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Origins of Writing in Northeastern Africa  

John Coleman Darnell

The Egyptian hieroglyphic script is one of the longest attested continuous uses of a writing system in world history. Between the late fourth century CE and the early nineteenth century, knowledge of the hieroglyphic script was lost, and the complexities of its mixed system of phonetic and ideographic signs delayed decipherment until the discovery of the Rosetta Stone and the work of Jean-François Champollion and other pioneers. Egyptian hieroglyphic writing originated between 3300 and 3100 bce, on the basis of evidence attested in funerary and petroglyphic contexts; the early date of phonetic hieroglyphic writing in Upper Egypt confirms the independent development of the ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian writing systems. Rather than emerging abruptly and fully formed during the reign of a Dynasty 0 ruler c. 3250 bce, hieroglyphs appear to have a millennium-long “proto-history.” Decorated ceramics, small inscribed objects, and a large corpus of Upper Egyptian and Nubian rock art indicate that visual communication prior to true writing in Upper Egypt could express key early political and religious concepts, developing a form of “iconographic syntax.” Careful examination of predynastic iconography thus provides the conceptual missing link in the origins of writing in Northeastern Africa. The marginal environments of ancient Egypt—the Western Desert and Sinai Peninsula—also preserve evidence for the development of the world’s first alphabetic script, a writing system that emerged c. 1800 bce from contact between ancient Egyptian scribes and Semitic speakers who participated in Egyptian expeditions, with signs deriving from Egyptian scripts. During the 2nd century bce, the Meroitic script, with signs also originating in both cursive and hieroglyphic Egyptian scripts, developed in the ancient Nubian kingdom of Meroe and remained in use for as many as 700 years.

Article

Education in Colonial Sudan, 1900–1957  

Iris Seri-Hersch

In the first half of the 20th century, Sudan, which included the territories of present-day Sudan and South Sudan, was ruled by a dual colonial government known as the Anglo-Egyptian Condominium (1899–1956). Britain was the senior partner in this administration, Egypt being itself politically and militarily subordinated to Britain between 1882 and 1956. During most of the colonial period, Sudan was ruled as two Sudans, as the British sought to separate the predominantly Islamic and Arabic-speaking North from the multireligious and multilingual South. Educational policy was no exception to this: until 1947, the British developed a government school system in the North while leaving educational matters in the hands of Christian missionaries in the South. In the North, the numerically dominant government school network coexisted with Egyptian schools, missionary schools, community schools, and Sudanese private schools. In the South, schools were established by the Anglican Church Missionary Society, the Roman Catholic Verona Fathers, and the American Presbyterian Mission. Whereas Arabic and English were the mediums of instruction in Northern schools, the linguistic situation was more complicated in the South, where local vernaculars, English and Romanized Arabic were used in missionary schools. The last colonial decade (1947–1957) witnessed a triple process of educational expansion, unification, and nationalization. Mounting Anglo-Egyptian rivalries over the control of Sudan and the polarization of Sudanese nationalists into “pro-British” independentists and “pro-Egyptian” unionists led the British authorities in Khartoum to boost government education while giving up the policy of separate rule between North and South. In practice, educational unification of the two Sudanese regions meant the alignment of Southern curricula on Northern programs and the introduction of Arabic into Southern schools, first as a subject matter, then as a medium of instruction. Missionary and other private schools were nationalized one year after Sudan gained independence from Britain and Egypt (1956).

Article

Women in Modern Egypt  

Hoda Elsadda

Women in Egypt have always played key roles in society in different historical eras. In the modern period, women were at the forefront of the modernization project that gained momentum at the end of the 19th century and the first decades of the 20th century. “The woman question” occupied center stage in debates about the new modern nation in the making and against the background of colonial domination as Egypt became a British protectorate in 1882. The period from the 1920s to the early 1950s is noted as a period that was particularly vibrant in the history of the women’s movement and witnessed rapid developments in women’s participation in the public sphere. Women founded magazines, established civil society organizations in all fields, joined the national movement for independence, and contributed to key ongoing debates on the modernization project. In 1952, the Free Officers Revolution resulted in a radical shift in the political sphere: the end of British colonialism, the transformation of Egypt from a monarchy to a socialist republic, and the start of a new era. The new order promoted women’s education and access to the labor market but restricted political rights and freedoms in general, a new reality that inevitably impacted the development of an independent women’s movement. In the 1970s, women’s rights assumed center stage in international politics, a development that had an impact on women in general and Egyptian women in particular. Egyptian women entered the diplomatic corps and participated in drafting international conventions, in representing their country in international forums, and in joining international civil society campaigns for women’s rights. They also established a new generation of civil society organizations that advocated for women’s rights both locally and on the international stage. The year 2011 marks an important moment in the history of Egypt. The wave of revolutions that swept the Arab world resulted in the opening of the political sphere in an unprecedented manner. Women’s rights activists rose to the challenge, and more and more women were active participants in the movement for change. Women joined new political parties that were established in the aftermath of revolutions; they were active participants in numerous political and social initiatives and movements; and they played a prominent role in marches for political and social freedoms. In sum, women in modern Egypt have played key roles in the making of modern Egypt. The story of their contributions and achievements is the story of a movement for change toward a better future.

Article

The Nile Waters Issue  

Terje Tvedt

To understand the role of the modern Nile in African history, it is first necessary to have familiarity with the premodern “natural” Nile, including both its hydrology and societal importance. It is well known that no river basin in the world has a longer, more complex, and more eventful history. The Nile water issue in modern times is a history of how economic and political developments in East and North Africa have been fundamentally shaped by the interconnectedness of the Nile’s particular physical and hydrological character; the efforts of adapting to, controlling, using, and sharing the waters of the river; and the different ideas and ambitions that political leaders have had for the Nile.

Article

Slavery in Egypt under the Mamluks  

Adam Ali

The Muslim polity commonly referred to as the Mamluk Sultanate ruled Egypt and Syria during the late medieval period (1250–1517). Slaves played a big role at every level of society in Mamluk Egypt. A slave’s race, origins, and network (if he had one) determined the prospects of his life and career. Most slaves formed the lowest stratum in society as domestic servants and laborers. Such slaves could be Africans, Caucasians, Turks, Europeans, Greeks, Armenians, or Mongols. However, some slaves occupied the highest positions. These military slaves, the mamluks, dominated the army and the government and formed a military-political elite caste in Egyptian society. In fact, so-called military slaves played an important role in the history of the Muslim world for a millennium, starting from the 9th century. Even after the Ottoman conquest of Egypt in 1517, the mamluks continued to exist as an elite socio-military class in Egypt.

Article

Routes to Emancipation in Egypt and the Sudan  

Ahmad Alawad Sikainga

In addition to the fact that the Sudan was a major source of slaves for Egypt for several centuries, Ottoman Egypt conquered and ruled the Sudan from 1820 until 1884 when Egypt was expelled from the country by the Mahdist revolution, which established an independent state in Sudan. However, the Mahdist state was overthrown in 1898 by Britain and Egypt, who established a joint administration that ruled the Sudan until 1956. Although slavery and the slave trade existed in the Sudan for many centuries, they reached a peak during the 19th century due to the policies of the Ottoman-Egyptian government. Slavery continued to persist under the Mahdist state and for several decades after the establishment of the Anglo-Egyptian administration. British antislavery policies focused mainly on combating the slave trade but adopted a gradual approach to the abolition of slavery. However, the expansion of the colonial economy and the wage labor market, the actions of the slaves themselves, and international pressure prompted the colonial government to take active measures to emancipate the slaves during the interwar period. Slavery was also an ancient institution in Egypt, dating back to the pre-Islamic era. Slaves obtained from various locations, including Eastern Europe and Africa, played major roles under the successive Muslim dynasties that ruled Egypt. However, the growth of slave trade and the widespread use of slaves in the 19th century was a direct result of the Ottoman-Egyptian conquest of the Sudan. Slavery thrived in Egypt but changes in the Egyptian economy and the labor system, public opinion, and growing internal pressure led to its demise toward the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Article

Archaeology of the Kerma Culture  

Sarah Schrader and Stuart Tyson Smith

Kerma was a Bronze Age culture (c. 2500–1500 bce) located in what is today Sudan and southern Egypt. It is one of the earliest complex societies in Africa and, at its height, rivaled Ancient Egypt. The ancient Kerma culture spans the Pre-Kerma, examining the settlements and cemeteries of this ancient culture during the Pre-Kerma (3500–2500 bce, included here as a precursor to the Kerma civilization), Early Kerma, Middle Kerma, Classic Kerma, and Recent Kerma periods. Much of what is known comes from the capital city and type site, Kerma. However, other urban centers such as Sai, as well as hinterland communities, are also discussed. An archaeological approach is crucial to the examination of Kerma’s past because an indigenous writing system had not yet been developed. Interaction with Egypt is discussed, but only as it relates to Kerma’s historical context. Chronological changes to craft production, religious practices, domestic spaces, and funerary rituals are framed by larger sociopolitical and socioeconomic issues, including inequality, political authority, and economic development.

Article

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.

Article

The Crusades in North Africa  

Matt King

Although Jerusalem was the ultimate target of many of the largest crusading expeditions during the medieval period, North Africa nonetheless played a crucial role in this movement. Following the establishment of the Crusader states at the end of the 11th century, Latin Christians clashed with the Fatimids of Egypt for regional control of the Levant and Nile River delta. This conflict gave way in the 13th century to the “Egyptian strategy,” through which crusaders thought the most likely way to retake Jerusalem was by attacking the rich and fertile lands of the Nile. The crusades of King Louis IX, which were directed at Egypt and Tunis, were motivated in part by the idea that seizing these lands in North Africa would ultimately lead to the reconquest of the Holy Land. Elsewhere in the Mediterranean, crusading fervor reached the shores of North Africa via the Reconquista. Beginning in the 13th century and extending through the early modern period, Christian leaders in Iberia viewed campaigns in northwest Africa as an extension of their earlier repulsion of Muslims from the peninsula. These crusades, which were theorized as dynastic enterprises that served to both spread Christianity and expand the borders of empires, persisted into the 16th century as the papacy marshaled the assistance of European Christian powers against the Ottomans. The response of Muslim dynasties in North Africa to these expeditions was never uniform, as some preferred diplomacy with the aggressing Franks and others conflict. However, there gradually developed in the Islamic world the idea that a persistent jihad against Mediterranean-wide Frankish aggression was an appropriate response. The memory of medieval crusades was a particularly potent one in France, where Louis IX’s expeditions were evoked during France’s conquest of Algeria in the 19th century.

Article

The Third Intermediate Period in Egypt  

Aidan Dodson

The Egyptian Third Intermediate Period (TIP) is usually defined as embracing the 11th, 10th, 9th, 8th, and first part of the 7th centuries bce (21st through 25th Egyptian Dynasties), although features characteristic of it appear during the later 12th century (late 20th Dynasty). The TIP is characterized by a fragmentation of the Egyptian state, sometimes with a number of fully fledged kings ruling in different parts of the country, at other times with a single nationally recognized king, but with some areas under de facto local rule. The latter was particularly the case regarding Upper (southern) Egypt, which formed an administrative unit under the dual religious-military rule of the high priests of the god Amun at Thebes. The period also featured increasing influence by individuals of Libyan background, who assumed the kingship early in the 10th century; from the following century there would be an increasing fragmentation of authority in the north as well. The first part of the TIP was characterized by significant economic problems, probably deriving from the fallout of the Bronze Age Collapse in the eastern Mediterranean early in the 12th century. From the middle of the 10th century there was a recovery under reunified central rule, with renewed Egyptian engagement with Syria-Palestine, including military intervention. However, this is followed from the middle of the 9th century by fragmentations of the state, accompanied on occasion by civil war. This situation only ended in the middle of the 8th century by a progressive takeover of Egypt by the kings of Nubia, who created a united Egyptian-Nubian kingdom (the 25th Dynasty), which oversaw economic and political recovery. This, however, was ended in 663 bce by Assyrian invasions, resulting in the installation of a new northern Egyptian dynasty (the 26th), marking the end of the Third Intermediate Period.

Article

Egyptology and African History  

Juan C. Moreno García

Egyptology has played a rather ambiguous role in the study of the African past. While the Nile Valley was the cradle of one of the oldest states as well as of crucial innovations like writing, monumental architecture, and complex administrative managerial techniques, among others, the burden of Eurocentric historiographical prejudices considered these achievements to be a sort of anomaly. Ancient Egypt was thus interpreted through the lens of an alleged “exceptionalism”—a geographically African but, quite self-contradictorily, culturally non-African society. Such a view was rooted in a too-literal reading of pharaonic texts and images that celebrated the differences between Egypt and its neighbors. At the same time, Egypt was seen as a remote precedent of Western culture and societies—a venerable instigator of an uninterrupted process of progress supposedly culminating in Europe in the 19th century. Only as of the late 20th century has archaeology helped Egyptology overcome such a view, understand the African roots of the pharaonic civilization, and review the nature of its relations with its African neighbors. At the same time, intense archaeological exploration of the African regions that surrounded Egypt has revealed the critical role of Nubian and desert populations in creating original forms of political power and cultural achievement that owed little or nothing to pharaonic Egypt. The result is the emergence of more balanced historical interpretations that emphasize the complex interplay between all these actors in the social dynamics of the Bronze and Iron Age in northeastern Africa.

Article

The History of Sudanese Nationalism  

Yoshiko Kurita

Ever since its conquest by the armies of Muḥammad ‘Alī Pasha in 1820, Sudan (the Republic of Sudan today) has been subjugated to colonial rule by foreign powers—first by the Ottoman-Egyptian regime from 1821 to 1885, then by the British (nominally the Anglo-Egyptian “Condominium”) from 1899 to 1955. Consequently, modern Sudanese history came to be characterized by the emergence of a series of anticolonial popular struggles, such as the Mahdist movement (1881–1898), the 1924 Revolution, and other political movements in the 1940s and 1950s. In spite of apparent differences in style, method, and ideological background, these were essentially based on the energy of the masses aspiring for liberation from colonial rule. The development of the national liberation movement in Sudan was a complicated process, since the modern Sudanese state itself was an artificial colonial state, and it was never self-evident what the “Sudanese nation” was. Building solidarity among peoples of different cultural and religious backgrounds within Sudan (such as the mainly Arab Muslim population in the north and peoples of different backgrounds in the south and the Nuba Mountains) turned out to be crucial to the anticolonial struggle. Because of the colonial situation which prevailed in the Nile Valley after the 1880s (Egypt itself was occupied by the British in 1882), the idea of a regional (if apparently contradictory) coordination of “Sudanese nationalism” and the cause of the “unity of the Nile Valley” coexisted. Finally, since colonialism inevitably had its socioeconomic dimensions, a conflict of interests between the privileged local elites (tribal and religious leaders) and the general masses emerged, leading to a struggle over who would represent the “Sudanese nation.” The independence of the country in 1956 did not put an end to the question of Sudanese nationalism, since the colonial nature of the modern Sudanese state remained unchanged, and the popular struggle against oppressive state apparatus and social injustice continued even after independence. Various elements of civil society, including trade unions, students, and women, called for a democratic transformation of the Sudanese state. Peoples of the politically and economically “marginalized” areas in Sudan (such as the South and the Nuba Mountains) rose up in protest against underdevelopment, leading eventually to the emergence of Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SLPM) in the 1980s, which advocated the vision of “New Sudan”—a type of “Sudanese nationalism,” so to speak, based on the aspirations of marginalized areas. Although, with the independence of the South in 2011 (a development which was not originally anticipated by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement [SPLM] itself) the modern Sudanese state (as it used to be known) ceased to exist, this does not mean that the heritage of various anticolonial struggles in Sudan has been meaningless. Rather, it constitutes a common property, so to speak, for the peoples in the region (though now divided between different states), and serves as a source of historical lessons and political inspiration for future generations.

Article

Southern Sudanese Systems of Slavery  

Scopas Poggo

Prior to arrival of the Turco-Egyptian officials, Europeans, Egyptians, Syrians, Sudanese, and ivory and slave traders to the Southern Sudan, the Indigenous people of this region engaged in slave trade and had their own systems of slavery. The abundance of ivory in Southern Sudan, attracted a large number of Khartoum-based merchants into the South. As ivory depleted, these merchants shifted to trading African slaves throughout Southern Sudan and beyond. In 1805, Muhammad Ali became the ruler of Egypt, and in 1821, he sent military expeditions to the Sudan to colonize it. Because Ali came to power without any funds, ivory and slaves became the main source of revenue for his government, which led to the huge expansion of the slave trade throughout the Turkiyya. Due to the corruption, violence, and injustice that existed throughout the Turkiyya, the Mahdist Movement emerged in 1881 to destroy this alien government. In 1898, an Anglo-Egyptian military force invaded the Sudan with the primary aim of destroying the Mahdist State and abolishing the slave trade and slavery. However, in the mid-1980s, during the Second Civil War in the Sudan between the Sudan People’s Liberation Army and Sudan Armed Forces (1983–2005), the slave trade in South Sudan resurged under the direction of the government of the national Islamic front and Northern Sudanese ethnic groups such as the Baqqara and Rizeiqat.

Article

Al-Durr, Shajarat  

Azza El Kholy

Shajarat Al-Durr’s life and death constitute a story that deserves to be told. Turkic in origin, she was sold into slavery but grew up to become a great Sultana. She was purchased by Al- Saleh Ayyub, and soon became his favorite concubine, and later his wife after bearing his son Khalil who died in infancy. She was intelligent and beautiful, and was the Sultan’s companion and advisor in many state affairs. Her astuteness appears in her role in boosting the morale of the army by concealing her husband’s death during the Crusade in 1249. Upon Al- Saleh’s death, his son Turanshah became Sultan, and persecuted her and his father’s Bahari Mamluks who, abetted by her, murdered him. They then instated her as Sultana of Egypt because of her liaison with the Ayyubid dynasty as wife of the Sultan, and mother to his deceased son. For eighty days she ruled as Sultana. Coins were minted in her name, and she was praised in prayers around the country until the Abbasid Caliph, Al- Musta’sim, sent a derogatory message offering to send a “man” to rule Egypt. Shajarat Al-Durr, a wise woman, abdicated the throne in favor of Aybak, one of her husband’s Mamluks and the man she took as husband to avoid political turmoil, thus finally marking the end of the Ayyubid dynasty and the beginning of the Mamluk era. They ruled together until he betrayed her trust when she learned that he was thinking of taking another wife, and seeking to rule on his own. A proud woman, Shajarat Al-Durr ordered him dead. In retaliation, Aybak’s Mamluks and his first wife killed her, and thus ended the life and reign of one of the most prominent women in Islamic history.

Article

Ethiopia in the Nineteenth Century  

Teshale Tibebu

The history of Ethiopia during the 19th century involved three fundamental processes: (1) the Zämänä Mäsafənt (Era of Princes) and its coming to an end under Kassa Häylu, later Emperor Tewodros II; (2) the repeated attempts by Egypt and Italy to colonize Ethiopia, culminating in the Battle of Adwa on March 1, 1896; and (3) Mənilək’s territorial expansion and conquest of what is now southern Ethiopia during the last quarter of the 19th century in campaigns known as agär maqnat. These three distinct, yet related, processes laid the foundations for the making of modern Ethiopia. The end of the Zämänä Mäsafənt was a key factor in centralizing state power in the hands of the emperors of Ethiopia. It enabled consolidating the power of the regional lords under the emperor, which in turn played a critical role in confronting Egypt and Italy’s colonial intrusions in the late 19th century. Mənilək’s territorial conquests in the south further strengthened the state, garnering vast human and material resources that played a critical role in the Ethiopian victory at the Battle of Adwa. All three processes worked in tandem: the end of the Zämänä Mäsafənt created a strong centralized state; such a state succeeded in nipping in the bud the colonial invasions of Egypt and Italy; and the successes of the agär maqnat campaigns added to the overall strength of the country. It also laid the ground for the problems of the 20th century, chief among them being the “national question.”

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Slavery in Pharaonic and Hellenistic Egypt  

Antonio Loprieno

Many forms of coercion to labor and restriction of individual freedom existed throughout Egyptian history. Literary texts present figures of slaves, called ḥm (“laborer”) or bȝk (“servant”). The documentary evidence is historically multifaceted: during the Old Kingdom (c.2700–2200 bce), very large segments of the population were drawn to compulsory work, exemptions being reserved for religious service, while foreign prisoners of war were explicitly enslaved (sqr-ᶜnḫ). Together with the emergence of new social elites, the Middle Kingdom (c.2100–1700 bce) displays a more distinct consciousness of the difference between free people at a lower social level (nḏs), servants (ḥm, bȝk), conscripts (ḥsb), and fugitives (tšj), whereas true slavery continued to be limited to foreign prisoners. In the New Kingdom (c.1550–1050 bce), large-scale foreign slavery derived from military campaigns, while a locally owned or rented servitude became economically indispensable. During this period, the adoption of a slave was a common practice, leading to “free” status (nmḥj). During the 1st millennium bce, references to slavery become rare and are superseded by various forms of voluntary servitude caused by economic dearth or religious self-commitment. Slavery in the legal, hereditary sense of the term unfolded during the Hellenistic and Roman Period (332 bce–395 ce) and derived from military campaigns, purchase in the slave market, or the enslavement of debtors.

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Coptic Christianity  

Lois Farag

Copts received the Christian faith through Mark the Evangelist in ad 42. Through the first seven centuries of Greco-Roman rule, a distinctive Coptic theological stance was formed as well as its literature, art, and liturgy. Coptic monasticism shaped Coptic spirituality and influenced the universal church. With the Arab Islamic conquest in the 7th century and with its successive dynasties, followed by Ottoman, British, and French political rule, the Copts adapted to each political system. Coptic Christianity survived through all this political turmoil to the present time, emerging in the 21st century as a vibrant Coptic Christianity that is spreading throughout the world.