- For the Star Wars planet, see Nubia (Star Wars).
Today Nubia is the region in the south of Egypt, along the Nile and in northern Sudan, but in ancient times it was an independent kingdom.
Its people spoke at least two varieties of the Nubian language group, a Nilo-Saharan subfamily which includes Nobiin, Kenuzi-Dongola , Midob and several related varieties in the northern part of the Nuba Mountains in South Kordofan. A variety (Birgid ) was spoken (at least until 1970) north of Nyala in Darfur but is now extinct. Old Nubian was used in mostly religious texts dating from the 8th and 9th centuries AD. It is considered ancestral to modern day Nobiin.
The earliest cultures of Nubia left no writings and are unreported in the annals of other nations. The first noticable cultures in Nubia were those found throughout the region, first the Badarian culture, then the Amratian and finallly the Gerzean . From the Gerzean the first native culture developed known as the A-Group , which began roughly at the same time as the First dynasty of Egypt around 3100 BC. It consisted of semi-nomadic groups who subsided by herding sheep, goats, and some cattle. It is known from its distinctive burial rituals and pottery.
This culture began to decline in the early 28th century BC. The succeeding culture is known as B-Group . Previously the B-Group people were thought to have invaded from elsewhere. Today most historians believe that B-Group was merely A-Group but far poorer. The causes of this is uncertain, but it was perhaps caused by Egyptian invasions and pillaging that began at this time.
As trade between Egypt and Nubia increased so did wealth and stability. By the Egyptian sixth dynasty Nubia was divided into a series of small kingdoms. There is debate over whether these C-Group peoples, who flourished from c. 2240 BC to c. 2150 BC, were another internal evolution or invaders. There are definite similarities between the pottery of A-Group and C-Group, so it may be a return of the ousted Group-As, or an internal revival of lost arts. At this time the Sahara Desert was becoming too arid to support human beings and it is possible there was a sudden influx of Saharan nomads.
From the C-Group culture the first kingdom to unify much of the region arose, the Kingdom of Kerma, named for its presumed capital at Kerma . When Egyptian power revived under the New Kingdom they began to expand southwards. By the end of the reign of Thutmose I in 1520 BC all of northern Nubia had been annexed.
When the Egyptians pulled out, they left a lasting legacy that was merged with indigenous customs forming the kingdom of Kush. Kush adopted many Egyptian practices such as their religion and the practice of building pyramids. The kingdom of Kush survived longer than that of Egypt, even invading and controlling Egypt itself for a period (the Kushite dynasty) in the 8th century BC. Kush was never annexed by the Romans. The Kushites did trade with the Romans, and were also a source of mercenaries.
During this time, the different parts of the region divided into smaller groups with individual leaders, or generals, each commanding small armies of mercenaries. They fought for control of what is now Nubia and its surrounding territories, leaving the entire region weak and vulnerable to attack.
At some point, likely around the turn of the millennium, Kush was conquered by the Noba people, from which the name Nubia may derive (another possibility is that it comes from Nub, the Egyptian word for gold). The Romans referred to the area as the Nobatae .
Around AD 350 the area was invaded by the Ethiopian kingdom of Axum and the kingdom collapsed. Eventually three smaller kingdoms replaced it: northernmost was Nobatia between the first and second cataract of the Nile River, with its capital at Pachoras (modern day Faras ); in the middle was Makuria, with its capital at Old Dongola; and southernmost was Alodia, with its capital at Soba (near Khartoum). King Silko of Nobatia crushed the Blemmyes , and recorded his victory in a Greek inscription carved in the wall of the temple of Talmis (modern Kalabsha ) around AD 500.
While bishop Athanasius of Alexandria consecrated one Marcus as bishop of Philae before his death in 373, showing that Christianity had penetrated the region by the fourth century, John of Ephesus records that a Monophysite priest named Julian converted the king and his nobles of Nobatia around 545. John of Ephesus also writes that the kingdom of Alodia was converted around 569. However, John of Bisclorum records that the kingdom of Makuria was converted to Roman Catholicism the same year, suggesting that John of Ephesus might be mistaken. Further doubt is cast on John's testimony by an entry in the chronicle of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria Eutychius , which states that in 719 the church of Nubia transferred its allegiance from the Greek Orthodox to the Coptic Church.
By the 7th century Makuria expanded becoming the dominant power in the region. It was strong enough to halt the southern expansion of Islam after the Arabs had taken Egypt. After several failed invasions the new rulers agreed to a treaty with Dogomba allowing for peaceful coexistence and trade. This treaty held for six hundred years. Over time the influx of Arab traders introduced Islam to Nubia and it gradually suplanted Christianity. While there are records of a bishop at Qasr Ibrim in 1372, his see had come to include that located at Faras. It is also clear that the "Royal" church at Dongola had been converted to a mosque around 1350.
In the 14th century the Dongolan government collapsed and the region became divided and dominated by Egypt. The next centuries would see several invasions of the region, as well as the establishment of a number of smaller kingdoms. Northern Nubia was brought under Egyptian control while the south came under the control of the Kingdom of Sennar in the sixteenth century. The entire region would come under Egyptian control during the rule of Mehemet Ali in the early nineteenth century, and later became a joint Anglo-Egyptian condominium.
With the end of colonialism Nubia was divided between Egypt and Sudan.
Many Egyptian Nubians were forcibly resettled to make room for Lake Nasser after the construction of the dams at Aswan. Nubian villages can now be found north of Aswan on the west bank of the Nile and on Elephantine Island, and many Nubians live in large cities such as Cairo.