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The subjugation of Nubia
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The subjugation of Nubia

Now in the regions above the Elephantine there dwell Ethiopians at once succeeding, who also occupy half of the island, and Egyptians the other half.
Herodotus Histories Part 2
    Historically, the Egyptians considered the first cataract to be the natural southern border of their country; but since earliest times they made incursions into Nubia, while the Nubians raided their northern neighbour. The Palermo Stone records the smiting the of the Troglodytes [1] as the main occurrence during the reign of the fifth king of the first dynasty.

The Old Kingdom

    Some three centuries after this first recorded major encounter between the Egyptians and the Nubians Snofru is recorded as
Hacking up the land of the Negro.
Bringing 7,000 living prisoners, and 200,000 large and small cattle.
Palermo Stone
James Henry Breasted Ancient Records of Egypt Part One, § 146
In the same year he had built 100-cubit dewatowe-ships of meru wood and 60 sixteen-barges possibly used in the raid against the Nubians.

    By the sixth dynasty king Merenre seems to have achieved more peaceful relations with the northern Nubian tribes, which he at least interpreted as subjugation, in his own words making them smell the earth translated here as doing obeisance

    The coming of the king himself, standing behind the hill-country, while the chiefs of Madzoi, Irthet, and Wawat, did obeisance and gave great praise.
Forienta Northern inscription at the first cataract
James Henry Breasted Ancient Records of Egypt Part One, § 317
Tomb of Harkhuf at Assuan;Source: Oriental Institute, University of Chicago     During the same period Weni, on his second expedition to the quarries of the south excavated five canals and built seven boats, for which the chiefs of Irtjet, Wawat, Yam and Medjay supplied the timber. Later, in a campaign against the Asiatic sand-dwellers, he included Nubians in his army.

Tomb of Harkhuf at Assuan
© Oriental Institute, University of Chicago [7]

    As caravan-conductor, Harkhuf undertook four journeys of exploration to Nubia, during which he "pacified" some of the native tribes, and returned with "gifts" in very great quantity.
    Pepi II sent Pepi-nakht, who bore the title of Governor of Foreign Countries, twice into Nubia, to subdue Wawat and Irtjet. After slaughtering a great number of people, he pillaged the country and brought the booty consisting mostly of livestock back to Egypt. He also took the two chiefs and their children prisoner and led them down-river into captivity.
    Most encounters with the Nubians were probably peaceful and therefore unremarkable. But when Mekhu died leading an expedition, his son Sebni set out to retrieve his corpse, in order to embalm and bury it, carrying with him ointment, honey, clothing, oil and other presents for the locals. He returned carrying his father's corpse and precious wares:
    I descended to Wawat and Uthek and I [sent] the royal attendant Iry with two people of my estate as [...], bearing incense, clothing, ........, 3 cubits long, one tusk, in order to give information that my [best one] was 6 cubits long; one [hide], and that I had brought this my father and all kinds of gifts from these countries.
Inscriptions of Sebni
James Henry Breasted Ancient Records of Egypt Part One, § 369

First Intermediate Period

    During the First Intermediate Period the Egyptians were busy fighting among themselves, and their involvement in Nubia decreased. The Medjay who were living between the first and second cataract, seem to have had a closer relationship with their northern neighbours than the other Lower Nubian tribes and began serving the Egyptians as mercenaries.
    Foreigners regained Egyptian attention with the reunification and forceful pacification of the country by Mentuhotep I (ca. 2066-2040 BCE). A relief shows him as Son of Hathor, Mistress of Denderah, Mentuhotep smiting four enemies, one of whom represents the Nubians. Excursions to Lower Nubia are mentioned in the relief of Mentuhotep II's treasurer Kheti near Assuan
    Year 41, under (the majesty of) Nibkhrure, came the wearer of the royal seal, sole companion, chief treasurer, Kheti, born of Sitre, triumphant; and ships to Wawat [... ... ... ...].
Inscription of Kheti, reign of Mentuhotep II (ca. 2040-2010 BCE)
James Henry Breasted Ancient Records of Egypt Part Two, § 426

The Middle Kingdom: The Subjugation

    Amenemhet I (ca. 1991-1962) renewed Egyptian interference by building a trading post at Kerma and his successor Senusret I (ca. 1962-1917) conquered Lower Nubia, consolidating his rule by the building of fortresses along the Nile. Of major importance was the one at Buhen.
    The Wawat, according to a rock carving at Korosko were conquered in the 29th year of Amenemhet I's reign. This inscription gives credence to Amenemhet's claim in his teachings that he had seized the people of Wawat and had captured the people of Mazoi.
    Senusret I subdued the tribes of the Kas, Shemyk, Khesaa, Shat, Akherkin and others in the 18th year of his reign. Ameni, a prince from Beni Hasan, recorded in Senusret's 43rd year two incursions into Nubia he had participated in, the purpose of the first one was seemingly the conquest of Lower Nubia.
    I followed my lord when he sailed up the river to overthrow his enemies in the four foreign lands.
    I passed through Ethiopia in sailing southwards. I removed the boundary of the land. I brought the tribute of my lord, my praise reached unto heaven. His majesty arose, and went in peace. He overthrew his enemies in Kush. Following his majesty, I returned, sharp of face, and without loss of my soldiers.
From the inscription of Ameni
W.M.Flinders Petrie A History of Egypt, Part One, p.166
The tribes must have been quite cowed by then, seeing that the Egyptians did not lose any of their soldiers. Ameni's subsequent expedition with a small force of 400 men was successful too. He returned with the required amount of gold and all his troops returned in safety, having suffered no loss.
    The methods the Egyptians used were often based on threat and naked force. Amenemhet II's assistant treasurer, Sihathor, recorded proudly that he forced the chiefs to wash gold, went overthrowing by the fear of the Lord of the Two Lands , and, going to the He (Abu Simbel) region, brought away its produce.
Kumma;Source: Oriental Institute, University of Chicago

© Oriental Institute, University of Chicago [7]

    Senusret III had a canal excavated through the first cataract which enabled him to move large military forces upriver quickly. He pushed the border back beyond the second cataract and built the fortresses of Semna and Kumma on opposite banks of the Nile. The regions of Nubia below this point were annexed, but never became part of Egypt proper. The indigenous people, traders or pastoralists, were not allowed beyond Heh (Semna), neither on foot nor by boat, though trading with them was encouraged.
    In the sixteenth year, the month Phamenoth, made his majesty the southern boundary unto Heh. I made my boundary south of my father's..........
From the Semna stela of Senusret III
W.M.Flinders Petrie A History of Egypt, Part One, p.188
    The Egyptians always expressed the low opinions they had of their defeated enemies with little reticence, the Nubians were no exception
    They are not valiant men, they are miserable, both tails and bodies [2]; my majesty saw it myself, it is no fable
From the Semna stela of Senusret III
W.M.Flinders Petrie A History of Egypt, Part One, p.189
    But those "miserable" Nubians remained restless, revolts had to be quelled periodically, and the Kingdom of Kush further south was often considered a threat. The road of the Aamu had to be opened up in the second year of the reign of Amenemhet III; and considerable forces had to be deployed at times. For the suppression of a rebellion in his 19th year, this king despatched multitudes of soldiers, even two thousand. Still, the Egyptians settled down [11]. Their inscriptions in Nubia became more frequent, their native neighbours adopted many of their customs, and they began to exploit the geographic location of Semna in order to receive advanced warnings of the height of the Nile

Second Intermediate Period

    Further inscriptions marking the maximum level of the Nile were made under Sobekhotep II (Sekhemre-khutawy) who ruled ca.1745 BCE, but were discontinued after four years
    Height of the Nile of the year 3 under the majesty of King Sekhemre-Khutowe, living forever; when the wearer of the royal seal, the commander of the army, Renseneb, was commanding in the fortress: "Mighty-is-Khekure" [3].
Nile level record at Semna
James Henry Breasted Ancient Records of Egypt Part Two, § 752
    During this time the kingdom of Kush in the southern part of Nubia reached an apex. Burial mounds and the remains of a palace at Kerma bear witness to this. The Kushites formed a strategic alliance with the Hyksos and took over Lower Nubia.
    Kush came ... he had stirred up the tribes of Wawat, the [islands ?] of Khenthennefer, the land of Punt and the Medjaw
Inscription in the tomb of Sobeknakht, 17th dynasty
Vivian Davies Sobeknakht's Hidden Treasures [8]<
    These moves were countered by Sobeknakht who, after raising an army, defeated the Kushites.

The New Kingdom: The Integration

    When the documentary evidence becomes more plentiful again, it proves Nubia to have been as agitated as ever. Ahmose, son of Ebana, campaigned successfully in Khenthennofer under Ahmose I (1570-1546), and a few years later he accompanied King Djeserkare [4], the justified, when he sailed south to Kush, to enlarge the borders of Egypt.
    During the early reigns of the New Kingdom there does not seem to have existed a special title for the chief administrator of Wawat, the lower part of Nubia, which was quite firmly in Egyptian hands and had to a large part become Egyptianized.
    I passed many years as mayor of Nekhen (Hierakonpolis). I brought in its tribute to the Lord of the Two Lands; I was praised and no occasion was found against me.
    I attained old age in Wawat, being a favorite of my lord. I went north with its tribute for the king, each year; I came forth thence justified; there was not found a balance against me.
Stela of Harmini, scribe during the reign of Amenhotep I (1546-1527)
James Henry Breasted Ancient Records of Egypt Part Two, § 48
    This state of affairs changed under Thutmose I (Akheperkare, r. ca.1527-1515), who created the title of sA nsw n kS [9], King's Son of Kush [6], and appointed Turi as the first viceroy.
    Royal command of the king's son, the governor of the south countries, Thure triumphant. Behold, there is brought to thee this [command] of the king in order to inform thee that my majesty has appeared as King of Upper and Lower Egypt upon the Horus throne of the living, without his like forever.
    Make my titulary as follows:
Horus: "Mighty Bull, Beloved of Mat;"
Favorite of the Two Goddesses: "Shining in the Serpent Diadem, Great of Strength;"
Golden Horus: "Goodly in Years, Making Hearts Live;"
King of Upper and Lower Egypt: "Okheperkere;"
Son of Re: "[Thutmose], Living forever and ever."
    Cause thou oblations to be offered to the gods of Elephantine of the South, as follows: "Performance of the pleasing ceremonies on behalf of the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Okheperkere, who is given life.
    Cause thou that the oath be established in the name of my majesty, born of the king's mother, Seniseneb, who is in health.
    This is a communication to inform thee of it; and of the fact that the royal house is well and prosperous .... .... .
    Year 1, third month of the second season (seventh month) twenty-first day; the day of the feast of coronation.
Coronation decree of Thutmose I sent to Turi
James Henry Breasted Ancient Records of Egypt Part Two, §§ 55ff.
On his Tombos stela Turi described the high points of his career under five kings
    The King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Okheperkere; he appointed me to be the king's son of [Kush] ........
From the inscription of Turi
James Henry Breasted Ancient Records of Egypt Part Two, § 64
Tombos stela of Thutmose I, year 2; Source: Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, excerpt
Tombos stela of Thutmose I, year 2;
Source: Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, excerpt[7]

    In his second year Thutmose extended Egyptian rule up to Tombos, a small distance above the third cataract. Just as the second cataract and the territories lying below it had been made safe by the building of Semna and Kumma, and in contrast to his conquests in Asia the nature of which was very different, here too his rule was secured by the erection of a fortress.
    The lords of the palace have made a fortress for his army, (called) "None-Faces-Him-Among-the-Nine-Bows-Together;" [5] ..........
From the inscription at Tombos
James Henry Breasted Ancient Records of Egypt Part Two, § 72
    The viceroy's rule extended from the third cataract down to Nekhen. At Assuan, Turi carved the following inscription
    Year 3, Pakhons 20th, his majesty passed this canal in force and power in his campaign to crush Ethiopia the vile.
Prince Turo
W.M.Flinders Petrie A History of Egypt, Part Two, p.67
Tribute, 18th dynasty

Nubians bearing produce, 18th dynasty
courtesy Jon Bodsworth

    There were many such campaigns of crushing, overthrowing or casting out in the following generations. Whether these were wars against Nubians not under the Egyptian yoke or policing actions against subject peoples is not always clear. But occasionally it is made explicit:
    ....... One came to inform his majesty as follows: "The wretched Kush has begun to rebel, those who were under the dominion of the Lord of the Two Lands purpose hostility, beginning to smite him. ....."
From the Assuan inscription of Thutmose II, Year 1
James Henry Breasted Ancient Records of Egypt Part Two, § 121
The revenge the Egyptians took on the rebels was savage: all the males were killed apart from one of the Chief's sons, who was taken as prisoner to the capital of Egypt. But most of the time the Nubians co-operated with their masters, and their nobles were integrated into the administration.
    Nubia was only sparsely populated, and may have had a population of 100,000 during the New Kingdom. Its economy was based on cattle raising. The taxes that were levied under Thutmose III on it and on the neighbouring Kush, which was always referred to as the wretched Kush consisted mostly of gold, slaves, cattle and unspecified amounts of ivory, ebony and the like.  
Year in the reign
of Thutmose
Nubia Kush
gold in deben slaves cattle gold in deben slaves cattle
31     92      
33   20 104      
34 254 10 ? 300+ 64 275
35 ? 34 94 70 ? ?
38 2,844 16 77 100+ 36 296
? ? ? 89 144 101 ?
? 3,144 ? 114 94+ 21 ?
? 2,374 ? 89 144 101 ?
Average per year 2,154 (196 kg) 20 94 142+ (12.0 kg) 64 285
Revenues from Wawat (Nubia) and Kush under Thutmose III
From the annals of Thutmose III

    The revenues from the conquered territories of Nubia and Kush were, like those from part of Canaan and the Lebanese coast, considered to be imposts. The rulers of Djahi, Naharin, Retenu, Hatti and even the far-off Babylon were thought by the Egyptians to be paying tribute to the pharaoh by giving him personal gifts.
    The viceroy, whose position was not hereditary, was even more beholden to the king than were the nomarchs of Egypt, who generally belonged to the local nobility and had inherited their position. His power was seemingly mostly used for the policing of the country and the levying of taxes:
    Bringing the tribute of the south countries, consisting of gold, ivory, and ebony, [by] the hereditary prince, count, wearer of the royal seal, sole companion, satisfying the heart of the king at the Horns of the Earth, having access to the king, pleasant to the divine limbs; companion, approaching the mighty sovereign, vigilant for the lord of the palace, king's son, governor of the south countries, Nehi.
    He saith: "I am a servant useful to his lord, filling his house with gold, giving tribute to ...., consisting of the impost of the south countries; [whose] praise comes forth in the presence of his lord; the king's son, governor of the south countries, Nehi."
Nehi's inscription in the grotto of Ellesiyeh
James Henry Breasted Ancient Records of Egypt Part Two, § 652
    After his first campaign in Kush, when he had pilfered significant amounts of gold which he used afterwards for the building of the third Karnak pylon, Amenhotep III erected an impressive temple at Soleb (Khammat)

Amen temple of Amenhotep III at Soleb;Source: Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago Amen temple of Amenhotep III at Soleb
© Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago [7]

    King of Upper and Lower Egypt: Nibmatre, beloved of Amen-Re; Son of Re: Amenhotep (III), Ruler of Thebes. I made other monuments for Amon, whose like hath not been. I built for thee thy house of millions of years in the [...] of Amon-Re, lord of Thebes (named): Khammat, august in electrum, a resting-place for my father at all his feasts. It is finished with fine white sandstone; it is wrought with gold throughout; its floor is adorned with silver, all its portals are of gold. Two great obelisks are erected, one on each side.....
James Henry Breasted Ancient Records of Egypt Part Two, § 890

    The conquest of Kush continued. In an inscription at Karnak Hatshepsut had claimed that her southern boundary is as far as the lands of Punt; but only by the middle of the 15th century BCE the land up to the 4th cataract was in Egyptian hands and remained so until the eclipse of Egyptian might. In a scene in his tomb, Hui, an official under Tutankhamen, is received by the king and appointed King's Son of Kush
    The overseer of the White House; he says: "This is the seal from the Pharaoh, L.P.H., who assigns to thee (the territory) from Nekhen to Napata."
From the tomb of Hui
James Henry Breasted Ancient Records of Egypt Part Two, § 1022
    Napata became the southern-most centre of power in Egyptian Nubia which covered a huge area. Under Tutankhamen two viceroys, Hui and his brother Amenhotep were in charge of it as King's Sons of Kush, but their importance may have been greater than that of mere local officials. In Hui's tomb they are shown as presenting tribute from Retenu to the king. In another scene Hui receives inhabitants of Nubia, native chiefs in Egyptian garb, their children - among them a princess in an ox-drawn chariot, and local Egyptian notables. Finds in the cemetery of Tombos suggest that the Nubian elite also seem to have intermarried with their Egyptian rulers [10]. They continued to play a part in the running of their country, as this inscription suggests:
    The chief of Miam, good ruler. The chiefs of Wayet. The children of the chiefs of all countries
From the tomb of Hui
James Henry Breasted Ancient Records of Egypt Part Two, § 1037
    Throughout the New Kingdom the Egyptians built in Nubia on a large scale, at Buhen, Abu Simbel, Gematen and most importantly at Napata, where they founded a centre of Amen worship. The ruling classes of Nubia, at least, adopted this god, and in the eighth century BCE they were to conquer Egypt in his name.
    As the hold Egypt had over the country became stronger, most of the old fortifications were abandoned and only Aniba, Buhen, Semneh-West and the isle of Sai continued to be manned, while further south the newer fortified settlements, Sesebi, Tombos and el-Kenisa between the fourth and fifth cataract proclaimed Egyptian power. New and better appointed necropoles indicate that quite a number of Egyptianized towns must have been founded as centres of civil administration and commerce [14].

The abandonment

    The decline of Egyptian Nubia began during the 19th dynasty with decreasing population numbers in lower Nubia, and under the next dynasty the cultural and political situation of upper Nubia deteriorated as well [13]. When the hold of the pharaohs over Egypt proper became precarious, the Egyptians began to retrench, leaving former possessions in both Asia and Nubia to their native inhabitants. But while in Asia it left few lasting traces, in Nubia Egyptian culture continued to flourish and develop its own, uniquely Nubian traditions.


Picture sources:
[  ] Tomb of Harkhuf at Assuan, excerpt:  © Oriental Institute, University of Chicago
[  ] Kumma fortress ruins, excerpt:  © Oriental Institute, University of Chicago
[  ] Tombos stela of Thutmose I, year 2, excerpt:  © Oriental Institute, University of Chicago
[  ] Nubians bearing produce, 18th dynasty: courtesy Jon Bodsworth
[  ] Amen temple of Amenhotep III at Soleb, excerpt:  © Oriental Institute, University of Chicago
[1] James Henry Breasted Ancient Records of Egypt Part One § 104
[2] both tails and bodies : A joke about the hide girdles and tails, which always amused the Egyptians (Petrie)
[3] Khekure: Senusret III (1878-1841). "Mighty-is-Khekure" is probably the fortress of Semna or Kumma.
[4] King Djeserkare: Amenhotep I (1546-1527)
[5] The Nine Bows: The enemies of Egypt
[6] King's son of Kush: King's son is not to be taken literally. It might best be translated as Prince.
[9] A few explanations concerning the transliteration and pronunciation of ancient Egyptian.
[10] M. R. Buzon: The Relationship between Biological and Ethnic Identity in New Kingdom Nubia: A Case Study from Tombos, Current Anthropology 47,3
[11] This close involvement with Nubia had also health implications. Apparently, quite a few Egyptians contracted Leishmaniasis, a disease endemic in Nubia. Albert Zink of Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich and his colleagues found DNA traces of the parasite in a number of Egyptian mummies [12].
[13] Lázlo Török, The Kingdom of Kush: Handbook of the Napatan-Meriotic Civilization, Brill Academic Publishers 1997, p.109
[14] Comparisons made by M. R. Buzon and R. Richman between Middle and New Kingdom skeletons found at Kerma and Tombos respectively, suggest that, based on a decrease in traumatic injuries, the relationship between Egyptians and native Nubians had become less confrontational. (Traumatic Injuries and Imperialism: The Effects of Egyptian Colonial Sreategies at Tombos in Upper Nubia, American Journal of Physical Anthropology 133-2007)

- reign of the KushitesThe reign of the Kushites
Semna stela of the viceroy MerimoseThe Semna stela of the viceroy Merimose
Semna stelae of Senusret IIIThe Semna stelae of Senusret III
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These are just suggestions for further reading. I do not assume any responsibility for the content or availability of these sites
Breasted expeditions to Egypt and the Sudan[7] The 1905-1907 Breasted expeditions to Egypt and the Sudan - A photographic study (Oriental Institute, University of Chicago)
Sobeknakht's Hidden Treasures[8] Vivian Davies Sobeknakht's Hidden Treasures
Mummy DNA Reveals Birth of Ancient Scourge[12] Mummy DNA Reveals Birth of Ancient Scourge in Scientific American, October 2006
history of the SudanThe history of the Sudan
Middle Kingdom Egyptian Fortresses in NubiaThe Middle Kingdom Egyptian Fortresses in Nubia by Brian Yare
Egypt in NubiaThe rising tide of imperialism: Egypt in Nubia, 3200-1800 BC by W.Y. Adams
NubiaNubia (Petrie Museum website)
Ancient Sudan: NubiaAncient Sudan: Nubia
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© October 2002
Minor changes:
May 2007
May, October 2006
April 2005
January 2003