BHM Day 3: The Age of the Black Pharoahs


Around 1500 B.C., Egyptian leaders sent armies in to overpower Kush, also called Nubia – the land of Gold. The city of Napata was then founded by Thutmose III and the nearby Jebel Barkal was taken to mark the southern border of the New Kingdom (New Kingdom refers to an era in Egyptian history in which Egypt had conquered various peoples to the North and South). In the New Kingdom (about 1550 – 1069 BC) Nubia was occupied and colonised by the Egyptians as far south as the area between the Third and Fourth Cataracts.

The Egyptians used the Napata area to produce gold. The Nubian gold production made Egypt a prime source of the precious metal in the Middle East. The primitive working conditions for the slaves are recorded by Diodorus Siculus who saw some of the mines at a later time. One of the oldest maps known is of a gold mine in Nubia, the Turin Papyrus Map dating to about 1160 BC.

The end of Egyptian rule is obscure. It has been assumed that the Egyptians left Nubia at the end of the New Kingdom. However the title ‘viceroy of Kush‘ is still attested in the Third Intermediate Period, and it is possible that Egyptians still claimed control over some parts of Lower Nubia, perhaps more in land rights or access to resources, than in full administrative control.

Towards 1000 B.C., taking advantage of Egyptian weakness linked to the troubles of the 3rd intermediary period, a new power developed around Napata. Under the leadership of King Alara, “the first Prince of Nubia” in 795 BC and subsequently of his brother Kashta, the whole of Nubia was reorganised.

In 760 BC, Napata was a developed city, while Egypt was still suffering political instability. King Kashta (“the Cushite”) profited from it, and attacked Upper Egypt. Around 750 B.C., the Kushite king, Piye or Piankhi,  sent a Kushite army to invade Egypt and control it.  Piye installed a Kushite dynasty: the XXVth or “Ethiopian” dynasty. From then on, the “Black Pharaohs” who wore the double uraeus (royal serpent fixed to the head-dress), symbol of their double royalty, were to install in Egypt a period of peace, prosperity and artistic renewal . Overall, the Kushite kings ruled Upper Egypt for approximately one century and the whole Egypt for approximately 57 years, from 721 to 664 BC. . The reunited Nile valley empire of the 25th dynasty was as large as it had been since the New Kingdom. The 25th dynasty ushered in a renaissance period for Ancient Egypt. Religion, the arts, and architecture were restored to their glorious Old, Middle, and New Kingdom forms. Pharaohs, such as Taharqa, built or restored temples and monuments throughout the Nile valley, including at Memphis, Karnak, Kawa, Jebel Barkal, etc. It was during the 25th dynasty that the Nile valley saw the first widespread construction of pyramids (many in modern Sudan) since the Middle Kingdom. However, Pharaoh Taharqa‘s reign and that of his successor, (his cousin) Tanutamun, was filled with constant conflict with the Assyrians. In 664 BC the Assyrians laid the final blow, sacking Thebes and Memphis. The 25th dynasty ended with its rulers retreating to their spiritual homeland at Napata. It was there (at El-Kurru and Nuri) that all 25th dynasty pharaohs are buried under the first pyramids that the Nile valley had seen in centuries.

Napata remained the center of the Kingdom of Kush for another two generations, from the 650s to 590 BC. Its economy was essentially based on gold, with 26th dynasty Egypt an important economic ally.



Above is a set of statues were found in a pit in Kerma, south of the Third Cataract of the Nile. he seven statues, which stood between 1.3 to 2.7 meters (4 to 10 feet) tall, were inscribed with the names of five of Nubia’s kings: Taharqa, Tanoutamon, Senkamanisken, Anlamani, and Aspelta. Taharqa and Tanoutamon ruled Egypt as well as Nubia.


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