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 the 1st century AD, the Kushite capital had been 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.
The native name of the Kingdom was recorded in Egyptian as k3š, likely pronounced /kuɫuʃ/ or /kuʔuʃ/ in Middle Egyptian when the term is first used for Nubia, based on the New Kingdom-era Akkadian transliteration as the genitive kūsi. . It is also an ethnic term for the native population who initiated the kingdom of Kush. The term is also displayed in the names of Kushite persons, such as King Kashta (a transcription of k3š-t3 “(one from) the land of Kush”). Geographically, Kush referred to the region south of the first cataract in general. Kush also was the home of the rulers of the 25th dynasty.
The name Kush since at least the time of Josephus has been connected with 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 name for Egypt). However, following Friedrich Delitzsch (Wo lag das Paradies? 1881), modern scholars have often suggested that certain uses of the name Cush in the Bible might refer instead to the Kassites of the Zagros Mountains region (within modern Iran).
Mentuhotep II (21st century BC 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 BC governed by an Egyptian Viceroy of Kush. With the disintegration of the New Kingdom around 1070 BC, Kush became an independent kingdom centered at Napata in modern central Sudan.
The Kushites buried their monarchs along with all their courtiers in mass graves. Archaeologists refer to these practices as the “Pan-grave culture”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. 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.
The Kush rulers were regarded as guardians of the state religion and were responsible for maintaining the houses of the gods. 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.
Conquest of Egypt (25th Dynasty)
In 945 BC, Sheshonq I and Libyan princes took control of the Ancient Egyptian delta and founded the so-called Libyan or Bubastite dynasty, which 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.However, Libyan control began to erode as a rival dynasty in the delta arose in Leontopolis and Kushites threatened from the south.
Around 727 BC, the Kushite king Piye invaded Egypt, seized control of Thebes and eventually the Delta. His dynasty, the Twenty-fifth dynasty of Egypt, continued until about 671 BC when they were deposed by the Neo Assyrian Empire.
Piye attempted to regain a foothold for Egypt in the Near East that had been lost five centuries before during the period of the Middle Assyrian Empire and Hittite Empire. However he was defeated by the Assyrian king Shalmaneser V and then his successor Sargon II in the 720’s BC. The 25th dynasty was based at Napata, in Nubia, which 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.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. 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.
Taharqa was the son of Piye and the first seventeen years of his reign were very prosperous for Kush. 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.
Egypt’s international prestige had declined considerably towards the end of the Third Intermediate Period. Its historical Semitic Canaanite allies in the Southern Levant had fallen to the Middle Assyrian Empire (1365-1020 BC), and then the resurgent Neo Assyrian Empire (935-605 BC). The Semitic Assyrians, from the 10th century BC onwards, had once more 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/Persia.
By 700 BC war between the two Empires became inevitable. Taharqa enjoyed some minor 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 besieging Assyrian army appears to have been the main cause of failure to take Jerusalem rather than any military setback, and Assyrian records indicate Hezekiah was forced to pay tribute regardless. The Assyrian King Sennacherib then defeated Taharqa and drove the Nubians and Egyptians from the region and back over the Sinai into Egypt.
Between 674 and 671 BC the Assyrians, tiring of Egyptian meddling in their empire, began their invasion of Egypt under King Esarhaddon, the successor of Sennacherib. The Assyrians, whose armies had been the best in the world since the 14th century BC, 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 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 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 but well trained army which 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.
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 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.
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. 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 (the north) while Kmt seems to refer to a united Upper Egypt and Nubia.
Move to Meroë
Aspelta moved the capital to Meroë, considerably farther south than Napata, possibly in 591 BC. 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.
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,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.
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 BC there was a separate Meroitic writing system. This was an alphabetic script with 23 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 (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. It is not as yet possible to connect the Meroitic language with other known languages.
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. 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 :149 The Kushites succeeded in negotiating a peace treaty on favourable terms and trade between the two nations increased.:149 Some historians like Theodore Mommsen wrote that during Augustus times Nubia was a possible “client state” of the Roman Empire.
It is possible that the Roman emperor Nero planned another attempt to conquer Kush before his death in 68 AD.: 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. Christianity began to gain over the old pharaonic religion and by the mid-sixth century AD the Kingdom of Kush was dissolved.
Kush and Egyptology
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 25th dynasty ruled over both states in the 8th century BC, from the Rift Valley to the Taurus mountains, historians have closely associated the study of Kush with Egyptology, in keeping with the general assumption that the complex socio-political development of Egypt’s neighbours 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. Edwards has suggested that study of the region could benefit from increased recognition of Kush as a state in its own right, with distinct cultural conditions, rather than merely as a secondary state on the periphery of Egypt.