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You have already read about Africa's first civilization - Ancient Egypt. You may recall that it flourished in the Nile River Valley for more than 3,000 years. You may also recall that its mighty empire gradually crumbled because of its powerful neighbors. Who were those neighbors?
In 751 B.C. an African king named Piankhi led his army down the Nile and conquered Egypt. This marked the beginning of a great kingdom called Kush.
During this time, the Kushites learned a great deal about Egyptian civilization. For example, the Kushites learned to write the Egyptian hieroglyphics.
Do you remember the famous Greek historian named Herodotus? You may recall that he is called "the father of history." He visited Meroë and recorded the following:
I found a magnificent city with gold in great abundance. I found ironworkers capable of creating tools of wonderful strength. And everywhere there are animals called elephants. . . . No larger animals can be found.
Archaeologists have searched the ruins of Meroë and discovered iron tools buried in the earth. Gold objects believed to have been made in Kush have been found in many parts of the Middle East and even as far away as India. Merchants from Meroë took elephant-loads of their golden objects and iron tools to the Red Sea. There the Kushites exchanged their goods for luxuries from Arabia and India, such as jewelry, glass, and fine cotton cloth.
I burnt their towns, both those built of brick and those built of straw, and my soldiers carried off their food, iron, and gold; my soldiers raided temples and storehouses and threw what was not of value into the Nile River.
According to legend, a great king from an ancient African land called Ethiopia wrote these words. Like Hamurabi's Code of Laws, these words were carved into the surface of a tall stone column. The words on the column tell how, in about A.D. 325, a powerful kingdom destroyed Meroë.
Meroë's conquerers were from a city called Axum. Axum lay between the Nile River and the Red Sea south of Kush. By the year 300 Axum had grown rich and powerful by controlling trade between the African interior and the Red Sea. Persian and Arab merchants sailed to the Ethiopian port of Adulis. Here they exchanged their goods for African gold, ivory, and spices.
In the late fourth century, Greek Christians traded with Axum. They were astonished at the splendor of the court of King Ezana. One Greek described Ezana riding through the streets of his capital in a four-wheeled, golden chariot pulled by four painted elephants.
King Ezana became a Christian in the year 324. Ethiopia's rulers remained Christian through the centuries. When Muslim armies swept through Egypt in the seventh century, Ethiopia was not conquered.
During Europe's Middle Ages, Ethiopia's kings lost contact with Christian lands to the north. Then, in 1520, a Portuguese explorer journeyed to the Ethiopian highlands. He was amazed to find Christians worshippping in beautifully decorated churches.
As the photograph below. Shows, there is something special about the Ethiopian churches. Built in the thirteenth century, many of them had been hollowed out of solid rock. Instead of cathedrals that towered into the sky like those in Europe, the ancient Ethiopians carved their places of worship into the bedrock. Worshippers reached the church door by climbing deep into the earth.
Kush and Ethiopia were two of Africa's most ancient kingdoms. They both date as far back as ancient Egypt. In many ways, Kush inherited the legacy of Egypt. Egypt and Kush were neighbors for many years before Kush conquered the Egyptian people.
As you read, the people of Kush also used hieroglyphics and built pyramids.
Ethiopia was also a rich and ancient African kingdom. Based on trade, it grew into a powerful, long lasting Christian kingdom.