Nubian kingdoms

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According to ecclesiastical historians, the first missionaries to Nubia found three independent kingdoms occupying the former territories of the Empire of Kush. In the north, extending from approximately the First to the Third Nile Cataract, was the Kingdom of Nobadia. It was a splinter remnant of the Kushite Empire, whose rulers still worse some of the paraphernalia and followed some of the practices of the rulers of Kush, and worshiped some of the same gods. The capital of Nobadia has not been identified, but was most probably at Faras West, a place already of major importance in Kushite times.

To the south of Nobadia, the Kingdom of Makouria extended from approximately the Third to perhaps the Fifth Nile Cataract - the southern boundary remains problematical. Although its territory included the original heartland of Kush (around Jebel Barkal), the Kingdom of Makouria does not appear to have been built on Kushite foundations. Its capital was at Dongola (now called Old Dongola), apparently a new foundation which did not exist in Kushite times.

South of Makouria lay the Kingdom of Alodia (Alwa in Arabic sources), extending from the frontier of Makouria to a point somewhere upriver from the confluence of the Blue and White Niles (the site of modern Khartoum). Our very fragmentary knowledge of this kingdom has come mainly from a few Arabic sources. There has so far been no archaeological excavation except some limited digs at the capital city of Soba (across the river from modern Khartoum).

At some unspecified date, apparently in the eighth century, Nobadia fell under the sovereignty of Makouria, and ceased to exist as an independent kingdom. However, it always retained its earlier name (much like Scotland under English rule) and some distinct political and economic conditions. Throughout its later history it was ruled de facto by a kind of viceroy, appointed by the Makourian king, called the Eparch of Nobadia. His principle residence was at Qasr Ibrim, though he apparently also resided at times at Meinarti. It seems now to be generally agreed that the combined kingdoms of Makouria and Nobadia were known as the Kingdom of Dotawo<ref>Ed.: see Ruffini 2013, "Newer Light on the Kingdom of Dotawo."</ref>, though this is not universally accepted. The name Dotawo appears nowhere in Arabic documents.

There are some rather vague Old Nubian texts suggesting that the Makourian rulers at times claimed suzerainty over Alodia as well, but this is so far not well confirmed. There is no hint of it in Arabic texts (except of Al-Mas'udi / ed. by A.Dolgushin).<ref>Ed. note: In Coptic and Greek documents, kings of Dotawo describe themselves as kings of Aroud() and Makrout(), which has been understood to mean, "king of the Alodians and Makouritans."</ref>

Beginning in the thirteen century, the territories of both Makouria and Alodia began to be overrun by invading Arab nomads both from Egypt and from the Arabian Peninsula, and before the end of the fourteenth century they had gone out of existence, to be supplanted by a succession of small, warring principalities headed by petty Arab rulers, known locally as meks. In the north, a total desert region unsuitable for nomad grazing, Nobadia lived on until nearly the end of the fifteenth century, when it finally succumbed to Mamluk pressure from Egypt. Half a century later, its territory was annexed to the Ottoman Empire.

(Contributed by William Y. Adams.)



Sources: The first attempt at a connected history of medieval Nubia was that of Monneret de Villard in 1938. It has now been superceded by the much fuller information revealed by archaeology, and contained in Adams 1977, 459-545; Edwards 2004, 212-55; and especially Welsby 2002, 68-111.

See also: a partial list of Kings of Dotawo and a partial list of the Eparchs of Nobadia.