship.":144 Later, a Kushite princess and Kashta's daughter, Amenirdis, was installed as God's Wife of Amun Elect and later Divine Adoratrice (effectively governor of Upper Egypt), which signaled the Kushite conquest of Egyptian territories.:148
The Napatan Empire ushered in the age of Egyptian archaism, or a return to a historical past, which was embodied by a concentrated effort at religious renewal and restoration of Egypt's holy places.:169Piye expanded the Temple of Amun at Jebel Barkal by adding "an immense colonnaded forecourt.":163–164Shabaka restored the great Egyptian monuments and temples, "unlike his Libyan predecessors":167–169. Taharqa enriched Thebes on a monumental scale." At Karnak, the Sacred Lake structures, the kiosk in the first court, and the colonnades at the temple entrance are all owed to Taharqa and Mentuemhet. In addition to architecture, the Kingdom of Kush was deeply influenced by Egyptian Culture. By 780 BC, Amun was the main god of Kush and "intense contacts with Thebes" were maintained.:144 Kush used the methods of Egyptian art and writing. The Nubian elite adopted many Egyptian customs and gave their children Egyptian names. Despite the continuity of some Nubian customs and beliefs (e.g. burial practices):111, Egyptianization dominated in ideas, practices, and iconography. The cultural Egyptianization of Nubia was at its highest levels at the times of both Kashta and Piye.
Kashta peacefully became King of Upper and Lower Egypt with his daughter as Divine Adoratrice of amun in Thebes.:144–146 Rulers of the 23rd dynasty withdrew from Thebes to Heracleopolis, thus avoiding conflict with the new Kushite rulers of Thebes. Under Kashta's reign, we observe an intense Egyptianization of the Kushite elite and professional classes.
The city-state of Napata was the spiritual capital of Kush and it was from there that Piye (spelled Piankhi or Piankhy in older works) invaded and took control of Egypt. Piye personally led the attack on Egypt and recorded his victory in a lengthy hieroglyphic filled stele called the "Stele of Victory.":166 Piye's success in achieving the double kingship after generations of Kushite planning resulted from "Kushite ambition, political skill, and the Theban decision to reunify Egypt in this particular way", and not Egypt's utter exhaustion, "as frequently suggested in Egyptological studies." Due to archaism, Piye mostly used the royal titulary of Tuthmosis III, but changed the Horus name from Strong bull appearing (crowned) in Thebes to Strong bull appearing in Napata to announce that the Kushites had reversed history and conquered their former Thebaid Egyptian conquerors.:154 Again due to archaism, Piye revived one of the greatest features of the Old and Middle Kingdoms, pyramid construction. An energetic builder, he constructed the oldest known pyramid at the royal burial site of El-Kurru.
According to the revised chronology, Shebitku "brought the entire Nile Valley as far as the Delta under the empire of Kush and is 'reputed' to have had Bocchoris, dynast of Sais, burnt to death.":166–167Shabaka "transferred the capital to Memphis":166. Shebitku's successor, Taharqa, was coronated in Memphis in 690 BC and ruled Upper and Lower Egypt as Pharaoh from Tanis in the Delta. Excavations at el-Kurru and studies of horse skeletons indicate the finest horses used in Kushite and Assyrian warfare were bred in, and exported from Nubia. Horses and chariots were key to the Kushite war machine.:157–158
Taharqa's reign was a prosperous time in the empire with a particularly large Nile river flood and abundant crops and wine. Taharqa's inscriptions indicate that he gave large amounts of gold to the temple of amun at Kawa. Taharqa's army undertook successful military campaigns, as attested by the "list of conquered Asiatic principalities" from the Mut temple at Karnak and "conquered peoples and countries (Libyans, Shasu nomads, Phoenicians?, Khor in Palestine)" from Sanam temple inscriptions. Torok mentions the military success was due to Taharqa's efforts to strengthen the army through daily training in long distance running, as well as Assyria's preoccupation with Babylon and Elam. Taharqa also built military settlements at the Semna and Buhen forts and the fortified site of Qasr Ibrim.
Imperial ambitions of the Mesopotamian based Assyrian Empire made war with the 25th dynasty inevitable. Taharqa conspired with Levantine kingdoms against Assyria. In 701 BC, Taharqa and his army aided Judah and King Hezekiah in withstanding a siege by King Sennacherib of the Assyrians (2 Kings 19:9; Isaiah 37:9). There are various theories (Taharqa's army, disease, divine intervention, Hezekiah's surrender, Herodotus' mice theory) as to why the Assyrians failed to take Jerusalem and withdrew to Assyria. Sennacherib's annals record Judah was forced into tribute after the siege and Sennacherib became the ruler of the region However, this is contradicted by Khor's frequent utilization of an Egyptian system of weights for trade and the 20 year cessation in Assyria's pattern of repeatedly invading Khor (as Assyrians had before 701 and after Sennacherib's death) In 681 BC, Sennacherib was murdered by his own sons in Babylon.
In 679 BC, Sennacherib's successor, King Esarhaddon, campaigned in Khor, destroyed Sidon, and forced Tyre into tribute in 677-676 BC. Esarhaddon invaded Egypt proper in 674 BC, but Taharqa and his army defeated the Assyrians outright, according to Babylonian records. (one of Assyria's worst defeats) In 672 BC, Taharqa brought reserve troops from Kush, as mentioned in rock inscriptions. Taharqa's Egypt still held sway in Khor during this period as Tyre's King Ba'lu "put his trust upon his friend Taharqa." Further evidence was Ashkelon's alliance with Egypt and Esarhaddon's inscription asking "if the Kushite-Egyptian forces 'plan and strive to wage war in any way' and if the Egyptian forces will defeat Esarhaddon at Ashkelon." However, Taharqa was defeated in Egypt in 671 BC when Esarhaddon conquered Northern Egypt, captured Memphis, imposed tribute, and then withdrew. Pharaoh Taharqa escaped to the south, but Esarhaddon captured the Pharaoh's family, including "Prince Nes-Anhuret and the royal wives." The hostages were sent to Assyria. In 669 BC, Taharqa reoccupied Memphis, as well as the Delta, and recommenced intrigues with the king of Tyre.Esarhaddon again led his army to Egypt and on his death in 668 BC, the command passed to Ashurbanipal. Ashurbanipal and the Assyrians again defeated Taharqa and advanced as far south as Thebes, but direct Assyrian control was not established." The rebellion was stopped and Ashurbanipal appointed Necho I as his vassal ruler in Egypt. Necho I had been king of the city Sais. Necho's son, Psamtik I was educated at the Assyrian capital of Nineveh during Esarhaddon's reign. As late as 665 BC, the vassal rulers of Sais, Mendes, and Pelusium were still making overtures to Taharqa in Kush. The vassal's plot was uncovered by Ashurbanipal and all rebels but Necho of Sais were executed.
Taharqa's successor, Tantamani, sailed north from Napata with a large army, through Elephantine, and to Thebes, where he was "ritually installed as the king of Egypt.":185 From Thebes, Tantamani began his reconquest:185 and regained control of Egypt, as far north as Memphis. Tantamani's dream stele states that he restored order from the chaos, where royal temples and cults were not being maintained.:185 After defeating Sais and killing Assyria's vassal, Necho I, in Memphis, "some local dynasts formally surrendered, while others withdrew to their fortresses.":185
The Kushites held sway over their northern neighbors for nearly 100 years, until they were repelled by the invading Assyrians. The Assyrians installed the native Twenty-sixth Dynasty of Egypt under Psamtik I and they forced the Kushites permanently out of Egypt in the 590s BC.:121-122 The heirs of the Kushite empire established their new capital at Napata, which was also sacked by the Egyptians in 592 BC. Pushed south to Meroë, the Kushite kingdom survived for another 900 years. Cut off from Egypt after the fall of the 25th dynasty, the Egyptianized culture of Nubia grew increasingly Africanized until the accession in 45 BC of Queen Amanishakhete. She temporarily arrested the loss of Egyptian culture, but then it continued unchecked.
Due to pressure from Assyrians and Egyptians, Meroë (800 BC - c. 350 AD) became the southern capital of the Kingdom of Kush. According to partially deciphered Meroitic texts, the name of the city was Medewi or Bedewi. Meroë in southern Nubia lay on the east bank of the Nile, about 6 km north-east of the Kabushiya station near Shendi, Sudan, ca. 200 km north-east of Khartoum. Meroë is mentioned in the 1st century CE Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, "farther inland, in the country towards the west, there lies a city called Meroe." In the fifth century BC, Greek historian Herodotus described it as "a great city...said to be the mother city of the other Ethiopians." Together, Musawwarat_es-Sufra, Naqa, and Meroë formed the Island of Meroe. The importance of the town gradually increased from the beginning of the Meroitic Period, especially from the reign of Arakamani (c. 280 BC) when the royal burial ground was transferred to Meroë from Napata (Jebel Barkal). Excavations revealed evidence of important, high ranking Kushite burials, from the Napatan Period (c. 800 - c. 280 BC) in the vicinity of the settlement called the Western cemetery. They buried their kings in small pyramids with steeply sloped sides, that were based on New Kingdom Viceroy designs. At its peak, the rulers of Meroë controlled the Nile Valley north to south, over a straight-line distance of more than 1,000 km (620 mi).
People of the Meroitic period preserved many ancient Egyptian customs but were unique in many respects. The Meroitic language was spoken in Meroë and the Sudan during the Meroitic period (attested from 300 BC). It became extinct about 400 CE (AD). They developed their own form of writing, first utilizing Egyptian hieroglyphs, and later using a cursive alphabetic script with 23 signs. Meroitic Cursive, which was written with a stylus and was used for general record-keeping; and Meroitic Hieroglyphic, which was carved in stone or used for royal or religious documents. It is not well understood due to the scarcity of bilingual texts. The earliest inscription in Meroitic writing dates from between 180-170 BC. These hieroglyphics were found engraved on the temple of Queen Shanakdakhete. Meroitic Cursive is written horizontally, and reads from right to left like all Semitic orthographies. They worshiped the Egyptian gods but did not abandon their gods, such as Apedemak and the lion-son of Sekhmet (or Bast).
Meroë city was the base of a flourishing kingdom whose wealth was centered around a strong iron industry, as well as international trade involving India and China. Metalworking is believed to have gone on in Meroë, possibly through bloomeries and blast furnaces. The centralized control of production within the Meroitic empire and distribution of certain crafts and manufactures may have been politically important. Other important sites were Musawwarat_es-Sufra and Naqa. Musawwarat_es-Sufra, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was constructed in sandstone. Its main features were the Great Enclosure, the Lion Temple of Apedemak (14×9×5 meters), and the Great Reservoir. The Great Enclosure is the main structure of the site. Much of the large labyrinth-like building complex, which covers approximately 45,000 m2, was erected in the third century BC. The scheme of the site is, so far, without parallel in Nubia and ancient Egypt. According to Hintze, "the complicated ground plan of this extensive complex of buildings is without parallel in the entire Nile valley". The maze of courtyards includes three (possible) temples, passages, low walls, preventing any contact with the outside world, about 20 columns, ramps and two reservoirs.There is some debate about the purpose of the buildings, with earlier suggestions including a college, a hospital, and an elephant-training camp. The Lion Temple was constructed by Arnekhamani and bears inscriptions in Egyptian hieroglyphs and representations of elephants and lions on the rear inside wall as well as reliefs of Apedemak depicted as a three-headed god on the outside walls. The Great Reservoir is a Hafir to retain as much as possible of the rainfall of the short, wet season. It is 250 m in diameter and excavated 6.3 m into the ground.
Kandake, often Latinised as Candace, was the Meroitic term for the sister of the king of Kush who, due to the matrilineal succession, would bear the next heir, making her a queen mother. According to the scholar Basil Davidson, at least four Kushite queens -- Amanirenas, Amanishakheto, Nawidemak and Amanitore -- probably spent part of their lives in Musawwarat es-Sufra.Pliny writes that the "Queen of the Ethiopians" bore the title Candace, and indicates that the Ethiopians had conquered ancient Syria and the Mediterranean. In 25 BC the Kush kandake Amanirenas, as reported by Strabo, attacked the city of Syene, today's Aswan, in territory of the Roman Empire; Emperor Augustus destroyed the city of Napata in retaliation. In the New Testament biblical account, a treasury official of "Candace, queen of the Ethiopians", returning from a trip to Jerusalem met with Philip the Evangelist and was baptized.
The Achaemenids occupied the Kushan kingdom, possibly from the time of Cambyses (circa 530 BC), and more probably from the time of Darius I (550-486 BC), who mentions the conquest on Kush (Ku?iya) in his inscriptions.
Herodotus mentioned an invasion of Kush by the Achaemenid ruler Cambyses (c. 530 BC), however, Herodotus mentions that "his expedition failed miserably in the desert.":65–66 Derek Welsby states "scholars have doubted that this Persian expedition ever took place, but... archaeological evidence suggests that the fortress of Dorginarti near the second cataract served as Persia's southern boundary.":65–66
There is no record of conflict between the Kushites and Ptolemies. However, there was a serious revolt at the end of Ptolemy IV and the Kushites likely tried to interfere in Ptolemaic affairs.:67 It is suggested that this led to Ptolemy V defacing the name of Arqamani on inscriptions at Philae.:67 "Arqamani constructed a small entrance hall to the temple built by Ptolemy IV at Pselchis and constructed a temple at Philae to which Ptolemy contributed an entrance hall.":66 There's evidence of Ptolemaic occupation as far south as the 2nd cataract, but recent finds at Qasr Ibrim, such as "the total absence of Ptolemaic pottery" have cast doubts on the effectiveness of the occupation.:67 Dynastic struggles led to the Ptolemies abandoning the area, so "the Kushites reasserted their control...with Qasr Ibrim occupied" (by the Kushites) and other locations perhaps garrisoned.:67
According to Welsby, after the Romans assumed control of Egypt, they negotiated with the Kushites at Philae and drew the southern border of Roman Egypt at Aswan.:67Theodore Mommsen and Welsby state the Kingdom of Kush became a client Kingdom, which was similar to the situation under Ptolemaic rule of Egypt. Kushite ambition and excessive Roman taxation are two theories for a revolt that was supported by Kushite armies.:67–68 The ancient historians, Strabo and Pliny, give accounts of the conflict with Roman Egypt.
Strabo describes a war with the Romans in the first century BC. According to Strabo, the Kushites "sacked Aswan with an army of 30,000 men and destroyed imperial statues...at Philae.":68. a "fine over-life-size bronze head of the emperor Augustus" was found buried in Meroe in front of a temple.:68 After the initial victories of Kandake (or "Candace") Amanirenas against Roman Egypt, the Kushites were defeated and Napata sacked. 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. 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. Welsby states after a Kushite attack on Primis (Qasr Ibrim),:69–70 the Kushites sent ambassadors to negotiate a peace settlement with Petronius. The Kushites succeeded in negotiating a peace treaty on favourable terms. Trade between the two nations increased:149 and the Roman Egyptian border being extended to "Hiera Sykaminos (Maharraqa).":70 This arrangement "guaranteed peace for most of the next 300 years" and there's "no definite evidence of further clashes.":70
During this time, the different parts of the region divided into smaller groups with individual leaders, or generals, each commanding small armies of mercenaries. They fought for control of what is now Nubia and its surrounding territories, leaving the entire region weak and vulnerable to attack. Meroë would eventually meet defeat by the new rising Kingdom of Aksum to their south under King Ezana. A stele of Ge'ez of an unnamed ruler of Aksum thought of as Ezana was found at the site of Meroë. From his description, in Greek, that he was "King of the Aksumites and the Omerites" (i.e. of Aksum and Himyar). It is likely this king ruled sometime around 330 AD. While some authorities interpret these inscriptions as proof that the Axumites destroyed the kingdom of Meroe, others note that archeological evidence points to an economic and political decline in Meroe around 300. Moreover, some view the stele as military aid from Aksum to Meroe to quell down the revolt and rebellion by the Nuba. However, conclusive evidence and proof to which view is correct is not currently present. At some point during the 4th century AD, the region was conquered by the Noba, from which the name Nubia may derive; another possibility is that it comes from the Egyptian word for gold. From then on, the Romans referred to the area as Nobatia.
Around 350 AD, the area was invaded by the Kingdom of Aksum and the Meroitic kingdom collapsed. Eventually, three smaller Christian kingdoms replaced it: northernmost was Nobatia between the first and second cataract of the Nile River, with its capital at Pachoras (modern-day Faras, Egypt); in the middle was Makuria, with its capital at Old Dongola; and southernmost was Alodia, with its capital at Soba (near Khartoum). King Silky of Nobatia crushed the Blemmyes, and recorded his victory in a Greek language inscription carved in the wall of the temple of Talmis (modern Kalabsha) around 500 AD.
While bishop Athanasius of Alexandria consecrated one Marcus as bishop of Philae before his death in 373 CE/AD, showing that Christianity had penetrated the region by the 4th century AD, John of Ephesus records that a Miaphysite priest named Julian converted the king and his nobles of Nobatia around 545 AD. John of Ephesus also writes that the kingdom of Alodia was converted around 569. However, John of Biclarum records that the kingdom of Makuria was converted to Catholicism the same year, suggesting that John of Ephesus might be mistaken. Further doubt is cast on John's testimony by an entry in the chronicle of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria Eutychius of Alexandria, which states that in 719 AD the church of Nubia transferred its allegiance from the Greek to the Coptic Orthodox Church. Long after the official Christianization of Nubia, the Isis cult of Philae remained for the sake of the Nubians. The edict of Theodosius I (390 AD) was not enforced at Philae. Later attempts to suppress the cult of Isis led to armed clashes between the Nubians and Romans. Finally, in 453 AD, a treaty was signed recognizing the traditional religious rights of Nubians at Philae.
By the 7th century AD, Makuria expanded becoming the dominant power in the region. It was strong enough to halt the southern expansion of Islam after the Arabs had taken Egypt. After several failed invasions the new Muslim rulers agreed to a treaty with Dongola, called Baqt, allowing for peaceful coexistence and trade, contingent on the Nubians making an annual payment consisting of slaves and other tribute to the Islamic Governor at Aswan. This treaty held for six hundred years; it also guaranteed that any runaway slaves were returned to Nubia. Throughout this period, Nubia's main exports were dates and slaves, though ivory and gold were also exchanged for Egyptian ceramics, textiles, and glass. Over time the influx of Arab traders introduced Islam to Nubia and it gradually supplanted Christianity; furthermore, following an interruption in the annual tribute of slaves, the Egyptian Mamluk ruler invaded in 1272 CE and declared himself sovereign over half of Nubia. While there are records of a bishop at Qasr Ibrim in 1372 CE, his see had come to include that located at Faras. It is also clear that the cathedral of Dongola had been converted to a mosque in 1317.
The 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 vast majority of the Nubian population is currently Muslim, and the Arabic language is their main medium of communication in addition to their indigenous Nubian language. The unique characteristic of Nubian is shown in their culture (dress, dances, traditions, and music).
In the 14th century, the Dongolan government collapsed and the region became divided and dominated by Arabs. The next centuries would see several Arab invasions of the region, as well as the establishment of a number of smaller kingdoms. Northern Nubia was brought under Egyptian control, while the south came under the control of the Kingdom of Sennar in the 16th century. The entire region would come under Egyptian control during the rule of Muhammad Ali in the early 19th century, and later became a joint Anglo-Egyptian condominium.
In 2003, archaeologist Charles Bonnet heading a team of Swiss archaeologists excavating near Kerma discovered a cache of monumental black granite statues of the Pharaohs of the Twenty-fifth Dynasty of Egypt now exposed in the Kerma Museum. Among the sculptures were ones belonging to the dynasty's last two pharaohs, Taharqa and Tanoutamon, whose statues are described as "masterpieces that rank among the greatest in art history." Craniometric analysis of Kerma fossils comparing them to various other early populations inhabiting the Nile Valley and Maghreb found that they were morphologically close to Predynastic Egyptians from Naqada (4000-3200 BC). Dental trait analysis of Kerma fossils found affinities with various populations inhabiting the Nile Valley, Horn of Africa, and Northeast Africa, especially to other ancient populations from the central and northern Sudan. Among the sampled populations, the Kerma people were overall nearest to the Kush populations in Upper Nubia, the A-Group culture bearers of Lower Nubia, and to Ethiopians.
During the early-1970s, many Egyptian and Sudanese 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.
Entrance to Great Enclosure, Musawwarat es-Sufra
Column and elephant - part of temple complex in Musawwarat es-Sufra
The "Archer King", an unknown king of Meroe, 3rd century BC. National Museum of Sudan.
Media related to Nubia at Wikimedia Commons