The great kingdom of Kush (or Cush) was located in south Nubia. The ancient Greeks called it Ethiopia. In the 8th century BC, Kush - led by King Piankhi (or Piye) and later his brother and successor King Shabaka — conquered Egypt. These Kushite kings founded Egypt's 25th ruling dynasty. After Shabaka died, Piankhi's son Shebitku became pharaoh; he was succeeded by his brother Taharqa.

But the Nubian Dynasty's reign in Egypt proved to be short-lived. In the middle of the 7th century BC, Taharqa was driven out of Egypt by the Assyrians. He and his cousin Tanutamon, who succeeded Taharqa as king of Kush, tried but failed to regain the Egyptian throne.

Around 592 BC, Egypt sacked Kush's capital, Napata. After that, the city of Meroe became the capital of Kush. The kingdom lasted for some 900 years more.

One notable Kushite ruler was the fierce warrior queen Amanirenas, who battled an occupying Roman army in the first century AD. Her ambassadors were conducted into the presence of the Roman emperor Augustus Caesar, and according to the Roman writer Strabo, they "obtained all that they desired, and Caesar even remitted the tribute which he had imposed." Queen Amanirenas had won; the Romans withdrew from most of Nubia. Augustus Caesar and his general Gaius Petronius were obliged to sue for peace, after Amanirenas having sent envoys to Augustus at Samos in the Aegean. Amanirena's ambassador produced a beautiful bundle of golden arrows, and told Caesar "These are a gift from the Kandake. If you want war, keep them because you are going to need them. If you want peace, accept them as a token of her warmth and friendship." Augustus Caesar kept the fasces of arrows, and the war ended. Among the concessions he made, Augustus was required to allow Kushite adherents of Isis to continue their worship at Elephantine in Roman-controlled Egypt, and to pay for building of temples to Isis in Kush, because some had been destroyed by the Romans.