Kingship

Rulers in Early Nubia

The earliest evidence of a centralized governship in Sudan dates back to around 3500 BC when a hierarchical society emerged in the area of Kerma—labeled by archeologists as pre-Kerma. The pre-Kerma polity appears to have developed a traditional governship structure with an expanded class of elites, military leadership, and priesthood.

Although our information on the pre-Kerma political system is limited, the data available to us indicates similarities to the proceeding political system of the Kushite kingdom of Kerma. In the latter system, an oligarchy seems to have dominated the power structure; thus, preventing the development of an absolute monarchy.

Desert polities:

In other parts of Sudan, states and polities existed. The political structure of every polity was dependent on the culture of its population. Tribal cultures existed predominantly in the deserts surrounding the Nile Valley. A tribe was formed of members who are blood related. Each tribe had a hierarchical system of authority allocation. Work, whether economic, military, or other, was divided among members of the tribe.

Because of the unproductive environment of the deserts, the local populations relied predominantly on nomadic pastoralism as a way of life, though subsistent agriculture was also practiced. At times, these tribes formed chiefdoms and states. The Medjay nomadic populations of eastern Sudan have challenged the supremacy of the Kushites state.1 Occsionally, they colonized and settled Nile Valley territories belonging to Kush and Egypt. During the eighteenth and seventeenth centuries BC, the Medjay states of Aushek and Webetsepet threatened to expand in Egyptian territories.

Lower Nubia:

Evidence for the political situation in the early history of Lower Nubia remains vague. However, the dry environment of the region prevented the development of stable and consistent states. For the longest part of its ancient history, Lower Nubia was caught in the territorial struggles between Kush and Egypt. Indipendnet establishments in the region were relatively short lived and were usually absorbed by the stronger Nile civilizations of Kush and Egypt.

An important visual evidence on the politics of early Nubia comes from the fragments of an incense burner that was dated to about 3000 BC. The burner was found in the L cemetery of the A-Group population of Lower Nubia, in Qustul.2

Tracing of an incense burner from Qustul dating to the C-Group Period that depicts, among other figures what is thought to be a Nubian Pharaoh. From: B. Williams, The A-Group Royal Cemetery at Qustul: Cemetery L. Chicago: The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago (1968),pl. 34. Courtesy of The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago3.

Carved on the surface of the relief is the figure of a seated pharaoh with the Kushite costume of the long belt that dangled all the way to the knees. The other part of the incense burner depicts the king in front of his ship and a large monkey. The Nubian identity of the depicted pharaoh has not been specified; however, it is highly likely the pharaoh was the ruler of the pre-Kerma polity. This suggestion is drawn from two observations. First, the costume of the long belt is associated with the pharaohs of the Kushite kingdom, which has originated from Kerma's royal culture. Second, the exotic animals carved on the burner indicate an association with more southerly savannah regions in Sudan, as opposed to Lower Nubia.

By the third-millennium BC a population originating from the Dongola Reach area of Sudan has already populated Lower Nubia.4 The population is known as C-Group and is considered to be a branch of Early-Kerma. Sometime during Egypt's First Intermediate Period, the C-Group formed a polity in Lower Nubia.5 It is not known whether this polity was completely independent or was an extension of Kerma's state structure. The C-Group's funerary culture indicated the existence of economic classes. While some graves are large and fancy, others are poor and simple. Extensive trade with Sudan and Upper Egypt must have enriched merchants of the C-Group who would have taken advantage of Egypt's deteriorating situation during the First Intermediate Period.


  • 1 History: The Medjay.
  • 2 See: D. O'Connor, Ancient Nubia: Egypt's Rival in Africa (University of Pennsylvania P, 1994) 20-3.
  • 3 See image: B. B. Williams, The A-Group Royal Cemetery at Qustul: Cemetery L. Chicago: The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago (1986) 34, Courtesy of The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.
  • 4 D. N. Edwards, The Nubian Past: An Archaeology of the Sudan (Routledge, 2004) 77.
  • 5 W. B. Emery, Egypt in Nubia (Hutchinson, 1965).
Authored: 2004.
Edited: Dec. 2014.
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The primary material of the website is authored by Ibrahim Omer © 2008.