Agriculture and Diet
Agriculture along the narrow strip of the
Nile Valley provided the people of Kush with their necessary food supply.
Each year the Nile
flooded Upper Nubia providing silt for the fertile agricultural lands. The
Kushites used the Shaduf, i.e. a traditional device operated manually
for raising water from a lower depression to a higher depression where the water is distributed
to other depressions to irrigate the field/s, for watering their
farms.1 Sometime in the late Meroitic period, the Kushite farmers began to use the Saquia, i.e. a water wheel brought to
Sudan from Southwest Asia.2
There are numerous hafirs, i.e. depressions dug on flat grounds
to collect rain water, discovered in Sudan including in Musawwarat
es Sufra.3 However hafirs would not have always provided
enough water for watering the farms. The only known Kushite dam used for
water storage was found at Shaq el Ahmar.4
Nomads wandered the semi-arid regions on both sides of the Nile Valley
with their flocks in search of good pastures. In some senarios, the
nomads and the farmers of Kush have benefited from each other, i.e. exchanging animal products for agricultural produce and the vise versa. The farmers of Kush allowed the nomads to herd their
flocks on harvested farms so that the dung of the animals
would fertilized the farms.5
Relief from Jebel Qeili in Nubia (modern day Egypt near the Sudanese
border), depicts Nubian king Shorkaror as being offered a hand full
of sorghum by an unknown Nubian god.
The main food crop grown in ancient Sudan seems to have been sorghum; evidence for this is found
in Kushite pottery. Ambitions to expand in agriculture might have been the primary reason behind the expansion of the Kushite kingdom in eastern Sudan, particularily in the Buttana region. As a matter of fact, it is evident from
the haffirs dug there, in the Meroitic period, that the Kushite kingdom had
controled the Buttana region. There, sorghum is easily
grown.Wheat and barely were also grown but in more limited amounts than sorghum. Archeological excavations indicate that peas and lintels were also existent.
Date is a sweet fruit that grows in palm trees. Dates are one of the most available fruits along
Sudan's Nile Valley. A realistic
description was provided by the Roman Geographer Strabo
in the second century CE:
"The Aethiopians [Kushites] live on millet and barley,
from which they also make a drink; but instead of olive-oil they
have butter and tallow. Neither do they have fruit trees, except
a few date-palms in the royal gardens." (Strabo xvii Ch.
In the sixth century CE, the
Nubians were well known by the Arabs for their good date-wine production.7
Date-wine is a common traditional drink in North Sudan today. The extensive production of a different palm fruit called doam is also evident
from New kingdom Egyptian relieves in which ancient Nubians are depicted
carrying as gifts to the Egyptian pharaohs. Other fruits may have included oranges, tamarind, and
grape-fruits which are extensively grown in Sudan today.
One non-dietary crop that is widely grown in Kush was cotton.
Just like today, cotton was used for domestic cloth making and was possibly transported
to other locations. Cotton clothes were found abundantly in Kushite
graves, including the cemeteries at Kerma.
Meroitic pot showing anatidae birds. 1st century CE. The University of pennsylvania Museum of Archeology and Anthropology.
Other than agricultural products, the Kushites ate a variety of animal products. In the first century, a Roman geographer wrote that the Kushites,
"use meats, blood, milk, and cheese"(Strabo xvii Ch. 2:
2) for food. Cheese was popularly manufactured as evidenced from funirary findings.
Unlike the Egyptians , the Kushites
extensively domesticate cattle and sheep.
Extensive left over of sheep bones were found at the offering chapels
and temple kitchens in Kerma.8 Cattle were also sacrificed
in great numbers in the Kerma graves indicating the importance
of their presence in the Kushite life. The fact that representations of antelopes are found in Kushite products might indicate that they were also eaten.
Birds--ducks, geese, and chickens-- were also domesticated, probably for their eggs and meat. Although, grave findings indicate that sheep and goat were more popular for their meat than birds. Ostrich eggs were also popular. The type of eggs were found in
many graves at Kerma. Pigs may
have also been domesticated for food in limited numbers. (Like that of the Egyptian and other
Near Eastern religions, Kushite religion is likely to have forbidden
the eating of pigs).
Edited: Marc. 2009.