The histories of Egypt and Nubia are so intertwined that an
Egyptian time chart will clarify the development of Nubia.
Nubia - The Kingdom of Kush
The first Egyptian reference to Nubia appears in 1971 B.C. -
1928 B.C.. The early Egyptians referred to this area as the
Kingdom of Kush. It was not until the crusaders of the Middle
Ages that the word Nubia was used. The capital of Nubia was
Kerma, then Napata and finally Meroe. These cities were
commercial centers connecting Southern and Northern African
commerce. Kerma hosted massive brick buildings which were
devoted to commerce and the arts.
The history of the Kingdom of Kush, as this monarchy is usually
called, is traditionally divided up into two main periods, named
after the two cities that, in turn, served as the royal capital.
The earlier phase of the kingdom (ca. 900-ca. 295 b.c.) is
termed the Napatan Period, because the Nubian kings at this time
rule d from Napata, a site located close to the Fourth Cataract.
The later Meroitic Period (ca. 295 b.c.-a.d. 320) is named for
its capital site of Meroe (pronounced Mer-oh-way), located south
of the Fifth Cataract.
The Egyptians contested Nubia for control of Lower Nubia
(Northern) and plotted to control Upper Nubia. The government of
Nubia had supported the Hyskos in the Hyskos invasion of Egypt.
The era of the New Kingdom had ushered in a time of Egyptian
conquest and revenge. The Egyptian rulers sent an army into
Nubia (1580 B.C), destroying the capital of the Kush Kingdom.
The Egyptians founded a new capital at Napata (near the Fourth
Cataract) and built a temple to their God - Amon. The Kingdom of
Kush became an Egyptian colony. In the years that followed,
Egypt fell into chaos. History has no record of the events of
the next four hundred years. In the eighth century B.C., a
Nubian dynasty dedicated to conquest raised an army and attacked
Egypt. In 712 B.C., an African dynasty ruled both Egypt and
Nubia. The Nubian Pharaohs followed Egyptian traditionalism and
restored the rites and traditions of the old religion.
THE RISE OF THE KUSHITE EMPIRE
The destruction of the Nubian capital Kerma lead to the
establishment of Napata as the center of Nubian life. The
Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses II built a temple of Amon at the base of
the mountain Jebel Barkal, which was located in Napata. Egyptian
priests came to worship at this site and the area became the
second most important site in Egyptian religious worship (after
Karnak). The mountaintop formation of Jebel Barkal contains an
outcropping resembling the head of a cobra. The cobra was the
symbol of Egyptian royalty. The Nubian rulers of Kush believed
this was a sign from the God Amon of their right to the Egyptian
throne. In 760 B.C., the Nubian King Kashta seized control of
Lower (northern) Nubia from the Egyptians. He united Lower and
Upper Nubia, conquered Upper (southern Egypt) and called himself
Son of Ra of Upper and Lower Egypt. Kashta founded the Nubian
Pharaohs of the 25th dynasty. In 730 B.C., Piye conquered Lower
Egypt (northern Egypt). The Kush Empire extended 1,200 miles
from the Mediterranean to Khartoum and beyond. Piye's sister
became the high priestess in the Temple of Amon at Karnak. Piye
was the first to build pyramids in Kush. Piye crowned himself
Pharaoh and waged war against Libya.
In 716 B.C., Shabako (Piye's uncle) succeeded Piye. Shabako
moved his capital to the city of Memphis. He loved to build
pyramids and as a result, Nubia had more pyramids than Egypt.
Shabako believed he was the restorer of the Egyptian traditions
and the ancient glories.
In 690 B.C., Shabitko, the son of Piye, ascended to the throne.
Shabitko sent arms to Judah in defiance of an Assyrian military
threat. In 674 B.C., the Assyrian's invaded Egypt. The Nubian's
were pushed back into Nubia proper. King Tanutamani was the last
Nubian King to attempt to re-take Egypt. By 656 B.C., Nubian
dominance of Egypt was at an end. The Nubian Empire had lasted
less than a century. In 593 B.C., the names of the Nubian
Pharaohs were erased from Egyptian monuments. In 591 B.C.,
Napata (the Nubian capital) was sacked. Meroe became the third
The Nubian Kings would forever believe themselves the rightful
rulers of Egypt. They would forever be addressed as rulers of
Upper and Lower Egypt.
Meroe was the third capital of Nubia. It is situated between the
Fifth and Sixth Cataracts. The Nubian culture, a mix of
Egyptian, Greco-Roman and Southern Africa influences, would last
for a thousand years. The Nubian Egyptian religion now included
Black Gods. Alexander the Great invaded Egypt and established
the Ptolemies Pharaohs. The Meroitic (Nubian) and Ptolemies
(Greek-Egyptians) co-existed and thrived. In 30 B.C., Octavius
Caesar defeated Cleopatra's army. Egypt became a Roman colony.
The Roman's sent a legion, under the command of General
Petronius (24 B.C. - 21 B.C.), to subdue Nubia and seize control
of the gold trade. The Nubian army, led by Queen Amanirenas,
smashed the Roman forces at Aswan, Philae, and Elephantine. The
African army had stood against the most powerful state in the
ancient world - Imperial Rome. This was Africa's finest hour.
The Roman military had been stalemated and Nubia was divided
into Lower Nubia (Roman) and Upper Nubia (Meroitic).
Meroitic history is filled with powerful Queen mothers. Women
ruled with the same authority as men. The Meroitic alphabet has
never been deciphered due to the lack of a translation key or
Rosetta stone. The Nubians so disliked their Roman neighbors
that a bust of Caesar Augustus was buried beneath a doorway to a
temple. In this way, all who entered would step on his head. By
A.D. 300-350, Meroe was abandoned due to environmental
pollution. Meroe suffered the fate of an over industrialized
nation. The smelting industry had poisoned the soil. Trees had
been cut down and the resulting erosion had washed away the
topsoil. The land was unable to grow the crops necessary to feed
the population. A new kingdom of Axium became Africa's
commercial center. In A.D. 350, the Christian King Ezana of
Axium had defeated Meroitic forces.
Archeological findings have shown that the founding of Kerma
dates back to 5,000 B.C.. The Nubian Empire pre-dates Egyptian
civilization and its lifespan outlasted Egypt, Greece and Rome
combined. The African army had defeated both Egyptian, Greek and
Roman enemies. At the height of its power, Nubia was the center
of the ancient world. The Kingdom of Kush, with its alphabet,
commerce and architectural triumphs was the equal of its ancient
world counterparts. In the modern world, the memory of this once
great empire would fade into history.