An Early Kingdom in the Land of the Bow: The
A-Group, 3800-3100 B.C.
The first continuous agricultural tradition in Africa,
Sudanese-Saharan Neolithic, developed almost ten thousand years
ago in country west of Nubia that is now desert. The Nile Valley
in Egypt had been inhospitable, but in the seasonally dry
channels of the Second Cataract, early farmers learned to manage
parts of the river's annual flood. This knowledge could then be
applied in Egypt's wide iloodplain, giving rise to the great
sequence of Upper Egypt's early civilizations.
Upper Egypt soon grew wealthy and its culture expanded again
into Nubia, where renewed southern contacts gave rise to the
first of Nubia's trading cultures, called the A-Group. Incense,
copper, gold, objects of shell, and semiprecious stones were
traded northward in return for manufactured articles and
probably agricultural produce.
Most surprising, evidence that early pharaohs ruled in A-Group
Nubia was discovered by the Oriental Institute at Qustul, almost
at the modern Sudanese border. A cemetery of large tombs
contained evidence of wealth and representations of the rulers
and their victories. Other representations and monuments could
then be identified, and in the process, a lost kingdom, called
Ta-Seti or Land of the Bow, was discovered. In fact, the
cemetery at Qustul leads directly to the first great royal
monuments of Egypt in a progression. Qustul in Nubia could well
have been the seat of Egypt's founding dynasty.
The Land of Wawat: C-Group Lower Nubia, 2300-1550 B.C.
Life in Nubia between 3100 and about 2300 B. C. differed greatly
from the prosperous times of A-Group. We know of only a few
inhabitants and one substantial town, where copper was smelted
About 2300 B.C., during the Egyptian Sixth Dynasty, a new
culture appeared, which archaeologists call C-Group. Cattle
played an important role in this culture, as they have in many
other African societies since. Nevertheless, the C-Group was
settled pemlanently along the Nile, from Aswan to the Second
Cataract, and a closely related culture was established in
northem Sudan, especially at Kerma, south of the Third Cataract.
As Egypt fragmented politically, C-Group people entered the
countIy to the north, as herdsmen and soldiers. They sometimes
rose very high in Egyptian society and they played an important
role in the struggles that founded the Egyptian Middle Kingdom,
about 2050 B.C.
From biographies of Egyptian govemors at Aswan, about 2300 B.
C., we leam that the peoples to the south were concentrated in
four principalities. One, Wawat, later gave its name to all of
Lower Nubia, the land between the First and the Second
Cataracts. Another, Yam, may have been a predecessor of Kush. In
the Egyptian period of disunity, about 2250 B. C., Lower Nubia
had its own pharaohs.
C-Group is well known for its tightly packed cemeteries of high
stone circles. Next to these circles were placed stelae, some
with pictures of cattle incised on them, and pottery, some of
Nubia's finest art. Three major cemeteries and a house of this
culture were excavated by the Oriental Institute at Adindan and
Kerma and the Rise of Kush, ca. 2000-1550 B. C.
Egypt conquered Lower Nubia about 1950 B. C., and retained it
until about 1700. CGroup kept its cultural identity under
Egyptian rule, but the land of Kush to the south and the Medjay
people of the Eastem Desert remained independent. Kush, much
influenced by the Medjay, became a major power in the south, and
as Egypt fell into disunity again, about 1700 B. C., Kush took
over Lower Nubia with its C-Group population and Egyptian
garrisons. The allegiance of people and soldiers was transferred
to the southem ruler who was represented as a pharaoh.
Most archaeology of the Kerma culture or early Kush is found
south of the Second Cataract, especially at the great capital at
Kemla, with its central temples, elaborate smelter,
manufacturing installations, houses and enormous royal mound
tombs. Its magnificent pottery was sometimes exported as far
north as the Egyptian Delta, and sometimes carried north by
travelling officials and soldiers.
The Ages of Egyptian Occupation
The Middle Kingdom, 1950-1700 B. C.
The New Kingdom, 1550-1 100 B.C.
The two periods of Egyptian rule in Nubia were quite different.
In the Middle Kingdom, Egyptian garrisons occupied fortresses
and the native C-Group peoples were not profoundly changed by
the imperial occupation.
After the terrible struggles that ended Egypt's Second
Intermediate Period, objects and many local customs became
practically indistinguishable from those of Egypt. Much that
underlay the tremendous elaboration of Egypt must have been
present long before in Nubia, for the rapid, sympathetic, and
understanding adoption of Egyptian culture in Nubia is unique in
the ancient world. Egypt invested heavily in this change,
building numerous temple complexes such as Abu Simbel that were
at once centers of religion, culture, politics, and economy. In
later centuries, this investment bore fruit as Nubia championed
the pharaonic faith against forces of disruption, conquest and
foreign rule in the Nile Valley again and again.
The Empire of Kush
Between 1100 and 750 B.C., little is known of Nubia, but after
750, a new Kushite kingdom appeared at Napata near the Fourth
Cataract and rapidly expanded into a huge empire. To the south,
Meroe was founded. To the north, Egypt had fallen into fragments
under Libyan rulers, and the Kushites extended their control
north of Thebes, the cult center of the god Amun in Egypt, who
was also the most favored deity of Kush. Piye, most famous of
Kush's pharaohs, united the Nile Valley from the Mediterranean
to Meroe, creating one of Africa's greatest states. He and his
successors are known as Egypt's Twentyfifth Dynasty. One,
Taharqo, was a great builder, and the Kushite rulers led Egypt
to its last age of outstanding achievement, which reached its
peak in the sixth century B.C. But when Kush tried to stop the
westward advance of Assyria in Asia, Taharqo and his successor
Tanutamani were defeated and expelled from Egypt by 650 B.C. In
Nubia and Sudan, Kush continued to be a major state for a
Meroitic Nubia- ca. 200 B.C.- A.D. 300
The actual capital of Kush was established at Meroe quite early
even though its rulers built pyramids near Napata until about
300 B.C. Meroe became a great city of large industrial complexes
and great temples, with an inner city that contained palaces, a
shrine with a large pool and columns that spouted water, and
even an observatory. Numerous important centers were founded in
the Isle of Meroe, and great templecomplexes dedicated to gods
with both Egyptian and Meroitic names. The most important
Meroitic deity was Apedemak, usually shown with a lion's head,
who became one of the greatest state gods. The outstanding
Meroitic industry known to us is iron. The site of Meroe still
contains large heaps of slag, and recent excavations have
unearthed parts of the furnaces used to smelt the metal.
In the north, Meroitic policy had been to assist revolts in
Upper Egypt against foreign rulers, such as Persians, the
Macedonian Ptolemies, and Romans. After an agreement with Rome
just after 23 B.C., Meroitic settlers were able to live close to
Aswan, beginning a new era of prosperity in Lower Nubia. Wealth
derived from trade made possible some of Nubia's most delightful
achievements in arts and crafts. The culture, like that of
Kush's main center at Meroe, was pharaonic, and the
representations on pottery and small objects were made in
accordance with the what was considered proper in that
tradition. These Meroites of Lower Nubia also constructed small
brick pyramids, and equipped their chapels with stone sculptures
and inscribed monuments.
The Blemmyes, ca A.D. 250-500
The Noubadian Kingdom, ca. A.D. 350-550
With the Roman world in turmoil, and Meroe in decline, a people
from east of the Nile known to the Greeks as Blemmyes and to the
Arabs as Bedja, rapidly overran much of Egypt and Lower Nubia.
Although expelled from Egypt, they were able to establish
themselves in the region of Nubia ; ust south of Aswan. Although
they continued the religion of the pharaohs, their rulers used
the Greek forms of contemporary Roman Imperial titles. The
Oriental Institute excavated near Kalabsha and recovered many
fragments of decoration from one of the Blemmyes' most important
holy places, as well as pieces of their unusual and beautiful
South of the Blemmyes, the Meroitic province of Lower Nubia
collapsed by about A. D. 300, and by 375, the kingdom of the
Noubades, now known as Nubians was established with its capital
near the modern Sudanese Border. Great moundtombs of its kings
at Qustul and Ballana contained much wealth, in crowns, jewels,
and great weapons, including long African spear-swords, now in
the Cairo Museum. The Oriental Institute's own excavations there
discovered that the tumuli themselves were only part of larger
complexes of chapels and sacrificial pits. Like the Meroitic
rulers they supplanted, the Noubadians used pharaonic symbols
and worshipped ancient gods. They joined with the Blemmyes in
attacks on Upper Egypt in defense of the old religion against
the newly dominant Christianity.