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Ancient Nubia: History, Location & Facts Video

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  • 0:02 The Region of Nubia
  • 1:52 Early Nubian History
  • 2:52 Ancient Nubian Civilization
  • 4:50 Classical Nubian Civilization
  • 6:10 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Andrew Peterson

Andrew has a PhD and masters degree in world history.

Ancient Nubia was a civilization that thrived along the fertile Nile River of Africa thousands and thousands of years ago. The history of Nubia has largely been overshadowed by its much more famous neighboring civilization, Ancient Egypt.

The Region of Nubia

Technically speaking, Nubia can refer to either a region or to an ancient civilization, each of which occupy roughly the same overlapping space. Nubia lies along the east and west banks of the Nile River near the modern-day border of southern Egypt and northern Sudan. As such, the Nubian civilization was situated to the south of what was once the territory of Ancient Egypt.

The fact that Nubia lies along a narrow corridor on the banks of the Nile River is no accident. The peoples that once made up the civilization of Nubia depended upon the river for their survival. Ancient peoples were able to use the Nile to irrigate and fertilize their crops, to sail up and down the river to transport goods and even to manage sanitation.

Because the Nile River was so important to those who lived along its shores, societies in the region came to divide themselves along a north-south axis based upon the major cataracts of the river. The Nile River has a number of rocky and shallow stretches, or cataracts, that prevent navigation and reliable irrigation of croplands. Ancient Nubia occupied the territory beyond, or upriver, the first cataract while Ancient Egypt occupied the lands below, or downriver, of the first cataract. Historians have come to divide Nubia itself into sub regions with Lower Nubia comprising the lands between the first and second cataract and Upper Nubia being the regions beyond the second cataract. For much of history the first cataract served as a natural border between ancient Egypt and ancient Nubia.

Early Nubian History

Human habitation along the Nile River dates back well before recorded history. The lives of the earliest inhabitants of Nubia can only be glimpsed through archaeological excavations. Evidence of life in early Nubia consists of things such as rock carvings, jewelry and stone structures. One such stone structure, or megalith, is that of Nabta Playa, a ceremonial arrangement of large stones that date back to somewhere between 6500 and 4500 BCE. Little is known about the site and the people that built it. Nevertheless, historians and archaeologists see Nabta Playa and other large megalithic monuments in the region as evidence that early Nubia was fertile and well-populated, and its inhabitants had some degree of social hierarchy and religious belief system.

Ancient Nubian Civilization

Nubia did not develop into a unified state until sometime in the 4th millennium BCE. This first iteration of Nubian civilization had a great deal in common with the culture of early Egyptian civilization further down the Nile River. There is evidence that Nubians traded with and had sporadic conflicts with their Egyptian neighbors throughout much of their history. The similarity in iconography and artistic style of cultural artifacts found in Egypt and Nubia suggests that Nubia and Egypt were in a great deal of contact with one another from a very early date.

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