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The Nubian front

Aptly defined as the 'corridor to Africa', Nubia served as a crucial trading conduit, channelling the resources of tropical Africa northwards to the civilizations of the Mediterranean and western Asia from at least the fourth millennium BC until the Middle Ages. This traditional view has been challenged by those who argue instead that Nubia was primarily controlled from the south, with periods of Egyptian influence being short interludes compared with the many centuries during which it was essentially an autonomous African civilization. Whatever the truth of the matter, the area occupied by Nubia is the narrow strip of cultivated land between Aswan and Khartoum, which is punctuated by the six Nile cataracts, a series of rocky areas of rapids marking abrupt geological changes in this middle section of the Nile valley. Although the climate of Nubia is more extreme than that of Egypt, ranging from the dry arid north to the tropical south, the ancient agricultural base of both countries was fairly similar (and still is), being characterized primarily by cereal crops, cattle, sheep and goats. However, though somewhat lush and able to support a large number of livestock, Nubia was not an urban region organized into cities. In the Old Kingdom the involvement of the Egyptians in Nubia was restricted primarily to trading and mining activities. Just north of the Second Cataract, at the site that was to be occupied by the Middle Kingdom fortress of Buhen, there appears to have been a small walledsettlement containing traces of copper-smelting, indicating that mining was one of the earliest reasons for the Egyptian presence in ubia. By early Dynasty XII the Egyptians had begun to establish their

Model diorama (Edinburgh, Royal Museum) by R.F. Roussel (1945) showing Senusret III inspecting the Nubian frontier circa 1860 Be. In the background towers the fortress at Semna. Senusret led four punitive campaigns against the Nubians, thus enabling the frontier to be established here at the Semna gorge. (Author's collection)


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