The history of this little known African civilization.
South of Egypt rose a wealthy and mighty African empire, with a bustling trade center brimming with precious goods, camels and merchants from surrounding Africa and Southern Asia. Kush was a major African trading kingdom, founded in modern-day northern Sudan in 3000 BC., which conquered Ancient Egypt and Nubia, flourished as a new and diverse culture, yet remained predominantly Egyptian in culture.
Kush was perfectly situated for close cultural contact with both Nubia and Egypt. Founded in the third flood plain of the Nile, the nation grew and expanded to include the land between the second and fifth cataracts of the Nile. This location played a key role in the development of this prosperous nation.
This mighty kingdom was originally founded by Nubian rulers for the purpose of extending their somewhat Egyptian culture. However, they lost the control of the colony to Egypt, who ruled it for 1,500 years afterward. A new Kushite way of life emerged when Kush seceded from Egypt and experienced a period of independent prosperity between 1500 and 1700 BC. when Egypt was dominated by Asian nomads.
The new nation of Kush soon reached its highest point of splendour during the two centuries that Egypt was dominated by the Hyksos- warlike Asian nomads. Africa and the rest of the ancient world watched as the Kushites flourished as intelligent, dark skinned farmers, merchants, miners, and builders. However, the period of independent development ended abruptly, when the Hyksos were driven from Egypt by the powerful New Kingdom kings, and Kush was again conquered and forced under Egyptian rule.
Merchants found the capital city, Kerma, to be an important trading center for goods from southern Africa proceeding northward. Kush developed strong trading ties with both Nubia and Egypt, trading commodities such as ivory, ebony, gold, animal hides, and incense for grains. Egyptian merchants highly valued certain items from this nation. The first of these was gold, deposits of which were in great abundance in Kush. Another is carnelian, a prized stone which was used in the manufacture of arrowheads and jewellery. Slaves were one of the top traded “goods”, as they served as needed soldiers and servants of the pharaoh. This trade with Egypt continued until the eventual diminish of the Kushite empire in the 300’s AD.
Kush regained its independence when the New Kingdom of Egypt crumbled in 1000 BC. By conquering all of Nubia, the nation once again rose as a major kingdom. This conquest yielded the prodigal gold mines of Upper Nubia. The Kushite people gained and utilised foreign knowledge of farming and construction, which greatly developed their culture. Kush blossomed into a center of learning and cultural diffusion
Kushite culture and society, although considerably influenced by other cultures, remained chiefly Egyptian. All Kushite art and architecture reflected an Egyptian model. For example, Kushite artists drew humans in the traditional Egyptian way of twisting the different portions of the body so that some parts face forward and others sideways. The Kushites also built pyramids as burial chambers but these were much smaller and steeper than the Egyptian models.
The Kushite people primarily led an Egyptian lifestyle. The government, which was also Egyptian in model, ruled well and gained wealth for the nation. The Kushites, who thought themselves the proper inheritors of the pharaoh titles, assumed them all. Kings were elected from the royal family and descent depended on the mother’s family line. This system eventually generated a string of female monarchs. This variance was seen in no other major civilisation, only the Kushite culture.
Religion was another aspect of life in which the Kushites modelled the ancient Egyptians as they accepted Egyptian ways of worship. They worshipped Egyptian gods such as Amon, Isis, Ra, Horus and Atum. Amon, the supreme god of the Egyptians, was exalted by the Kushites and temples were built in his honour. They also derived a few new regional gods from other existing African civilisations.
Kushite rulers were good leaders an generals. They were strong, influential and ambitious, very much like the Egyptian pharaohs. One of the greatest kings and generals of Kush was the famous King Piye who led a mighty invasion of Thebes in 730 BC. The campaign was very successful as the Kushites infiltrated the Egyptian security and were ironically now in control of the very kingdom that had ruled it for so many centuries of the past.
The Kushite dynasty was called the Ethiopian or 25th dynasty of Egypt. The Kushites brought no distinctive change to Egyptian culture because they were so much like the conquered people. The Kushite pharaohs had their names inscribed on temples just as the Egyptians had. The Kushites were driven out of Egypt in 670 BC. when the Assyrians invaded. They withdrew to Nubia, and never again returned to Egypt.
Kush, like all other civilisations, had its periods of prosperity, expansion, and decline. When the first few powerful kings died and their more emasculate sons and daughters came to the throne, they gradually lost control of the nation, as a result of poor governance. Kush suffered during this period and accordingly, it leaned toward an abrupt crumble.
The fate of Kush was determined when brutal nomads invaded the country. Under the weak leaders they were not driven out by any authority, as attackers raided villages and stole entire flocks of animals quite freely. The empire continued to decline steadily due to this catastrophe because of this factor. Eventually, during in the AD. 300’s, the kingdom had totally collapsed.
Kush, the strong, dominant, ancient trading nation of northern Sudan, which conquered others more advanced than itself, traded more abundantly than most, was more culturally diverse than all, and was more advanced than its neighbors, has had its glorious era. This great kingdom was modelled after the ancient Egyptian society to a great extent, and existed as the home of many highly skilled artisans and labourers. This powerful nation, whose might and splendour dwindled to an unfortunate end, truly left its lasting impression on the continent of Africa. The influence and fragments of Kushite culture can still be seen today in the artifacts located in large, Sudanese museums.