Christian Nubia

By 543 A.D .The Nubians were officially Christian. It seems that their Christianity was never more than a thin veneer atop their ancient native religions and that it was only maintained by a foreign elite of priests and governors. The Nubians nevertheless remained officially Christians for almost a millennium.
The region had been Christian for less than a century when the Arab armies invaded Egypt in 640 A.D.One year later these armies reached Aswan, where the Islamic tide was stemmed, and the first cataract remained the southern frontier of Islamic Egypt and the northern frontier of Christian Nubia for several centuries. During medieval times Christian Nubia flourished. It was united under the King of Makuria and enjoyed a "Classical Christian " period between 850 and 1100 A.D

Arabs has been penetrating the area at various times for centuries. however, as peaceful settlers , as traders and as raiders .Some came as tribal remnants of defeated Caliphates, such as the Abbassids . During the Fatimid Caliphate (969- 1161 A.D),there were many Arab trading expeditions going along the Nile, dealing particularly in slave. Many of Arab tribal leaders married into leading Nubian families and after several centuries it seems that the Nubian kinship system as gradually converted from one tracing relatives matrilineally to one tracing them patrilineally .Islamic religious doctrine and legal practices also because more and more widespread through this intermarrying process.
The Muslim conversion of Nubia thus seems to have been gradual, covering several centuries, though in the late phases military victories were decisive. Salah al-Din ( the famous Saladin ) defeated a Nubian army that invaded Egypt in 1171, for example , and at various times unruly Arab tribes from Upper Egypt pillaged the area. Christianity held on in many parts of Nobia until the fourteenth century, however, when Islamic raiders coming from south, in what is now the Sudan , looted the churches and finally completed the long process of conversion. Christian Nubian pilgrims were noted in the holy places of Palestine as late as the Fifteenth century, but by the end of the fourteenth century the vast majority of the Nubians had become staunch Muslims, as they are today. From 1517, when the Turkish Sultan selim sent Hassan Koosy to take over governorship of the area, all through the Ottoman period , and up to the present century , much of Egyptian Nubia was ruled or dominated by descendants of this family of Turkish petty gentry . Members of the Koosy family married into local lineage and the resulting aristocracy became known as the Kushaf .The descendants of this ruling family still regard themselves as a superior class among the Nubians .
During the Turkish period condition of relative anarchy alternated with those of local tyranny, and military forces frequently swept devastatingly through the region. The last time battles were fought in Nubia was during the Mahdist uprising in the Sudan in the 1880s, and in the present century the succession of Aswan dams has replaced military turmoil as the principal disruptive force in the troubled history of the Nubians.
The Nubian now regard themselves as strong Muslims, though they were converted to the Islamic faith relatively late in comparison with the Egyptian. It is unclear what the precise details of the ancient Nubian religion were prior to the Christianization of the region in the middle of the sixth century A.D, but judging from the many Egyptian temples which were found along this part of the Nile, their belief system must have been heavily influenced by the Pharaonic religion of ancient Egypt .One reason the character of pre-Christian, pre-Islamic Nubian religion is somewhat obscures that there is considerable uncertainty in the archaeological record regarding the antecedents of the modern Nubians in the region known Nubia.
The Nubians were converted to Christianity during the sixth century. They remained so until the gradual process of Islamization began taking place from the fourteenth until the seventeenth centuries. Today, the Nubians are all Muslims. However, their traditional animistic beliefs (belief that non-living objects have spirits) are still mingled in with their Islamic practices.
Christian Nubia, ca. A.D. 550-1400
Nubia first became Christian in the time of the Roman emperor Justinian, but soon after, the Moslem Arabs conquered Egypt, and the Nubians were isolated from direct contact with the Christian world north of the Mediterranean. Early attempts at Moslem conquest in Nubia failed, allowing various Christian kingdoms of Nubia to remain independent for centuries, and they even had a profitable treaty arrangement with the Caliph. At times, Christian Nubia became quite powerful and was able to intervene on behalf of the Coptic Christians in Egypt and even to hold territory. In the twelfth century, under Saladin, and later, under the Mamelukes, the power of Christian Nubia was broken by a series of campaigns and invasions of Arab tribes. By 1400, Christian Nubia had disappeared. Nubians are now virtually all Moslem.
The conversion to Christianity was a major stimulus to cultural achievement. Christianity required churches, written texts, in Greek, Egyptian Coptic and in Old Nubian, as well as educational and inspirational decoration. The Christian images and symbols were drawn largely from traditions developed in Egypt and the Mediterranean world, but Nubian artists and architects added details, designs, combinations, and proportions of their own to establish a unique formal art. Some of the greatest paintings of the Middle Ages were made on the walls of the Cathedral at Faras and rescued by a Polish expedition for the Museums of Khartoum and Warsaw. The Oriental Institute excavated a major monastery at Qasr el Wizz, and a large town at Serra East, which contained churches with frescoes that could be copied, but were too damaged to remove. Much architectural information was recovered, along with objects from daily life, including superbly painted pottery which was, as so often before, the glory of Nubia.
The Roots of Nubian Christianity
Traditionally in Nubian Christian scholarship there are three major competing interpretations on the conversion and transformation of ancient Nubia to Christianity and the subsequent Byzantine encounter with Nubian courtly culture during the fourth to the sixth centuries c.e. { Salim Faraji in "A Transitional Culture in Late Antique Africa " } There are historical sources that support the influence of Coptic Folk and official Monophysite Christian traditions in ancient Nubia as evidenced in Coptic hagiographical literature and the sixth century ecclesiastical history of John of Ephesus. The historical evidence also supports the direct influence of Byzantine Orthodox Christianity (Melkite) on Nubian Christianity as recorded in the extant literature of John of Biclarum. A third perspective though not an ecclesiastical history defending or propagating a particular theological agenda is the Greek Axumite stela of the newly converted Ethiopian Christian King Ezana describing his military conquest of Upper Nubia thereby implying the encroachment of Christiantiy in the southern regions of ancient Nubia.
Despite the standard rendition of the Christianization of ancient Nubia provdided for us by the "sectarian histories" of John of Ephesus and John of Biclarum, archaeological evidence supports that Christianity began to enter ancient Nubia as early as the second half of the fifth century c.e. during the reign of the Nubian Ballana Culture Monarchy. A significant indicator of a possible Nubian "conversion" to Christianity prior to the the Byzantine imperial missions of Emperor Justinian and his wife Theodora in the early sixth century is the famous but controversial Silko Inscription and representation. The Silko Inscription is preserved on the west wall of the forecourt of the Temple of Mandulis at Kalabsha in Lower Nubia. Nubiologists date the inscription from the fifth century c.e. The language of the inscription is in Greek and is laudatory proclamation of how the Nubian King Silko conquered the surrounding Nubian tribes. The most striking statement of the inscription is Silko's proclamation "God gave me the victory." The paper seeks to address the questions, Did the Silko Inscription possess any significance for the conversion and transformation of ancient Nubia to Christianity? Did the Nubian King Silko provide the entryway for Christianity to advance into Lower Nubia? What was Silko's relationship with Constantinople and the Byzantine court? Did he legitimize diplomatic relations between Byzantium and Nubian nobility. Silko may have been the first and last "Christian Pharaoh" and thereby functioned as transitional figure in late Antique Africa in the same way as Constantine had done in the Roman empire one and a half centuries before.
The Decline of Christian Nubia
Until the thirteenth century, the Nubian kingdoms proved their resilience in maintaining political independence and their commitment to Christianity. In the early eighth century and again in the tenth century, Nubian kings led armies into Egypt to force the release of the imprisoned Coptic patriarch and to relieve fellow Christians suffering persecution under Muslim rulers. In 1276, however, the Mamluks (Arabic for "owned"), who were an elite but frequently disorderly caste of soldier-administrators composed largely of Turkish, Kurdish, and Circassian slaves, intervened in a dynastic dispute, ousted Dunqulah's reigning monarch and delivered the crown and silver cross that symbolized Nubian kingship to a rival claimant. Thereafter, Dunqulah became a satellite of Egypt.
Because of the frequent intermarriage between Nubian nobles and the kinswomen of Arab shaykhs, the lineages of the two elites merged and the Muslim heirs took their places in the royal line of succession. In 1315 a Muslim prince of Nubian royal blood ascended the throne of Dunqulah as king. The expansion of Islam coincided with the decline of the Nubian Christian church. A "dark age" enveloped Nubia in the fifteenth century during which political authority fragmented and slave raiding intensified. Communities in the river valley and savanna, fearful for their safety, formed tribal organizations and adopted Arab protectors. Muslims probably did not constitute a majority in the old Nubian areas until the fifteenth or sixteenth century.


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