In this chapter you will learn about the history and culture of Kush and its connections to Egypt.This photo shows ruins of the royal pyramids in Kush and some pyramids that have been reconstructed.
Section 1: Kush and Egypt
GEOGRAPHY AND EARLY KUSH The kingdom of Kush developed south of Egypt along the Nile, in the region we now call Nubia. Every year, floods provided a rich layer of fertile soil. Farming villages thrived. The area was also rich in minerals such as gold, copper, and stone. These resources contributed to the region’s wealth.
Over time some rich farmers became leaders of their villages. Around 2000 BC, one of these leaders took control of other villages and made himself king of Kush.
The kings of Kush ruled from their capital at Kerma (KAR-muh). The city was located on the Nile just south of a cataract, or stretch of shallow rapids. Because the Nile’s cataracts made parts of the river hard to pass through, they were natural barriers against invaders.
As time passed Kushite society became more complex. In addition to farmers and herders, some people of Kush became priests and artisans.
EGYPT CONTROLS KUSH Kush and Egypt were neighbors and trading partners. The Kushites sent slaves to Egypt. They also sent gold, copper, and stone, as well as the prized materials ebony and ivory.
Relations between Kush and Egypt were not always peaceful, however. Around 1500 BC Egyptian armies under the pharaoh Thutmose I invaded and conquered most of Nubia, including all of Kush. The Kushite palace at Kerma was destroyed. Kush remained an Egyptian territory until about 1050 BC, when the Kushites rose up and won their independence.
KUSH RULES EGYPT By around 850 BC, Kush was once again as strong as it had been before it had been conquered by Egypt. During the 700s, under the king Kashta, the Kushites began to invade Egypt. Kashta’s son, Piankhi (PYANG-kee), believed that the gods wanted him to rule all of Egypt. By the time he died in 716 BC, Piankhi had accomplished this task. His kingdom extended from the new Kushite capital, Napata, all the way to the Nile Delta.
Piankhi’s brother, Shabaka (SHAB-uh-kuh), declared himself pharaoh and began the twenty-fifth dynasty, or Kushite dynasty, in Egypt. Egyptian culture thrived during the twenty-fifth dynasty. About 670 BC, however, the powerful army of the Assyrians from Mesopotamia invaded Egypt. The Assyrians’ iron weapons were better than the Kushites’ bronze weapons. The Kushites were slowly pushed back to Nubia.
Section 2: Later Kush
KUSH’S ECONOMY GROWS After they lost control of Egypt and were pushed back to Nubia, the people of Kush devoted themselves to increasing agriculture and trade, hoping to make their country rich again. The economic center of Kush during this period was Meroë (MER-oh-wee). Large deposits of gold could be found nearby, as could forests of ebony and other wood. In this rich location the Kushites developed Africa’s first iron industry. Iron ore and wood for furnaces were easily available, so the iron industry grew quickly.
In time, Meroë became the center of a large tradenetwork. The Kushites sent goods down the Nile to Egypt. From there, Egyptian and Greek merchants shipped goods to ports on the Mediterranean and Red seas, and to southern Africa. These goods may have eventually reached India and perhaps China. Kush’s exports included gold, pottery, iron tools, ivory, leopard skins, ostrich feathers, elephants, and slaves. Imports included fine jewelry and luxury items from Egypt, Asia, and lands along the Mediterranean.
SOCIETY AND CULTURE The most obvious influence on Kush during this period was Egyptian, but many elements of Kushite culture were not borrowed from anywhere else. The people of Kush worshipped their own gods and even developed their own written language. Women were expected to be active in their society. Some women rose to positions of great authority, especially in religion. Queen Shanakhdakheto was (shahnahkdah-KEE-toh) the first of several queens who ruled the empire alone, helping to increase Kush’s strength and wealth. DECLINE AND DEFEAT Kushite civilization reached its height in the first century BC. Eventually it fell due to both external and internal factors. The stores of iron and other metals dwindled, and the overgrazing of cattle caused a deterioration of farmland. Another powerful trading center, Aksum (AHK-soom), located in modern-day Eritrea, began competing with Kush. Soon trade routes were bypassing Meroë for Aksum. After Aksum had decimated Kush economically, the Aksumite leader King Ezana (AY-zah-nah) sent an invading army and conquered the once-powerful Kush.