The subjugation of Egypt by Sudan
Image 1. Nubians storming egypt After capturing city after city along the Nile River in 730 B.C., troops commanded by King Piye of Nubia storm the great walled capital of Memphis with flaming arrows (Art by Gregory Manchess). (Source Draper 2008)
The time is 721 BC just before the 25th dynasty; Egypt (or as the ancients called it Kemet) has just been subjugated by conquerors from the southern Sahara. The defeated fall to their knees begging the king responsible for their defeat “Be gracious! I cannot see your face in the days of shame; I cannot stand before your flame, I dread your grandeur.” (Draper 2008)
Image 2.Kushite King A Triumphant Kushiste King, a triumphant Kushite King accepting the homage of vanquished princes in Egypt in 724 BCE. (Art By James Gurney) Source: Madame Pickwick 2009
In exchange for their lives, the vanquished urged Piye to worship at their temples, pocket their finest jewels, and claim their best horses. He obliged them. And then, with his vassals trembling before him, the newly anointed Lord of the Two Lands did something extraordinary: He loaded up his army and his war booty, and sailed southward to his home in Nubia, never to return to Egypt again.
A pity, then, that the great Nubian who accomplished these feats is literally faceless to us. Images of Piye on the elaborate granite slabs, or stelae, memorialising his conquest of Egypt have long since been chiselled away. On a relief in the temple at the Nubian capital of Napata, only Piye’s legs remain. We are left with a single physical detail of the man—namely, that his skin was dark (Draper 2008).
Who were these people obscured in traditional history until very recent times (1990’s), they were the Nubians from Kush.
The Kingdom of Kush
Image 3. The Kingdoms of kush and Egypt
Kush was situated at the nexus of important trade routes between central Africa and Egypt. The kingdom—which extended from what is today southern Egypt to northern Sudan—had a long and tangled history with ancient Egypt, a history that see-sawed between periods of warfare and occupation, and peace and prosperity. Civilisation sprang up in Kush before the time of a unified Egypt.
Archaeologists have found evidence of several early cultures in Nubia beginning about 3500 B.C. Central African products found in Egypt suggest to scholars that these early kingdoms traded with one another and that Nubia provided a connection along the Nile between central Africa and Egypt.
“When the Egyptians initially started exploring Nubia, which at that point consisted of many different tribes, the people of northern Sudan were very friendly with the Egyptians, and the rulers had good relations with the Egyptian pharaoh,” said Kendall. “But that didn’t last.”
The Egyptians, feeling threatened, invaded and conquered Kush. Infact it is even suggested that the gold used to make the Ark of the Covenant was originally from Nubia. As Nubia was the most common source of gold used in ancient Egypt at this time in history which was derived from its trading association with Nubia. The very name Nubia means gold. (Shapiro 2011)
The Nubian Kings
Image 4. Statues of Nubian kings up to ten feet high were found buried at the Nubian capital of Kerma, in Sudan. Smashed during Egyptian King Psamtek II’s incursion south around 593 B.C., they were recently reassembled. (pictures by Kenneth Garrett, Kerma Museum, National Corporation for Antiquities and museums. Sudan) Source: Draper 2008
Piye represented the first of the so-called black pharaohs—a series of Nubian kings who ruled over all of Egypt for three-quarters of a century as that country’s 25th dynasty. Through inscriptions carved on stelae by both the Nubians and their enemies, it is possible to map out these rulers’ vast footprint on the continent. The black pharaohs reunified a tattered Egypt and filled its landscape with glorious monuments, causing a cultural renaissance which brought Egypt back to a golden age, creating an empire of that stretched from the southern border at present-day Khartoum all the way north to the Mediterranean Sea. They stood up to the bloodthirsty Assyrians, perhaps saving Jerusalem in the process.
Until recently, theirs was a chapter of history that largely went untold. Only in the past four decades have archaeologists resurrected their story—and come to recognize that the black pharaohs didn’t appear out of nowhere. They sprang from a robust African civilization that had flourished on the southern banks of the Nile for 2,500 years, going back at least as far as the first Egyptian dynasty.
Image 5. The Pyramids of Meroe. Centuries after Nubia lost control of Egypt, it continued to follow its neighbor’s tradition of marking royal tombs with pyramids, like these restored at Meroë. Today Sudan has more pyramids than Egypt. Photographs by Kenneth Garrett. (Source: Draper 2008)
Today Sudan’s pyramids—greater in number than all of Egypt’s—are haunting spectacles in the Nubian Desert. It is possible to wander among them unharassed, even alone, a world away from Sudan’s genocide and refugee crisis in Darfur or the aftermath of civil war in the south. While hundreds of miles north, at Cairo or Luxor, curiosity seekers arrive by the busload to jostle and crane for views of the Egyptian wonders, Sudan’s seldom-visited pyramids at El Kurru, Nuri, and Meroë stand serenely amid an arid landscape that scarcely hints of the thriving culture of ancient Nubia.
Racism is a modern disease
The ancient world was devoid of racism. At the time of Piye’s historic conquest, the fact that his skin was dark was irrelevant. Artwork from ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome shows a clear awareness of racial features and skin tone, but there is little evidence that darker skin was seen as a sign of inferiority. Only after the European powers colonized Africa in the 19th century did Western scholars pay attention to the color of the Nubians’ skin, to uncharitable effect.
So why have they only been acknowledged in history in the last 20 years
Explorers who arrived at the central stretch of the Nile River excitedly reported the discovery of elegant temples and pyramids—the ruins of an ancient civilization called Kush. Some, like the Italian doctor Giuseppe Ferlini—who lopped off the top of at least one Nubian pyramid, inspiring others to do the same—hoped to find treasure beneath. The Prussian archaeologist Richard Lepsius had more studious intentions, but he ended up doing damage of his own by concluding that the Kushites surely “belonged to the Caucasian race.”
Even famed Harvard Egyptologist George Reisner—whose discoveries between 1916 and 1919 offered the first archaeological evidence of Nubian kings who ruled over Egypt—besmirched his own findings by insisting that black Africans could not possibly have constructed the monuments he was excavating. He believed that Nubia’s leaders, including Piye, were light-skinned Egypto-Libyans who ruled over the primitive Africans. That their moment of greatness was so fleeting, he suggested, must be a consequence of the same leaders intermarrying with the “negroid elements.”
For decades, many historians flip-flopped: Either the Kushite pharaohs were actually “white,” or they were bumblers, their civilization a derivative offshoot of true Egyptian culture. In their 1942 history, When Egypt Ruled the East, highly regarded Egyptologists Keith Seele and George Steindorff summarized the Nubian pharaonic dynasty and Piye’s triumphs in all of three sentences—the last one reading: “But his dominion was not for long.”
The neglect of Nubian history reflected not only the bigoted worldview of the times, but also a cult-like fascination with Egypt’s achievements—and a complete ignorance of Africa’s past. “The first time I came to Sudan,” recalls Swiss archaeologist Charles Bonnet, “people said: ‘You’re mad! There’s no history there! It’s all in
World history has been tainted by bigoted worldview of the times.
The truth of the situation
The Egyptians didn’t like having such a powerful neighbour to the south, especially since they depended on Nubia’s gold mines to bankroll their dominance of western Asia. So the pharaohs of the 18th dynasty (1539-1292 B.C.) sent armies to conquer Nubia and built garrisons along the Nile. They installed Nubian chiefs as administrators and schooled the children of favoured Nubians at Thebes. Subjugated, the elite Nubians began to embrace the cultural and spiritual customs of Egypt—venerating Egyptian gods, particularly Amun, using the Egyptian language, adopting Egyptian burial styles and, later, pyramid building. The Nubians were arguably the first people to be struck by “Egyptomania.”
Under Nubian rule, Egypt became Egypt again. When Piye died in 715 B.C., his brother Shabaka solidified the 25th dynasty by taking up residence in the Egyptian capital of Memphis. Like his brother, Shabaka wed himself to the old pharaonic ways, adopting the throne name of the 6th-dynasty ruler Pepi II, just as Piye had claimed the old throne name of Thutmose III. Rather than execute his foes, Shabaka put them to work building dikes to seal off Egyptian villages from Nile floods.
Shabaka lavished Thebes and the Temple of Luxor with building projects. At Karnak he erected a pink granite statue depicting himself wearing the Kushite crown of the double uraeus—the two cobras signifying his legitimacy as Lord of the Two Lands. Through architecture as well as military might, Shabaka signaled to Egypt that the Nubians were here to stay.
The expedition that saved Israel
To the east, the Assyrians were fast building their own empire. In 701 B.C., when they marched into Judah in present-day Israel, the Nubians decided to act. At the city of Eltekeh, the two armies met. And although the Assyrian emperor, Sennacherib, would brag lustily that he “inflicted defeat upon them,” a young Nubian prince, perhaps 20, son of the great pharaoh Piye, managed to survive. That the Assyrians, whose tastes ran to wholesale slaughter, failed to kill the prince suggests their victory was anything but total.
In any event, when the Assyrians left town and massed against the gates of Jerusalem, that city’s embattled leader, Hezekiah, hoped his Egyptian allies would come to the rescue. The Assyrians issued a taunting reply, immortalized in the Old Testament’s Book of II Kings: “Thou trustest upon the staff of this bruised reed [of] Egypt, on which if a man lean, it will go into his hand, and pierce it: So is Pharaoh king of Egypt unto all that trust on him.”
Then, according to the Scriptures and other accounts, a miracle occurred: The Assyrian army retreated. Were they struck by a plague? Or, as Henry Aubin’s provocative book, The Rescue of Jerusalem, suggests, was it actually the alarming news that the aforementioned Nubian prince was advancing on Jerusalem? All we know for sure is that Sennacherib abandoned the siege and galloped back in disgrace to his kingdom, where he was murdered 18 years later, apparently by his own sons.
The deliverance of Jerusalem is not just another of ancient history’s sidelights, Aubin asserts, but one of its pivotal events. It allowed Hebrew society and Judaism to strengthen for another crucial century—by which time the Babylonian king Nebuchadrezzar could banish the Hebrew people but not obliterate them or their faith. From Judaism, of course, would spring Christianity and Islam. Jerusalem would come to be recast, in all three major monotheistic religions, as a city of a godly significance.
It has been easy to overlook, amid these towering historical events, the dark-skinned figure at the edge of the landscape—the survivor of Eltekeh, the hard-charging prince later referred to by the Assyrians as “the one accursed by all the great gods”: Piye’s sonTaharqa.
Taharqa son of Piye
Image 6. Taharqa was the greatest of Egypt’s Nubian kings (Art by Gregory Manchess) Source: Draper 2008
So sweeping was Taharqa’s influence on Egypt that even his enemies could not eradicate his imprint. During his rule, to travel down the Nile from Napata to Thebes was to navigate a panorama of architectural wonderment. All over Egypt, he built monuments with busts, statues, and cartouches bearing his image or name, many of which now sit in museums around the world. He is depicted as a supplicant to gods, or in the protective presence of the ram deity Amun, or as a sphinx himself, or in a warrior’s posture. Most statues were defaced by his rivals. His nose is often broken off, to foreclose him returning from the dead. Shattered as well is the uraeus on his forehead, to repudiate his claim as Lord of the Two Lands. But in each remaining image, the serene self-certainty in his eyes remains for all to see.
His father, Piye, had returned the true pharaonic customs to Egypt. His uncle Shabaka had established a Nubian presence in Memphis and Thebes. But their ambitions paled before those of the 31-year-old military commander who received the crown in Memphis in 690 B.C. and presided over the combined empires of Egypt and Nubia for the next 26 years.
Image 7. King Taharqa leads his queens through a crowd during a festival (Art by Gregory Manchess) Source Draper 2008
Taharqa had ascended at a favourable moment for the 25th dynasty. The delta warlords had been laid low. The Assyrians, after failing to best him at Jerusalem, wanted no part of the Nubian ruler. Egypt was his and his alone. The gods granted him prosperity to go with the peace. During his sixth year on the throne, the Nile swelled from rains, inundating the valleys and yielding a spectacular harvest of grain without sweeping away any villages. As Taharqa would record in four separate stelae, the high waters even exterminated all rats and snakes. Clearly the revered Amun was smiling on his chosen one.
His success was his downfall
Around the 15th year of his rule, amid the grandiosity of his empire-building, a touch of hubris was perhaps overtaking the Nubian ruler. “Taharqa had a very strong army and was one of the main international powers of this period,” says Charles Bonnet. “I think he thought he was the king of the world. He became a bit of a megalomaniac.”
The timber merchants along the coast of Lebanon had been feeding Taharqa’s architectural appetite with a steady supply of juniper and cedar. When the Assyrian king Esarhaddon sought to clamp down on this trade artery, Taharqa sent troops to the southern Levant to support a revolt against the Assyrian. Esarhaddon quashed the move and retaliated by crossing into Egypt in 674 B.C. But Taharqa’s army beat back its foes.
The victory clearly went to the Nubian’s head. Rebel states along the Mediterranean shared his giddiness and entered into an alliance against Esarhaddon. In 671 B.C. the Assyrians marched with their camels into the Sinai desert to quell the rebellion. Success was instant; now it was Esarhaddon who brimmed with bloodlust. He directed his troops toward the Nile Delta.
Taharqa and his army squared off against the Assyrians. For 15 days they fought pitched battles—“very bloody,” by Esarhaddon’s grudging admission. But the Nubians were pushed back all the way to Memphis. Wounded five times, Taharqa escaped with his life and abandoned Memphis. In typical Assyrian fashion, Esarhaddon slaughtered the villagers and “erected piles of their heads.” Then, as the Assyrian would later write, “His queen, his harem, Ushankhuru his heir, and the rest of his sons and daughters, his property and his goods, his horses, his cattle, his sheep, in countless numbers, I carried off to Assyria. The root of Kush I tore up out of Egypt.” To commemorate Taharqa’s humiliation, Esarhaddon commissioned a stela showing Taharqa’s son, Ushankhuru, kneeling before the Assyrian with a rope tied around his neck.
As it happened, Taharqa outlasted the victor. In 669 B.C. Esarhaddon died en route to Egypt, after learning that the Nubian had managed to retake Memphis. Under a new king, the Assyrians once again assaulted the city, this time with an army swollen with captured rebel troops. Taharqa stood no chance. He fled south to Napata and never saw Egypt again.
Image 8. The Kiosk of Taharqa, first courtyard at the Karnak Temple. Added to the temple which is one of ancient Egypt’s most sacred sites.
A measure of Taharqa’s status in Nubia is that he remained in power after being routed twice from Memphis. How he spent his final years is a mystery—with the exception of one final innovative act. Like his father, Piye, Taharqa chose to be buried in a pyramid. But he eschewed the royal cemetery at El Kurru, where all previous Kushite pharaohs had been laid to rest. Instead, he chose a site at Nuri, on the opposite bank of the Nile. Perhaps, as archaeologist Timothy Kendall has theorized, Taharqa selected the location because, from the vista of Jebel Barkal, his pyramid precisely aligns with the sunrise on ancient Egypt’s New Year’s Day, linking him in perpetuity with the Egyptian concept of rebirth.
Image 8. Taharqa - Pharaoh of Nubia and Egypt 7th Century BC
In conclusion we come from a different source, Culturally ethnically and religiously. A strong capable source where there was light & enlightenment which can be seen in numerous accounts throughout Africa. So what does that mean about everything we are and everything we can be?
We are so much more than what we have been portrayed as!! You can be so much more than you are now irrespective of race or background.
Draper, R. (2008) The Black Pharaohs. (National Geographic) [online] available from: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2008/02/black-pharaohs/robert-draper-text.html
Jarus, O. (2010) Massive statue of Pharaoh Taharqa discovered deep in Sudan. (independent) [Online] available from: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/massive-statue-of-pharaoh-taharqa-discovered-deep-in-sudan-1862007.html
Madame Pickwick (2009) Themes from shaft. (Madame Pickwick art blog) [Online]available from: http://madamepickwickartblog.com/blazing-saddles/
Mayell, H. (2003) Rare Nubian King Statues Uncovered in Sudan (National geographic) [Online] Available from: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2003/02/0227_030227_sudankings.html
Shapiro, G, N (2011) Was the great African nation of Nubia the source of the Gold used in the “Ark of the Covenant”? (artsales) [online] available from: http://www.artsales.com/ARTistory/ark_covenant/Nubia_the_source_of_the_Gold_For_The_Ark_of_the_Covenant.htm