Kingdom of Makuria

Makuria was a kingdom located along the Nile, in today’s northern Sudan and southern Egypt. It is sometimes known as “Dongola,” which was the name of its capital. The Makurians converted to Christianity in the sixth-century CE and followed the Coptic ritual. It was a literate society which wrote in the Nubian language by means of a modified version of the Greek script. Remarkably, some writings still survive. The Makurians grew barley, millet and dates in the well irrigated Nile valley; they made pottery, worked metals and leather, and made mats and sandals from palm fiber. They imported luxury goods from Egypt and exported slaves which they captured west and south of their kingdom. They had no currency and trade took place by means of barter.

When the Arabs conquered Egypt in the seventh-century CE, Makuria was cut off from the rest of the Christian world. [Read more:The Muslim caliphates“] The Rashidun caliphate launched an attack on Dongola in 651, but the Makurians successfully defended themselves. Unusually, the Arabs sued for peace and a treaty was concluded. The Makurians promised to trade with Arab merchants and to make sure that the southern border of the caliphate stayed peaceful. Each year 360 slaves were sent to Egypt as a tribute. In return, the caliphate promised to supply the Makurians with wheat and lentils and to respect its borders. Nowhere else did the Arabs voluntarily agree to restricts their expansion.

The agreement was honored by later caliphs too and in 835 CE, the king of Makuria sent his son to the Abbasid capital of Baghdad to renegotiate the terms. Makuria was gradually islamicized in the thirteenth-century and Bedouins from the desert began to invade. Eventually it was no longer possible for the Makurians to protected themselves and to serve as a buffer state for the caliphate. Moreover, the Mamluk rulers did not consider themselves bound by the previous agreements. In 1317, the cathedral in Dongola was turned into a mosque. In the sixteenth-century Makuria was incorporated into Egypt itself.

The Aswan Dam, a prestige project begun by the Egyptian government in 1964, threatened many Makurian archaeological sites. Teams of international experts were flown in to carry out emergency excavations. Today much of ancient Makuria is under water.

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