Ancient Nubian

The history of ancient Nubia is divided into the following periods: A GROUP: 3800-3100 B.C. Remains of the culture known as “A Group” are found in northern Nubia between Aswan and the 2nd cataract (in far southern Egypt up to the modern Sudanese border). An A Group incense burner from Qustul is decorated with the figures of a falcon and a cloaked man wearing a tall crown. These images suggest there was a line of kings in Nubia contemporary with the Egyptian kings of so-called Dynasty 0 (about 3000 B.C.), and that “civilization” and history began in Egypt and Nubia at about the same time. The A Group people were buried in simple oval or round pits, their bodies accompanied by shell and stone jewelry, pots, and stone palettes for the grinding of cosmetics. In this early period, the Egyptians referred to Nubia as “Ta-Seti” (“The Land of the Bow”) and conducted repeated military campaigns in the south to secure its borders and its trade in raw materials for such luxury goods as gold, skins, ivory and ebony, all of which were prized by Egyptian nobility. C GROUP: 2300-1550 B.C. The term “C Group” is used to refer to the people who lived in northern Nubia from 2300- 1500 B.C.This culture was located in southern Egypt, southward to the modern Sudanese border, in approximately the same region as the earlier A Group. Cattle were extremely important to the C Group people, as they are today to other African cultures. Not only were large herds maintained, but cattle held a ritual significance as well, possibly as a sign of wealth or for religious reasons associated with nurturing the deceased in the afterlife. Heads of sacrificed cattle, slabs of stone decorated with cows, and pottery vessels painted with bovines were placed in and near C Group tombs. The people of this time wore elaborate ornaments in their hair, as well as bracelets of alabaster, and made fine black pottery with incised decoration. There was extensive contact between Egypt and Nubia (known to the Egyptians as “The Land of Wawat”) during this time, and many Nubians migrated to Egypt where they were administrators, police and soldiers. By the end of the 16th century B.C., the C Group culture had either disappeared or had become indistinguishable from that of the Egyptians who had settled in the same area. THE KERMA CULTURE: 2000-1550 B.C. The Kerma culture, located about 300 miles south of the Egyptian-Sudanese border, represents the first imperial stage of Nubian history in central-southern Nubia. By the 18th century B.C., Egyptian records refer to a powerful “Kingdom of Kush.” The remains at Kerma document a highly sophisticated civilization. Two monumental mud-brick buildings (called defuffa in modern Arabic) still dominate the town. Their function is unclear, for one is surrounded not only by chapels and tombs, but also by secular structures and metal workshops. The kings of Kerma, wrapped in ram skins, were buried on beds inlaid with ivory and placed in tombs covered by mounds of earth, some of which are 300 feet across. Hundreds of retainers, dressed in caps ornamented with mica figures, were buried alive to accompany their master to the afterlife. Skulls of slain oxen were placed around the edges of the tumuli. EGYPTIAN DOMINATION: 1460-1050 B.C. For 400 years, the pharaohs of Egypt dominated Nubia. Trade in precious gold, skins, ebony and ivory were the main interests of the northerners. The land of Nubia was administered by an Egyptian official who bore the title “King’s Son of Kush,” and who was responsible directly to the king. Great stone temples in the Egyptian style were built throughout Nubia, and many Nubians adopted the worship of the Egyptian god Amun. THE KINGDOMS OF KUSH: 1100-200 B.C. THE NAPATAN PHASE Beginning in about 1100 B.C., Egypt’s domination of Nubia became more indirect as the northern land experienced political fragmentation. By 747 B.C., Thebes, one of the greatest cities in Egypt, called upon the Nubian monarch to save it from attack by northern Egyptian rivals. Nubian king Piankhy led his armies from Napata (near the 5th cataract) and made a triumphant entry into Thebes. He continued his march northwards, taking the ancient capital city of Memphis and uniting Egypt and Nubia under his rule. Although few of Piankhy’s successors resided in Egypt, the Nubian kings of Napata were considered to be pharaohs of both Egypt and Nubia – a time that is known as the 25th Dynasty (728-656 B.C.). In 656 B.C., the Assyrians invaded Egypt and drove the Nubians southward. Although they were no longer masters of Egypt, the kings of Napata continued to rule and flourish in Upper Nubia, where, freed from Egyptian domination, they developed a culture with both Nubian and Egyptian aspects. These kings were buried in steep-sided pyramid tombs equipped with gold jewelry, stone statues and other elaborate funerary equipment. The tradition of burying Nubian kings in pyramids started nearly 800 years after the last royal pyramid was built in Egypt. Although the Nubian pyramids are far smaller than their Egyptian counterparts, there are hundreds of Nubian structures built for Nubian kings and queens as opposed to the thirty or so major examples from Egypt. MEROITIC NUBIA: 200 B.C.-A.D. 300 The site of Meroe, situated far south between the 5th and 6th cataracts, approximately 150 miles north of today’s Khartoum, became the center of Nubian culture in the 2nd century B.C. During this era, Nubia was in close contact with the non-African world of the Greeks and Romans, and provided the corridor by which Africa and the classical world met. The kings of Meroe were buried in pyramid tombs. Other Nubians were buried in vaulted mud-brick tombs equipped with offering tables, painted pottery, weapons (spears, bows and arrows stored in elaborate leather quivers), cosmetic vessels, clothing and jewelry. One of the glories of Meroitic culture is its pottery, which is painted with colorful animal, plant and geometric motifs. Meroe was also a metal working center, and fine lamps, cosmetic bowls and spear points have been recovered from the site. “X GROUP”: ca. A.D. 250-550 During the third to sixth centuries A.D., several rival groups occupied Nubia, including the Noubadians (who lived in the Nile Valley) and the Blemmyes (who originated in the eastern desert and later settled in the Nile Valley). X Group culture is an intriguing mixture of ancient Egyptian, Greek and Nubian traditions. The kings of the Noubadians were buried in huge tumulus tombs and accompanied by sacrificed horses and camels equipped with silver trappings. Tombs of the kings at Qustul and Ballana yielded silver crowns decorated with ancient pharaonic motifs. THE MEDIEVAL PERIOD: A.D. 550-1500 By 570, most of Nubia had been converted to Christianity by missionaries sent from Byzantium. The Nubians warded off direct invasion of Arabs from Egypt by signing a treaty in 652 which ensured their independence in exchange for tribute. Under this arrangement, Christianity flourished in Nubia and the upper Nile. The eastern African kingdom of Axum became a center of early Christianity 


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