The culture, art and religion of ancient Egypt is recognised the world over. With dynasties stretching back thousands of years into pre-history and gigantic monuments left behind in the deserts, it is easy to understand why this civilisation has so captured our imaginations.
However, the Egyptians had close neighbours whose culture and people both mirrored and rivalled them – the Kushites.
The kingdom of Kush (also known as Nubia) covered parts of modern day Ethiopia and Sudan. It sprang from an Egyptian colony during the New Kingdom period (16st Century BCE), gaining independence in 1070 BCE.
The Kushites buried their dead in pyramids and shared many of the same gods as their northern neighbours, particularly Amun and Isis. Positioned on the intersection of the blue and white Nile, the kingdom grew wealthy and powerful, often clashing with Egypt and eventually – during the 8th Century BCE – conquering it.
Meroë pyramids in Sudan
The Nubian pharaohs (sometimes known as the black pharaohs) ruled Egypt and Kush for 200 years.
After being pushed out by the Neo-Assyrians, the Kushite dynasty returned to Sundan, using Meroë as the capital. There, this under-acknowledged society continued to flourish.
It was the largest producer of gold in the ancient world, making its’ rulers incredibly rich. When Egypt fell to Rome, Kush stood firm and remained independent.
Much like Egypt, it appears that the Kushite dynasties were matrilineal (power was transferred from the mother rather than the father). The women of Meroë had a number of rights and freedoms that Roman or Greek women could only dream of. As a result, there are several known women rulers of Kush.
Known as Kandakes (or Kentake or Candace) these women often ruled in their own right, built monuments, commanded armies and led their nation both politically and spiritually.
Bas-reliefs dated to about 170 BCE reveal Kandake Shanakdakhete dressed in armor and wielding a spear in battle. Shanakdakhete did not rule as queen regent or queen mother, but as a fully independent ruler. She did have a husband, who acted as her consort.
Amanirenas was ruling queen following the death of Egyptian ruler Cleopatra which had resulted in Roman occupation of Egypt. Amanirenas, seeing her boarders threatened by the Romans launched an attack and defeated their forces in the Egyptian cities of Syene (now Aswan) and Philae. It was a profitable venture; Amanirenas’ army returned to Kush with prisoners and treasure, including several statues of the Emperor Augustus.
Rome later took Syene back, and at this point, Amanirenas chose diplomacy. She sent negotiators to visit Augustus in Samos and managed to strike a peace treaty with Rome. This mutually beneficial arrangement continued for three hundred years, and relations between Meroe and Roman Egypt were generally peaceful during this time.
This Kandake was a prolific builder who had a very prosperous reign.
There is a portrait of Amanishakheto in the Amun Temple in Kawa and a palace in Wad ban Naqa, showing her taking enemy prisoners, however she is best known for the treasure found in her pyramid complex. Amanishakheto was buried with a vast amount of great jewelry, befitting a great queen.
Amanitore was a prolific builder, one of the last Kushite rulers to focus on construction. She restored the temples of Amun at Meroë and Napata following its destruction by the Romans and built two further temples at Naqa and Amara. As well as taking care of the spiritual health of her people, the queen also built reservoirs to retain water for her kingdom during drought.
Amanitore was buried in her own pyramid (rather than sharing with her husband or son) in Meroë.
Note: There were of course other notable Kandakes of Kush who will be included in this project. As I am creating embroideries chronologically, I simply haven’t reached them yet! At the time of writing (October 2015) I have reached 60 CE.
The Story of Africa: Nubia – BBC
Meroitic Palaeography as a tool for Chronology: Prospects and Limits – Dr Claude Rilly
The Black Pharaohs – Robert Draper for the National Geographic
The Image of the Ordered World in Ancient Nubian Art: The Construction of the Kushite Mind (800 BCE – 300 AD) – László Török
Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography: Aetheopia – William Smith
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology – William Smith, Ed.
Nubian Pharaohs and Meroitic Kings: The Kingdom of Kush – Necia Desiree Harkless
Roman Military Equipment: The Accoutrements of War: Proceedings of the Third Roman Military Equipment Research Seminar, British Archaeological Reports, 1987 Issues 336-338 – M. Dawson
Dictionary of African Biography, Volumes 1-6 – Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Professor Emmanuel Akyeampong, Mr. Steven J. Niven
“Africa in 400 BC” by Kubek15 – Own work.
Licensed under GFDL via Commons
“Sudan Meroe Pyramids 30sep2005 2” by Fabrizio Demartis.
Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Commons
“NubianPharoahs” by Wufei07 – Own work.
Licensed under Public Domain via Commons