Known in ancient Egyptian sources for its abundance of gold and other valuable natural resources, Kush was conquered and exploited by its northern neighbor for nearly half a millennium (circa 1500–1000 B.C.). But Kush’s origins extend far deeper into the past—ceramic artifacts dated to 8000 B.C. have been discovered in the region of its capital city, Kerma, and as early as 2400 B.C., Kush boasted a highly stratified and complex urban society supported by large-scale agriculture.
In the ninth century B.C., instability in Egypt allowed the Kushites to regain their independence. And, in one of history’s greatest reversals of fortune, Kush conquered Egypt in 750 B.C. For the next century, a series of Kushite pharaohs ruled a territory that far outstripped their Egyptian predecessors. It was the Kushite rulers who revived the building of pyramids and promoted their construction across the Sudan. They were eventually ousted from Egypt by an Assyrian invasion, ending centuries of Egyptian and Kushite cultural exchange.
The Kushites fled south and reestablished themselves at Meroe on the southeast bank of the Nile. At Meroe, the Kushites broke away from Egyptian influence and developed their own form of writing, now called Meroitic. The script remains a mystery and still has not been deciphered, obscuring much of Kush’s history. The last king of Kush died in A.D. 300, though his kingdom’s decline and the exact reasons for its demise remain a mystery.