Who are the Nubians? Nubians are people of northern Sudan and southern Egypt. Their history and traditions can be traced to the dawn of civilization. They settled first along the banks of the Nile from Aswan. Along the Nile, they developed one of the oldest and greatest civilizations in Africa until they lost their last kingdom five centuries ago. The Nubians remained as the main rivals to the homeland of Africa’s earliest black culture with a history that can be traced from 3800 B.C. onward through the monuments and artifacts. Ancient Nubia was a land of great natural wealth, gold mines, ebony, ivory and incense that its neighbors always prized.
Sudan had remained the main homeland of Nubians through their long history, but many of its descendants is today’s Egypt. The majority of Nubians today is Sudanese with a population of slightly above 300,000 but are a minority in both countries. Nubians in both countries endured a lot of suffering from intentional overlooking to their history and culture. Historians have largely omitted Nubia, known today as Sudan, in favor of its splendid neighbor, Egypt simply of prejudice displayed by archaeologists. But Nubian art impacted Egyptian Art. Through Nubian history, culture, and its architecture, one can see how magnificent and powerful these group of people once were.
By rediscovering one of Africa’s ancient kingdoms and setting one’s sight on Nubian Art history, it is clear to see that ancient Nubia deserves as much recognition as its rival counterpart ancient Egypt. For three thousand years, between these two warring nations, the ancient African kingdoms of Nubia were Egypt’s southern neighbors as well as rivals. Temples and pyramids of Egypt have been visited by millions of tourist and likewise illustrated in fancy albums and history textbooks, but where is Nubia? Although there are more royal pyramids still standing in Nubia than there are in Egypt and temples that are worthy of a visit as the temples of Egypt or Greece, the modern world is almost entirely ignorant of Nubia’s glorious past. It is as if Nubia lay not along the Nile to Egypt’s south but rather entirely in Egypt’s shadow. But during ancient times, the ancient world was not so ignorant of a land that created numerous distinct cultures over the long span of 3800 BC to AD 600.
The early Egyptians first knew the land as Ta-Seti—the land of the Bow—then as Wawat and later as Meroe. Nubia is even referred in the Bible as Kush. Aethiopia, is today’s Ethiopia known as Abyssinia by the Greeks and Romans. An early Greek historian, Herodotus, amazed by their tradition calls the Nubians the “tallest and handsomest” people in the world. It is easy to account our present ignorance. Nineteenth century scholars were brilliant and tenacious researchers and the world is deeply in their debt. By being so compassionate towards Egypt, they could never properly see Nubia. Nubian was a pale reflection of things Egyptian in their eyes.
The study of Nubia has also been hindered by the practical difficulties of reaching out of-the-way sites and by a prejudice that disparaged black Africa’s contribution to civilization. However, today these factors are waning and Nubian cultures are being studied in their own right, evaluated on their own terms and revealed in all their magnificence. During the last two years, indeed several museums in North America have opened permanent galleries or displayed temporary exhibitions devoted to the ancient cultures of Nubia. In addition, popular culture is catching up on Nubian civilizations that once flourished on the land of the Nile in southern Egypt and northern Sudan. Also the Nubian kingdom of Kush appeared on the Cosby Show several years ago.
Ancient Nubian Art was during a time of its binary kingdoms of Napata and Meroe from 760 BC until the end of the Meroitic kingdom in 350 AD. Starting from its history Napata was an outpost of the kingdom of Kerma that was established by early Kings of the eighteenth dynasty. The city of Napata gained its fame from the religious significance of Gebel Barkal. The Egyptians promoted the belief the primary form of their god dwelt inside the pure mountain Gebel Barkal. Egypt’s sun-god Amun was represented as either a man with a ram head or as a crowned ram with a solar disk. It seems as though the Egyptians identified their pre-existing god from the land of Nubia as a local form of their own supreme god Amun who was considered to be the important source of the royal power of Egypt and Kush.
The city of Meroe located on the east bank of the Nile, was the second urban center of the binary kingdoms of Kush. This city became the permanent royal residence of the Kushite Kings of Napata in the fifth century BC. Nubian pottery from the earliest periods represented the basic plastic material employed in Nubia and Egypt. Primitive drawings and engravings on Nubian pottery had a form identified of some geometric and symbolic patterns. These forms have been used on the surface of decorated pottery such as circles, squares, or triangles which represented the initial signs of most ancient civilizations.
During the Neolithic period, people of this time covered their tools and pottery products with different forms, not particularly of art, but rather for recording their idea of life. Although these forms represent hidden symbols with no clear meaning, its purpose or goal was to help unleash the human mind while imagining its significance and meaning. These forms were perhaps used to satisfy the desire to fill the void with selected or mixed elements that may have resulted in a kind of chaos or art. It can be distinguishing by the manner in which the artist regulates the elements of his composition by reflecting all the elements of the design which are used for functional and aesthetic purposes.
Sudan has twice as many pyramids as there are in Egypt. When we think of humanity’s eminent civilizations throughout history, one tends to think of ancient Egypt, China, the Incas, Mayans, and the Greeks or Romans but never Nubia, which in its prime, governed over a mighty empire that covered great tracts of land through the Nile Valley and rivaled the power, influence and wealth of ancient Egypt. In the regions of southern Egypt and northern Sudan, there once existed as most powerful and wealthy kingdom ruled by compelling and authoritative kings. According to Western historians, the empire of Nubia stretched along the length of the Nile River where modern day Khartoum stands to reach as far as the Aswan Dam in Egypt. This area is the first known civilization of Black Africa. But if one considers ancient Egypt as not a black African civilization, this can only be true. Indeed it was before the Arab conquest in 641 AD. The Nubian civilization existed until 350 A.D. and passed through three historical periods, Kerma (3000 BC), Napata or Kush (9th century BC) and Meroi (7th century BC).
Three more independent kingdoms formed after the decline of Meroi Kingdom which was converted to Christianity by Byzantine missionaries. Arab Muslims warded off arracks by Christian Nubians after their conquest of Egypt in 641 AD. A treaty was proposed that touched matters of mutual advantage like security and trade. Both maintained an uneasy truce for seven centuries through which bands of Arabs infiltrated into the southern areas of Nubian Kingdoms as merchants, miners, pilgrims or nomads.
Power struggles suffered within Nubian politics that eventually led Egyptians to impose Muslim religion in the Kingdom. The climate today where Nubian civilization sat is inhospitable and harsh. But it was once a land of exceptional natural wealth blessed with gold, emeralds, copper and ebony which were all highly valued by both Nubians and their neighbors. In their time of climax, the Nubians invaded and conquered Egypt and ruled it for more than one hundred years and exerted their deep religious beliefs. Nubians prominence outlasted that of ancient Rome, Greece and Egypt combined and at its height, was the center of the ancient world.
The Nubians were also remarkable in their architecture. Ancient constructions that appeared to be palaces at their time are discovered throughout Northern Sudan. Archeologists excavated the land and identified few dwellings that date back to the pre-Kerma period. An urban architectural system where monumental buildings, rectangular storage houses, cattle pens, palisades and storehouses were uncovered in the eastern Kerma cemetery. Exceptionally large huts reaching seven meters in diameter have been found and interpreted by some as residence of wealthy individuals. The architectural materials, structures, and the presence of staircases in most of the palaces suggest that they were mostly built of more than one floor. The majority of the palaces had a rectangular or square plans with long corridors and narrow rectangular rooms.
The temples of the Kushite Kingdom were built of durable materials, such as red fired-bricks and stories that helped them to endure the ravages of time and nature. Temple columns were worked with extensive designs curved to shape lotus flowers and the heads of gods Bes and Hathor. The walls were curved with relieves and painted that were sometimes plastered. Nubian calligraphy with curved and painted relieves and inscriptions covered the walls and the roofs of their temples. The depiction of gods and goddesses in secular interactions with Kings and royal people demonstrated religious motifs such as the commemoration of military victories.
In conclusion, even though the majority of people will think of ancient Egypt as being the most prominent African civilization, ancient Nubia has had an tremendous influence on ancient Egypt. These two groups of people were rivals for many years until most of Nubia was washed out by the collapsed of the Aswan Dam that flooded and drowned Nubian history and art forcing Nubian peoples either Northward into Egypt or Southward into Sudan. Although historians neglected ancient Nubia in favor of its neighnbor Egypt, there has been a rediscovering of ancient African Kingdoms that is now being recognized and credited for its contribution to human civilization.