Kushite Kingdom

The Kushite kingdom flourished in the northern part of present-day Sudan (called Nubia by the Romans) and southern Egypt. From their capital at Napata, the Kushites controlled the trade between Egypt and East Africa and developed into a major military power.

Under the leadership of Piy, Kush forces moved into Upper Egypt, conquering Thebes and, in spite of strong resistance, Memphis. Under King Shabako (r. 721–706 b.c.e.) the Kushites established their own dynastic rule over Egypt but retained many of the old Egyptian customs, particularly regarding burials, and adopted the Egyptian pantheon of gods.

The Kushites developed their own written language based on Egyptian hieroglyphics, but as this language has yet to be deciphered, much remains to be learned about Kushite history and customs.

As the Assyrians conquered the eastern Mediterranean and moved into Egypt, the Kushites were forced to retreat southward into the Sudan where they built a new capital at Meroƫ, north of modern Khartoum.

Controlling the valuable gold mines in the Sudan and acting as middlemen in trade between East Africa and the eastern Mediterranean, as well as Greece, the Kushites grew wealthy. The numerous ruins of temples, tombs, pyramids, and palaces at Meroƫ and environs are evidence of the prosperity and artistic complexity of the Kushite kingdom.

The Kushites also produced high-grade iron for the manufacture of weapons. They may have transmitted their skills in iron smelting and the lost-wax process for bronze casting to West Africa, or that knowledge may have emerged independently in that area.

By 300 c.e. the Kushite kingdom had begun to decline as its trade in iron and other products with Egypt diminished. Attacks from the newly emerging kingdom at Axum in present-day Ethiopia further weakened it, and it finally fell to Axum rule in the fourth century c.e.