Since Early Dynastic times, Egyptians had been interested in Nubia, an area very rich in gold. They soon controlled that trade, which did not profit the Nubians, so that Egypt became an imperialistic power in Nubia. Egyptian customs, habits, religions spread into the land.
In 1075 BC, the High Priest of Amun at Thebes, capital of Ancient Egypt, became powerful enough to limit the power of the pharaoh over Upper Egypt. This was the beginning of the Third Intermediate Period (1075 BC-664 BC). The fragmentation of power in Egypt allowed the Nubians to regain autonomy. They founded a new kingdom, Kush, and centered it at Napata.
They began exploiting gold to their own profit. The economical growth of Kush attracted some Egyptians, who left their country, which was undergoing several political troubles, including the Libyan power over part of Lower Egypt, the subdivision of Egypt into small and relatively powerless kingdoms, and the menace of Assyrian conquest.
In 750 BC, Napata was a developed city, while Egypt was still suffering political instability. King Kasha profited from it, and attacked Upper Egypt. His policy was pursued by his successors Piye, and Shabaka (721-707 BC), who eventually brought the whole Nile Valley under Kushitic control in the second year of his reign. Shabaka also launched a monument-building policy in Egypt and Nubia. Overall, the Kushite kings ruled Upper Egypt for approximately one century and the whole Egypt for approximately 57 years. (from 721 to 664 BC) They constitute the Twenty-fifth Dynasty in Manetho’s work, Aegyptiaca.
Around 670 BC, the Assyrian King Esarhaddon (681-669 BC) conquered Lower Egypt, but allowed local kingdoms in Lower Egypt to exist, in order to enlist them as his allies against Ethiopian rulers, who had been accepted with reluctance. When King Assurbanipal succeeded Esarhaddon, the Ethiopian king Taharqa convinced some rulers of Lower Egypt to break with Assyrians. However, Asshurbanipal overpowered the coalition and deported the Egyptian leaders to his capital, Niniveh. He appointed the Libyan chief Necho, ruler of Memphis and Sais. Necho I was the first king of the Saite Twenty-sixth Dynasty (664 BC-525 BC) of Ancient Egypt. A new Ethiopian King Tantamani (664-653 BC) killed him the same year that Taharqa died, in 664 BC when Tantamani invaded Lower Egypt. However, Tantamani was unable to defeat the Assyrians who backed Necho’s son Psammetichus I. Tantamani eventually abandoned his attempt to conquer Lower Egypt and retreated to Napata. however, his authority over Upper Egypt was acknowledged until the 8th regnal year of his reign at Thebes (or 656 BC) when Psammetichus dispatched a naval fleet to Upper Egypt and succeeded in placing all of Egypt under his control.
Back at Napata, Ethiopians became interested only in developing their own kingdom, which underwent no conquest, notwithstanding the expansionist policies of Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians and Greeks.
Napata began reaching its height after Tantamani came back from the war against the Assyrians. Its economy was essentially based on gold. Egypt was an important economic ally. Napata could have traded copper with a kingdom in Central Africa between the 8th and 9th Centuries (UNESCO, 2003). In 660 BC, Nubians started exploiting gold, inaugurating the African Iron Age.
People of Napata were culturally egyptianized. Napatan paintings, writing script and other artistic and cultural forms were in Egyptian style. Egyptian burial customs were practiced and several Egyptian gods were worshipped. Moreover, the most important god was Amun, a Theban deity. his temple was the most important at Napata, located at the foot of Jebel Barkal, the sacred mountain of Nubians.
Around 300 BC, anti-Egyptian feelings motivated the people of Napata to make their culture distinct from that of Egyptians. Furthermore, the capital was suffering politically and economically as well: Napata lost its economic influence since Egyptians were no longer autonomous (see The Late Period of ancient Egypt), the Napatan region itself was desiccating, leading to less cattle and agriculture. Moreover, a powerful Persian raid had seriously affected Napata in 591 BC. Finally, Napata was losing its role of economic capital to Meroë. The Island of Meroë, the Peninsula formed by the Nile and the Atbara courses, was an area rich in iron, which was becoming an essential source of wealth.
Meroe eventually became the capital of the kingdom of Kush, leading to the abandonment of Napata. In 23 BC, the Roman prefect of Egypt invaded the kingdom after an initial attack by the queen of Meröe, razing Napata to the ground. In "The Deeds of the Divine Augustus," Augustus claims that "a penetration was made as far as the town of Napata, which is next to Meroe...