The actual borders of Nubia have shifted over time, and the peoples of Nubia have formed several kingdoms and civilizations. Today Nubia is defined as the Nile area between Aswan of Egypt and Khartoum, capital of Sudan, bordered by the Red Sea in the east and the Libyan desert in the west.
The northern part of Nubia, with its northern borders at the first cataract at Aswan was known as Wawat. The southern end, with its northern borders at the 2nd cataract (now inundated by Lake Nasser) was referred to as Cush by the Egyptians, and as Ethiopia by the ancient Greeks.
The name “Nubia” either comes from the Nubian word “nob”, gold, or from “nugur” or “nub”, meaning black. Both are plausible, Nubia was in ancient times both a great producer of gold mainly for the Egyptian market and inhabited by blacks.
The most known examples of Nubian state structures is the local kingdom of Cush, and the Cushite dynasty ruling over Egypt for 60 years in the 8th and 7th centuries BCE. There were 3 Cushite kingdoms, the first with Kerma as capital, which lasted ca. 2400–1500 BCE; the second with Napata as capital ca. 1000–590 BCE; and the last with Meroë as capital ca. 590 BCE–300 CE.
The inhabitable areas of Nubia of ancient times were at one time too narrow to sustain strong states, and at the same time, Nubia was so close to rich Egypt that it saw numerous invasions.
As mentioned the name “Nubia” points at the black condition of the inhabitants, in stark contrast to the peoples of the north, the Egyptians. Yet, there have been a number of important sweeps of immigration to Nubia. The people have been mixed with other ethnic groups several times, the easiest to identify over in the last two millenniums are the Arabs and the Turks.
The reason why Nubia is far less inhabited than Egypt, and why it most of the time produced weaker states and cultures than neighbouring Egypt is fairly easy to identify: The fertile belt along the Nile is much more narrow than in Egypt. Hence there never was the chance of extensive agriculture with a surplus large enough to sustain the development of cities and religious centers.
But even in ancient times, Nubia had a large part of its income from natural sources, like gold, copper, diorite stones, all much desired by Egypt.
In modern times, these industries have dwindled, and modern Nubia rests almost exclusively upon agriculture, most of which is performed far from modern technology.
Through earlier history, we see that the main examples of strong states of Nubia have taken the cultural framework from foreign cultures, be it Egyptian, Arab, or Turkish.
In ancient times, Nubia was influenced both by Egypt and by the black peoples further south. In many ways, the culture of the south was more practical, since Nubia lacked the economic surplus to build on the same scale as the Egyptians.
Yet, considering how developed Egypt was compared to other contemporary cultures, Egyptian patterns must have formed the ideal, at least for the elite in society. Nubia would continue the Egyptian tradition of building pyramids for royal tombs, creating their own pyramid style lasting from the middle of the 8th century BCE until the middle of the 4th century CE.
But there are also many examples of influence on Egyptian culture from Nubia. Traders, immigrants, slaves, and at times, conquerors, brought with them art elements, practices, and religious ideas that became part of Egypt’s culture.
Relatively little is known about indigenous religious practices among the Nubians, but it is known that they at times had similar beliefs to the Egyptians or imported cult practices from the Egyptians. See articles on Ancient Nubian religion and Ancient Nubian gods.
Graves give us some information. At the time of the Cushites, we see that chiefs and leaders in the society were put in tombs, stretched out on beds with hundreds of sacrificed retainers around them.
3800-2950 BCE: A-group civilization, parallel to the Naqada 2 and 3 pre-dynastic cultures of Egypt.
2605: King Snefru of Egypt attacks Nubia, and establishes a fort at Buhen. Mining west of the Nile starts.
2500-1500: Kerma culture.
2300-1550: C-group civilization, living in Wawat. Its chiefs perform raids at Aswan. Cush is inhabited by the Kermas.
1950: Northern Nubia falls under Egyptian dominance.
1826: Sesostris 3 occupies Semna, south of the 2nd cataract. The Cushites are prohibited from trade north of Semna.
17th century: With the Hyksos invasion of northern Egypt, the Cushites take the opportunity of taking control over Buhen, and they advance as far north as Aswan. Following this, the loot many monuments, and have them transported to the Cushite capital of Kerma.
16th century: The Egyptian kings drive the Hyksos out, and a similar attack is launched against the Nubians.
Around 1500: Ahmose 1 takes control over Kerma. All of Nubia is colonized by the Egyptians, and the C-group is Egyptianized, and lose their original culture.
1100: Following a long and hard war against the Thebans, Nubia comes back under local rulers.
800: A new Cushite kingdom appears. While its origin was local, it still was so much under Egyptian cultural influence that it singlehandedly started to Egyptianize the population. The Cushited were able to occupy large parts of southern Egypt.
730: Cushite king Piankhi raids northern Egypt. While the inhabitants of southern Egypt had been treated well because of their true religion (they worshipped Amon, just like the Cushites), the northern Egyptians were treated like infidels and suffered much discrimination.
715: New Cushite king Shabaqo conquers all of Egypt, twisting the areas remaining from its Libyan rulers. Shabaqo makes Memphis his new capital.
663: Memphis is conquered by the Assyrians, and king Taharqa expelled. The Cushite kingdom becomes limited to Nubia, with Napata as its capital.
592: Attack by the Egyptians on Napata, making the Cushites move their capital to Meroë.
23: Napata is destroyed by a Roman army.
250 CE: X-group civilization.
Middle 4th century: Meroë is destroyed by an army from the kingdom of Aksum.
550: The people of northern Nubia (known as Nobatae) becomes Christian.
6th century: The kingdom of Dunqula is formed, incorporating former and small kingdoms.
7th century: Immigration of Arab tribesmen, who soon is absorbed into the Nubian society.
580: The southern Nubian kingdom of Alwa becomes Christian.
652: A Muslim army from Egypt conquers Dunqula, compelling the kingdom to pay tribute to Egypt.
1400: The people of Nubia is converted into Islam, following the conquest by Mamluk armies.
16th century: Ottoman garrisons are placed in Nubia, with Bosnian and Turkish soldiers. Many of these established themselves in Nubia, and slowly absorbed into the population.
1960’s: The construction of the Aswan High Dam causes large parts of Lower Nubia to the flooded.