The Ancient Empires

Introduction to this Part

The Winged Sun

The Crown

The Lotus

The Lion


The Christian Era

After the Muslim Conquest

Modern Sudan

Back to Sudan

Introduction to this Part


As the Kingdom of Kush was from times immemorial a fully organized state, we find a complete set of political emblems to symbolize most of its institutions in its early history. These symbols may have been inspired by the symbols of the Egyptian state which conquered the territory of the kingdom in 1550 B.C.. As Kush was a part of the Egyptian monarchy from that time on, we see that the symbols of the Egyptian empire and its administration as a matter of course were valid in Kush also.

Like in the other parts of the monarchy, a set of specific symbols for the kingdom were also designed. These symbols were a crown, symbolizing the royal administration and comparable with the modern arms of state, and a flower, symbolizing the kingdom as a part of the Egyptian monarchy. As a third there is a national god, symbolizing the the king himself who was supposed to have been invested with the power to rule by this heavenly creature. 

Even as the results of our research are in line with the theory that most organized societies have symbols for the empire, the ruler and the state, no symbols for the spheres of authority (that is to say religious authority, administrative authority and military authority) in Kush have been detected until now. These must remain subjects for later research.


In the following sections I present the results of my research until now.


The Winged Sun

As Kush and Nubia were for a long period part of the Egyptian Empire, its symbol was also used there. This consisted of a red winged sun supported by two snakes symbolizing: The pharaonic (snakes), heavenly sanctionized state (wings) of the Empire (of Egypt) (sun).

This emblem and variants of it were used in the Egyptian Empire well until Roman and Byzantine times.



As the Meroitic kings of Kush considered themselves the rightful successors of the pharaos in the time of the Ptolemies (323 - 30 B.C.), the red sun and the winged sun was also used in their kingdom as the symbols of the empire and of the state


The Crown of Kush

From the time shortly after the conquest  in 1550 BC, the evolution of a crown can be followed which at least can be associated with Kush or even can be considered to be “the”crown of Kush. The evolution of this crown ended in the 12th century AD when the eparchs of Faras are crowned with a headgear in which we find back the main elements of the crown in the Egyptian era. Only in the islamic era this kind of crown disappeared and was exchanged by the turban, common for muslim princes.


The Throne of Tutankhamun (1334-1325 B.C.)




Back of the throne of Tutankhamun, found in the Entrance Hall of his grave.


The wood-carved throne is decorated with silver and gold, multicolored glass, glazed earthenware and semi-precious stones. The arms of the throne consist of winged snakes crowned with the white and red crowns of Egypt, guarding the royal names. The seat rests on lions-legs, the heads on the front legs. The spaces between the rungs were decorated with stalks of papyrus and lily bound together, symbolizing the “Union of the Two Territories” (i.e. Upper an Lower Egypt).

The reverse of the back is decorated with a bush of papyrus and waterbirds and a frieze of six gilt wooden uræi.


On the back is a scene of queen Anchesenpaäten touching a very young Tutankhamun sitting on a chair. The young king is wearing a very elaborate crown. On the right of the couple there is a little table on which different collars or regalia are exposed.

Because in the upper rgister is still the “Giving Sun of Akhenaten”, the thone has probably been made in the time before the king changed his name in Tutankhamun. The royal names on the throne are adapted to the new political situation.


The Crown

The title of the King of Kush was ‘Royal Son of Kush’. This title was the only remaining ‘royal son titles’ of the Old Empire, borne by dignitaries who had not to be necessarily relatives of the farao. The granting of those titles was restricted in about the middle of the 18th Dynasty (1570-1293 B.C.), with the title of Royal Son of Kush as an exception.

Because Tutankaten initially was called ‘bodily son of the king, his beloved Tutankhoaten’ Tutankaten could have been ‘Royal Son of Kush’, that is to say King of Kush and his throne has to be the throne of Kush. This would also explain the place of this throne in the Entrance Hall of his grave.

As the pharaonic crowns and regalia of Egypt were of a different kind, the decoration of the throne suggests that Tutankhamun is depicted as a king of Kush and that the crown he is wearing is the crown of Kush. 

The crown on the throne of Tutankhamun is the oldest, or one of the oldest pictures of the crown of Kush. In the same form, or slightly changed, the crown has been the crown of Kush until the end of the Ancient Empires of Kush in the 6th century A.D.. As such it has been worn by the successive kings of  Kush and by the different Kushite deities like Iuput, Apedemak and Mandulis.


The “Royal Achievement” of Kush



As the crown is composed of a central motif, crests and supporters, it can be blasoned in a quite modern heraldic way, for example:


Emblem: Three sheaves of corn Azure and Or, each charged in base with a sun-disc Gules.

Crest: Three sun-discs Gules

Supporters: Two ostrich feathers and six royal emblems, proper.


This is as if the crown actually is the heraldic achievement of Kush composed of territorial (sheaves of corn), imperial (the sun-discs) and mandatory (the royal emblems) symbols, together with symbols of rank (the ostrich feathers). The achievement would mean in this case: The royal administration of the three imperial provinces of Kush.


The Evolution of the Crown

Characteristically for Egyptian culture the form of  the crown did not change over a period of almost two millennia. Even then some elements of the crown were copied in the headgear of Ballana kings and of christian dignitaries of Kush.


Ramesses VI


Genius of  Darius I the Great 521-486

Palace of Pasargadae


Apedemak Temple, Musawwarat es-Sufra, 200 BC ca




Arikankharer, son of the king, commander.

200 B.C. ca.

King Tanyidamani

110 - 90 B.C.

Ballana, 4th Century A.D.

King Silko 536 A.D. ca

Graffitto on the Kalabsha temple

Eparch, 9th c. A.D.

Fresco of Abd el-Qadir

Eparch, middle of the 12th  c. A.D

Queen, 1250ca.


Of particular interest is the 4th century crown from the Ballana period of the Kingdom of Kush.  This crown combines the symbols of the ancient egyptian crown with the crescent of the crown of the goddess Amesemi, the wife of the Kushite god Apedemak, which consisted of a crescent an a falcon. [1] This falcon we meet in the frieze of falcons wearing double crowns, on the diadem.  In the middle is the rams-head of Amon. [2] The crown is richly decorated with seven sun-discs of cornaline stones. [3]  This crown may be a combination of the original crown of Kush and the Amesemi-crown, thus symbolizing royal and administrative power. We may assume that the ramshead of Ra is for the religious power.

The scheme of this crown was also continued in the christian empire of Kush.


The Lotus



Lotus-collar of Tutankhamun as on the back of his throne.


Also from the Egyptian Era is the lotus which can be considered, along with the papyrus for Upper-Egypt and the lily for Lower-Egypt, as the “national flower of Kush”. This lotus can be seen on the collar of Tutankhamun but later appears in connection with Kush. A flower is generally supposed to be a territorial symbol, and the lotus thus is to be considered the symbol of the Kushite empire.


This collar is the symbol of (royal) authority in a certain empire (Kush). It belongs to the regalia of the empire which are exposed on the little table on the right. This displays two lesser collars of which we do not know with what dignity they correspond.

Other Egyptian regalia, not exposed here, were the crozier and the whip but these were specific for imperial authority.

The little table finds its counterpart in the modern table of credentials, on which are exposed the crown, the sword, the sceptre and the orb of  modern monarchs and states.


The function of the collar shown here is met in most modern kingdoms by a crown, not worn around the neck but on the head. Most roman and mediaeval crowns were symbols of administrative rank, only the crowns of the highest ranks being specific for a certain domain. Also, on the other hand, it has to be noticed that nowadays the achievement of state is not worn on the head but displayed publicly elsewhere (parliament, throne, documents, buildings etc.).


Relief of Iuput as an incarnation of Horus sitting on a lotusflower referring to the legend that the god was created rising from the waters sitting on a lotusflower. (10th - 8th c. B.C. Royal Scottish Museum, Edinburgh)






Relief of Mandulis, a Nubian god of the air and the sun, standing before a bush of lotus flowers. He has the form of a harpy or Ba and is wearing the crown of Kush.

Temple of Kalabsha, built by the Roman emperor Augustus (27 - 14 B.C.).


Iuput wears the crown of Kush but without the royal Uraeus-snakes. This would mean that there was no faraonic authority in Kush and that one of the first autonomous kings of the Napata period (beginning 9th c.- 270 B.C.) is depicted. As a symbol of his power he wears the whip, symbolic for political authority.


The Lion

As a third a lion has to be associated with Kush. This lion is personalized in the lion-god Apedemak to which sanctuaries are devoted but which is also depicted together with the king of Kush. The Nubian lion finds its counterpart in the Egyptian lions (often depicted as sphinxes) which were symbols of military authority in Egypt but ranked lower than the falcon which was the symbol of the military authority of the Farao himself.



The God Apedemak, the king of Kush and his son.

Lion Temple, Musawwara es-Sufra.


On this relief we notice the banner or standard of Kush, consisting of a lion, crowned with the crown of Kush, sitting on a ring with pending ribbons and one tassel. Behind the king is his son and supreme commander  who wears a helmet with the crown of Kush as a badge on the front.


This headdres may be compared with the caps and cap-badges of modern soldiers.




Votive tablet of King Tanyidamani (110-90 B.C.)

Meroitic Period, about 100 B.C.

(Walters Art Gallery Baltimore inv. nr. 22.258)


On the reverse of this tablet, shown here, the Kushite god Apedemak is presenting the sceptre or mace of Kush, consisting of a staff with a lion sitting on a cup-shaped socle.


The fact that Apedemak seems to present the standard and the mace to the king, undoubtedly means that the king was considered to have been invested with the military and administrative power by a supernatural power, that is to say that he ruled By the Grace of  [the] God [Apedemak] who was the true sovereign of Kush.


This is to be compared with the modern “DEI GRATIA” formula in modern royal titles.



Back to Main Page

© Hubert de Vries 2009.01.29. Updated 2014-02-27




[1]  As on the stela of Queen Amanishaketo  from the temple of Amon (1st cent. BC/ 1st cent. AD). Hypostyle Hall. (Coll. Egyptian Museum, Berlin).

[2]  In Nubia the Imperial god Amun was widely worshipped and remained of great importance, even after the retreat of the Egyptians. The god Amun was depicted with the head of an Argali (Ovis ammon ammon - Bovidæ).

[3]  Royal crown with rams-head and crescent, 4t century A.D. Kairo, Egyptian Museum. In: Nubië aan de Nijl. Voorportaal van Afrika. Den Haag, 1979. Cat. 31 (afb 267).