The Kingdom of Kush with its
three major cities of Meroe, Kerma, and Napata, emerged in the Nubian Desert south of Egypt along
the Upper Nile River Valley from the 2nd millennium B.C. to the fourth
century A.D. Archaeology, architecture, art,
and burials provide the most information about the Kushite Kingdom. While the Kushites had a written language based
on the Egyptian hieroglyphics, scholars have only begun to decipher the language
and the existing texts.
The location of the kingdom along the Nile River provided strategic communication
and trade routes both within the kingdom and throughout northeastern Africa.Kushites also farmed the Nile River valley, relying
on irrigation systems and rainfall in some areas.The Kushites also mined minerals and high-quality
stone for trade and introduced and developed iron metallurgy to the region.This region of Africa also produced more gold
than anywhere in the world at that time.An archeological site near the present-day village of Hosh el-Guruf in Sudan,
dating to the early Kush period (1700-1500 B.C.), revealed a massive gold-processing
operation with many grindstones, three feet in diameter and several hundred pounds
in weight, essential for the mining of gold.
The economy of the ancient Kushites relied, to some degree, on the trade of exotic
African goods with Egypt.As middlemen, Kushite
traders passed along ivory, ebony, incense, and other exotic goods from the South
to the Egyptians who then traded with other Mediterranean peoples.The city of Kerma, with its strategic location
on the Nile River, controlled the trade route between the lands farther south of
Kush and Egypt in the north.The role of
Kush as a trade middleman influenced the relationship between Egypt and Kush.Egypt actively sought to expand their empire as
well as control the trade routes significant to their economy.
The art and architecture of the Kushites reveal a sophisticated society of innovative
craftsmen as well as constant assimilation of new artistic techniques from other
lands.Notable architecture includes stone
temple complexes such as the Lion Temple at Naqa, and the steep-sided, solid pyramids
found at Meroe and Jebel Barkal.Kushite
art includes narrative tomb wall paintings as well as unique, eggshell-thin pottery
with geometric patterns, traded all over the Mediterranean.Stoic granite and bronze statues of gods and kings
convey the Kushite religious beliefs.
Kush collapsed finally in the fourth century A.D. under the persistent attack of
nomads from the south and the eastern lands.Also, the emerging Axum Kingdom in Ethiopia eclipsed the Kush Kingdom and
contributed to its demise.
Stanley Burstein, ed., Ancient
African Civilizations: Kush and Axum (Princeton: Markus Wiener Publishers,
1998); Derek A. Welsby, The Kingdom of Kush:
The Napatan and Meroitic Empires (London:
Trustees of the British Museum, 1996); Geoff Emberling, "The Gold of Kush." Archaeology 62 (2009) 55-59.
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