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Image:Meroe pyramids 01 x600.JPG
Aerial view of the pyramids at Meroë

Kush or Cush was a civilization centered in the North African region of Nubia, located in what is today northern Sudan. One of the earliest civilizations to develop in the Nile River Valley, Kushite states rose to power before a period of Egyptian incursion into the area.


[edit] Origins

The first developed societies showed up in Nubia before the time of the First dynasty of Egypt (3100-2890 BC). Around 2500 BC, Egyptians began moving south, and it is through them that most of our knowledge of Kush (Cush) comes. But this expansion was halted by the fall of the Middle Kingdom of Egypt. About 1500 BC Egyptian expansion resumed, but this time encountered organized resistance. Historians are not sure whether this resistance came from multiple city states or a single unified empire, and debate over whether the notion of statehood was indigenous or borrowed from the Egyptians. The Egyptians prevailed, and the region became a colony of Egypt under the control of Thutmose I, whose army ruled from a number of sturdy fortresses. The region supplied Egypt with resources.

In the eleventh century BC internal disputes in Egypt caused colonial rule to collapse and an independent kingdom arose based at Napata in Nubia. This kingdom was ruled by locals who overthrew the colonial regime.

[edit] Napata

This Napata based kingdom was united by Alara in the period of around 780-755 BC; Alara is universally regarded as the founder of the Kushite kingdom by his successors. the Kingdom grew in influence and came to dominate the Southern Egyptian region of Elephantine and even Thebes by the reign of Kashta, Alara's successor who managed in the 8th century BC to compel Shepenupet I, half-sister of takelot III and the serving God's Wife of Amen, to adopt his own daughter Amenirdis I as her successor. After this event, Thebes was under the de-facto control of Napata. Its power reached a climax under king Piye, Kashta's successor, who conquered all of Egypt in his Year 20 and established the twenty-fifth dynasty.

When the Assyrians invaded in 671 BC, Kush became, once again, an independent state. The last Kushite king to attempt to regain control over Egypt was Tantamani who was firmly defeated by Assyria in 664 BC. Henceforth, the kingdom's power declined over Egypt and terminated in 656 BC when Psamtik I, founder of the 26th Saite Dynasty, reunited Egypt. In 591 BC the Egyptians under Psamtik II invaded Kush, perhaps because Kush ruler Aspelta was preparing to invade Egypt and effectively sacked and burned Napata.

[edit] Move to Meroë

It is clear from various historical records that Aspelta's successors, moved their capital to Meroë, considerably farther south than Napata. The exact date this change was made is uncertain but some historians believe it was during Aspelta's reign, in response to the Egyptian invasion of Lower Nubia. Other historians believe it was the attraction of iron working that drove the kingdom south: around Meroë, unlike Napata, there were large forests that could fire the blast furnaces. The arrival of Greek merchants throughout the region also meant that Kush was no longer dependent on trade along the Nile; rather, it could export its goods east to the Red Sea and the Greek trading colonies there.

An alternate theory is that two separate but closely linked states developed, one based at Napata and the other at Meroë; the Meroë-based state gradually eclipsed the northern one. No royal residence had been found north of Meroë and it is possible Napata had only been the religious headquarters. But Napata clearly remained an important centre, with the kings being crowned and buried there for many centuries, even when they lived at Meroë.

In around 300 BC the move to Meroë was made more complete as the monarchs began to be buried there, instead of at Napata. One theory is that this represents the monarchs breaking away from the power of the priests based at Napata. Diodorus Siculus tells a story about a Meroitic ruler named Ergamenes who was ordered by the priests to kill himself, but broke tradition and had the priests executed instead. Some historians think Ergamenes refers to Arrakkamani, the first ruler to be buried at Meroë. However, a more likely transliteration of Ergamenes is Arqamani, who ruled many years after the royal cemetery was opened at Meroë. Another theory is that the capital had always been based at Meroë.

Kush continued for several centuries but we have little information on it. While earlier Kush had used Egyptian hieroglyphics, Meroë developed a new script and began to write in the Meroitic language, which has yet to be fully deciphered. The state seems to have prospered, trading with its neighbours and continuing to build monuments and tombs. In 23 BC the Roman governor of Egypt, Petronius, invaded Nubia in response to a Nubian attack on southern Egypt, pillaging the north of the region and sacking Napata (22 BC) before returning north.

[edit] Decline

The decline of Kush is hotly debated. A diplomatic mission in Nero's reign travelled to Meroë; (Pliny the Elder, N.H. 6.35). After the 2nd century AD the royal tombs began to shrink in size and splendour, and the building of large monuments seems to have ceased. The royal pyramid burials halted altogether in the middle 4th century AD. The archeological record shows a cultural shift to a new society known as the X-Group, or Ballana culture.

This corresponds closely to the traditional theory that the kingdom was destroyed by the invasion by Ezana of Axum from the Ethiopian kingdom of Axum around 350. However, the Ethiopian account seems to be describing the quelling of a rebellion in lands they already controlled. It also refers only to the Nuba, and makes no mention of the rulers of Meroë.

Many historians thus theorize that these Nuba are the same people the Romans called the Nobatae. Strabo reports that when the Roman empire pulled out of northern Nubia in 272, they invited the Nobatae to fill the power vacuum. The other important elements were the Blemmyes, likely ancestors of the Beja. They were desert warriors who threatened the Roman possessions and thereby contributed to the Roman withdrawal to more defensible borders. In the end of the 4th c. AD they managed to control a part of the Nile valley around Kalabsha in Lower Nubia.

By the sixth century, new states had formed in the area that had once been controlled by Meroë. It seems almost certain that the Nobatae evolved into the state of Nobatia, and were also behind the Ballana culture and the two other states that arose in the area, Makuria and Alodia were also quite similar. The Beja meanwhile were expelled, back into the desert by the Nuba kings around 450 AD. These new states of Nubia inherited much from Kush, but were also quite different. They spoke Old Nubian and wrote in a modified version of the Coptic alphabet; Meroitic and its script seemed to disappear completely.

The origin of the Nuba/Nobatae who replaced Meroë is uncertain. They may have been nomadic invaders from the west who conquered and imposed their culture and language on the settled peoples. P.L. Shinnie has speculated that the Nobatae were in fact indigenous and were natives of the Napata region who had been dominated by Meroitic leaders for centuries, and that the word Nobatae is directly related to Napata.

[edit] In the Bible

The name given this civilization comes from the Old Testament where Cush was one of the sons of Ham who settled in Northeast Africa. In the Bible and archaically a large region covering northern Sudan, southern Egypt, and parts of Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Somalia were known as Cush. The Bible refers to Cush on a number of occasions. Some contend that this Cush was in southern Arabia. See Biblical Cush for a full discussion.

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  • Jean Leclant. "The empire of Kush: Napata and Meroe" UNESCO General History of Africa
  • A. Hakem with I. Hrbek and J. Vercoutter. "The civilization of Napata and Meroe" UNESCO General History of Africa
  • P.L. Shinnie. "The Nilotic Sudan and Ethiopia c. 660 BC to c. AD 600" Cambridge History of Africa - Volume 2 Cambridge University Press, 1978.

[edit] External links

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de:Nubische Geschichte in der Antike fr:Royaume de Koush ja:クシュ pl:Kusz pt:Kush sr:Куш fi:Kush sv:Kush


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