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Medieval/Christian Nubia  

Alexandros Tsakos

“Christian Nubia” is a term that describes the cultures that developed south of Egypt roughly between the 5th and 15th centuries ce. Although it is often also called “medieval Nubia,” its major characteristic is Christianity, practiced by Nubian-speaking peoples living in at least three kingdoms, namely, Nobadia, Makuria, and Alwa. Very little is known about Alwa, both because of limited archaeological research in the region and due to the focus of written sources on Nobadia and Makuria, which were closer to Egypt. What is known about the Christian Nubian kingdoms suggests that they were heavily influenced by their northern neighbor. In the first centuries of the medieval era, Nubia received the Christian faith and church organization of Byzantine Egypt, and its church was subsequently subordinated to the Coptic Patriarchate of Alexandria. After the Arab conquest of Egypt, the relations between the Caliphate and Makuria were defined by an agreement called the Baqt, which was signed after a failed siege of the Makuritan capital in 651–652. The Fatimid period of Egypt coincided with the apogee of Christian Nubian civilization, while the arrival of the Ayyubids in the 12th century broke with a long-standing tradition of relatively peaceful coexistence. Interventions from the north increased under the Mamluks, particularly due to internal strife and dynastic conflicts in Nubia itself. After two tumultuous centuries, Muslim rulers took over the throne of Old Dongola, the capital of Makuria. Bedouins then pushed the centers of Christian authority to the peripheries of Makuria and to centers in northern Nubia, such as Qasr Ibrim and Gebel Adda, where the last Christian Nubian king is attested in an inscription in Old Nubian dating from 1483. Soba, the capital of Alwa and perhaps the largest city of Nubia, was also in ruins by the early 16th century, as witnessed by European travelers to the region.