The Kushite Conquest of Egypt

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  • 0:02 Who Were the Kush?
  • 1:07 Kushite Relationship…
  • 2:48 Kushite Conquest of Egypt
  • 4:44 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.

The Kush were able to not only maintain their independence from Egypt, but also conquer their northern neighbor for a period of several decades. However, the Egyptians seem to have barely noticed.

Who Were the Kush?

The Kush civilization developed beyond the reach of the Pharaoh's administrators, just past the point where the first rapids of the Nile River made communication by boat difficult. The Kush capitalized on their location between Egypt, Sub-Saharan Africa, and the trade routes of the Indian Ocean, and grew rich from the resulting trade. In the markets of the Kush, jewels, hides, and ivory from southern Africa found the merchants who would eventually take them from Greece to India, including Egypt.

That said, the Kush themselves were not just middlemen and built some of the most sophisticated implements for ironworking in the ancient world. Primary among these is one of the first blast furnaces for smelting iron. Blast furnaces introduce extra oxygen to the reaction between iron and heat, allowing it to become much harder and hold a much finer edge. Beyond ironworking, the Kush also innovated with regards to irrigation. Like the Egyptians to the north, they relied on the annual flood of the Nile to fertilize their crops, but also built irrigation ditches in the event of a weak flood.

Kushite Relationship with Egypt

As you might expect, the Kush and Egypt had a complicated relationship. While the Egyptians were much stronger for much of their history, they were jealous of the wealth of the Kush. Additionally, the Kush were admirers of Egyptian civilization. In fact, one of the most enduring legacies that was left behind by the residents of Kush were their pyramids. These pyramids are obviously modeled on those of the Egyptians, even though they look different. While the Egyptian pyramids had broad bases, the Kush pyramids, also called Nubian Pyramids, were much narrower, and often significantly shorter. Additionally, the Kush borrowed heavily from Egyptian mythology, even though they kept many of their own gods alongside the Egyptian imports.

Despite fact that it was rare for the Egyptians to be able to demonstrate any real political or military power south of the first rapids on the Nile, that did not mean that the Egyptians were content to just push their culture onto the Kush. Far from it, on those occasions when the Egyptians were able to press their rule further south, they capitalized on the opportunity to show the Kush who was boss.

A perfect example of this comes from the time period of Ramses the Great, arguably one of the most important Pharaohs in Egyptian history. His military managed to push Egypt's southern border deep into Kush territory. As a reminder to the Kush that he had accomplished this, he built one of the most massive temple complexes constructed in ancient Egypt at Abu Simbel. Of course, this grandeur as an exercise in control was largely lost on the Kush, who were, as I said before, already quite in love with all things Egyptian.

Kushite Conquest of Egypt

Yet the Egyptians were not always the stronger of the two. From 760 to 656 BCE, the Kush actually conquered Egypt. However, unlike other periods of Egyptian history, where the dynastic chain is interrupted due to 'Sea Peoples Invasion' or some other excuse, the ancient Egyptians seemingly just shrugged their shoulders and decided to refer to the Kush as just another dynasty. This could have been due to the fact that for the past several hundred years, things had not been going well for the Egyptians. The central government was weak and fighting off attacks from Libyan tribal raiders. Simply put, the Kush who conquered Egypt, led by King Piye, had a relatively easy task ahead of them. Once they had succeeded, they changed very little of the methodology used by native Egyptian pharaohs. As such, the time period during which the Kush ruled Egypt is called the Twenty-Fifth Dynasty, which gives historians an unremarkable name for a foreign occupation.

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