The Kushite Conquest of Palestine and the
'Assyro-Kushite Wars'


In 716 BC, Kushite pharaoh Piankhy died, and his brother, Shabako, succeeded him. After the Kushite pharaohs had conquered Egypt in 728 BC they stretched their control over to Palestine. Archeological work in Jerusalem revealed more than 200 Egyptian/Kushite weights dating back to the period.1

About this same time, the Egyptian bureaucracy rebelled against the Kushite rule. Pharaoh Shabako launched a strong military force, marched over Lower Egypt, traced the rebels and defeated them, and established Memphis as the official capital of Egypt. In 706 BC, Shabako made his son, Shebiktu, the second person after the Pharaoh responsible for overseeing and regulating the affairs of the colonized Egypt.

Bust of Shebikto

Shebiktu maintained a peaceful policy with Sargon of Assyria who was extending the empire's impacts on the Near East. In 704 BC, Sargon died in Tubal, and his death brought hopes of independence to the Near Eastern districts that fell under his empire. Taking advantage of this situation, Shabako, the Kushite Pharaoh, supported the anti-Assyrian rebels including those in Syria and Phoenicia.

One year later (705 BC), Sennacherib succeeded Sargon on the Assyrian throne. He destroyed all the rebellions, starting with those in his homeland in Mesopotamia (including the Babylonian and the Chaldaean rebellions), marched west to reconquer the territory lost after Sangon’s death. By this time (around 702 BC), the Kushite Pharaoh Shebiktu succeeded his father on the throne. Following his father’s steps, Shabikto continued to support the anti-Assyrian movements.

By 701 BC, Sennacherib was advancing from the Syrian Desert west to the north of Phoenicia to attack the Phoenician stronghold of Tyre, which was, at the time, a semi-island off the coast. For some reason, Sennacherib was not able to subdue this city. Tyre was obviously a strong state; it was also evident that it was a close ally of Kush and may thus receive support from Kushite military troops.

An Assyrian stele dating to the reign of Esrashadon - son of Sennacherib - depicted a relatively large figure of Esrashaddon holding two chains that pierce through the tongues of his two prominent and bitter enemies; Taharqa, a Kushite military commander and later pharaoh, and Abdi Milkuti, King of Sidon.2 This stella assert the strong alliance between Kush and Phoenicia against their common enemy, Assyrian.

The Assyrian troops continued to move down the coast chasing the Philistine rebels, including those lead by King Sidqi of Ashkelon , who made an unsuccessful attempt to get military backup from Kush . The Assyrian army thereafter, infiltrated into the Gaza-strip and into the mainland of Judah; then they besieged and subdued all of the big cities of Judah , except for Jerusalem. According to Biblical chronology, King Hezekia, who was ruling Jerusalem by that time, refused to surrender Jerusalem to the Assyrian King for Prophet Isaiah instructed him. Hezekiah ordered to cut off the Gihon spring, the only source of water outside the city walls in order to keep the Assyrians from having water when they got near Jerusalem, in preparation for a long Assyrian siege (See 2 Chronicles 32: 1-5).

Larger figure of Esrashaddon (left) is shown victoriously holding two chains that pierce through the lips of his opponents: Taharqa, the military commander of Kush (middle), and Abdi Milkuti, the king of Sidon (right).
Assyrian Nubian
Click here for larger view. Map of the kushite and Assyrian empires before 701 BC.
Nubian empire map
Cick here for larger view. Path of the Assyrian and Kushite militaries at the Battle of Elteke, Israel.
Nubia Assyria

Taharqa's minor force, on the other hand, moved toward the city of Jerusalem. Being dispersed and thirsty, the Assyrians besiegers were an easy prey to the Kushites forces. Obviously, the Kushites made their attack from the mountains east of Jerusalem, an excellent location to shower their arrows on the enemy. According to the Bible, as the Jerusalemites "arose in the morning, behold, they (Assyrian besiegers) were all dead corpses." (Isaiah 37: 36). The Assyrian besiegers seemed to have experienced a surprise attack, a strategy the Kushite armies are mostly known for in the ancient world.

© Jon Bodswoth, Egypt Archives
Bust of pharaoh Taharqa
Taharqa Nubian king

The Eltekeh battle ended by the defeat of the Assyrians. Afterward Sennacherib, king of Assyria withdrew to his home in Assyria , though still controlling Syria . There in Ninveh, the capital of Assyria , Sennacherib was assassinated by his two sons, Adrammelech and Sharezer. The two sons then fled away leaving Esarshaddon, as the hare to the thrown of his father.

In 679 BC, Esrashaddon took over Palestine and Judah. After spending five years in subduing Phoenicia , Esarshaddon, in 674 BC, marched with a massive military force and penetrated into the Egyptian border. There, Taharqa, already crowned king of Kush after the death of Shebikto, fought a bloody battle against Esrashaddon and inflicted a heavy defeat upon him. Three years later, in 671 BC, Esarshaddon left a Stele at Phoenicia where he prays to the sun god, Shamash, to support him in his upcoming campaign to retake Palestine from the "Kushite-Egyptian forces".3 This makes it clear that after Esarshaddon's defeat in Egypt, Taharqa had already reasserted the control over Palestine, and that up to this period, Kush was the dominant power over the Palestinian territory.

In the same year, Esarshaddon, King of Assyria, invaded Egypt again. However, this time he was successful to drive out the Kushites as far south as the outskirts of Memphis, the residence of Tharqa in Egypt. There Esrashaddon, ravaged the city and captured Taharqa's strong hold there, with his wife and son in it, however; Taharqa managed to escape the slaughter.

The Assyrians continued to destroy whatever they could find related to Kushite royalty; therefore we do not have the records that the Kushites might have written to enrich our knowledge of this period. On the following period, Kush held to its Egyptian territory south of Memphis, as battles between the two powers raged from time to time.

Bust of Pharaoh Tanwetamani.

Seven years later, in 664 BC, Taharqa died on his fifties leaving the thrown for his nephew, Tanwetamani. It is inscribed on a stella at Jebel Barkal that Tanwetamani, at the very beginning of his reign, dreamt of two snakes, representing the crowns of Kush , and Egypt , which he interpreted as a permission from god Amon to regain Egypt, which his uncle had lost to the Assyrians.

In that same year, Tanwetamani invaded and captured all of Egypt . However, this Kushite return did not last more than two years, for on the Assyrian throne Ashurbanipal succeeded Esrashaddon and come to fight the invaders. Twanwetamani was thus forced to withdraw from Egypt and resided in Thebes , which he kept in hold. Shortly, Tanwetamani had to also withdraw from Thebes further south to the Assyrians.

Herodotus mention's that king Tanwetamani had departed from Egypt in consequence of "the vision of the dream.."(Herodotus ii. 152).4 On the other hand, Tanwetamani recorded on his stele that his invasion to Egypt in 664 BC was a response of a dream vision he had. Whether those dreams were used as propaganda to attain public support or as a sacred obligation, obviously they had a major role on the decision - making process. Any way, Twantemani continued to rule in his territory to the south of Thebes.

The New Egyptian Dynasty and Kush:
©Jon Bodswoth, Egypt Archives
Building of the Avenue of Sphinxes and the last pylons of the Karnak Temple in Egypt was administered by Pharaoh Taharqa.

In 654 BC the Egyptian Psammetik I liberated both Lower and Upper Egypt from the Assyrians and regained Thebes , expelling the Kushite officials who ran the cult of Amon there, and appointed his daughter as the high priestess of Amon.

The 26th Dynasty of Egypt exhibited a lot of animosity towards Kush . Psammetic, ruler of the 26th Dynasty, had his father executed by Kushite Pharaoh Shabako during the Kush rule over Egypt . In fear of his own life, Psammetic escaped to Syria as a "fugitive"(Herodotus ii. 152), and did not return until 654 BC. In revenge for his father, Psammetic and later his sons of the 26th Dynasty constantly attempted to attack Kush , but were always unsuccessful. Thus, it is not surprising that the 26th Dynasty had finally erased almost every inscription, records, or artifact that belonged to the earlier eras of Kushite rule.

In 593 BC Psammetic II, successor of Psammetic I, waged fierce wars against Kush . Egyptian inscriptions indicate that the Egyptians have inflicted a defeat upon the Kushites at a major battle north of Napata. However, there is no evidence for Egyptian territory advancement farther south.

During this period, the region of Lower Nubia became the no-man's land between Egypt and Kush . Thus, the population of Lower Nubia greatly intermixed with Egyptians as well as other foreign settlers who entered Egypt in previous times. The Jews, for example, formed large communities at Elephantine.

  • 1 R. Kletter, Economic Keystones: The Weight System of the Kingdom of Judah (Sheffield Academic P, 1998), S. Dalley, "Recent Evidence from Assyrian Sources for Judaean History from Uzziah to Manasseh", Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, Vol. 28, No.4, (2004): 387-401, and H. T. Aubin, The Rescue of Jerusalem: The Alliance of Hebrews and Africans in 701 B.C. (Soho P, 2002) 155-6.
  • 2 G. Maspero, History of Egypt, Chaldea, Syria, Babylonia, and Assyria, ed. A. H. Sayce, trans. M. L. McClure, Vol. VIII. (London: The Grolier Society).
  • 3 For a comprehensive account of the Nubian invasion of Palestine see: H. T. Aubin, The Rescue of Jerusalem: The Alliance of Hebrews and Africans in 701 B.C. (Soho P, 2002).
  • 4 Herodotus, and D. Lateiner, The Histories, trans. G. C. Macaulay (Barnes & Noble Classics, 2004).
  • 5 See: Investigating the Origin of the Ancient Jewish Community at Elephantine: A Review (click here for link).
Authored: 2004.
Edited: Jan. 2009.

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