Introduction

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[pp. viii-xi]

AN INTRODUCTION

The first International Symposium on Nubian Art and History in Essen 1969, voiced the wish of the participants that a "répertoire" of Arabic Sources concerning Nubia be made available to archaeologists in a European language as soon as possible.

In 1967, while in Khartoum, I had begun gleaning texts on ancient Nubia from Arabic and non-Arabic historians, for private use. After the Essen Symposium, I extended my research to make my own "répertoire" available to the public, especially archaeologists.

My research was confined, in principle, to printed books of prose writers - excluding poetry.

Critical or other well known editions were used for the translation, whenever possible. On a few instances I availed myself of a published English translation.

In Paris (1973), I had the opportunity of perusing some Arabic MSS at Bibliothèque Nationale. As for unpublished MSS, I was lucky enough to find many relevant excerpts concerning Nubia in the following works: -

a) "Monumenta Cartographica Africae et Aegypti" by Yousouf Kamal;

b) "Arabskiye Istochniki, VII-XII centuries" by Kybbeli - Matveev;

c) "Al-maktabat as-sūdāniyya al-'arabiyya" by Dr. Muh. Mustafa Mus'ad,

where valuable extracts from MSS of the Cairo National Library are edited.

I am well aware that more texts on Nubia could be combed out with a more obstinate work. Yet, I am confident that the harvest already gathered outweighs, in quantity and quality, what remains in books not yet perused.

[p. ix] Therefore, taking into account on the one hand the pressing demand for a "répertoire" and the amount ready in hand, and, on the other, the "little" which can be hopefully added, I have decided to release this collection as it stands.

As the "répertoire" was supposed to cover the Arab sources, I chose the dates of 640 A.D. and 1504, respectively the time of the earliest Arab-Nubian dashes and the fall of Soba, as 'termini a quo and ad quem for the literary sources. Some exceptions, however, had to be made with regard to such vital testimonies as John of Ephesus’ account on the official conversion of Nubia, or some rare documents such as "Tabaqāt Dayfalla", the "Funj Chronicle" and a few others.

Every reader will notice that such words as "Nūba" and "Ḥabasha" were vaguely used by Middle Age Arab geographers to indicate all peoples living between the Tropic of Cancer and the Equator, from the Red Sea to the Atlantic Ocean. With the same vagueness, the words "sūdān" and "zanj" were used as equivalent or sub-divisions of the "Nūba" peoples. Therefore, in drawing up a geographical boundary to this Collection, I followed these guiding principles: -

i. - to include all statements concerning peoples dwelling in the Nile Valley, whatever their name might be;

ii. - to include all statements mentioning "Nūba", "Ḥabasha" (Ḥubūsh, Ahābish etc), "sūdān" (sūd, asāwid etc) "zanj" whenever these names seemed to apply to peoples living in the Nile Valley or having relations with them;

iii. - to include all statements concerning peoples living in regions bordering on Nubia (Nile Valley), with whom the Nubians proper reasonably could have had trade or other relations, e.g. the Zaghāwa, the Beja, the "ghāna", Kharga Oasis etc.

[p. x] iv. - Whenever the word "Ḥabasha" clearly meant modern Ethiopia, I selected only some passages concerning peoples apparently living on the fringes of Ethiopia, which ancient writers might easily have included in the territory of the "Nūba". The same I did with the word "zanj".

v. - On the other hand, I left aside the statements where such words as "Nūba", "sūdān", ”zanj", "ghāna" and others clearly indicated peoples or territories outside the area of our concern. A few exceptions, however, I made at my own discretion, for some texts documenting customs, political or trade relations, routes etc. which I deemed to be of special interest to the archaeologist.

vi. - Nubian communities and individuals abroad (in Cairo, Baghdad etc.) who played a role in local events, have been considered as part of the Nubian history, and, on this account, have been included in this collection.

In general, I abstained from translating such words as "Nūba", "Miṣr", "Ḥabasha", "ghāna", and others, with their modern equivalent (Nubia, Egypt, Ethiopia...), knowing that this identification might be wrong or misleading in more than one instance. A few exceptions were made when the word clearly meant the territories or peoples known today by their respective equivalent. For the same reason I generally translated the word "sūdān" by "Blacks" or left it untranslated, in small letters and with diacritic signs (sūdān, ghāna...) to avoid identification with the modern homonymous countries, which certainly was not the original meaning.

Passages which were mere repetitions of statements made by earlier writers have been by-passed, as a rule.

[p. x] Exceptions have been made for quotations containing new details, or when it was impossible to expunge passages from a story without breaking the thread. Maqrīzī is perhaps the typical case in point, as many of his stories are just a conglomerate of quotations from earlier writers.

Whenever the same topic was dealt with by many writers (e.g. the Nile sources), only the most representative authorities have been chosen. For astronomical data on Nubian sites, only leading Arab astronomers have been quoted.

Technical or other words which the reader might be interested to know in the original language have been added between round brackets ( ) and are underlined. Words which have been copied without translating them, have been underlined or put in " ".

I put between round brackets some additional words which, though not based on the original, seem implicitly required for the correct interpretation, e.g. the noun instead of the pronoun, the verb clearly expressed while it is only understood in the original. I have placed between square brackets words, dates and very short notes which I deemed helpful for the understanding of the text without referring the reader to footnotes.

Each Source has been introduced with a schematized bio-bibliographical note.

I trust that with the advice of many scholars this work may be improved.


Khartoum, 15 October 1974

G. Vantini