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The region of Nubia was one of the major gold producers of the ancient world

When discussing the civilisations of the Nile Valley, many histories focus almost exclusively on the role of Egypt.

But this approach ignores the emergence further south on the Nile of the kingdom known to the Egyptians as Kush, in the region called Nubia - the area now covered by southern Egypt and Northern Sudan.

The relationship between Egypt and Kush was a complex one, which changed depending on the political and economic climate of the time.

"Nubia was the meeting place of the Mediterranean and African civilisation. The relationship between Egypt and upper Nubia was completely different from time to time and period to period. If the Egyptian king's power is widespread it catches everything under its control and Nubia comes under Egyptian authority, but if it is weak, then upper Nubia is ruled by itself."
Osama Abdel Meguid, Director of the Nubian Museum in Aswan.

The Kushites were first based in Kerma, and then at Napata - both towns in what is now northern Sudan.

Kerma was an advanced society and archaeological evidence shows that ceramics were being produced by 8,000 BC - earlier than in Egypt. By about 1700 BC, the town had grown into a town of 10,000 people with a complex hierarchical society.

Egypt could not ignore its southern neighbour although its interest was predominantly economic. Nubia was rich with minerals such as stones needed for the building of temples and tombs, and gold, needed for jewelry. Indeed Kush was one of the major gold producers of the ancient world.

At one stage Nubia, was occupied by Egypt for about 500 years and then the tables turned. From around 850 BC, the Egyptian state fell into such decline that what became known as the twenty-fifth dynasty rose in Nubia, with authority over all of Egypt.

This dynasty based at Napata was known as the 'Ethiopian' dynasty. Although it was heavily influenced by Egyptian culture and religion, it was in many ways the first great African power.

"They dealt like Egyptians, they dressed like Egyptians, but they were still proud of their black faces."
Osama Abdel Meguid, Director of the Nubian Museum in Aswan.

In 713 BC King Shabaka came to power in Kush and brought the Nile Valley as far as the Delta under his control. The name of one of his successors, King Taharqa, is found on inscriptions throughout the Valley.

The dynasty ended following a military defeat at the hands of the Assyrians and in about 600 BC the capital of the Kushite kingdom was moved from Napata to Meroe, further south along the Nile.

Listen hereListen to a dramatisation of Greek geographer Strabo's description of Meroe

This, symbolically, was a move closer to black Africa, and the kingdom that grew up around Meroe was one that very much reflected African influences. The Meroites have been given much less historical attention than the Egyptians but in many ways it was a kingdom that rivaled Egypt in material wealth and distinctive cultural development.

"From the graves and from the images painted on tombs we can see that people looked much more African than Mediterranean. The jewelry is really of an African nature - like anklets, bracelets, ear studs and earrings - and you can still find the style of the jewelry used by the Meroites on tribes of the savannah belt south of Khartoum."
Dr Salah el-Din Muhammed Ahmed, Director of Fieldwork at the National Museum in Khartoum.

Listen  hereListen to Dr Salah El-Din Muhammed Ahmed, Director of Fieldwork at the National Museum, Khartoum, describing Meroite features as African

Meroe was a complex, advanced and politically stable society. It relied on elected kingship with elaborate coronation ceremonies in which the Queen mother played an important role. Excavations of the large ancient city have revealed palaces, royal baths and temples.

Meroe's wealth was partly based on trade and commerce, particularly after the Second Century when the camel was introduced to Africa and there was a flourishing of caravan routes across the continent. Its position gave Meroe strategic access to trading outlets on the Red Sea. Pottery, jewelry and woven cloth were all produced to a high standard of craftsmanship.

The kingdom also had the resources needed for the smelting of iron: ore, water from the Nile and wood from acacia trees to make charcoal. Iron gave the Meroites spears, arrows axes and hoes, allowing them to develop a mixed farming economy to exploit to the full the tropical summer rainfall.

Although influenced by the Egyptian state gods, such as Amun, Meroe developed its own forms of religious worship. The most important regional deity was the Lion God, Apedemek - often portrayed with a lion's head on a human body.

As Meroe became more distanced from Egypt, so too was the Egyptian language replaced as the spoken language of the court. Instead a Meroitic alphabet and script were introduced, which to this day researchers have been unable to decipher.

The Kingdom of Meroe began to fade as a power by the first or second century AD, sapped by war with Roman Egypt and the decline of its traditional industries. The iron industry had used up huge quantities of charcoal leading to deforestation and the land began to lose its fertility.

In around 350 AD, an army led by Ezana, King of the growing kingdom of Axum in what is now Ethiopia, invaded Meroe - but by then Meroites had already dispersed, replaced by a people described by the Axumites as Noba.

Listen hereListen to Osama Abdel Meguid, Director of the Nubian Museum in Aswan, discussing the Nubian love of the Nile