Nubia was also called - Upper & Lower Nubia, Kush, Land of Kush, Te-Nehesy, Nubadae, Napata, or the Kingdom of Meroei.

The region referred to as Lower Egypt is the northernmost portion. Upper Nubia extends south into Sudan and can be subdivided into several separate areas such as Batn El Hajar or "Belly of Rocks", the sands of the Abri-Delgo Reach, or the flat plains of the Dongola Reach. Nubia, the hottest and most arid region of the world, has caused many civilizations to be totally dependent on the Nile for existence.

Historically Nubia has been a nucleus of diverse cultures. It has been the only occupied strip of land connecting the Mediterranean world with "tropical" Africa. Thus, this put the people in close and constant contact with its neighbors for long periods of history and Nubia was an important trade route between sub-Saharan Africa and the rest of the world. Its rich material culture and tradition of languages are seen in archaeological records. The most prosperous period of Nubian civilization was that of the kingdom of Kush, which endured from about 800 BC to about 320 AD. During this time, the Nubians of Kush would at one point, assume rule over all of Nubia as well as Upper and Lower Egypt.

The regions of Nubia, Sudan and Egypt are considered by some to be the cradle of civilization. Today the term Nubian has become inclusive of Africans, African Arabs, African Americans and people of color in general.

The history of the Nubians is closely linked with that of ancient Egypt.

Images of early Gods are not unlike those found on heiroglyphs of Egyptian Gods - with heads of animals and birds.

More than fifty ancient pyramids and royal tombs rise out of the desert sands at Meroe. They are Sudan's best-preserved pyramids, and one of Africa's best-kept secrets.

Unlike Egypt's famous pyramids to the north, the Pyramids of Meroe are not floodlit at night. They do not form the backdrop to a dazzling laser-light multimedia extravaganza. They do not cater to the whims of camera-toting, dollar-wielding tourists. The pyramids are a silent and awesome sight, where the intrepid traveler can soak up their ancient atmosphere in solitude.

Like the Egyptians, the Kushites believed in a life after death. This was thought to bc a continuation of life on earth. For them, the afterlife resembled this one, and they built huge graves as an enduring home for the dead. The unique social position of the pharaoh, as god on earth, was reflected in his tomb.

The king was the son of Amun-Pa the sun god and as such embodied the sun on earth. Like the sun, his life followed a cyclical plan. His youth resembled the sun rising, his maturity was like the sun at noon and his old age was comparable with the setting sun. When the king died the sun disappeared below the horizon and darkness fell.

Mythology recounted that the dying or setting sun travelled through the underworld in its journey towards the east where it was to be reborn at the dawn of the day. From time immemorial the pyramid represented the rising sun and the resurrection, and people believed that a tomb in this shape would offer the dead king the chance of rising out of death. The pyramid was seen as a ladder up to heaven enabling the dead king's soul to travel and join the gods in the heavens. At night time the king, assuming the shape of Osiris, god of the afterlife and resurrection, descended in the barque of the sun god Ra and, having become one with this god, sailed through the bouts of darkness.

Building pyramids ceased towards the end of the Middle Kingdom period. The pharaohs of the New Kingdom constructed their graves in caves with underground rooms and passages symbolizing the nightly sojourn of the sun god. The black pharaohs of the Kushite Dynasty and their descendants readopted the old pyramids for their tombs. The number of pyramids in Nubia, where a total of 223 bas been round, fat exceeds that of Egypt.

The pyramids of Nubia have three important sections. These are: 1) an underground burial place symbolizing the underworld, where the mummy lies; 2) a massive steep pyramid above, symbolizing the ladder up to heaven; 3) a small chapel on the eastern side where sacrifices could bc placed, intended to sustain the dead king on his travels. Perhaps the doors to this chapel would be opened by a priest at sunrise so that the light could shine in on the stela that was placed against the rear wall. The chapel thus also functioned as a place of prayer connected with the cult of the dead.

The underground graves of the Nubian pyramids were richly decorated. The mummified kings and queens were laid upon beds in accordance with the ancient tradition of Kerma. So that the dead monarch would not have to work in the afterlife, their tombs were filled with shabtis, small statues of people which in a magical manner would come to life when summoned by the gods to perform tasks.

Pyramids from the Northern Cemetery at Meroe, 3rd c. B.C. to 4th c. A.D. By the 4th c. B.C., the Kushite kings had moved south to the Sudanese savannah and built a capitol at Meroe. Here southern cultural traditions slowly prevailed over the cultural heritage of Egypt.

Ruins of the Merotic temple at Musawwarat es-Sufra. This temple complex, called the "Great Enclosure", lies south of Mero‘ near the Sixth Cataract. It may have been a pilgrammage center or a royal palace. A number of towns were located on the banks of the Atbara, Blue Nile and White Nile, in which lived craftsmen who met local needs and exported along the trade route that ran from Red Sea port towns in the East to beyond Lake Chad in the West. This route eventually connected to the major center of iron production in Jenne Jeno.

Elephant statue from the "Great Enclosure" at Musawwarat es-Sufra temple. Elephants served a military function, but the cultural influence from the South is apparently the reason for their having a religious significance, now lost to us.

Elephantine Temples on the eastern bank of the Nile River.

The Lion Temple of Naqa. The architectural style is Egyptian. The entrance reliefs show the king and queen striking their enemies. The queen reflects Merotic culture in both her importance being equal to that of the king, but also in her figure style.

Relief from the Lion Temple at Naga, south of Mero‘ at the Sixth Cataract. King Natakamani stands before the lion god, Apedemek, and also Horus and Amun. The king's robe and the sash draped over his right shoulder, which is typical of Merotic dress. The Sudanese god Apedemek slowly displaced the divinities of Egypt.

Ancient Nubia Was this the place of creation - the Garden of Eden?
Worshipping Gods and Goddesses
Nubian Priestess - linked to creational forces - the return of the feminine energies - the tones of the dolphin the flight of the dove - transition - the flow of the collective unconscious through which all things are created
The earliest inhabitants of what is now The Sudan can be traced to African (i.e., Negroid) peoples who lived in the vicinity of Khartoum, the Sudan, in Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age) times (30,000-20,000 BC). They were hunters and gatherers who made pottery and (later) objects of ground sandstone. Toward the end of the Neolithic Period (New Stone Age; 10,000-3,000 BC) they had domesticated animals. These Africans were clearly in contact with predynastic civilizations (before c. 2925 BC) to the north in Egypt, but the arid uplands separating Egypt from Nubia appear to have discouraged the predynastic Egyptians from settling there.

At the end of the 4th millennium BC, kings of Egypt's 1st dynasty conquered upper Nubia south of Aswan, introducing Egyptian cultural influence to the African peoples who were scattered along the riverbank. In subsequent centuries, Nubia was subjected to successive military expeditions from Egypt in search of slaves or building materials for royal tombs, which destroyed much of the Egyptian-Nubian culture that had sprung from the initial conquests of the 1st dynasty.

Throughout these few centuries (c. 2925-c. 2575 BC), the descendants of the Nubians continued to eke out an existence along the Nile River, an easy prey to Egyptian military expeditions. Although the Nubians were no match for the armies of Egypt's Old Kingdom, the interactions arising from their enslavement and colonization led to ever-increasing African influence upon the art, culture, and religion of dynastic Egypt.

Sometime after about 2181, in the period known to Egyptologists as the First Intermediate Period (c. 2130-1938), a new wave of immigrants entered Nubia from Libya, in the west, where the increasing desiccation of the Sahara drove them to settle along the Nile as cattle farmers. Other branches of these people seem to have gone beyond the Nile to the Red Sea Hills, while still others pushed south and west to Wadai and Darfur.

These newcomers were able to settle on the Nile and assimilate the existing Nubians without opposition from Egypt. After the fall of the 6th dynasty (c. 2150), Egypt experienced more than a century of weakness and internal strife, giving the immigrants in Nubia time to develop their own distinct civilization with unique crafts, architecture, and social structure, virtually unhindered by the potentially more dynamic civilization to the north.

With the advent of the 11th dynasty (2081), however, Egypt recovered its strength and pressed southward into Nubia, at first sending only sporadic expeditions to exact tribute, but by the 12th dynasty (1938-1756) effectively occupying Nubia as far south as Semna.

The Nubians resisted the Egyptian occupation, which was maintained only by a chain of forts erected along the Nile. Egyptian military and trading expeditions, of course, penetrated beyond Semna, and Egyptian fortified trading posts were actually established to the south at Karmah in order to protect against frequent attacks upon Egyptian trading vessels by Nubian tribesmen beyond the southern frontier.

The Kingdom of Kush

Despite the Egyptian presence in upper Nubia, the indigenous culture of the region continued to flourish. This culture was deeply influenced by African peoples in the south and was little changed by the proximity of Egyptian garrisons or the imports of luxury articles by Egyptian traders. Indeed, the Egyptianization of Nubia appears to have actually been enhanced during the decline in Egypt's political control over Nubia in the Second Intermediate Period (c. 1630-1540 BC), when Nubians were employed in large numbers as mercenaries against the Asian Hyksos invaders of Egypt.

This experience did more to introduce Egyptian culture, which the mercenaries absorbed while fighting in Egyptian armies, than did the preceding centuries of Egyptian military occupation. Conversely, the presence of these mercenaries in Egypt contributed to the growing African influence within Egyptian culture.

The defeat of the Hyksos was the result of a national rising of the Egyptians who, once they had expelled the Hyksos from the Nile valley, turned their energies southward to reestablish the military occupation of Nubia that the Hyksos invasion had disrupted. Under Thutmose I (reigned 1493-c. 1482 BC) the Egyptian conquest of the northern Sudan was completed as far as Kurqus, 50 miles south of Abu Hamad, and subsequent Egyptian military expeditions penetrated even farther up the Nile.

This third Egyptian occupation was the most complete and the most enduring, for despite sporadic rebellions against Egyptian control Nubia was divided into two administrative units: Wawat in the north, with its provincial capital at Aswan, and Kush (also spelled Cush) in the south, with its headquarters at Napata (Marawi). Nubia as a whole was governed by a viceroy, usually a member of the royal entourage, who was responsible to the Egyptian pharaoh.

Under him were two deputies, one for Wawat and one for Kush, and a hierarchy of lesser officials. The bureaucracy was staffed chiefly by Egyptians, but Egyptianized Nubians were not uncommon. Colonies of Egyptian officials, traders, and priests surrounded the administrative centres, but beyond these outposts the Nubians continued to preserve their own distinct traditions, customs, and crafts. A syncretistic culture thus arose in Kush, fashioned by that of Egypt to the north and those of African peoples to the south.

Kush's position athwart the trade routes from Egypt to the Red Sea, and from the Nile to the south and west, brought considerable wealth from far-off places. Moreover, its cultivated areas along the Nile were rich, and in the hills the gold and emerald mines produced bullion and jewels for Egypt. The Nubians were also highly valued as soldiers.

As Egypt slipped once again into decline at the close of the New Kingdom (11th century BC), the viceroys of Kush, supported by their Nubian armies, became virtually independent kings, free of Egyptian control. By the 8th century BC, the kings of Kush came from hereditary ruling families of Egyptianized Nubian chiefs who possessed neither political nor family ties with Egypt.

Under one such king, Kashta, Kush acquired control of Upper (i.e., southern) Egypt, and under his son Piankhi (c. 750-c. 719 BC), the whole of Egypt to the shores of the Mediterranean was brought under the administration of Kush.

As a world power, however, Kush was not to last. Just when the kings of Kush had established their rule from Abu Hamad to the Nile delta, the Assyrians invaded Egypt (671 BC) and with their superior iron-forged weapons defeated the armies of Kush under the redoubtable Taharqa; by 654 the Kushites had been driven back to Nubia and the safety of their capital, Napata.

Although reduced from a great power to an isolated kingdom behind the barren hills that blocked the southward advance from Aswan, Kush continued to rule over the middle Nile for another thousand years. Its unique Egyptian-Nubian culture with its strong African accretions was preserved, while that of Egypt came under Persian, Greek, and Roman influences.

Although Egyptianized in many ways, the culture of Kush was not simply Egyptian civilization in a Nubian environment. The Kushites developed their own language, expressed first by Egyptian hieroglyphs, then their own, and finally by a cursive script. They worshiped Egyptian gods but did not abandon their own. They buried their kings in pyramids but not in the Egyptian fashion.

Their wealth continued to flow from the mines and to grow with their control of the trade routes. Soon after the retreat from Egypt the capital was moved from Napata southward to Meroe near Shandi, where the kingdom was increasingly exposed to the long-established African cultures farther south at the very time when its ties with Egypt were rapidly disappearing. The subsequent history of Kush is one of gradual decay, ending with inglorious extinction in AD 350 by the king of Aksum, who marched down from the Ethiopian highlands, destroyed Meroe, and sacked the decrepit towns along the river.

Medieval Christian Kingdoms

The 200 years from the fall of Kush to the middle of the 6th century is an unknown age in the Sudan. Nubia was inhabited by a people called the Nobatae by the ancient geographers and the X-Group by modern archaeologists, who are still at a loss to explain their origins.

The X-Group were clearly, however, the heirs of Kush, for their whole cultural life was dominated by Meroitic crafts and customs, and occasionally they even felt themselves sufficiently strong, in alliance with the nomadic Blemmyes (the Beja of the eastern Sudan), to attack the Romans in Upper Egypt. When this happened, the Romans retaliated, defeating the Nobatae and Blemmyes and driving them into obscurity once again.

When the Sudan was once more brought into the orbit of the Mediterranean world by the arrival of Christian missionaries in the 6th century, the middle course of the Nile was divided into three kingdoms: Nobatia, with its capital at Pachoras (modern Faras); Maqurrah, with its capital at Dunqulah (Old Dongola); and the kingdom of 'Alwah in the south, with its capital at Subah (Soba) near what is now Khartoum.

Between 543 and 575 these three kingdoms were converted to Christianity by the work of Julian, a missionary who proselytized among the Nobatia (543-545), and his successor Longinus, who between 569 and 575 consolidated the work of Julian in Nobatia and even carried Christianity to 'Alwah in the south. The new religion appears to have been adopted with considerable enthusiasm. Christian churches sprang up along the Nile, and ancient temples were refurbished to accommodate Christian worshipers.

After the retirement of Longinus, however, the Sudan once again receded into a period about which little is known, and it did not reemerge into the stream of recorded history until the coming of the Arabs in the middle of the 7th century.

After the death of the Prophet Muhammad in AD 632, the Arabs erupted from the desert steppes of Arabia and overran the lands to the east and west. Egypt was invaded in 639, and small groups of Arab raiders penetrated up the Nile and pillaged along the frontier of the kingdom of Maqurrah, which by the 7th century had absorbed the state of Nobatia. Raid and counterraid between the Arabs and the Nubians followed until a well-equipped Arab expedition under 'Abd Allah ibn Sa'd ibn Abi Sarh was sent south to punish the Nubians.

The Arabs marched as far as Dunqulah, laid siege to the town, and destroyed the Christian cathedral. They suffered heavy casualties, however, so that when the king of Maqurrah sought an armistice, 'Abd Allah ibn Sa'd agreed to peace, happy to extricate his battered forces from a precarious position.

Arab-Nubian relations were subsequently regularized by an annual exchange of gifts, by trade relations, and by the mutual understanding that no Muslims were to settle in Nubia and no Nubians were to take up residence in Egypt.

With but few interruptions this peaceful, commercial relationship lasted for nearly six centuries, its very success undoubtedly the result of the mutual advantage that both the Arabs and the Nubians derived from it. The Arabs had a stable frontier; they appear to have had no designs to occupy the Sudan and were probably discouraged from doing so by the arid plains south of Aswan.

Peace on the frontier was their object, and this the treaty guaranteed. In return, the kingdom of Maqurrah gained another 600 years of life.

Islamic encroachments

When non-Arab Muslims acquired control of the Nile delta, friction arose in Upper Egypt. In the 9th century the Turkish Tulunid rulers of Egypt, wishing to rid themselves of the unruly nomadic Arab tribes in their domain, encouraged them to migrate southward. Lured by the prospects of gold in the Nubian Desert, the nomads pressed into Nubia, raiding and pillaging along borders, but the heartland of Maqurrah remained free from direct hostilities until the Mamluks established their control over Egypt (1250).

In the late 13th and early 14th centuries, the Mamluk sultans sent regular military expeditions against Maqurrah, as much to rid Egypt of uncontrollable Arab Bedouins as to capture Nubia. The Mamluks never succeeded in actually occupying Maqurrah, but they devastated the country, draining its political and economic vitality and plunging it into chaos and depression.

By the 15th century Dunqulah was no longer strong enough to withstand Arab encroachment, and the country was open to Arab immigration. Once the Arab nomads, particularly the Juhaynah people, learned that the land beyond the Aswan reach could support their herds and that no political authority had the power to turn them back, they began to migrate southward, intermarrying with the Nubians and introducing Arabic Muslim culture to the Christian inhabitants. The Arabs, who inherited through the male line, soon acquired control from the Nubians, who inherited through the female line, intermarriage resulting in Nubian inheritances passing from Nubian women to their half-Arab sons, but the Arabs replaced political authority in Maqurrah only with their own nomadic institutions.

From Dunqulah the Juhaynah and others wandered east and west of the Nile with their herds; in the south the kingdom of 'Alwah stood as the last indigenous Christian barrier to Arab occupation of the Sudan.

'Alwah extended from Kabushiyah as far south as Sennar (Sannar). Beyond, from the Ethiopian escarpment to the White Nile, lived peoples about which little is known. 'Alwah appears to have been much more prosperous and stronger than Maqurrah. It preserved the ironworking techniques of Kush, and its capital at Subah possessed many impressive buildings, churches, and gardens.

Christianity remained the state religion, but 'Alwah's long isolation from the Christian world had probably resulted in bizarre and syncretistic accretions to liturgy and ritual. 'Alwah was able to maintain its integrity so long as the Arabs failed to combine against it, but the continuous and corrosive raids of the Bedouins throughout the 15th century clearly weakened its power to resist. Thus, when an Arab confederation led by 'Abd Allah Jamma' was at last brought together to assault the Christian kingdom, 'Alwah collapsed (c. 1500). Subah and the Blue Nile region were abandoned, left to the Funj, who suddenly appeared, seemingly from nowhere, to establish their authority from Sennar to the main Nile.

The Funj

The Funj were a strange and mysterious people. They were neither Arabs nor Muslims, and their homeland was probably on the upper Blue Nile in the borderlands between Ethiopia and the Sudan. Under their leader, 'Amarah Dunqas, the Funj founded their capital at Sennar and throughout the 16th century struggled for control of the Al-Jazirah (Gezira) region against the Arab tribes who had settled around the confluence of the Blue and the White Niles. The Funj appear to have firmly established their supremacy by 1607-08.

By the mid-17th century the Funj dynasty had reached its golden age under one of its greatest kings, Badi II Abu Daqn (reigned 1644/45-80), who extended Funj authority across the White Nile into Kordofan and reduced the tribal chieftaincies scattered northward along the main Nile to tribute-paying feudatories. But as Badi expanded Funj power, he also planted the seeds of its decline. During his conquests, slaves were captured and taken to Sennar, where, as they grew in numbers and influence, they formed a military caste.

Loyal to the monarch alone, the slaves soon came to compete with the Funj aristocracy for control of the offices of state. Intrigue and hostility between these two rival groups soon led to open rebellion that undermined the position of the traditional ruling class.

Under Badi IV Abu Shulukh (reigned 1724-62), the ruling aristocracy was finally broken, and the king assumed arbitrary power, supported by his slave troops. So long as Badi IV could command the loyalty of his army, his position was secure and the kingdom enjoyed respite from internal strife, but at the end of his long reign he could no longer control the army. Under the leadership of his viceroy in Kordofan, Abu Likaylik, the military turned against the king and exiled him to Subah.

Abu Likaylik probably represented a resurgence of older indigenous elements who had been Arabized and Islamized but were neither Arab nor Funj.

Thenceforward, the Funj kings were but puppets of their viziers (chief ministers), whose struggles to win and to keep control precipitated the kingdom into steady decline, interrupted by only infrequent periods of peace and stability established by a strong vizier who was able to overcome his rivals.

During its last half century the Funj kingdom was a spent state, kept intact only through want of a rival, but gradually disintegrating through wars, intrigue, and conspiracy, until the Egyptians advanced on Sennar in 1821 and pushed the Funj empire into oblivion.

The spread of Islam

The Funj were originally non-Muslims, but the aristocracy soon adopted Islam and, although they retained many traditional African customs, remained nominal Muslims. The conversion was largely the work of a handful of Islamic missionaries who came to the Sudan from the larger Muslim world. The great success of these missionaries, however, was not among the Funj themselves but among the Arabized Nubian population settled along the Nile.

Among these villagers the missionaries instilled a deep devotion to Islam that appears to have been conspicuously absent among the nomadic Arabs who first reached the Sudan after the collapse of the kingdom of Maqurrah. One early missionary was Ghulam Allah ibn 'A'id from the Yemen, who settled at Dunqulah in the 14th century. He was followed in the 15th century by Hamad Abu Danana, who appears to have emphasized the way to God through mystical exercises rather than through the more orthodox interpretations of the Qur'an taught by Ghulam Allah.

The spread of Islam was advanced in the 16th century, when the hegemony of the Funj enhanced security. In the 16th and 17th centuries, numerous schools of religious learning were founded along the White Nile, and the Shayqiyah confederacy was converted. Many of the more famous Sudanese missionaries who followed them were Sufi holy men, members of influential religious brotherhoods who sought the way to God through mystical contemplation.

The Sufi brotherhoods themselves played a vital role in linking the Sudan to the larger world of Islam beyond the Nile valley. Although the fervour of Sudanese Islam waned after 1700, the great reform movements that shook the Muslim world in the late 18th and early 19th centuries produced a revivalist spirit among the Sufi brotherhoods, giving rise to a new order, the Mirghaniyah or Khatmiyah, later one of the strongest in the modern Sudan.

These men, called faqihs, attracted a following by their teachings and piety and laid the foundations for a long line of indigenous Sudanese holy men. The latter passed on the way to God taught them by their masters, or founded their own religious schools, or, if extraordinarily successful, gathered their own following into a religious order. The faqihs played a vital role in educating their followers and helped place them in the highest positions of government, by which they were able to spread Islam and the influence of their respective brotherhoods.

The faqihs held a religious monopoly until the introduction, under Egyptian-Ottoman rule (see below), of an official hierarchy of jurists and scholars, the 'ulama', whose orthodox legalistic conception of Islam was as alien to the Sudanese as were their origins.

This disparity between the mystical, traditional faqihs, close to the Sudanese, if not of them, and the orthodox, Islamic jurists, aloof, if not actually part of the government bureaucracy, created a rivalry that in the past produced open hostility in times of trouble and sullen suspicion in times of peace. Recently, this schism has diminished; the faqih continues his customary practices unmolested, while the Sudanese have acknowledged the position of the 'ulama' in society.