History of International Relations Textbook


Kingdom of Makuria

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The kingdom of Makuria was a kingdom located in today’s northern Sudan and southern Egypt.  Located along the Nile it covered the area from the third to the fifth or sixth cataract.  It also had control over trade routes, mines and oases to the east and west.  Its capital was Dongola, and the kingdom is sometimes known by that name.  They converted to Christianity in the sixth-century, but were cut off from the rest of Christianity when the Arabs conquered Egypt in the seventh-century.  In 651 an Arab army attacked but they were fought off and a treaty was signed which created stability between the two sides until the thirteenth-century.  During this time the country was stable and prosperous in its golden age.  Increased aggression from Egypt, and internal discord, led to the state’s collapse in the fourteenth-century.

The Nubians were a literate society and a fair number of writings survive from the period.  They were written in old Nubian language in an uncial variety of the Greek alphabet, extended with some Coptic symbols and some symbols unique to Nubian.  The Aswan Dam, constructed in 1964, was going to flood Makurian territory, and UNESCO tried to get as much excavated as possible.  Thousands of experts were brought in from around the world, including Polish, British and Ghanaian teams.

They were growing barley, millet and dates.  Well irrigated lands by the Nile river.  Oxen-driven waterwheel, land was divided into individual plots.  Houses of sun-dried bricks.  Pottery, weaving, leatherwork, metalwork, baskets, mats and sandals from palm fibre.  There was no currency and trade was in barter.  Imported luxury goods from Egypt and exported slaves which they captured west and south of Makuria itself.  Was officially Coptic by 710 CE.  They first wrote in Greek.

They defeated the Rashidun caliphate at the First battle of Dongola, 642, and Second Battle of Dongola, 652.  The Arabs were particularly impressed with their archers.     This standoff led to the unique agreement known as the bakt or baqt.  This treaty guaranteed peaceful relations between the two sides.  The Nubians agreed to give Arab traders more privileges of trade in addition to a share in their slave trading, while the Egyptians may have been obliged to send manufactured goods south.  There is no extant copy of the treaty they signed, and the earliest copies are several centuries after the fact and are quite varied.  The treaty might not have been written at all and simply an oral agreement.  Still, the main features of the treaty seem clear: Arabs and Nubians should not attack each other; the subjects of the two countries should be allowed to travel and trade freely and have safe passage; immigration to each other’s country and settlement was forbidden; fugitives were to be extradited; Nubians should maintain a mosque for visiting Arabs; the Egyptians had no obligation to protect the Nubian from third parties.  360 slaves per year should be sent to Egypt, of the best quality, men and women and not too old.  This was an unprecedented treaty in the history of Arab conquests since it imposed costs on Arabs as well – including sending wheat and lentils south.  It blocked the expansion of Islam and was therefore criticized by Islamic scholars.  King Zacharias III of Makuria sent his son Georgios to Bagdhad in 835 to renegotiate the treaty directly with the caliph.  This expedition was a great success and the arrears were canceled and the baqt was altered so that it only had to be paid once in three years.
Zacharias III, 822-854, was ruler of the Nubian kingdom of Makuria. In 833 he ceased paying the baqt to the rulers of Egypt, and prepared to fight the Abbasid Caliph al-Mutasim, 833-842, over the tribute. He sent his son Georgios to renegotiate the terms, and al-Mutasim reduced the payment to once every three years. When the Beja refused to pay their tribute to the Abbasids in 854, the forces of Makuria joined with them in attacking Egypt. They slew the Egyptian working the emerald mines of the eastern desert, invaded upper Egypt and pillaged Edfu, Asna and many other villages.

The country was prosperous and peaceful in the eighth-century and ninth-century.  They invaded Egypt in the twelfth-century, but lost and were invaded in turn.  The Egyptians did not seem to bother.  The country is Islamicized in the thirteenth-century, and becomes more unstable.  Arab traders invade.  Bedouins from the desert invade.  The Mamluks invade.  The deal was that Makuria should secure Egypt’s southern border but they are now no longer able to do this.  In 1317, the Dongola cathedral was turned into a mosque.  Civil war and anarchy ensue.  In the sixteenth-century it was included into Egypt itself.