Kush and the Ptolemies

In 305 BC, during the reign of Kushite Pharaoh Nastasen, and decades after the death of Alexander the Great, the Macedonian General Ptolemy crowned himself king of Egypt. Ptolemy eventually founded the Ptolemaic dynasty that ruled Egypt until 30 BC.

©Mattew Scott Ptolemy's temple at Dakha.

The political relations between the Ptolemies and the Kushites are obscure. The political borders between Ptolemaic Egypt and Kush are vaguely defined in records. According to some sources, the southern border of Egypt extended to a portion of Lower Nubia known as the Dodekaschoinos, which stretched from Philae to Maharrqa. The Ptolemies also controlled the gold mines of Wadi el Allaqi.1

Meroitic (note: Greek influence). Source: Wildung, Dietrich. Sudan: Ancient Kingdoms of the Nile.

During the reign of Kushite Pharaoh Arkamani, Ptolemy IV built a new temple at Dakka. In cooperation, Arkamani built a small entrance hall to the temple.2 The Kushite Pharaoh also constructed a temple at Philae with its entrance hall built by Ptolemy.3 A later Kushite Pharaoh, Arnekhamani, built an entrance hall to a temple, to which the Ptolemy made additions.4

The Dakka Temple is located about 90 kilometers south of Aswan, in Lower Nubia. Kushite Pharaoh Arkamani and Ptolemy IV cooperated in building this temple, in dedication to Thoth (God of wisdom, science, time, and writing). Work on this temple is thought to have started in about 222 B.C. Inside the temple are well preserved relieves of a Kushite pharaoh making various offerings to god Thoth and goddesses Anuket, Sekhmet, Isis, and Tefnut.

However, during the reign of Ptolemy IV, tensions developed between Kush and Egypt, possibly coinciding with the Theban revolt in Upper Egypt. It has been suggested that Kush had supported the revolt, thus the exceptional hostility that Ptolemy IV and Ptolemy V have exhibited towards the Kushites.5 In 207 BC a Kushite Pharaoh is reported as governing from Thebes.6

As an act of vengence, Ptolemy V erased the name of Arkamani from the Philae inscriptions. Ptolemy IV fought battles with Kush south of the Dedekaschoinos, after which Egypt seemed to have lost territories to Kush. Archeological evidence dated to the Ptolemaic era indicates that a number Egyptian fortresses in Lower Nubia were occupied by Kushites. Archeology also shows evidence for Kushite occupations as far north as Qasr Ibrim;7 that is during, and/or after, the reign of Ptolemy IV (221-205 BC).

  • 1 D. A. Welsby, The Kingdom of Kush: The Napatan and Meroitic Empires (Marcus Wiener, 1998).
  • 2 V. Maxwell, M. Fitzpatrick, S. Jenkins, and A. Sattin, Egypt (Lonely Planet, 2006) 327.
  • 3 F. Ll. Griffith, Meroitic Inscriptions, Part II.: Napata to Philae and Miscellaneous, (Office of the Egypt exploration fund, 1912).
  • 4 J. D. Fage, and R. A. Oliver, The Cambridge History of Africa (Cambridge UP, 1982) 226-8.
  • 5 A. J. Arkel, A History of the Sudan: From the Earliest Times to 1821 (London: Athlone P, 1961).
  • 6 R. A. Lobban Jr. Historical Dictionary of Ancient and Medieval Nubia. (Scarecrow P, 2003) 320.
  • 7 M. Horton, "Africa in Egypt: New Evidence from Qasr Ibrim", ed. Davies (1991).
Authored: 2004.
Edited: Jan. 2009.

The primary material of the website is authored by Ibrahim Omer © 2008.