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While Egypt interacted with many different cultures, its relationship with the Kush was one of the most unique in history. Learn how this civilization not only conquered Egypt for a period of time, but even built their own pyramids.

The Kingdom of Kush

Historians often focus greatly on the empires to the north of Egypt as being the ones with whom the pharaohs had the most interaction. After all, it was the Hittites who were nearly defeated by Ramses the Great and the Assyrians and the Persians who were able to conquer Egypt. However, a powerful kingdom, named Kush, to the south of Egypt, just beyond the first rapids of the Nile, was not only able to maintain extensive economic ties with the Egyptians, but was even able to conquer them for a period of time.

Trading with the Egyptians

Frankly, it just made good sense for the Egyptians to trade with the Kingdom of Kush, and for hundreds of years, the relationship between the two powers was almost entirely based on economics. While Kush was able to produce plenty of food, there were some delicacies that could only be purchased from the fields of Egypt which, unlike the farms of the Kush, received the annual flood of the Nile. Likewise, the Kush were able to sell crops grown in their cooler, more highland environment that would have simply wilted and died in Egypt.However, this commercial relationship wasn’t just about selling and buying food.

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Egyptian papyrus was a valuable good in itself, as was the gold that Egypt was able to mine from its desert mines near various oases. Likewise, the Kush provided goods that the Egyptians could not have imagined, ranging from ivory from elephants to skins, and even live animals.In fact, both countries were able to grow very rich off of each other’s trade, especially since each had the ability to then resell goods on to other societies. Egypt was able to provide the Kush with Greek wine and olive oil, both sold at very high profits for the Egyptians. The Kush too resold goods from other cultures, from ostrich feathers for the clothing of pharaohs to incense, acquired cheaply via a shorter trade route with Yemen.

Political Ties with Egypt

Much like Egypt, the Kingdom of Kush was dependent on the Nile River for survival. As a result, it is not surprising that the Egyptians and the Kushites spent years fighting over control of the river – and very often each other.

When the Egyptians gained the upper hand, as they had with the reign of Ramses the Great, the Egyptians built massive monuments as a reminder to the people of Kush that the Egyptians were the most powerful culture on the Nile. In fact, the most famous of these is the temple at Abu Simbel, which includes writings to make sure that no one forgot that Egypt was here to stay.Yet the Egyptians did not always have the upper hand. In fact, the Kush conquered Egypt for a whole dynasty, ruling from 760 to 656 BC. For a historian, that fact is very interesting.

Kushite kings ruled Egypt for more than 100 years, and yet, the Egyptians simply refer to it as the Twenty-fifth Dynasty, just like it had been someone from Thebes or Memphis, or any other part of Egypt. Surely, there is something bigger at play.

Cultural Admiration

In fact, there was. The Egyptians saw the Kushites as very similar to the Egyptians because the Kushites acted just like Egyptians. While trade and politics may have been real exchanges, with both Egypt and the Kush trading, buying, selling and conquering, very few Egyptians had any desire to associate with anything at all to do with authentic Kush culture.Of course, the Kushite kings went out of their way to discourage local Egyptians from using anything but Egyptian styles.

Despite being dominated by a foreign power, culturally-speaking, the period of time of the Twenty-fifth Dynasty was actually a rebirth of traditional Egyptian values in the arts. It would be like if France conquered England and suddenly wanted everyone not to learn French, but instead to start speaking English, like Shakespeare.With an obsession like that, it’s really no surprise that the Kushites fell in love with Egyptian culture themselves, going as far as to build pyramids of their own in emulation of the Great Pyramids of the Egyptian kings of the past.

The Kush pyramids are not as tall as the Great Pyramids of the Egyptians – and they are also very narrow – but nonetheless, they are definitely inspired by those of the Egyptians.

Lesson Summary

The Kingdom of Kush had a long relationship with Egypt, based on a mutually beneficial trade understanding that resulted in goods from further south in Africa being exchanged for goods from the Mediterranean. This commercial relationship changed over time into a political one, with each side ruling the other for periods of time. However, it was the Egyptians who had the greater cultural influence, as evidenced by the Kushite admiration of Egyptian culture both during their reign in Egypt, as well as the fact that the Kush built pyramids.

Learning Outcomes

As you watch the lesson, you could build the knowledge required to:

  • Describe the trade relationship between Egypt and the Kingdom of Kush
  • State the political history between the two kingdoms
  • Discuss the cultural exchange between the Kush and the Egyptians

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