1070 BC – 350 AD
So quite a while ago, almost 5 months ago now, I did the first part of Nubia, the origins, the part where it was the Kingdom of Kerma, and everything. Now that state originally got swallowed by Egypt as the New Kingdom became more powerful and eventually became a mere colony, losing their independence for some centuries. When the power receded, the kingdom that was left was known by the name of Kush, a name for the area that had started coming into use around the point of the Middle Kingdom. This is also possibly the first state that will last into the AD years, because African history meant that this established kingdom could remain relatively untroubled for a long time.
Located down the Nile, the same place as the previous Nubia, Kush had borders that did expand beyond that, over the Nile cataracts, further into Africa. As Kush at the time generally referred to anything south of the first cataract its borders weren’t charted but it definitely involved the point where the Blue Nile and the White Nile combined. Unlike Kerma previously, there was civilisation and a centralised kingdom at Meroe and Napata, and that did change over the period I’m going to be covering. The capital was either Napata originally and then became Meroe, or Meroe was the capital all along and the earliest rulers originated from Napata and considered that as part of their crucial heritage. Meroe is certainly the larger and more well known city.
When the New Kingdom disintegrated, some local monarch in 1070 BC, located in the city of Napata, took the chance and became the leader of their own indepedent kingdom. One for the Kushites, the darker-skinned (possibly) Egyptians who still remembered when they weren’t ruled by Egypt and wanted to go their own way from the troubles of the Intermediate Period that Egypt was experiencing after the death of Ramesses XI. Which I’ll cover in my next Egypt post but you get the 25th dynasty ahead of time. Just know that there were 4 dynasties in the instability between then and now.
The first known ruler we have for Kush is in 795 BC, where we come to King Alara. We know Alara because he united Upper Nubia, and he know him because he had a long and fruitful reign, such that future Nubian kings would look to him as the king to worship in the hopes that they too would have a stable reign. The reason we can jump in on Kush at this point in their ruler history and not any other point in the previous couple of centuries. Because Kashta, his successor, would lay the foundations for a group of Kushite kings to become Pharaohs. The 25th dynasty of Egypt was a Kushite dynasty, ruled by the Kings of Kush, effectively treating the two kingdoms as one. Kashta ruled from Nubia but he had enough influence to make his daughter the High Priestess of Amun and this allowed him, through further political wrangling to exert enough power over Egypt proper to call himself Pharaoh. Effectively a peaceful invasion.
Piye, possibly a son of Kashta, was able to formally seize control and he’s the king that we start with for the 25th dynasty. The Kushites were defeated by the Assyrians for Egypt’s outer territories but managed to have some power in the Levant to hold on with. Shabaka, Shekritu and Tabarqa were all sons of Piye and all had a go at the Pharaoh-ship. They dealt with Assyria clashing over Judea, and helped King Hezekiah stave off an assault from the Assyrians (enough that Tabarqa might have been an Ethiopian King mentioned in the Bible), briefly, for Assyria would not be stopped in this time period. Taharqa would lose effective control over Egypt by the end of his reign.
The 25th Dynasty would only last one more king, the son of Shekritu, Tantamani, who lost control over Egypt eventually to the Assyrians, even despite marching an army down the Nile to take it back, Tantamani was defeated and the Assyrians appointed a local ruler, Necho I, the first Pharaoh of the 26th dynasty, and the last to be locally Egyptian, but I’ll get to that another time.
Back in Nubia, Altanersa, the son of Tantamani, annoyed that he wouldn’t be getting his inheritance, still called himself a Pharaoh in protest, as would his successors, but the world would now be moving on without Kush. During the reign of a king called Aspelta, if they hadn’t already, they moved the capital to Meroe, possibly as it was safer in case the Assyrians came after them. The monarchs would still be buried at Napata for a time but over time they came to be buried at Meroe.
Kush came in for a few skirmishes with Rome and would have been the ‘Ethiopia’ to any late antiquity peoples, but never did anything of huge note beyond that. Eventually, Christianity took hold in the area, the pharaoh practices ceased (there were Kushite ‘pharaohs’ long after Egypt stopped having them proper, see, that’s rather interesting), and new states like Makuria and Alodia took hold.