By the eighth millennium BC, people of a Neolithic culture had settled into a sedentary way of life there in fortified mudbrick villages, where they supplemented hunting and fishing on the Nile with grain gathering and cattle herding. During the fifth millennium BC migrations from the drying, Sahara brought neolithic people into the Nile Valley along with agriculture. The population that resulted from this cultural and genetic mixing developed social hierarchy over the next centuries become the Kingdom of Kush (with the capital at Kerma) at 1700 BC.
Anthropological and archaeological research indicate that during the predynastic period Nubia and Nagadan Upper Egypt were ethnically, and culturally nearly identical, and thus, simultaneously evolved systems of pharaonic kingship by 3300 BC
The Kingdom of Kush was an ancient Nubian state centered on the confluences of the Blue Nile and White Nile, and the Atbarah River and the Nile River. It was established after the Bronze Age collapse and the disintegration of the New Kingdom of Egypt, centered at Napata in its early phase.
After King Kashta (“the Kushite”) invaded Egypt in the eighth century BC, the Kushite kings ruled as pharaohs of the Twenty-fifth Dynasty of Egypt for a century before being defeated and driven out by the Assyrians. At the height of their glory, the Kushites conquered an empire that stretched from what is now known as South Kordofan all the way to the Sinai. Pharaoh Piye attempted to expand the empire into the Near East, but was thwarted by the Assyrian king Sargon II. The Kingdom of Kush is mentioned in the Bible as having saved the Israelites from the wrath of the Assyrians, although disease among the besiegers was the main reason for the failure to take the city.The war that took place between Pharaoh Taharqa and the Assyrian king Sennacherib was a decisive event in western history, with the Nubians being defeated in their attempts to gain a foothold in the Near East by Assyria. Sennacherib’s successor Esarhaddon went further, and invaded Egypt itself, deposing Taharqa and driving the Nubians from Egypt entirely. Taharqa fled back to his homeland where he died two years later. Egypt became an Assyrian colony; however, king Tantamani, after succeeding Taharqa, made a final determined attempt to regain Egypt. Esarhaddon died while preparing to leave the Assyrian capital of Nineveh in order to eject him. However, his successor Ashurbanipal (668 – c. 627 BC) sent a large army into southern Egypt and routed Tantamani, ending all hopes of a revival of the Nubian Empire.
During Classical Antiquity, the Nubian capital was at Meroë. In ancient Greek geography, the Meroitic kingdom was known as Ethiopia (a term also used earlier by the Assyrians when encountering the Nubians). The civilization of Kush was among the first in the world to use iron smelting technology. The Nubian kingdom at Meroë persisted until the fourth century AD. After the collapse of the Kushite empire, several states emerged in its former territories, among them Nubia.
By the 6th century, fifty states had emerged as the political and cultural heirs of the Meroitic Kingdom. Nobatia in the north, also known as Ballanah, had its capital at Faras; the central kingdom, Muqurra (Makuria), was centred at Tungul (Old Dongola), about 13 kilometres (8 miles) south of modern Dongola; and Alawa (Alodia), in the heartland of old Meroë, which had its capital at Soba (now a suburb of modern-day Khartoum).
In all three kingdoms, warrior aristocracies ruled Meroitic populations from royal courts where functionaries bore Greek titles in emulation of the Byzantine court. A missionary sent by Byzantine empress Theodora arrived in Nobatia and started preaching Christianity about 540 AD. The Nubian kings became Monophysite Christians. However, Makuria was a MelkiteChristian, unlike Nobatia and Alodia.
After many attempts at military conquest failed, the Arab commander in Egypt concluded the first in a series of regularly renewed treaties known as al-baqṭ (factum) with the Nubians that governed relations between the two peoples for more than 678 years. Islam progressed in the area over a long period of time through intermarriage and contacts with Arab merchants, Sufi ascetics, and settlers. Additionally, exemption from taxation in regions under Muslim rule were also a powerful incentive for conversion.In 1093, a Muslim prince of Nubian royal blood ascended the throne of Dunqulah as king. The two most important Arab tribes to emerge in Nubia were the Ja’alin and the Juhaynah. Today’s northern Sudanese culture often combines Nubian and Arabic elements.
During the 16th century, the Funj people under Amara Dunqus, appeared in southern Nubia and supplanted the remnants of the old Christian kingdom of Alodia, establishing as-Saltana az-Zarqa (the Blue Sultanate), also called Sennar. The Blue Sultanate eventually became the keystone of the Funj Empire. By the mid-16th century, Sennar controlled Al Jazirah and commanded the allegiance of vassal states and tribal districts north to the Third Cataract and south to the rainforests. The government was substantially weakened by a series of succession arguments and coups within the royal family. In 1820, Muhammad Ali of Egypt sent 4000 troops to invade Sudan. His forces accepted Sennar’s surrender from the last Funj sultan, Badi VII.