What Is the Kush Civilization?

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  • 0:01 Who Were the Kush?
  • 0:40 Location & Civilization
  • 2:33 Borrowing Culture from Egypt
  • 3:06 Kush in Egypt, Napata & Meroe
  • 5:00 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 they may not get all the attention of other Egyptian neighbors, such as the Persians or Hittites, the Kush were a major factor in many of Egypt's decisions, both regarding trade and warfare. Learn about the Kush in this lesson.

Who Were the Kush?

The Kush were a civilization that developed to the south of the Egyptians, but also on the Nile River. Originally, the Egyptians established trading outposts in this region, which attracted many of the locals in search for a better life. However, instability back in Egypt meant that many of the Egyptians went home. Left behind were a large number of people known as the Kush, who had a great deal of admiration for the culture of Egypt.

By the way, just as a quick note, sometimes you see books refer to the Kush as the 'Cush' or even as 'Meroë' (Mer-o-ee). The first one is just a different spelling, but we'll talk more about the second one in a minute.

Location and Civilization

The Kush civilization was located where the Nile River splits into two branches: the White Nile and the Blue Nile. The Blue Nile flows in from the east, with its source in the Ethiopian highlands, whereas the White Nile, the longer of the two, stretches down into East Africa. Today, those two branches of the Nile meet at the city of Khartoum, the capital of modern-day Sudan. This location heavily affected the type of civilization that the Kush developed.

For example, the Kush would never be a maritime power, as even though the Nile did lead to the Mediterranean, the rapids of the river made it impossible for any ships to pass. Also, Egypt, by this point a very powerful empire, would not have been too pleased with ships belonging to Kush sailing so close to its cities. This meant that even if there were no rapids or waterfalls, chances are the Kush would have still been focused more on land trading.

Instead, the Kush took advantage of their natural surroundings in a different way. For example, the highland region meant that there was more rain than in Egypt, which combined with the cooler temperatures, meant that crops that would wilt in Egypt could grow in the Kush lands. Also, with access to the grasslands of East Africa, trade in natural resources, such as ostrich feathers, animal hides, and ivory, became important.

However, geography played a role in defining one of the most notable aspects of Kush culture in placing many metal sources in the kingdom's borders. Some historians even think that the Kush invented a blast furnace, a special chamber which blasts extra air into the furnace to let the iron get hotter, making the metal sharper and harder. In fact, iron from the Kush was renowned for its quality, and appears as far away as India and China. Not surprising, the Kush were also expert goldsmiths and jewelers.

Borrowing Culture from the Egyptians

Obviously, the Kush had great admiration for the culture of the Egyptians, and this is very evident even though we still haven't figured out the Kushite language. Instead, it is apparent from any trip to ruins of a Kush city. The most striking aspect of these ruins is that they look almost Egyptian. In fact, many of the very same gods are portrayed with their traditional symbols, and there are even pyramids. However, the pyramids of the Kush look different than the Egyptian ones, as the Kushite pyramids are shorter, have much smaller bases, and are typically skinny.

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