EMPIRE OF KUSH
Roman Egypt was bordered on the south by the empire of Kush, whose territory extended from Lower Nubia at least as far southward as the confluence of the Blue and White Niles. The empire was ruled for nearly a thousand years by descendants of the “Ethiopian” pharaohs of the Twenty-fifth Dynasty, who maintained a pharaonic-style state in their own country long after they had ceased to rule Egypt. Their earliest capital was at Napata, near the Fourth Cataract of the Nile. Later, as the empire expanded southward, the capital was shifted to the more southerly city of Meroë. From here the Kushite rulers maintained diplomatic relations with the Ptolemaic and Roman rulers of Egypt, and Meroë was visited on occasion by Greek and Roman envoys.
The people, or at least the rulers of Kush, spoke a language called Meroitic. Although a considerable number of texts survive, the language has not been deciphered, and it is thus not certain who the Kushites were or whence they originated. Their language does not appear to be related either to ancient Egyptian or to any of the Nubian dialects (see NUBIAN LANGUAGES AND LITERATURE) spoken more recently in the Sudan.
Around 350 the empire of Kush finally disintegrated through a combination of internal weakness and barbarian inroads. Most of its territory was taken over by Nubian-speaking groups (see NUBIANS) who moved into the Nile Valley from areas further to the west. The Nubians established three kingdoms of their own in the old territories of Kush: NOBATIA in the north, MAKOURIA in the middle, and ‘ALWA in the south, around the confluence of the Blue and White Niles. Nobatia, though located far from Meroë, inherited and carried on more of the ancient traditions of Kush than did the two more southerly kingdoms.
In the middle of the sixth century all three Nubian kingdoms were converted to Christianity (see NUBIA, EVANGELIZATION OF). The medieval civilization that subsequently developed, and that is now recognized as one of the high points in Sudanese cultural history, was a blend of Christian influences and of older traditions inherited from the empire of Kush.
- Adams, W. Y. Nubia, Corridor to Africa, pp. 246-381. Princeton, N.J., 1977.
- Arkell, A. J. A History of the Sudan, from the Earliest Times to 1821, pp. 110-73. London, 1955. Shinnie, P. L. Meroe. New York, 1967.
WILLIAM Y. ADAMS