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History of Ancient Sudan

What is now northern Sudan was in ancient times the kingdom of Nubia, which came under Egyptian rule after 2600 B.C. An Egyptian and Nubian civilization called Kush flourished until A.D. 350.


Archaeological excavation of sites on the Nile above Aswan has confirmed human habitation in the river valley during the Paleolithic period that spanned more than 60,000 years of Sudanese history.

Given its proximity to Egypt and the centrality of the Nile River that both countries share, it is not surprising that historically Egypt has influenced Sudan significantly especially the northern part of the country.

By the eighth millennium B.C., people of a Neolithic culture had settled into a sedentary way of life there in fortified mud-brick villages, where they supplemented hunting and fishing on the Nile with grain gathering and cattle herding. Contact with Egypt probably occurred at a formative stage in the culture's development because of the steady movement of population along the Nile River.

Skeletal remains suggest a blending of negroid and Mediterranean populations during the Neolithic period (eighth to third millenia B.C.) that has remained relatively stable until the present, despite gradual infiltration by other elements.

For more than 2,000 years after the Old Kingdom (ca. 2700-2180 B.C.), Egyptian political and economic activities determined the course of the central Nile region's history. Even during intermediate periods when Egyptian political power in Cush waned, Egypt exerted a profound cultural and religious influence on the Cushite people.

Over the centuries, trade developed. Egyptian caravans carried grain to Cush and returned to Aswan with ivory, incense, hides, and carnelian (a stone prized both as jewelry and for arrowheads) for shipment downriver. Egyptian traders particularly valued gold and slaves, who served as domestic servants, concubines, and soldiers in the pharaoh's army. Egyptian military expeditions penetrated Cush periodically during the Old Kingdom.

Yet there was no attempt to establish a permanent presence in the area until the Middle Kingdom (ca. 2100-1720 B.C.), when Egypt constructed a network of forts along the Nile as far south as Samnah, in southern Egypt, to guard the flow of gold from mines in Wawat.

Around 1720 B.C., Asian nomads called Hyksos invaded Egypt, ended the Middle Kingdom, severed links with Cush, and destroyed the forts along the Nile River. To fill the vacuum left by the Egyptian withdrawal, a culturally distinct indigenous kingdom emerged at Karmah, near present-day Dunqulah.

After Egyptian power revived during the New Kingdom (ca. 1570-1100 B.C.), the pharaoh Ahmose I incorporated Cush as an Egyptian province governed by a viceroy. Although Egypt's administrative control of Cush extended only down to the fourth cataract, Egyptian sources list tributary districts reaching to the Red Sea and upstream to the confluence of the Blue Nile and White Nile rivers. Egyptian authorities ensured the loyalty of local chiefs by drafting their children to serve as pages at the pharaoh's court. Egypt also expected tribute in gold and slaves from local chiefs.

Ancient Cush, located in present-day northern Sudan, was strongly influenced by Egypt for about 1,000 years beginning ca. 2700 B.C. Although the Hyksos kings of Egypt temporarily broke off contact, Cush subsequently was incorporated into Egypt's New Kingdom as a province about 1570 B.C. and remained under Egyptian control until about 1100 B.C.

In a move that reversed the pattern of Egyptian dominance, a Cushite king conquered Upper Egypt in 730 B.C.; in 590 B.C., however, the Cushite capital was sacked by the Egyptians and the court moved farther south along the Nile to Meroe.

By the eleventh century B.C., the authority of the New Kingdom dynasties had diminished, allowing divided rule in Egypt, and ending Egyptian control of Cush. There is no information about the region's activities over the next 300 years.

In the eighth century B.C., however, Cush reemerged as an independent kingdom ruled from Napata by an aggressive line of monarchs who gradually extended their influence into Egypt. About 750 B.C., a Cushite king called Kashta conquered Upper Egypt and became ruler of Thebes until approximately 740 B.C. His successor, Painkhy, subdued the delta, reunited Egypt under the Twenty-fifth Dynasty, and founded a line of kings who ruled Cush and Thebes for about a hundred years.

The dynasty's intervention in the area of modern Syria caused a confrontation between Egypt and Assyria. When the Assyrians in retaliation invaded Egypt, Taharqa (688-663 B.C.), the last Cushite pharaoh, withdrew and returned the dynasty to Napata, where it continued to rule Cush and extended its dominions to the south and east.

Missionaries converted the region to Christianity in the 6th century. By the time, Meroe had broken up into three kingdoms collectively referred to as Nubia. The people of Nubia adopted Christianity and were ministered to largely by Egyptian clergy.

The kingdoms reached their peak in the ninth and tenth centuries. Prior to the coming of Islam, the people had contact with the Arabs primarily in the form of trade. Sudan became known as a source of ivory, gold, gems, aromatic gum, and cattle, all products that were transported to markets in Egypt and Arabia.

But an influx of Muslim Arabs, who had already conquered Egypt, eventually controlled the area and replaced Christianity with Islam. Following the Muslim conquest of the area, in 1276 the Mamluk rulers of Egypt gave Nubia to a Muslim overlord. The Nubians themselves converted to Islam only gradually; a majority of them remained Christian until the fifteenth or sixteenth century.

During the 1500s a people called the Funj conquered much of Sudan, and several other black African groups settled in the south, including the Dinka, Shilluk, Nuer, and Azande. Egyptians again conquered Sudan in 1874, and after Britain occupied Egypt in 1882, it took over Sudan in 1898, ruling the country in conjunction with Egypt. It was known as the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan between 1898 and 1955.

Last Updated on Monday 4th August 2008