Ancient Kush: An Introduction

Ancient Kush is the least understood and most overlooked of Africa’s classical civilizations. It was once revered by the ancient Greeks as a civilization with an honorable reputation which invented astronomy, astrology, and religious ceremony. By the late 18th century, Kush had been all but forgotten, and today it is only mentioned in reference to its relationship to ancient Egypt. Almost all historians and archaeologists assume that Kush can best be understood in terms of Egyptian history, and thus the sociopolitical developments of Kush as an independent ancient state have received little attention. The study of Kush is lumped in with Egyptology as most specialists in this field write about this southern kingdom during the periods when Kush was in contact with Egypt.

Source: Save Nubia Project

There is much ambiguity surrounding Kush, particularly during its earliest periods, and the study of the southern Nile region would increase the recognition of Kush as an independent state in its own right, with distinct cultural and political characteristics, rather than merely as a secondary state on the periphery of Egypt.

Most Egyptologists confuse groups south of the Egyptian border and classify them under the generic term “Nubian,” even when there is no evidence to do so. Thus, in various tomb scenes with written texts where the description reads as the kingdom of “Kush” or “southerner” (referring to various Black peoples), writers ignore this direct evidence and still describe the people as “Nubian” and create maps which incorrectly show the entire vast area south of current-day Egypt as “Nubia.” However, it is clear that both ancient and modern Nubia did not extend further south than the 3rd cataract area (see map for cataracts). Yet, the entire region stretching thousands of miles is usually labelled “Nubia” to gloss over the many unknown facts about Kush and other kingdoms.

In the Egyptian 18th dynasty, the title “king’s son of Kush” (or “viceroy of Kush”) is used as a new position to describe the region of responsibility for a lieutenant, and it indicates that Kush was seen as a separate kingdom or region. There are no records indicating that Kush and Nubia are the same location or that the people of Kush and Nubia are interchangeable groups. Kush was seen as a distinct region as was Nubia and Punt.

Ampim, Manu. “History Of African Civilizations, History 110 Course Reader.” Unit 3: Classical African Civilizations (Kush).  Oakland, CA: Advancing The Research, 2016. 40-41.

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