Ancient Sudan

Aegis of Isis

The first settlers in northern Sudan date back 300,000 years. It is home to the oldest sub-Saharan African kingdom, the kingdom of Kush (about 2500-1500 BC). This culture produced some of the most beautiful pottery in the Nile valley, including Kerma beakers.

Sudan was coveted for its rich natural resources particularly gold, ebony and ivory. Several objects in the British Museum collection are made of these materials. Ancient Egyptians were attracted southward seeking these resources during the Old Kingdom (about 2686-2181 BC), which often led to conflict as Egyptian and Sudanese rulers sought to control trade.

Kush was the most powerful state in the Nile valley around 1700 BC. Conflict between Egypt and Kush followed, culminating in the conquest of Kush by Thutmose I (1504–1492 BC). In the west and south, Neolithic cultures remained as both areas were beyond the reach of the Egyptian rulers.

Egypt withdrew in the eleventh century BC and the Sudanese kings grew powerful. They invaded Egypt and ruled as Pharaohs (about 747-656 BC). At its greatest, their empire united the Nile valley from Khartoum to the Mediterranean. King Taharqo’s sphinx remains a testament to Kushite power and authority.

The Kushites were expelled from Egypt by the Assyrians, but their kingdom flourished in Sudan for another thousand years. Their monuments and art display a rich combination of Pharaonic, Greco-Roman and indigenous African traditions which may be seen in the chapel relief of Queen Shanakdhakete and aegis of Isis in the Museum collection. 

Image caption: Aegis of Isis
From Kawa, Sudan. Kushite, late 3rd century BC