For the Egyptians Nubia began at the first cataract to the south from the island of Elephantine. Today Nubia divides geographically into Lower Nubia between the first and the second cataract and Upper Nubia, which was situated between the second and the fourth cataract - see map. It is known that this area of Lower Nubia was attached by Archaic period rulers to Egypt, who were attracted especially by Nubian gold mines. We also know that the prices of small nations living on the Nile banks paid tributes - wood and soldiers under 6th dynasty rule - because people of Nubia belonged to well-known warriors.
The Pharaohs, who ruled in following periods, wanted to keep their dominance over this important area at any price, so they continually suppressed various rebellions against Egyptian dominance. The thing is that Nubia was an important junction between south and north Africa, which all caravans heading from southern lands to the north went through. On the top of that Nubia held exceptional wealth - hard and very resilient ebony wood loved by the Egyptians, gold, elephants, hippos and rhinoceros, from which tusks artistic objects were made, stock, beasts of prey skins, rubber, olibanum, grains and last but not least cheap manpower as well. People of Nubia were often employed at riot police in big cities as Thebes (Waset) or Memphis (Mennefer).
The journey of Nubia
The journey into or out of Nubia was full of danger for the Egyptians. The area behind the southern boundary of the land, right behind the first cataract was imponderable for them. Nubia was located there and a large Kingdom of Kush further in the south, which was always in Nubian princes hands. Also the country was different. The red sandstone cliffs ustoupily to the rock walls from black quartzite. The unfriendliness of the rocks was even intensified by high steep precipices. Waves of the river were swelling there among the cliffs, which hinted the stones with defeaning roar. On the top of that this area was occupied by wild tribes that attacked the boats with valuable loot without hesitating. That's why Egyptian Pharaohs tried to control this area with building fortresses.
These strategic points should protect the caravans that travelled along the river and transported their valuable cargo into Egypt. The areas situated between the first cataract and Kush were called Wawat, Irjet, Setju a Medjay. Autobiographical signs of dignitaries were preserved from the Old Kingdom period, who resided on Elephantine and were charged to lead the campaigns into Nubia.
Lower Nubia was hilly and parched area totally different from Egyptian sandy country. Only several cultivated fields proved the presence of people in this dry rocky territory. However, there also were many gold mines, so the Pharaohs didn't hesistate and led the campaigns there inspite all difficulties. The Egyptians mined gold in mines in Wadi Allaqi and granite in quarries in Toshka since the very first Pharaoh dynasties. Fortress Buhen (at the second cataract) became a paramount trade centre. In spite of many rebellions against Egyptian rulers the Kings of the 11th and 12th dynasties strenghtened their position later. They built fortresses and shifted the boundaries continually.
Mentuhotep II, Pharaoh of the 11th dynasty, beat the tribes from Wawat area and recruited the people of Nubia to his army immediately afterwards. They broke through quickly in the army thanks to their courage and dexterity. The rulers of the 12th dynasty went even further. Senusret I let build many fortresses and founded new trade centres between the second and the third cataract: in Mirgissa to the south from Buhen and on Sai Island located even further southwards.
There were 17 fortresses built in Nubia at the end of the Middle Kingdom, which ensured the dominance of Egypt. The Kingdom of Kush located in the territory of Nubia became independent in the troubled Second Intermediate period and it even united forces with the Hyksos, the then enemies of Egypt. But the Egyptian dominance over Nubia was renewed at the beginning of the New Kingdom period. Thutmose III let dig a canal, which enabled an easier navigation through the first cataract.