The Kush Civilization & Ancient Egypt

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  • 0:33 Trading With the Egyptians
  • 2:02 Political Ties With Egypt
  • 3:09 Cultural Admiration
  • 4:28 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

While Egypt interacted with many different cultures, its relationship with the Kush was one of the most unique in history. Learn how this civilization not only conquered Egypt for a period of time, but even built their own pyramids.

The Kingdom of Kush

Historians often focus greatly on the empires to the north of Egypt as being the ones with whom the pharaohs had the most interaction. After all, it was the Hittites who were nearly defeated by Ramses the Great and the Assyrians and the Persians who were able to conquer Egypt. However, a powerful kingdom, named Kush, to the south of Egypt, just beyond the first rapids of the Nile, was not only able to maintain extensive economic ties with the Egyptians, but was even able to conquer them for a period of time.

Trading with the Egyptians

Frankly, it just made good sense for the Egyptians to trade with the Kingdom of Kush, and for hundreds of years, the relationship between the two powers was almost entirely based on economics. While Kush was able to produce plenty of food, there were some delicacies that could only be purchased from the fields of Egypt which, unlike the farms of the Kush, received the annual flood of the Nile. Likewise, the Kush were able to sell crops grown in their cooler, more highland environment that would have simply wilted and died in Egypt.

However, this commercial relationship wasn't just about selling and buying food. Egyptian papyrus was a valuable good in itself, as was the gold that Egypt was able to mine from its desert mines near various oases. Likewise, the Kush provided goods that the Egyptians could not have imagined, ranging from ivory from elephants to skins, and even live animals.

In fact, both countries were able to grow very rich off of each other's trade, especially since each had the ability to then resell goods on to other societies. Egypt was able to provide the Kush with Greek wine and olive oil, both sold at very high profits for the Egyptians. The Kush too resold goods from other cultures, from ostrich feathers for the clothing of pharaohs to incense, acquired cheaply via a shorter trade route with Yemen.

Political Ties with Egypt

Much like Egypt, the Kingdom of Kush was dependent on the Nile River for survival. As a result, it is not surprising that the Egyptians and the Kushites spent years fighting over control of the river - and very often each other. When the Egyptians gained the upper hand, as they had with the reign of Ramses the Great, the Egyptians built massive monuments as a reminder to the people of Kush that the Egyptians were the most powerful culture on the Nile. In fact, the most famous of these is the temple at Abu Simbel, which includes writings to make sure that no one forgot that Egypt was here to stay.

Yet the Egyptians did not always have the upper hand. In fact, the Kush conquered Egypt for a whole dynasty, ruling from 760 to 656 BC. For a historian, that fact is very interesting. Kushite kings ruled Egypt for more than 100 years, and yet, the Egyptians simply refer to it as the Twenty-fifth Dynasty, just like it had been someone from Thebes or Memphis, or any other part of Egypt. Surely, there is something bigger at play.

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