The Ancient Kingdom of Kush

Kush was an early civilization that developed in the Nile River Valley and ruled the Egyptian Empire for more than a century. It eventually covered much of the land in what is now Sudan.

Most of what is known about Kush comes from non-Kushite sources. The people of Kush had a type of written language, similar to Egyptian hieroglyphs, but not much of it survives.

References to Kush are found in writings of Ancient Egypt, Ancient Israel, and Ancient Rome. Some sources say that the Kushite civilization predated the Egyptian civilization.

Kush had a rich supply of gold and iron ore, making Kush a wealthy civilization and a desirable trading partner. Kush also traded ivory, animal skins, and pottery with Egypt and other civilizations in Africa and the Middle East.

Kush had fertile soil without the flooding on which Egypt depended. Kushite farmers did not grow all the food that their civilization needed, however, so Kushite traders often bought food and drink, such as wine and olive oil, from Greece and papyrus from Egypt.

When Egypt’s New Kingdom collapsed, Kush arose as a strong foe and eventually conquered Egypt, in 775 B.C.E. An Assyrian victory over Kushite forces in 656 B.C.E. resulted in a decline in Kushite influence, and Egypt regained its supremacy.

The people of Kush mummified their dead and placed them in tombs. Many of these tombs were underneath pyramids. Some sources say that the tallest Kushite pyramid was built to honor the memory of a Kushite queen, Shanakdakheto.

Sources list several queens among the ruling elite of Kush. The kings (and queens) enforced the laws, which were made by the priests. Some sources say that the Kushite people had much more influence in the selection of leaders (of both the settlements and the civilization) and in the overall maintenance of the society than did the Ancient Egyptians.

The Kushite tomb interiors were covered with wall paintings, and archaeological digs have found granite and bronze statues showing gods similar to Egypt but also some exclusive to Kush, including a three-headed lion.

Many sources say that an invasion from the Ethiopian kingdom of Axum ended the Kush kingdom. Armed bands from other civilizations to the south also attacked, and Kush was eventually squeezed between competing influences. About the same time, there was a growing trend of traders bypassing Kush altogether.

Kush collapsed in the fourth century C.E. The Axum Kingdom in Ethiopia razed the Kush capital, Meroe, and contributed to the kingdom’s fall.

Source: The Ancient Kingdom of Kush
Social Studies for Kids copyright 2002–2021 David White

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