Where is the Kingdom of Kush?
We use the adjective Kushite in an Egyptian context to refer to the Twenty-fifth dynasty and the term was also used in the Bible to refer to King Taharqa, a ruler of this dynasty [ E.3.1974].
However, ‘Kushite’ can also be used more widely to refer to the region to the South of Egypt. We also use the term of Kush for the Kingdom of Napta and then Meroe, which was from 850 BC to AD 300 and during this time rulers from Kush ruled Egypt for around 100 years, from 747-656 BC.
Kush is one of the names given to the country known today as Sudan. The name Kush first appeared during the Middle Kingdom, from around 2400 BC. This period was associated with a culture called ‘Kerma culture’, after the site of Kerma. However, before this time there were several names for the tribes of people who lived in this region. Ta Sety means the Land of the Bow and was used for the region from the modern city of Aswan to Edfu in Egypt. Ta Nehsy (the land of the Black people) was also used for this area. Wawat was a local name for the Nile Valley from Aswan to the second cataract; however, there is no meaning for this term in Ancient Egyptian.
The term Nubian also refers to this region, but appeared later in history than the aforementioned terms. The name Nubia appeared in the third century BC. Some researchers believe that is was connected to the Egyptian word ‘nb’ meaning gold, because the people of this region controlled gold mines. Others have suggested that the name is linked to the Nubai people, who came to the Nile Valley from Darfur and Kurdofan in the West of Sudan, and that the name Nubian connected to the Nuba Mountains.
Bronze Age in Kush
Kush was important for the development of industry in Egypt, and one of the reasons that Ancient Egyptians went to Sudan was to mine copper [ E.4.1926]. Evidence for a Bronze Age in Kush can be traced through monuments and statues, which were made from copper that was mined in Sudan from around 2400 BC, a period known as the ‘Kerma Culture’. Recent research by archaeologists and geologists in Sudan has revealed that the copper mines were located in 3 areas.
- Um Faham in the North
- Beir-wad Kasir in the East
- Nuba Mountains in the West
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What do we mean by ‘Late Egyptian’?
Many modern scholars think that Late Egyptian is somehow inferior to earlier periods of Egyptian culture; they also believe this to be the end of Egyptian history. However, for those of us who specialise in this period, it signals the beginning of the occupation of Egypt by other African states such as Libyan and Kush from the Twenty-first to the Twenty-sixth dynasties. The Late Period also allows us to consider the influence of different cultures in Egypt.
The role of women in the Late Period
During the later periods of Egyptian history certain roles that were traditionally held by women became more significant. For example the role of ‘Gods Wife of Amun’, which began in Eighteenth dynasty, became more active during the Twenty-first dynasty or Libyan period, culminating in the powerful women of the Twenty-fifth (Kushite) and Twenty-sixth dynasties. The relief illustrated here, shows one of the God’s Wives as a divine being, as indicated by the vulture headdress that she wears.
Titles of Priestesses
In addition to role of God’s Wife women also held the role of priestess, and took the following titles: Divine Worshipper and The Great Priestess. The women who held these titles were usually the daughter or sister of the king, and their names were written in a cartouche in the same way that a king’s name would be recorded. These women were more powerful than the High Priest of Amun in the New Kingdom, and were, in many respects, equal to the king.
Divine women in Kush
Goddesses and divine royal women were closely associated with the role of motherhood and fertility. This connection was more spiritual rather than political. Motherhood meant the concept of a holy or sacred mother, which was at the core of Egyptian religion and society. The ‘Cult of the Great Goddess’ promoted the idea that the divine mother was more ancient than the divine father, believing that the world was created through women. Some of the most important examples of this idea can be traced back to Kush.
The name of the goddess Hathor means ‘the House of Horus’ or ‘the Temple of Horus’. Hathor was connected with fertility, or the divine cow who created herself. She also protected the King who was seen to be Horus and was protector of the Theban necropolis. She was also called the ‘Lady of the Tree’, which was a reference to the sycamore tree. In this role the tree provided a divine drink that was used in the Egyptian mysteries [ E.1.1822 detail]. Hathor was venerated as ‘Mistress of the Southern Sycomore’. In this role she was connected to Yam, which was located south of the Third cataract, probably around the site of Kerma. The name Yam and was accompanied by the sycamore demonstrative. [ E.GA.6185.1943]
Sekhmet was the wife of the god Ptah and was considered to be one of the southern goddesses. She was represented with the head of a lioness and the body of a female human. While on the otherhand, the goddess Tefenwt was associated with birth and the rise of the sun, which means the beginning of life. In mythology, when the sun disappeared Tefenwt went to the Land of Kush in the form of a lioness. The god Ra sent the god Shu to bring her back and to do this Shu was told to go in the form of a lion. [ E.GA.546.1947]
Although more commonly shown as a domestic cat, Bastet was represented in the same way as the goddess Sekhmet, in her role as nurse to the king. The lion was important in Kushite culture and he became the principal god in the Kingdom of Kush when the capital was transferred to Meroe. [ E.70.1954 and E.69.1954]
4. The Queen mother
One of the most important concepts of motherhood in Kush was that of the queen mother. When the Kushite King was crowned king, his mother was meant to come to attend the ceremony. During the enthronement of Taharqa his mother came from Napata to Memphis and the ceremony was delayed until she had arrived. They continued this system for all Kushite kings until the time of the Meroitic period (300 BC to AD 400). Taharqa in one of his stelae (a dedicatory relief) venerated his grandmother and her female ancestors, giving thanks to them, rather than his own mother and his male predecessors, for presenting him to the god Amun Ra of Gematen (Kawa).
Ikhlas Abdllatief Ahmed works at the Sudan National Museum in Khartoum as a curator. Her research is concerned with religion in Kush. She has been working on the Fitzwilliam Museum’s collections of Kushite material.