Nubia is the name used for that part of the Nile valley south of the 1st cataract as far as the region around Khartoum. Originally, what later became the 1st Upper Egyptian nome was also part of Nubia. The term Kush, first met with under Senwosret I and then used for the northern part of Upper Nubia, was used for all of Nubia in the New Kingdom. Kush also refers to the kingdom of the Kerma culture and later to those of Napata and Meroe as well.
Nubia played an important role as the gateway to central Africa from earliest times. It is situated in one of the warmest parts of Africa where rain hardly ever falls. As a result the landscape is arid, and the sands of the Libyan desert to the west and the rocks to the east often reach the riverbanks. It is barely accessible from either the east or the west. The cultivable land is extremely limited; the only areas suitable for agriculture are to the south of the 3rd cataract (Dongola plateau). Nubia has always been sparsely populated. Nubians are ethnically and linguistically different to both Egyptians and the more southerly Africans and always had their own specific culture.
Nubia is now one of the most thoroughly investigated areas in the world. The Nubian Nile valley was already occupied in the Palaeolithic. Until the Neolithic, its development was synchronous with that of ancient Egypt; we can see the development of stone tools and pottery and the beginnings of animal husbandry and food production.
Then came the split; the so-called A-group culture, which belonged to the Neolithic and flourished in around 3100-3000 BC, collapsed during the Egyptian Early Period, whereas Egypt underwent a period of great growth.
Egypt was interested in Nubia as a source of raw materials from an early period; Egyptian finds in tombs prove the existence of trade. In the Early Period and during the Old Kingdom both trade expeditions and military campaigns were undertaken. Besides gold, stone, incense, ivory, oil, animal skins, ostrich feathers, apes and giraffes, the Egyptians were also interested in cattle and prisoners of war. Traces have been found in Lower Nubia of almost all the kings of the 4th, 5th and 6th Dynasties.
At the beginning of the 6th Dynasty new groups of people moved into Nubia - in Upper Nubia the bearers of the Kerma culture, in Lower Nubia, a bit later, the so-called C-group who took over the territory of the earlier A-group. During the 1st Intermediate Period, the C-group and the Kerma culture could develop in peace. That all changed with the start of the 12th Dynasty; military expeditions under Amenemhet I and Senwosret I resulted in the conquest of Lower Nubia as far as the 2nd cataract. In addition, there were also expeditions to Upper Nubia. The C-group resisted so strongly that Egyptian control had to be supported by a series of forts, which controlled trade and immigration. Senwosret III had to crush several uprisings in Nubia; he erected border stelae near Semna to establish the southern boundary of Egypt. After the Middle Kingdom, the Kerma culture spread northwards and the culture of the C-group was lost.
The struggles of the Theban nomarchs of the 17th Dynasty against the Hyksos occasioned new actions against the south because there were indications that there was a coalition between Kush and the Hyksos. Lower Nubia was reconquered by the kings of the 18th Dynasty. Amenhotep I strengthened Egyptian control and appointed a 'King's son' as the head of the administration in Kush. The definitive battle took place under Thutmosis III; the way to the Dongola plateau was now open and the Kerma kingdom collapsed. Campaigns under Hatshepsut and Thutmosis III indicate that there was still some resistance. The founding of the city of Napata can probably be traced back to Thutmosis III, and after that time there are no traces of cultural elements from either the C-group or the Kerma culture. Part of the population probably headed south, and another part succumbed to Egyptianizing influences. Numerous settlements and temples were built under Egyptian rule; many rock-cut temples were built under Ramesses II in particular, including the two temples of Abu Simbel. Egypt lost control towards the end of the 20th Dynasty; rebellions had broken out in Egypt and Ramesses XI called on the Viceroy of Nubia, Panehesy, to help him. Panehesy came, but then made a bid for power himself. Although he was driven out of Egypt, Nubia was lost. We know virtually nothing about the next three centuries. The picture only becomes clearer in the 8th century BC. At that time a new and powerful kingdom was created near Napata. The princes of that kingdom laid the foundations for the most developed civilization in Nubia - the kingdom of Meroe, which existed for more than 1000 years. Under Kashta, the Nubians regained control over their territory as far as Elephantine and Kashta himself, or his successor Py, came to an agreement about the government of this region with the Egyptian rulers of the area around Thebes. When Tefnakht, the ruler of Sais, began to threaten the independence of Upper Egypt, Py headed north to restore order. In texts, Py's devotion to Amun is emphasized; he visited many sanctuaries in the cities he conquered. After his conquest, Py returned to Nubia. A few years later, his successor Shabaka invaded Egypt. He and his three successors saw themselves as the legitimate rulers of Egypt and were later regarded as the 25th Dynasty. They ruled over both Egypt and Kush for more than fifty years. These kings had a great deal of respect for the traditions of Egypt and wanted to restore her to her former glory. The special residence of the king was at Memphis, and the southern centre Thebes was placed under the control of the 'god's wife of Amun'. The 25th Dynasty came to an end with the invasion of the Assyrians under Assurbanipal. Meroe continued to exist as an independent kingdom until the middle of the 4th century AD.