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


In 716 BC, Kushite Pharaoh Piankhy died and was succeeded by his brother Shabako. Following their conquest of Egypt in 728 BC, the Kushites stretched their imperial control to include Palestine. Archeological work in Jerusalem revealed more than 200 Kushite/Egyptian weights dating back to the period.1

About the same time, the subordinate Egyptian bureaucracy rebelled against the Kushite rule. Pharaoh Shabako deployed a large military force from homeland Sudan to put down the rebels in Lower Egypt. The Kushite military hunted down the rebels and established Memphis as the official capital of Kushite Egypt. In 706 BC, Shabako made his son, Shebiktu, the second in command after the pharaoh and the overseer and regulator of colonized Egypt.

Bust of Shebikto

Shebiktu maintained a peaceful policy with Sargon of Assyria who, at the time, was expanding his Assyrian empire in the Near East. In 704 BC, Sargon died in Tubal. His death brought hopes of independence to the Near Eastern districts that fell under his imperial control. Taking advantage of this situation, Shabako the Kushite pharaoh supported the anti-Assyrian rebels in the Near East, including those in Syria and Phoenicia.

One year later (705 BC), Sennacherib succeeded Sargon to the Assyrian throne. He destroyed all the rebellions, starting with those in his homeland in Mesopotamia, including the Babylonian and the Chaldean rebellions, and marched west to re-conquer the territory lost after Sangon’s death. In 702 BC, Shebiktu succeeded his father as the king of Kush. Following in his father’s steps, Shabikto continued to support the anti-Assyrian movements.

By 701 BC, Sennacherib was advancing with his military from the Syrian Desert west towards 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 is also evident that Tyre was a close ally of Kush and, thus, may have received military support from the Kushite pharaoh.

An Assyrian stele dating to the reign of Esrashadon -son of Sennacherib- depicts a relatively large figure of Esrashaddon holding two chains. Each chain pierces through the tongue of one of Esrashadon's bitter enemies, Taharqa, a Kushite military commander and later pharaoh, and Abdi Milkuti, the king of Sidon.2 This stele asserts the strong alliance between Kush and Phoenicia against their common enemy Assyria.

The Assyrian troops continued to move down the coast chasing the Philistine rebels, including those lead by King Sidqi of Ashkelon; the latter king failed to receive military support from Kush . The Assyrian armies, thereafter, infiltrated into the Gaza-strip and into the mainland of Judea. Then, they besieged and subdued all of the major cities of Judea, except for Jerusalem. According to the Bible, King Hezekia, who was ruling Jerusalem at the time, refused to surrender Jerusalem to the Assyrian King as Prophet Isaiah has instructed him. Hezekiah ordered his men to cut off the Gihon spring, the only source of water outside the city walls; this way, when the Assyrians reached Jerusalem (see 2 Chronicles 32: 1-5), they found no water.

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 military force, on the other hand, moved towards the city of Jerusalem. Being dispersed and thirsty, the Assyrian besiegers were an easy prey for the Kushites. The Kushites probably 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 seem to have experienced a surprise attack by Kush's light infantry troops. The Kushites were well known in the ancient world for the latter strategy.

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

The Eltekeh battle ended by the defeat of the Assyrians. Afterwards, Sennacherib, king of Assyria, withdrew to his homeland though still continued to control Syria . There in Ninveh, the capital of Assyria , Sennacherib was assassinated by his two sons, Adrammelech and Sharezer. The two sons then fled leaving Esarshaddon as the only heir to the throne.

In 679 BC, Esrashaddon occupied Judea. In 674 BC, after spending five years in subduing Phoenicia , Esarshaddon 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 on him. Three years later, in 671 BC, Esarshaddon left a stele in 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's Kushite troops had already re-occupied Palestine, and, up to this period, Kush was the dominant power in Palestine.

In the same year, Esarshaddon invaded Egypt again. However, this time he was successful in driving out the Kushites as far south as the outskirts of Memphis where Taharqa resided. There, Esrashaddon ravaged the city and captured Taharqa's strong hold along with his wife and son. Luckily, Taharqa managed to escape the slaughter.

The Assyrians continued to destroy whatever they could find that is related to the Kushite royalty. Therefore, no significant Kushite accounts have survived the Assyrian devastation in Egypt. Such accounts would have been greatly valuable in enriching our knowledge of the circumstances of the period. Subsequently, the Kushites held to their Egyptian territories south of Memphis while the fight with the Assyrians ensued from time to time.

Bust of Pharaoh Tanwetamani.

Seven years later, in 664 BC, Taharqa died; he was in his fifties. His nephew, Tanwetamani, inherited the throne. It is inscribed on a stele at Jebel Barkal that Tanwetamani, at the very beginning of his reign, dreamt of two snakes. One snake represented the crown of Kush and the other of Egypt. The pharaoh interpreted the dream as a sign of devine permission to wage war and re-occupy Egypt, which his uncle had lost to the Assyrians. Herodotus confirms Tanwetamani's dream account and states that the pharaoh had departed to Egypt in consequence of "the vision of the dream"(Herodotus ii. 152).4 Whether those dreams were used as propaganda to gain public support, or as a religious obligation, they obviously influenced the decision-making process.

In that same year, Tanwetamani invaded and captured all of Egypt. However, this Kushite return did not last more than two years. On the Assyrian throne, Ashurbanipal succeeded Esrashaddon and returned with a military to re-take Egypt. Twanwetamani was thus forced to withdraw from Lower Egypt and retreated to Thebes. Shortly, Tanwetamani also had to withdraw from Thebes to the Assyrians and retreated farther south. However, all the area south of Thebes continued to be Kushite territory.

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. He further expelled 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. In fear of his own life, Psammetic escaped to Syria as a "fugitive"(Herodotus ii. 152) and did not return until 654 BC. Psammetic and later his sons of the 26th Dynasty were vengeful towards Kush. They erased almost every inscription, records, or artefact that belonged to the earlier era of Kushite rule. They carried a series of unsuccessful military campaigns to invade Kush.

In 593 BC Psammetic II, successor of Psammetic I, marched with a huge army towards Kush. Egyptian inscriptions claim that the Egyptians have inflicted a defeat on the Kushites at one battle north of Napata. The claim is probably not true since there is no physical evidence for Egyptian military invasion there.

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 the Egyptians, the Kushites, as well as with other foreign settlers. The Jews, for example, formed large community at Elephantine.5

  • 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.