Exotic animals and other products from sub-Saharan Africa were exported
by the Kushites to the Mediterranean world. A frescos in a Minoan
palace in Thera (Greece), depicts antelopes. In other Minoan
palaces in Crete and Thera several frescos show monkeys.
Throughout history, Kush was the closest trade partner
to Egypt. Egyptian relieves dating to the Old Kingdom show
Kushites presenting Egyptian pharaohs with gold, ivory, ebony,
ostrich feathers, doam (palm fruits), and exotic products,
and animals like giraffes.
Fresco from Thera (Greece), showing antelopes imported from
The Kushites were the only elephant exporting people beside the
Indians, as known in the ancient literature of the old world. Kushite
elephants were extensively used by the ancient armies of Europe
and the Near East. The Egyptian city of Elephantine, comes from
the Greek word for elephant, and was named so by the Ptolemies since
elephants, brought from Sudan, were sold and exported there.1
An ivory bust of a Nubian wearing leopard leather with a monkey,
and an oryx. 7th century B.C. From Nimrud, Iraq.
Elephant tusks were important to the economy of Kush.
Thus, it is arguable that Kush was the primary exporter of ivory in the ancient world. Syria
was known in the ancient world for trading with ivory
imported from Sudan.2 In the fourth century BC, Herodotus
wrote that the Kushites paid the Persians a tribute that included
“twenty large elephant tusks” (Herodotus iii. 97).3
Gold was also a natural mineral the Kushites were known for in
the ancient world. The Egyptians in the New Kingdom benefited from
the conquest of Kush, mainly by excavating gold sites there. New
Kingdom Egyptian paintings and relieves depict Kushites presenting
gold as tribute to the Egyptian pharaohs. Wiring in the first century
CE, Diodorus writes that in Meroe, "there are mines of gold,
silver, iron and brass, besides abundance of ebony and all sorts
of precious stones.”(Diodorus i. 33).4
It has been recorded in ancient sources that the Kushite pharaohs
never applied the death sentence; convicts in Kush were rather sent
to work in gold mines. In the Meroitic period, the Ptolemies and
later the Romans have heavily excavated the Nubian Desert for gold.5
There are no evidence on whether the Ptolemies and the Romans paid
taxes to the Kushites to excavate in the gold sites there.
From the tomb of the Viceroy of Kush, Huy, from Thebes. The
scene depicts Nubian royalty bringing gifts to the Egyptian
Pharaoh Tutankh Amen. The gifts included ostrich feathers,
ostrich eggs, live apes and a tiger, ebony, elephant tusks,
and slaves from the south.
Gold Balance from Semna (Sudan) dating to the period of Egyptian
rule in Nubia. Courtesy of the Harvard University_MFA Boston
Expedition and the Khartoum National Museum. Source: Wildung,
Dietrich. Sudan Ancient Kingdoms of the Nile.
During the Napatan-Meroitic period, the Kushites also exported slaves
from the sub-Sahara to other regions.6 By the sixth century CE, the Kushites have exanded their trade
routes with the east. Kush exported to Arabia products that included dates,7
slaves,8 dates, date-wine,9 and exotic animal leathers.
One of the Kushite kingdom's most imported products was bronze. Bronze was
first introduced to the Kushites by the Hyksos in the seventeenth
century and was extensively used by the Kushites. The type of
metal was the best available for making swords and daggers in the
Oil was also a commonly imported products by Kush.
The Kushites extensively imported olive oil from Lebanon—via Arabia across the Red Sea and Egypt. Strabo, a first century CE Roman historian and geographer, wrote:
“The Aethiopians (Nubians) live on millet and barley,
from which they also make a drink; but instead of olive-oil they
have butter and tallow”(Strabo xvii Ch. 2: 2)10
Cedar trees and lumber were also imported from the Levant and used
as building materials. Temples and royal buildings in Sudan were
mostly roofed with cedar trees. The Amon temple at Kawa for example
was roofed by cedars that Taharqa has imported especially from Lebanon
as recorded on his stele at Jebel Barkal (Sudan).11 The
items also include highly valued acacia wood, which was imported
from either Phoenicia or a nearby location in the Levant .
Edited: Jan. 2009.