The History and Origins of the Kingdom of Kush

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The Kingdom of Kush (or Cush) was a powerful ancient state that existed (twice) in what is now the northern part of Sudan. The second Kingdom, which lasted from 1000 B.C. until 400 A.D., with its Egyptian-like pyramids, is the better known and studied of the two, but it was preceded by an earlier Kingdom that between 2000 and 1500 B.C. was an epicenter of trade and innovation. 

Kerma: The First Kingdom of Kush

The first Kingdom of Kush, also known as Kerma, is one of if not the oldest African states outside of Egypt. It developed around the settlement of Kerma (just above the third cataract on the Nile, in Upper Nubia). Kerma arose around 2400 B.C. (during the Egyptian Old Kingdom), and had become the capital of the Kush Kingdom by 2000 B.C.

Kerma-Kush reached its zenith between 1750 and 1500 B.C.—a time known as Classical Kerma. Kush flourished most when Egypt was at its weakest, and the last 150 years of the Classical Kerma period overlap with a time of upheaval in Egypt known as the Second Intermediate Period (1650 to 1500 B.C.). During this era, Kush had access to gold mines and traded extensively with its northern neighbors, generating significant wealth and power.

The resurgence of a united Egypt with the 18th Dynasty (1550 to 1295 B.C.) brought this bronze-age kingdom of Kush to an end. New Kingdom Egypt (1550 to 1069 B.C.) established control as far south as the fourth cataract and created the post of Viceroy of Kush, governing Nubia as a separate region (in two parts: Wawat and Kush).

The Second Kingdom of Kush

Over time, Egyptian control over Nubia declined, and by the 11th century B.C., the Viceroys of Kush had become independent kings. During the Egyptian Third Intermediate Period, a new Kushite kingdom emerged, and by 730 B.C., Kush had conquered Egypt right up to the shores of the Mediterranean. The Kushite Pharoah Piye (reign: c. 752-722 B.C.) established the 25th Dynasty in Egypt.

Conquest and contact with Egypt had already shaped Kush culture, though. This second Kingdom of Kush erected pyramids, worshiped many Egyptian gods, and called its rulers Pharaohs, though the art and architecture of Kush retained distinctively Nubian characteristics. Due to this blend of difference and similarity, some have called Kushite rule in Egypt, the "Ethiopian Dynasty," but it was not to last. In 671 B.C. Egypt was invaded by the Assyrians, and by 654 B.C. they had driven the Kush back into Nubia.


Kush remained safe behind the desolate landscape south of Aswan, developing a separate language and variant architecture. It did, however, maintain the pharaonic tradition. Eventually, the capital was moved from Napata south to Meroe where the new Meroitic Kingdom developed. By 100 A.D., it was in decline and was destroyed by Axum in 400 A.D.


  • Hafsaas-Tsakos, Henriette. "The Kingdom of Kush: An African Centre on the Periphery of the Bronze Age World System," Norwegian Archaeological Review 42.1 (2009): 50-70.
  • Wilford, John Noble. "Scholars Race to Recover a Lost Kingdom on the Nile," New York Times, June 19, 2007.
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Boddy-Evans, Alistair. "The History and Origins of the Kingdom of Kush." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Boddy-Evans, Alistair. (2020, August 27). The History and Origins of the Kingdom of Kush. Retrieved from Boddy-Evans, Alistair. "The History and Origins of the Kingdom of Kush." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 28, 2023).