Sudan: The vestiges of the Kingdom of Kush

The largest concentration of pyramids in the world was discovered not in Egypt, but rather in Sudan. They are vestiges of the ancient Kingdom of Kush, a black civilization of North Africa.

At the sites of El Kurru, Nuri, Jebel Barkal and Méroé stand pyramids whose height varies from 6 to 30 meters. We are in the Nile Valley, not in Egyptian territory, but neighbouring Sudan. In this area, the ancient Kingdom of Kush arose, in the region known as Nubia.

Its history is complex and has only recently been updated, thanks to a series of archaeological investigations that have highlighted its importance, as well as its uniqueness with respect to the civilization of ancient Egypt. In fact, it was thought that the pyramids found in the north of Sudan were the work of the Egyptians.

In reality, these are structures built by the ancient black civilization of Africa, that of Kush, in fact. Summarizing the events that took place in an ancient kingdom in an article is always a difficult and delicate task. We can identify three great historical periods for the Kingdom of Kush.

Kerma and Napata – The first period is connected to the Kingdom of Kerma, whose name is eponymous of the site and the capital on which it was founded. According to sources, it was a powerful kingdom, capable of countering the commercial aims of the Egyptian neighbours towards the southernmost regions of Africa, but also along the desert routes of the Sahara.

It is a kingdom that flourished between the 25th and 16th centuries BC. It was characterized by an oral, unwritten culture, and the dominant idiom of the various peoples belonging to the kingdom was that of the Cushitic languages. Already at this stage, the tombs and the burial rites were central on a religious-social level. Towards the 16th century, the royal necropolises were impressive.

Between the sixteenth and twelfth centuries BC, the Kingdom of Kerma was conquered by the pharaoh Ahmose I (of the XVIII dynasty of Egypt). But starting in the 11th century, the Nubia region became independent, thanks to the fragmentation of Egypt into several rival kingdoms. This situation favoured the emergence of a strong dynasty, near Napata (to which the site of Jebel Barkal is connected). This dynasty founded, between the eighth and fourth centuries BC, the Kingdom of Napata.

It was a powerful kingdom, so much so that it first conquered the area of Lower Nubia, then Upper Egypt. Thus, was founded the 25th dynasty, whose pharaohs belonged to the Kingdom of Napata. Their names were Piyé, Chabaka, Chabataka, Taharqa and Tanoutamon and they ruled over both Cush and Egypt. During this historical period, splendid temples were built and restored, such as Memphis, Karnak and Jebel Barkal.

The sacred site of Jebel Barkal – Linked to this historical period is the city of the Egyptian god Amun, whose ruins lie at the foot of Jebel Barkal (also spelt Jabal Barkal). This place, located in present-day Sudan, about 400 kilometres north of Khartoum, is a rocky promontory considered the sacred mountain inhabited by the god Amon. The site is also called the “Pure Mountain”.

Archaeologists, analysing some representations found in ancient temples, have understood why this place was considered so sacred. If you look closely at the rock formation, you can see a peak, which appears to be detached from the main mass.

This peak appears to be in the shape of a cobra. This symbolism is linked to the important role of the so-called ureus, the female cobra, a sacred animal for the ancient Egyptians, as it protected the pharaoh from his enemies. The site of Jebel Barkal and the archaeological remains were included in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2003.

Meroë – The third period of the history of Kush is called the Kingdom of Meroë, from the name of the homonymous city in Nubia. This phase developed during the 4th century BC. and marked the end of the Kingdom of Cush.

It is a period that follows the Assyrian conquest of Egypt and the subsequent Achaemenid domination, events that prompted the rulers of Cush to take refuge in Meroë. In this phase, the civilization of Kush, far from Egypt, Africanized and absorbed the local cultures. The cult of the god Amun was replaced with that of the lion-god Apedemak. Dozens and dozens of pyramids remain of this ancient city, now protected by UNESCO.

An impressive historical-archaeological heritage

The hundreds of pyramids erected during the mighty Kingdom of Kush have only been valued and truly understood within the last few decades. Kush was a civilization born in ancient Nubia, which became influential thanks to the lucrative trade between so-called black Africa, Egypt and the Mediterranean area.

Inside some pyramids, burial chambers embellished with ornaments depicting scenes from the Book of the Dead of ancient Egypt were found. Unfortunately, many of these sites were literally stripped of their precious riches.

Among the most evocative sites dating back to the Kingdom of Kush, in addition to that of Jebel Barkal, is El-Khurru, found between 1918-1919 by the Egyptologist George Reisner. Located on the east bank of the Nile, El-Khurru preserves the royal necropolis of Napata.

(Photo: The ancient pyramids of Meroe in sudan’s desert. – (Silvia C. Turrin/SMA)

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