‘The Kingdom of Kush’ – links & further reading

UPDATE July 2021: For anyone who missed the live performances of this talk online, a recorded version is now available on YouTube and here:

Ok folks, many of you will know the drill by now. As a follow-up to a recent online talk, in this case on ‘The Kingdom of Kush’ (24 and 26 June 2020), below you’ll find a guide to online resources and further reading for anyone who would like to take their interest in the subject further.

The Kingdom of Kush: Egypt’s mighty rival in the south. Egypt expanded into the territory to its south at various times in history, built monuments there and influenced the beliefs and practices of the people they encountered. But the influence went both ways; at times the tables turned and the Kingdom of Kush, centring on the cities of Kerma and later Napata and Meroe, became more powerful than Egypt. Kings of Kush even came to rule Egypt as the Twenty-fifth Dynasty. They retreated after a century of rule but continued to thrive in the middle Nile Valley for centuries more, burying their rules under distinctively tall pyramids. This is their story.

The slides for my talk, in case you’d like to look back over them, are here:

In general, the following four books provide excellent overviews of the main aspects of the talk:

Welsby, D, The Kingdom of Kush (London, British Museum Press, 1996) – an overview of Kushite civilisation, theme by theme – history, material culture, art and architecture, religious beliefs, language and script etc.

Morkot, R G, The Black Pharaohs. Egypt’s Nubian Rulers (London, Rubicon Press, 2000) – concentrates more on the period of the Twenty-fifth Dynasty when the Kushites ruled Egypt but with a long build up explaining how the kings of Kush reached this point

Bonnet, C, The Black Kingdom of the Nile (Harvard University Department of the Classics, 2019) – focusses on the excavations at Kerma which the author has led since the 1960s which have transformed our understanding of the nature of the people who lived in the region of Kush before and after the Egyptian New Kingdom.

The first two of these are out-of-print but second hand copies are available; the third has the advantage of being the most up-to-date and remains in print (and reasonably priced!).

If you’re looking for something a little quicker to read, ‘History of Kush – an Outline’ by Dan’el Kahn is an excellent overview of the civilisation of Kush and is freely available online via academia.edu – see here.

Translations of the text of the ‘Victory’ or ‘Triumphal’ stela of Piye are available in various places. One of the best is that in Lichtheim, M, Ancient Egyptian Literature, Volume III. The Late Period which is available as an e-book, here.

The ‘Victory’ or ‘Triumphal’ stela of Piye in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo.

The most comprehensive collection of Kushite and Meroitic texts in translation is the Fontes Historiae Nubiorum series, all four volumes of which, brilliantly, are available to download for free, here.  The first volume deals with the kings who came to rule Egypt and includes a translation of the Piye Stela, and also – for those who asked after the lecture – details of the scanty textual evidence for that king’s predecessors, Alara and Kashta.

The arguments for a change to the sequence of the Twenty-fifth Dynasty kings – i.e. with  Shabaqo as successor to Shebitqo, and not the other way round – are well articulated in ‘The Order of the Kushite Kings According to Sources from the Eastern Desert and Thebes. Or: Shabataka was here first!’ by Claus Jurman which is freely available here.

Shebitqo. Chapel of Osiris Heqa-Djet (‘Ruler of Eternity’), Karnak.

The British Museum record of the ‘Shabaqo Stone’ (= BM EA 498) is here. A translation of the text – the ‘Memphite Theology’ – is published in vol. I of Lichtheim’s Ancient Egyptian Literature on The Old and Middle Kingdoms (e-book here).

An excellent overview of the conflict between the Kushites and Assyrians is Dan’el Kahn’s article ‘The Assyrian Invasions of Egypt (673-663 B.C.) and the Final Expulsion of the Kushites’ which you’ll find available for free here.

A relief scene now in the British Museum (no. 124928), showing Assyrian soldiers capturing an Egyptian town and leading shackled Kushite prisoners away. Further images and information are available via the British Museum database here.

On the presence of Kushites in Thebes see Günter Vittmann’s article, ‘A Question of Names, Titles, and Iconography. Kushites in Priestly, Administrative and other Positions from Dynasties 25 to 26’ here. If you’re really bored(!), my PhD thesis was a study of Theban officials (Egyptian and Kushite) during the Twenty-fifth Dynasty and is available here.

The principal study of the ‘Nitocris Adoption Stela’ which commemorates the transfer of authority in Thebes to the newly established Twenty-sixth Dynasty under Psamtek I, is Caminos, R, ‘The Nitocris Adoption Stela’ which you can read here. This shows that several members of the Kushite royal family were still present and in prominent positions in Thebes some years after the departure of the last of the Twenty-fifth Dynasty kings, Tantamani, from Egypt.

Another document which shows Shabaqo’s grandson still to have been present as Chief Priest of Amun in Thebes as last as Psamtek’s year 14, is the ‘Saite Oracle Papyrus’ which is now kept in the Brooklyn Museum (see the museum record here).

Vignette of the Brooklyn Oracle Papyrus showing a procession of high-ranking priests at Karnak including, in the centre, the Chief Priest of Amun and grandson of the Kushite pharaoh Shabaqo, Harkhebi.

The most accessible overview of the city and people of Kerma is Bonnet, C, The Black Kingdom of the Nile (as mentioned already, above). Bonnet’s work has led to a radical revision of the conclusions about the site drawn by its first excavator, George Reisner, who is one of the characters featured in my forthcoming book, Egyptologists’ Notebooks.

The western deffuffa at Kerma.

The incredible discovery of a cache of smashed statues of Kushite kings discovered by Bonnet at Dokki Gel in 2003 is recounted in The Nubian Pharaohs: Black Kings on the Nile.

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The statues discovered by Bonnet and now re-assembled in the on-site museum at Kerma.

Further information about the Kerma Project is available on its website, here. Several other current research projects also have excellent websites including those at the pyramid fields of el-Kurru and Nuri, and the Meroitic temple complexes at Musawwarat.

A selection of the wonderful archive of photographs taken during John Garstang’s early 20th century excavations at Meroë appears on the Garstang Museum’s website, here. The ‘Meroë Head of Augustus’ which Garstang discovered at the site appears on the British Museum’s website here, and is the focus of this little book.

Finally, there have been several good documentaries on Kush in the last few years some of which are available online including ‘Kingdom of Kush’ (BBC News Africa – see below), and ‘Lost Pharaohs of the Nile’ (Channel 4, 2019).