Kush and Rome
In 30 BC, the Romans replaced the Ptolemies as Kush's northern
neighbors. Ancient Hellenic sources, and archeological evidence, reveal a military
clash that took place between Kush and the Romans during the reigns of
Roman Emperor Augusts and Kushite Queen Amanishekhato. The clash began as a border conflict. Prior to the conflic, the Romans struck a deal
with the Kushite officials at Philae. The deal established Aswan,
in Lower Nubia, as the official border between Kush and the Roman empire. Accordingly, the Romans were not permitted to expand their territorial ambitions south of Aswan. The Kushites, in return, were expected to pay a tribute to Rome1.
Relief of Kushite Queen Amanishekhito. Source: Wildung, Dietrich.
Sudan: Ancient Kingdoms of the Nile.
In the mid-to-late twenties of the first CE, revolts broke out in Thebes in protest of the Roman policy of excessive
taxation.2 The revolts, which were probably supported by Kush, grew and spread throughout Lower Nubia
and Upper Egypt. Tensions with Kush boiled when the Romans expressed interest in controlling Wadi Allaqi,3 which was rich in gold. The Wadi lies southeast of the Dodekaschoinos in Lower Nubia and was considered to be Kushite territory.
In 24 BC, the Roman authorities in Egypt got occupied with conflicts
in Arabia. The Kushites took advantage of the situation and descided to make a move. Under the leadership of Queen Amanishekhato, a Kushite military attacked
the Roman garrison in Aswan. From there, the Queen led her military all the
way to Thebes and defeated the Roman garrison there.
Strabo the geographer, who lived in first century
that the Kushite Queen "enslaved the inhabitants, and threw down
the statues of Caesar." (Strabo xvii.54). Recent archeological work
uncovered a statue of Caesar at Meroe buried under the entrance
floor of a temple at Meroe (currently in the British museum, London),
which confirms the authenticity of Strabo's story. (The burying of the statue under the temple's floor, probably reflects the Kushite
belief in the power of representation. By stepping on the depiction of an enemy, the Kushites believed that the power of the enemy would be magically weakened).5
Strabo wrote about the bloody conflicts that ensued between Kush
and the Romans under the leadership of General Aelius Petronius.4 However, since Strabo was pro-Roman, and was a personal friend
of Petronius, he patronized
the Romans side of the conflict.
According to Strabo, following the Kushite advance, Petronius (a Prefect of Egypt at the
time) prepared a
large military and marched south. The Roman forces clashed with the
Kushite armies near Thebes and forced them to retreat to Pselchis
(Maharraqa) in Kushite lands. Petronius, then, sent
deputies to the Kushites in an attempt to reach a peace agreement and make certain demands.
Quoting Strabo, the Kushites "desired three days for consideration"6
in order to make a final decision. However, after the three days,
Kush did not respond and Petronius advanced with his armies and
took the Kushite city of Premnis (modern Karanog) south of Maharraqa.
From there, he advanced all the way south to Napata, the second Capital
in Kush after Meroe. Petronius attacked and sacked Napata causing
the son of the Kushite Queen to flee. Strabo describes the defeat
of the Kushites at Napata, stating that "He (Petronius) made prisoners
of the inhabitants".
Click here for larger view.
path of the Kushite and Roman armies in the battle of 24 A.D.
according to the first-century Geographer and historian Strabo.
This was not the end of the war. The Kushite Queen attacked the occupying
Roman garrison of Napata, in the words of Strabo, "with an army
of many thousand men." The Kushites, however, lost the war. The
Queen then sent messengers to Petronius requesting to speak
to the Roman Emperor. In response, Petronius sent the Kushite messengers
to Caesar, who was in
at the time. The negotiations in Syria were successful. It is recorded
by Strabo that the Caesar "even remitted the tribute which he had
imposed (upon the Kushites earlier). "Although not so clearly defined,
the Kush-Rome border seemed to have been somewhere in the Dodecaschoenus
Note on Kush during the Paxa Romana:
Throughout the six centuries of the Roman rule over Egypt, Kush
had extensively interacted with Rome as its northern neighbor. Despite the temporary conflicts, Kush and Roman Egypt maintained good relations in trade
and politics. In return, Rome had a profound effect on the Kushite
The Roman influence on Kush is manifested in the arts, architecture,
and writing. Not only that but there is some archeological
evidence for the existence of a Roman community in Nubia.8
Roman manufactures and products were found in considerable
The Dendur Temple, MMA, New York.
The Dendur Temple was given to the United States by Egypt in 1965
and is currently housed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New
York. The temple was built in 15 BC, in honor to the goddess Isis.
Motifs and the name of the Roman Emperor Augustus are carved and inscribed
on the temple's walls. Also inscribed are the names and motifs of the two sons
of a Kushite queen (Pihor and Pedesi), who participated in building
portions of the temple. The Dendur Temple stands as a testament
to the peaceful relations the Romans and the Kushites have maintained for the next
Edited: Jan. 2008.