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The Kingdom of Kush - A Marvel

Jacob Houston

The Kingdom of Kush, notably known as the Kushite Kingdom or simply The Kushites, was a kingdom in Northern Africa that had a significant impact on the course of human and natural history.

The Kingdom was located in Nubia, a region encompassing the modern Northern reaches of Sudan. Kush was the continuation of the Kerma Culture, which rose in 2500 BCE, but the people of Kush had established contact with the Ancient Egyptians during the Early Dynastic Period that began in 3150 BCE. 

Initially, relations between the Kush and the Egyptians were cordial, and immense trade was conducted. However, after thousands of years, specifically during the New Kingdom of Egypt, in 1069 BCE, when the Kushites established their capital city in Napata (with little worry of Egyptian incursions on Kush lands as in the past), the Kush began a takeover of the Egyptian lands to the North, establishing Egypt’s 25th Dynasty. 

The 25th Dynasty in Egypt was marked by the arrival of the Kush King Kashta, who became the first pharaoh of the 25th Dynasty. The 25th Dynasty continued for many years, with several pharaohs ruling with relative prosperity until the Assyrian invasion of Egypt in 666 BCE, putting the pharaoh Tantamani out of power. 

The Assyrians put Necho I, a puppet ruler, in power in Egypt, and controlled the Egyptian Empire until Necho I’s son, Psammeticus I, revolted against the Assyrians, succeeding. Psammeticus I’s son, Psammeticus II, in the quest of a military campaign for glory, invaded the Kingdom of Kush to the south, decimating towns, cities, temples, and monuments before attacking Napata. 

However, Psammeticus II grew bored with the campaign and returned with his army to Egypt. The Kushites, for greater safety from foreign attack, moved their capital from Napata to Meroe, and continued following Egyptian customs. The religious power in Kush, controlled by the Priests of Amun, gave each king a specific amount of time to reign, and when their god indicated that the king’s time was up, the king had to die and get replaced by another king chosen by the priests.

Nevertheless, with the rise of Kushite King Arkamani I, who did not want to be controlled by the superstitions of the priests, dissolved the Priests of Amun by having them killed, establishing a more Kushite centered religious order rather than an Egyptian one. Arkamani I also stopped the use of hieroglyphic script in favor of Meroitic, which has not been deciphered to this day. In addition, Arkamani I focused on shifting Kushite views and identification away from Egypt, even through clothing, customs, religion, and even burial practices (Kush royalty would not be buried in Napata any longer, they would be entombed in Meroe). 

Finally, Kushite King Arkamani I gave way for women to hold positions of power, including becoming queens in Meroe, known as Candaces, who would not be subject to male domination. 

A specific example of a Candace would be Shanakdakhete, who is depicted in full armor leading her troops to battle. Queen Amanirenas even led the Meroitic War against the Roman Empire (from 27-22 BCE), and was able to negotiate a favorable peace treaty with Roman Emperor Augustus Caesar. 

Overtime, however, Meroe became so wealthy and prosperous that Persian King Cambyses II ordered for it to be sacked, but the Persian army was never able to make it to the city due to inhospitable conditions. 

Meroe itself was a marvel, surrounded by lush forests and fertile fields with irrigated canals to the Nile River, and with large buildings and temples centered all across the cityscape, it attracted visitors from all over the ancient world. The upper class resided in large houses and palaces that overlooked the long canals leading to the Nile River and roads, while the lower class lived in mud brick homes and huts. However, even in inscriptions, it is said that even the poorest citizen in Meroe was better off than anyone else from across the globe. The Temple of Amun was centered in the middle of Meroe, and was reportedly the jewel of the city. 

However, in 330 BCE, the Aksumites sacked Meroe, and even though the large city would stand for another 20 years, it was essentially all but destroyed. However, even before the Aksumites invaded Meroe, the city was on a large decline with less crop yields and deforestation. Thus, the city was almost entirely abandoned when the Aksumites arrived, ending the Kingdom of Kush in 350 BCE.

The Kingdom of Kush, from its inception, was a marvel of the ancient world, and its contributions to military strategy, economics, mathematics, engineering, politics, and history stand tall even today.


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