The Kushite Conquest of Egypt

The official date for the Kushite conquest of Egypt is not definitely decided. However it is known that Kush had exercised political control over Egypt as early as the ninth century BC. During this period, Lower Egypt was ruled by a group of Libyan kings, who were always on the fight over power allocation. Those Libyans originally immigrated to Egypt from the Libya in the twelfth century BC.1 Then, due to their expertise in war, many of them ended up taking important positions in the Egyptian military.

© Ralph W. Klein, The Old Testament and the Ancient Near East.
Statue of Amenirids, who was appointed the divine wife of Amon at Thebes when her father, Pharaoh Kashata, ruled Egypt.
Nubian queen

Starting from the 22nd Dynasty, when Egypt was already weakening, many of those Libyan militants claimed the official right over the kingship of all of Egypt.2 The Kushites took advantage of the deteriorating situations in Egypt, and hence exercised political control. Evidence suggest that the eleven Libyan kings, who were ruling Egypt at the time, were in the hands of the Kushite state under superficial titles of kings turning them into puppet-like agents.

During the eighth century the Libyan kings rebelled against the Kushite control and wanted to demolish the cult of Amon at Thebes and replace it with their Lower Egyptian cult of Hermopolis, thus proclaiming independence.3 Since the Kushites were followers of the Amon cult, the Thebans appealed to the Kushites for help. In response, the Kushite pharaoh Piankhi, successor and brother of Kashata, invaded Lower Egypt about 728 BC, he crushed the rebelling armies of Tefnakht (King of Sais) and Oskorn (King of Tanis), the strongest and most influential Libyan kings in Lower Egypt.

In 759 BC, Kashata (760-747 BC)4, Pharaoh of Kush after Alara, invaded Upper Egypt and brought the region under the total militaristic control of Kush. At the time the capital of Upper Egypt was Thebes, which was also the main center for the Cult of Amon.

Around the same year, Kushite pharaoh Piankhy carried extensive militaristic campaigns and reoccupied Lower Egypt. Piankhy then pronounced himself pharaoh of both Lower and Upper Egypt. On the Victory Stela, from Napata, Piankhy records the circumstances surrounding his victory over the Egyptians, including the taking of Memphis. On the stela, Piankhy boasts of his military victories:

"Forward Against it! Mount the walls! Penetrate into the houses across the river!' Thus Memphis was taken by a flood of water. Multitudes were slain therein or brought as living captives to his Majesty."5

Instead of punishing his enemies, the pharaoh employed them to further strengthen his government as government administrators and military generals. Consequently, Tefnakht surrendered and swore to serve Piankhy as his king. Afterwards, Piankhy returned to Napata, his homeland, and continued to rule the whole region from over there, while the Kushite military presence in Egypt ensured his authority.

Stela of Piankhy from Jebel Barkal. The stela proclaims Piankhy as the King of Egypt and Kush, under the supervision of the God Amun of Thebes and Amun of Napata. Source: Wildung, Dietrich. Sudan: Ancient Kingdoms of the Nile.
Nubian stela
Sphinx of Shepenwepet II, representative of the Kushite royalty. Source: Wildung, Dietrich. Sudan: Ancient Kingdoms of the Nile.
Nubian queen
Bust of Shebako from Memphis. Source: Wildung, Dietrich. Sudan: Ancient Kingdoms of the Nile.
Nubian king

During the hundred years of ruling Egypt, Kush had extensively interacted with, and had influence upon, the Near East and the Far East, in politics, economy, and cultures. The impact of such interaction is still waiting deeper investigations. Nonetheless, apparently the Kushite culture had not witnessed big differences in basic norms and traditions.

In about 720 BC, the Assyrians under King Sargon conquered much of Southeast Asia. Their armies attacked and sacked what is known as the Brook of Egypt, east of the Sani. Eventually, Oskoron (a previously Libyan ruler who fought Piankhy then forgiven and given a position by Piankhy to become a watchdog for Kush in Egypt), launched a massive military campaign to face Sargon.

  • 1 See: W. S. LaSor, "Libya", The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: A-Z (1995) 127.
  • 2 See: K. A. Bard, and S. B. Shubert, Encyclopedia of the Archaeology of Ancient Egypt, (Routledge, 1999) 62.
  • 3 For a thorough account of the rise of the Kushite state and the Kushite expansion in Palestine see: H. T. Aubin, The Rescue of Jerusalem: The Alliance of Hebrews and Africans in 701 B.C. (Soho P, 2002).
  • 4 M. A. Murray,The Splendor That Was Egypt: Revised Edition (Courier Dover Publications, 2004) 50.
  • 5 S. Wenig, Africa in Antiquity: the Catalogue (New York, 1978).
Authored: 2004.
Edited: Feb. 2009.

The primary material of the website is authored by Ibrahim Omer © 2008.