Nubia

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The Nubia region today

Nubia is a region along the Nile river, which is located in northern Sudan and southern Egypt.

There were a number of large Nubian kingdoms throughout the Postclassical Era, the last of which collapsed in 1504, when Nubia became divided between Egypt and the Sennar sultanate resulting in the Arabization of much of the Nubian population. Nubia was again united within Ottoman Egypt in the 19th century, and within Anglo-Egyptian Sudan from 1899 to 1956.

The name Nubia is derived from that of the Noba people, nomads who settled the area in the 4th century, with the collapse of the kingdom of Meroë. The Noba spoke a Nilo-Saharan language, ancestral to Old Nubian. Old Nubian was mostly used in religious texts dating from the 8th and 15th centuries AD. Before the 4th century, and throughout classical antiquity, Nubia was known as Kush, or, in Classical Greek usage, included under the name Ethiopia (Aithiopia).

Historically, the people of Nubia spoke at least two varieties of the Nubian language group, a subfamily which includes Nobiin (the descendant of Old Nubian), Kenuzi-Dongola, Midob and several related varieties in the northern part of the Nuba Mountains in South Kordofan. A variety Birgid was spoken (at least until 1970) north of Nyala in Darfur but is now extinct.

Geography[edit]

Nubia is divided into two major regions: 'Lower Nubia', and 'Upper Nubia'. 'Lower Nubia' was in modern southern Egypt/northern Sudan, which lies between the First and Second Cataract. 'Upper Nubia' was in modern-day central Sudan, between the Second and Sixth Cataracts of the Nile river. 'Lower Nubia' and 'Upper Nubia' are so called because of their location in the Nile river valley, the 'lower' being further downstream than the 'upper'.

History[edit]

Shell bracelet from a c.1800 BC Nubian mercenary grave

Prehistory[edit]

Early settlements sprouted in both Upper and Lower Nubia: The Restricted flood plains of Lower Nubia.[clarification needed] Egyptians referred to Nubia as "Ta-Seti." The Nubians were known to be expert archers and thus their land earned the appellation, "Ta-Seti", or land of the bow.[1] Modern scholars typically refer to the people from this area as the “A-Group” culture. Fertile farmland just south of the Third Cataract is known as the “pre-Kerma” culture in Upper Nubia, as they are the ancestors.

The Neolithic people in the Nile Valley likely came from Sudan, as well as the Sahara, and there was shared culture with the two areas and with that of Egypt during this time period.[2] By the 5th millennium BC, the people who inhabited what is now called Nubia participated in the Neolithic revolution. Saharan rock reliefs depict scenes that have been thought to be suggestive of a cattle cult, typical of those seen throughout parts of Eastern Africa and the Nile Valley even to this day.[3] Megaliths discovered at Nabta Playa are early examples of what seems to be one of the world's first astronomical devices, predating Stonehenge by almost 2,000 years.[4] This complexity as observed at Nabta Playa, and as expressed by different levels of authority within the society there, likely formed the basis for the structure of both the Neolithic society at Nabta and the Old Kingdom of Egypt.[5] Around 3800 BC, the second "Nubian" culture, termed the A-Group, arose. It was a contemporary of, and ethnically and culturally very similar to, the polities in predynastic Naqada of Upper Egypt.[6][7] Around 3300 BC, there is evidence of a unified kingdom, as shown by the finds at Qustul, that maintained substantial interactions (both cultural and genetic) with the culture of Naqadan Upper Egypt. The Nubian culture may have even contributed to the unification of the Nile Valley. Also, the Nubians very likely contributed some pharaonic iconography, such as the white crown and serekh, to the Northern Egyptian kings.[8][9][10] Around the turn of the protodynastic period, Naqada, in its bid to conquer and unify the whole Nile Valley, seems to have conquered Ta-Seti (the kingdom where Qustul was located) and harmonized it with the Egyptian state. Thus, Nubia became the first nome of Upper Egypt. At the time of the first dynasty, the A-Group area seems to have been entirely depopulated,[1] most likely due to immigration to areas west and south.

The ancient Egyptian depiction of Nubian captives.

This culture began to decline in the early 28th century BC. The succeeding culture is known as the B-Group. Previously, the B-Group people were thought to have invaded from elsewhere. Today, most historians believe that B-Group was merely A-Group but far poorer.[clarification needed] The causes of this are uncertain, but it was perhaps caused by Egyptian invasions and pillaging that began at this time. Nubia is believed to have served as a trade corridor between Egypt and tropical Africa long before 3100 BC. Egyptian craftsmen of the period used ivory and ebony wood from tropical Africa which came through Nubia.

In 2300 BC, Nubia was first mentioned in Old Kingdom Egyptian accounts of trade missions. From Aswan, right above the First Cataract, the southern limit of Egyptian control at the time, Egyptians imported gold, incense, ebony, copper, ivory, and exotic animals from tropical Africa through Nubia. As trade between Egypt and Nubia increased, so did wealth and stability. By the Egyptian 6th dynasty, Nubia was divided into a series of small kingdoms. There is debate over whether these C-Group peoples, who flourished from c. 2240 BC to c. 2150 BC, were another internal evolution or invaders. There are definite similarities between the pottery of the A-Group and C-Group, so it may be a return of the ousted Group-As, or an internal revival of lost arts. At this time, the Sahara Desert was becoming too arid to support human beings, and it is possible that there was a sudden influx of Saharan nomads. C-Group pottery is characterized by all-over incised geometric lines with white infill and impressed imitations of basketry.

Ramesses II in his war chariot charging into battle against the Nubians

During the Egyptian Middle Kingdom (c. 2040–1640 BC), Egypt began expanding into Nubia to gain more control over the trade routes in Northern Nubia and direct access to trade with Southern Nubia. They erected a chain of forts down the Nile below the Second Cataract. These garrisons seemed to have peaceful relations with the local Nubian people but little interaction during the period. A contemporaneous but distinct culture from the C-Group was the Pan Grave culture, so called because of their shallow graves. The Pan Graves are associated with the East bank of the Nile, but the Pan Graves and C-Group definitely interacted. Their pottery is characterized by incised lines of a more limited character than those of the C-Group, generally having interspersed undecorated spaces within the geometric schemes.

† The idea that Nubia contributed to the pharaonic iconography of the Ancient Egyptians based on the Qustul Incense Burner is outdated.[11] According to Kathryn A. Bard:

“Bruce Williams (University of Chicago) has proposed that a fragmented stone incense burner from Qustul Cemetery L has iconographic evidence of the earliest king, who was Nubian. Part of the scene carved on the incense burner is of a seated ruler in a boat holding a flail and wearing the White Crown (two symbols of Egyptian king-ship). The more recently excavated evidence by German archaeologists, at Cemeteries U and B at Abydos, however, suggests that the earliest royal burials were there – in Egypt. The Qustul incense burner was probably imported into Nubia, where it was buried in a tomb that belonged to a very high status Nubian.”

Nubia and Ancient Egypt[edit]

Nubia in hieroglyphs
N17 Aa32 X1
N18
[12]
Ta-seti
T3-stj
Curved land[12]
O34
X1
Aa32 N18
N25
A1
Z2
[13]
Setiu
Stjw
Curved land of the Nubians[13]
N35 H z
t
N25
G21 H s M17 M17 G43 A13
N35
G21
H s Z4 T14 A2

Nehset / Nehsyu / Nehsi
Nḥst / Nḥsyw / Nḥsj
Nubia / Nubians
Nubia NASA-WW places german.jpg
Nubia

Ancient Egypt conquered Nubian territory in various eras, and incorporated parts of the area into its provinces. The Nubians in turn were to conquer Egypt under its 25th Dynasty.[14]

However, relations between the two peoples also show peaceful cultural interchange and cooperation, including mixed marriages. The Medjay –from mDA,[15] represents the name Ancient Egyptians gave to a region in northern Sudan–where an ancient people of Nubia inhabited. They became part of the Ancient Egyptian military as scouts and minor workers.

During the Middle Kingdom "Medjay" no longer referred to the district of Medja, but to a tribe or clan of people. It is not known what happened to the district, but, after the First Intermediate Period, it and other districts in Nubia were no longer mentioned in the written record.[16] Written accounts detail the Medjay as nomadic desert people. Over time they were incorporated into the Egyptian army. In the army, the Medjay served as garrison troops in Egyptian fortifications in Nubia and patrolled the deserts as a kind of gendarmerie.[17] This was done in the hopes of preventing their fellow Medjay tribespeople from further attacking Egyptian assets in the region.[18] They were even later used during Kamose’s campaign against the Hyksos[19] and became instrumental in making the Egyptian state into a military power.[20] By the 18th Dynasty of the New Kingdom period the Medjay were an elite paramilitary police force.[18] No longer did the term refer to an ethnic group and over time the new meaning became synonymous with the policing occupation in general. Being an elite police force, the Medjay were often used to protect valuable areas, especially royal and religious complexes. Though they are most notable for their protection of the royal palaces and tombs in Thebes and the surrounding areas, the Medjay were known to have been used throughout Upper and Lower Egypt.

Various pharaohs of Nubian origin are held by some Egyptologists to have played an important part towards the area in different eras of Egyptian history, particularly the 12th Dynasty. These rulers handled matters in typical Egyptian fashion, reflecting the close cultural influences between the two regions.

...the XIIth Dynasty (1991–1786 B.C.E.) originated from the Aswan region. As expected, strong Nubian features and dark coloring are seen in their sculpture and relief work. This dynasty ranks as among the greatest, whose fame far outlived its actual tenure on the throne. Especially interesting, it was a member of this dynasty that decreed that no Nehsy (riverine Nubian of the principality of Kush), except such as came for trade or diplomatic reasons, should pass by the Egyptian fortress and cops at the southern end of the Second Nile Cataract. Why would this royal family of Nubian ancestry ban other Nubians from coming into Egyptian territory? Because the Egyptian rulers of Nubian ancestry had become Egyptians culturally; as pharaohs, they exhibited typical Egyptian attitudes and adopted typical Egyptian policies. (Yurco 1989) [21]

In the New Kingdom, Nubians and Egyptians were often so closely related that some scholars consider them virtually indistinguishable, as the two cultures melded and mixed together.

It is an extremely difficult task to attempt to describe the Nubians during the course of Egypt's New Kingdom, because their presence appears to have virtually evaporated from the archaeological record. The result has been described as a wholesale Nubian assimilation into Egyptian society. This assimilation was so complete that it masked all Nubian ethnic identities insofar as archaeological remains are concerned beneath the impenetrable veneer of Egypt's material culture. In the Kushite Period, when Nubians ruled as Pharaohs in their own right, the material culture of Dynasty XXV (about 750–655 B.C.E.) was decidedly Egyptian in character. Nubia's entire landscape up to the region of the Third Cataract was dotted with temples indistinguishable in style and decoration from contemporary temples erected in Egypt. The same observation obtains for the smaller number of typically Egyptian tombs in which these elite Nubian princes were interred.[22]

Kerma[edit]

From the pre-Kerma culture, the first kingdom to unify much of the region arose. The Kingdom of Kerma, named for its presumed capital at Kerma, was one of the earliest urban centers in the Nile region. By 1750 BC, the kings of Kerma were powerful enough to organize the labor for monumental walls and structures of mud brick. They also had rich tombs with possessions for the afterlife and large human sacrifices. George Reisner excavated sites at Kerma and found large tombs and a palace-like structures. The structures, named (Deffufa), alluded to the early stability in the region. At one point, Kerma came very close to conquering Egypt. Egypt suffered a serious defeat at the hands of the Kushites.[23][24] According to Davies, head of the joint British Museum and Egyptian archaeological team, the attack was so devastating that if the Kerma forces chose to stay and occupy Egypt, they might have eliminated it for good and brought the nation to extinction. When Egyptian power revived under the New Kingdom (c. 1532–1070 BC) they began to expand further southwards. The Egyptians destroyed Kerma's kingdom and capitol and expanded the Egyptian empire to the Fourth Cataract. By the end of the reign of Thutmose I (1520 BC), all of northern Nubia had been annexed. The Egyptians built a new administrative center at Napata, and used the area to produce gold. The Nubian gold production made Egypt a prime source of the precious metal in the Middle East. The primitive working conditions for the slaves are recorded by Diodorus Siculus who saw some of the mines at a later time. One of the oldest maps known is of a gold mine in Nubia, the Turin Papyrus Map dating to about 1160 BC.

Kush[edit]

Nubian Pharaohs

When the Egyptians pulled out of the Napata region, they left a lasting legacy that was merged with indigenous customs forming the kingdom of Kush. Archaeologists have found several burials in the area which seem to belong to local leaders. The Kushites were buried there soon after the Egyptians decolonized the Nubian frontier. Kush adopted many Egyptian practices, such as their religion. The Kingdom of Kush survived longer than that of Egypt, invaded Egypt (under the leadership of king Piye), and controlled Egypt during the 8th century, Kushite dynasty.[25] The Kushites held sway over their northern neighbors for nearly 100 years, until they were eventually repelled by the invading Assyrians. The Assyrians forced them to move farther south, where they eventually established their capital at Meroë. Of the Nubian kings of this era, Taharqa is perhaps the best known. Taharqa, a son and the third successor of King Piye, was crowned king in Memphis in c.690.[26] Taharqa ruled over both Nubia and Egypt, restored Egyptian temples at Karnak, and built new temples and pyramids in Nubia, before being driven from Egypt by the Assyrians.[27][28][29][30]

Meroë[edit]

Aerial view at Nubian pyramids, Meroe

Meroë (800 BC – c. AD 350) in southern Nubia lay on the east bank of the Nile about 6 km north-east of the Kabushiya station near Shendi, Sudan, ca. 200 km north-east of Khartoum. The people there preserved many ancient Egyptian customs but were unique in many respects. They developed their own form of writing, first utilizing Egyptian hieroglyphs, and later using an alphabetic script with 23 signs.[31] Many pyramids were built in Meroë during this period and the kingdom consisted of an impressive standing military force. Strabo also describes a clash with the Romans in which the Romans were defeated by Nubian archers under the leadership of a "one-eyed" (blind in one eye) queen.[32] During this time, the different parts of the region divided into smaller groups with individual leaders, or generals, each commanding small armies of mercenaries. They fought for control of what is now Nubia and its surrounding territories, leaving the entire region weak and vulnerable to attack. Meroë would eventually meet defeat by a new rising kingdom to their south, Aksum, under King Ezana.

The classification of the Meroitic language is uncertain, it was long assumed to have been of the Afro-Asiatic group, but is now considered to have likely been an Eastern Sudanic language.

At some point during the 4th century, the region was conquered by the Noba people, from which the name Nubia may derive (another possibility is that it comes from Nub, the Egyptian word for gold[33]). From then on, the Romans referred to the area as the Nobatae.

Christian Nubia[edit]

Around AD 350, the area was invaded by the Kingdom of Aksum and the kingdom collapsed. Eventually, three smaller kingdoms replaced it: northernmost was Nobatia between the first and second cataract of the Nile River, with its capital at Pachoras (modern-day Faras); in the middle was Makuria, with its capital at Old Dongola; and southernmost was Alodia, with its capital at Soba (near Khartoum). King Silky of Nobatia crushed the Blemmyes, and recorded his victory in a Greek inscription carved in the wall of the temple of Talmis (modern Kalabsha) around AD 500.

While bishop Athanasius of Alexandria consecrated one Marcus as bishop of Philae before his death in 373, showing that Christianity had penetrated the region by the 4th century, John of Ephesus records that a Monophysite priest named Julian converted the king and his nobles of Nobatia around 545. John of Ephesus also writes that the kingdom of Alodia was converted around 569. However, John of Biclarum records that the kingdom of Makuria was converted to Catholicism the same year, suggesting that John of Ephesus might be mistaken. Further doubt is cast on John's testimony by an entry in the chronicle of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria Eutychius, which states that in 719 the church of Nubia transferred its allegiance from the Greek to the Coptic Church.

By the 7th century, Makuria expanded becoming the dominant power in the region. It was strong enough to halt the southern expansion of Islam after the Arabs had taken Egypt. After several failed invasions the new rulers agreed to a treaty with Dongola allowing for peaceful coexistence and trade. This treaty held for six hundred years. Over time the influx of Arab traders introduced Islam to Nubia and it gradually supplanted Christianity. While there are records of a bishop at Qasr Ibrim in 1372, his see had come to include that located at Faras. It is also clear that the cathedral of Dongola had been converted to a mosque in 1317.[34]

The influx of Arabs and Nubians to Egypt and Sudan had contributed to the suppression of the Nubian identity following the collapse of the last Nubian kingdom around 1504. A major part of the modern Nubian population became totally Arabized and some claimed to be Arabs (Jaa'leen – the majority of Northern Sudanese – and some Donglawes in Sudan).[35] A vast majority of the Nubian population is currently Muslim, and the Arabic language is their main medium of communication in addition to their indigenous old Nubian language. The unique characteristic of Nubian is shown in their culture (dress, dances, traditions, and music).

Islamic Nubia[edit]

Nubian woman circa 1900

In the 14th century, the Dongolan government collapsed and the region became divided and dominated by Arabs. The next centuries would see several Arab invasions of the region, as well as the establishment of a number of smaller kingdoms. Northern Nubia was brought under Egyptian control while the south came under the control of the Kingdom of Sennar in the 16th century. The entire region would come under Egyptian control during the rule of Muhammad Ali in the early 19th century, and later became a joint Anglo-Egyptian condominium.

Contemporary issues[edit]

With the end of colonialism and the establishment of the Republic of Egypt (1953), and the secession of the Republic of Sudan from unity with Egypt (1956), Nubia was divided between Egypt and Sudan.

In the 1970s, many Egyptian Nubians were forcibly resettled to make room for Lake Nasser after the construction of the dams at Aswan. Nubian villages can now be found north of Aswan on the west bank of the Nile and on Elephantine Island, and many Nubians today live in large cities such as Cairo.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b Emberling, Geoff (2011). Nubia: Ancient Kingdoms of Africa. New York: Institute for the study of the ancient world. p. 8. ISBN 978-0-615-48102-9. 
  2. ^ Studies of Ancient Crania From Northern Africa.  – S.O.Y. Keita, American Journal of Physical Anthropology (1990)
  3. ^ History of Nubia
  4. ^ PlanetQuest: The History of Astronomy – Retrieved on 2007-08-29
  5. ^ Late Neolithic megalithic structures at Nabta Playa – by Fred Wendorf (1998)
  6. ^ Hunting for the Elusive Nubian A-Group People – by Maria Gatto, archaeology.org
  7. ^ Further Studies of Crania From Ancient Northern Africa: An Analysis of Crania From First Dynasty Egyptian Tombs, using Multiple Discriminant Functions.  – American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 87: 245–254 (1992)
  8. ^ "The Qustul Incense Burner". 
  9. ^ Forbears of Menes in Nubia: Myth or Reality.  – Journal of Near Eastern Studies, Vol. 46, No. 1 (Jan., 1987), pp. 15–26
  10. ^ Egypt and Sub-Saharan Africa: Their Interaction – Encyclopedia of Precolonial Africa, by Joseph O. Vogel, AltaMira Press, (1997), pp. 465–472
  11. ^ Bard, Kathryn A. Introduction to the Archaeology of Ancient Egypt. Blackwell Publishing: Malden, 2007. Print. p 104.
  12. ^ a b Elmar Edel: Zu den Inschriften auf den Jahreszeitenreliefs der "Weltkammer" aus dem Sonnenheiligtum des Niuserre, Teil 2. In: Nachrichten der Akademie der Wissenschaften in Göttingen, Nr. 5. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1964, p. 118–119.
  13. ^ a b Christian Leitz et al.: Lexikon der ägyptischen Götter und Götterbezeichnungen, Bd. 6: H̱-s. Peeters, Leuven 2002, ISBN 90-429-1151-4, p. 697.
  14. ^ Barbara Watterson, The Egyptians. Blackwell, Oxford. pp. 50–117
  15. ^ Erman & Grapow, Wörterbuch der ägyptischen Sprache, 2, 186.1-2
  16. ^ Gardiner, op.cit., p. 76*
  17. ^ Bard, op.cit., p.486
  18. ^ a b Wilkinson, op.cit., p. 147
  19. ^ Shaw, op.cit., p.201
  20. ^ Steindorff & Seele, op.cit., p. 28
  21. ^ F. J. Yurco, "The ancient Egyptians..", Biblical Archaeology Review (Vol 15, no. 5, 1989)
  22. ^ Bianchi, 2004, Daily Life of the Nubians. p. 99–100
  23. ^ Tomb Reveals Ancient Egypt's Humiliating Secret The Times (London, 2003)
  24. ^ "Elkab's hidden treasure". Al-Ahram. 
  25. ^ "The Kushite Conquest of Egypt". Ancient Sudan website.
  26. ^ Diop, Cheikh Anta (1974). The African Origin of Civilization. Chicago, Illinois: Lawrence Hill Books. pp. 219–221. ISBN 1-55652-072-7. 
  27. ^ Bonnet, Charles (2006). The Nubian Pharaohs. New York: The American University in Cairo Press. pp. 142–154. ISBN 978-977-416-010-3. 
  28. ^ Mokhtar, G. (1990). General History of Africa. California, USA: University of California Press. pp. 161–163. ISBN 0-520-06697-9. 
  29. ^ Emberling, Geoff (2011). Nubia: Ancient Kingdoms of Africa. New York: Institute for the Study of the Ancient World. pp. 9–11. ISBN 978-0-613-48102-9 Check |isbn= value (help). 
  30. ^ Silverman, David (1997). Ancient Egypt. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 36–37. ISBN 0-19-521270-3. 
  31. ^ Meroë: writing – digitalegypt
  32. ^ Nubian Queens in the Nile Valley and Afro-Asiatic Cultural History – Carolyn Fluehr-Lobban, Professor of Anthropology, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston U.S.A, August 20–26, 1998
  33. ^ "Nubia". Catholic Encyclopedia. 
  34. ^ Hassan, Arabs, 125.
  35. ^ "Questions from Readers". Ancient Sudan website.

Further reading[edit]

  • Adam, William Y. (1977): Nubia: Corridor to Africa, London.
  • "Black Pharaohs", National Geographic, Feb 2008
  • Bonnet, Charles (2006): The Nubian Pharaohs. New York: The American University in Cairo Press.
  • Bulliet et al. (2001): Nubia, The Earth and Its Peoples, pp. 70–71, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston.
  • Emberling, Geoff (2011): Nubia: Ancient Kingdoms of Africa. New York: Institute for the Study of the Ancient World.
  • Hassan, Yusuf Fadl (1973): The Arabs and the Sudan, Khartoum.
  • Thelwall, Robin (1978): "Lexicostatistical relations between Nubian, Daju and Dinka", Études nubiennes: colloque de Chantilly, 2–6 juillet 1975, 265–286.
  • Thelwall, Robin (1982) 'Linguistic Aspects of Greater Nubian History', in Ehret, C. & Posnansky, M. (eds.) The Archeological and Linguistic Reconstruction of African History. Berkeley/Los Angeles, 39–56.
  • Jennings, Anne (1995) The Nubians of West Aswan: Village Women in the Midst of Change, Lynne Reinner Publishers.

External links[edit]