The origins of the term "Nubia"

Although today we speak of "ancient Nubia," the name "Nubia" did not exist before the Middle Ages. The term seems originally to have come from the tribal name "Nuba" or "Noba", which first appears in historical texts in the second century BC. By the fourth century AD, they were dwelling on both sides of the river and had absorbed the declining kingdom of Kush, centered at Mero‘. They were converted to Christianity in the sixth century AD and formed first three, then two, Christian kingdoms that flourished side by side until the fifteenth century. These people gave their name to these kingdoms, which were called "Nubian."  

Some writers have speculated, probably incorrectly, that the name "Nuba/Noba" may have come from the ancient Egyptian word nub, which meant "gold." In ancient times Nubia was famed for its gold mines, and even today mining companies are hard at work in Sudan extracting the precious metal from the ancient sources.
 The ancient names of Nubia
Ta-Seti: was the ancient Egyptian name of Nubia as recorded in the earliest Egyptian inscriptions, starting about 3200 BC. It meant "Land of the Bow," emphasizing what is known from later history: that the Nubians were skilled archers and feared soldiers.
Kush: was the name of an early kingdom in northern Sudan and first appears in Egyptian texts about 2000 BC. The Egyptians, who were afraid of the growing power of Kush, habitually tied the name to an adjective meaning "vile" or "bad." The earliest capital of Kush was apparently located at the site of modern Kerma, Sudan, about 420 miles (700 km) upstream (south) from Aswan. Originally designating only Upper Nubia (i.e. northern Sudan), the term "Kush/Cush" (also "Kas, Kos") was eventually more freely interpreted to mean all of Nubia south of Aswan. This name was used not only by the Nubians themselves, but also by the Egyptians and the rest of the ancient world (prior to the Greeks). "Kush" or "Cush" is the name of Nubia used in the Old Testament. It was also the native name of the later ancient Nubian kingdom, which was centered first at Napata and then at Mero‘.
Aithiopia/Ethiopia: was the Greek name for Nubia. Since the people in Nubia were much darker skinned than the Egyptians, the Greeks called them Aithiopes ("Burnt-Faced Ones"), and their land, they called Aithiopia ("Land of the Burnt Faces"). In modern spelling this has become Ethiopia. The Greeks and Romans used this name primarily to refer to what is now northern Sudan and the Upper (southern) Nile Basin rather than the land of modern Ethiopia, which until recently was called "Abyssinia." In the New Testament, which was written in Greek, Nubia is called "Aithiopia" or "Ethiopia."
Nubia: was the medieval name for the land of Kush/Aithiopia, which from the sixth to the fifteenth centuries AD was occupied first by three and then by two competing Christian kingdoms. These kingdoms were Alwa, centered at Soba on the Blue Nile (just upstream of modern Khartoum), Makuria, centered at Old Dongola between the Third and Fourth Cataracts, and Nobatia ("Land of the Nuba"), encompassing Lower Nubia. Ultimately, Nobatia was absorbed by Makuria.
Sudan: is the name of the modern country that now includes Upper (southern) Nubia. The name comes from the Arabic Bilad es-Sudan or "Land of the Blacks." Prior to the early twentieth century, all of sub-Saharan Africa, from the Nile tributaries to the sources of the Niger, was called al-Sudan (the Sudan"= "the Blacks"). It was a term used by the Arabs very much as the Greeks and Romans had used the term "Aithiopia"; its translation was virtually the same. In 1956, on achieving independence from Egypt and Great Britain, the vast territory formerly called "the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan" (as opposed to "the French Soudan" in the west) became the "Republic of the Sudan" or today simply "Sudan". The name is now applied only to the country that bears its name. Books over fifty years old, however, often apply the name "Sudan/Soudan" to various parts of central and West Africa on the southern edge of the Sahara. These lands should not be confused with Nubia or modern Sudan.
Archaeological Names
In the study of Nubian history and archaeology, specialists use two kinds of names to refer to the various ancient people and cultures they encounter; these are political names and archaeological names. Political names derive from ancient texts, and they reflect the actual names that the Egyptians, Greeks, or Nubians themselves gave to certain parts of Nubia or to the different Nubian peoples. Archaeological names are those names given to particular cultures or industries which are detectable by archaeology but for which there are no associated ancient names; thus, there is no way to know what names the people of these cultures gave themselves. Here the archaeologists provide these cultures with either arbitrary (and artificial) designations , e.g.: "A-Group, B-Group" and "X-Group," or they name them according to the archaeological sites in which they were first discovered or which became their main centers, e.g.: "Kerma Culture" (referring to the succession of Nubian cultures found at the city of Kerma).
Sometimes, the archaeological and arbitrary designations are mixed, e.g., the X-Group can also be referred to as the "Ballana Culture," since a main site for this culture is the cemetery of Ballana. Rarely, a political/textual name might combine with an archaeological designation, e.g., Nubadae-people can now be identified with the X-Group. Similarly, it has been suggested (justifiably or not) that the C-Group might be those people which the Egyptians named the Tjemehu (i.e., Libyans of the central Sahara).
Egyptian Names of Nubia
All of the lands south and southeast of Egypt (sometimes also including the northeast) the Egyptians called, Ta-netjer , "God's Land." Within this great region, the Egyptians located the different countries and people of Nubia. From the Old Kingdom onward, in addition to Ta-Seti , the Egyptians applied the name Ta- Nehesy as a general designation for Nubia (n.b., nehesy means, "nubian;" Panehesy, "the Nubian" becomes a common personal name, developing into the Biblical name, Phineas). At the same time, Egyptians gave the name Wawat specifically to Lower Nubia. This name derived from one of several Nubian chiefdoms which were located in this region during the late Old Kingdom. A generic designation of the desert nomads of Nubia was the term Iuntiu or Iuntiu-setiu , "Nubian tribesmen (lit. 'bowmen')." The names which the Egyptians used to refer to the various parts of Nubia and its different peoples usually changed depending upon the era and the particular tribal group in a given area.
Elsewhere in the Old Kingdom, the names Irtjet , Zatju , and Kaau were used of particular people and areas of the country. While, previously, they were thought to be in Lower Nubia, David O'Connor has recently made a strong case for locating them in Upper Nubia. The Land of Yam , visited by Harkhuf, Governor of Elephantine, in the late Sixth Dynasty, was apparently located around the Fifth or Sixth Cataracts. The Land of Punt was a country located east of Upper Nubia and bordering on the Red Sea (i.e., extending from the highlands to the sea). Since the Old Kingdom, the Egyptians often enjoyed a productive relationship with a Nubian tribal people from the land of Medja , named the Medjay (called the "Pan-Grave People" by archaeologists). As fierce warriors, they were incorporated as mercenaries into the Egyptian army as early as the Sixth Dynasty. Later in the New Kingdom, they were employed as the police force in Egypt, and the word medjay became the ancient Egyptian term for "policeman."
From the Middle Kingdom onward, the Egyptians regularly used the name Kash to refer to the powerful independent kingdom based in Upper Nubia, first at Kerma (until that was destroyed by the Egyptians in the sixteenth century BC), thereafter at Napata , then Meroe (pronounced "meroway"). Kash is identified as the Land of Kush in the Holy Bible. Kush's political dependency was the territory of Sha'at (in the region of the Isle of Sai). Other names attested at this time (mostly in execration texts) are: Iryshek, Tua, Imana'a , and Ruket . In the eastern mountains were Awshek and Webet- sepat .
In the early Eighteenth Dynasty, the Egyptians also used the name Khenet-hennefer to refer to Kush, especially during the military campaigns of Ahmose and Tuthmosis I. It appears as a general designation of the area of Upper Nubia between the Second and Fourth Cataracts, and designates the region for which the city of Kerma was the center or capital. The name Irem was applied in the Eighteenth Dynasty to the people who apparently lived in the southern reach of the Dongola Bend (i.e., the old territory of Yam). Later in the dynasty, the name Karoy was applied to the vicinity of Napata.
 In the Late Period and during the Kingdom of Meroe , the name, Island of Meroe , was given to the triangular stretch of land on the east bank of the Nile, south of the Fifth Cataract. This section, dominated by the city of Meroe, was bordered on the north by the Atbara River, on the west by the Nile, and on the south by the Blue Nile. The Island of Meroe was the heartland of Meroitic civilization and the political and cultural center of the Kingdom of Meroe from 590 BC to AD 300.
The Nubia hills
Today a large rugged area about 300 miles (500 km) southwest of Khartoum is known as the Nuba Hills. Today the peoples who live there are also called "the Nuba." These Nuba, however, are not one group but many. They speak many different languages and settled here in many waves and at many different times. These modern "Nuba" should not be confused with the "Nubians" (the ancient "Nuba" or "Noba"), for they are very different in language, appearance, and cultural heritage. It is possible, however, that centuries ago some "Noba" people dwelt here and gave their name to the mountains and that some of the modern "Nuba" may be descended from them.


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