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Africa's lost Kingdom: The Kingdom of Makuria








Makuria was one of the initially 3 Christian kingdoms of Nubia, succeeding the Kushite Kingdom of Meroe. After the fracture of Kush due to Nomadic invasions, expeditions of Aksum and a decline of trade with Rome, Nubians took control of Kushite territory. From the first to third Nile cataract, Nobadia was established during the 5th century as a satelite kingdom of Rome, with its capital in Pachoras (modern Faras). Further south, from the third to below the fifth cataract we have Makuria, established probably around 500 AD, as proven by the founding of Tungul (Dongola) in the mid 5th century and, at the first mentioned date, the great expansion of the city. Below Makuria, Nubians established the still badly known kingdom of Alodia, which controlled large parts of the Sudanese savannah, probably to become the largest and wealthiest of all Nubian kingdoms in later years.

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The three Nubian kingdoms

The first major event in Nubian history was the acceptance of Christianity, when at first Nobadia converted in 543 AD, then Makuria in 567-68 AD and at last Alodia in 580 AD. Soon to be followed was the merge of Nobadia and Makuria under Makurian suzerainity. When exactly and why this happened is still disupted, but it happened somewhere during the 7th century, probably before the Arabic invasion. The mentioned Arabs conquered Egypt in 640 AD, and two years later they sent a first expedition into Nubia, but were probably quickly defeated. The next army sent by the Arabs in 652 AD was much larger, even including a catapult. They peneted into Makurian territory as far as Tungul and laid siege to it. In the course of the siege the great cathedral of Tungul got destroyed, but in the end Makuria managed to defeat the invading army, making it one of the very few kingdoms defeating the Arabs during the great century of Arabic expansion, when Arabs conquered everything from Spain to Anatolia up to the Indus river. The Arabic defeat saw the making of the Baqt, a peace and trading treaty which should last for centuries. 

While the Arabic world soon saw a steady decline of political unitiy due to the fragmentation of the Ummayad and later Abbasid Caliphate, Makuria managed to stablizie its situation, establishing itself as Christian nation located between Egypt and the Kingdom of Alodia, acting as economical middleman and protector of the Coptic Church. The land saw considerable prosperity and a cultural highday, visible in the construction of massive churches with beautiful murals. Makurias might had swolen that much that, according to a legend, it even dared to invade Egypt in 745 AD with 100.000 men to demand the release of the imprisoned Patriarch of Alexandria, the religious head of the Coptic Church. The following years saw Makurian interventions in Upper Egypt, and eventually it became tributary to Makuria at some point. 

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Mural from Sonqi Tino depicting king Georgios II of Makuria, protected by Jesus (Late 10th century)

The great years of military interventions came to an end when the Fatimids took control over Egypt in 969 AD. The Fatimids, while beeing the largest and mightiest Islamic power at that time, were Shia Musims, so they were surrounded by Sunni states who considered the Fatimids as heretic. Therefore, the Fatimids were forced to find allies at all costs, so they turned their eyes to the Christian Nubians to the South. The Fatimid days were, as far as we know, peacefu days, and no wars between Egyptians and Nubians are known.
However, things massively changed when the Europeans started their crusades and took control of the Levantine during the late 11th and early 12h century. They slowly reduced the power of the Fatimids, later so much they could even demand tribute from it, acitvely making it a vasall state. In 1164, when the Crusaders even tried to conquer Egypt, a Sryian Atabeg named Nur ad-Din sent a relief force, defeating the Crusaders and annexing Egypt to his own Empire. However, in 1171, the governor of Egypt declared his independence from his Syrian master. This governor was the famous Saladin. The rise of Saladin not only marked the end of peaceful relations between Egypt and Makuria, but also the golden days of Makuria in general.

Around the time Saladin declared his independence a Makurian army raided Assuan, which was the most important city in the Egyptian South, eventually to support the last Fatimid Caliphe. However, they withdrew when Saladin sent an army to counter the Nubians. One year later, in 1172-1173 AD, Saladin sent his brother Shams ad-Dawla to take care of the Nubians, and he was able to conquer Qasr Ibrim, the northernmost stronghold of Makuria. He converted the local church into a mosque, imprisoned and tortured the local bishop, killed all local pigs and enslaved thousands of Nubians. As traumatic as this event has been for Makuria, Shams ad-Dawla don't advanced towards Tungul but withdrew back into Egypt. A peace was negotiated and Qasr Ibrim was given back to Makuria during the following decades. Although there were no further conflicts for 100 years Makuria was now declining, visible especially on the declining quality of the Nubian churches aswell as the start of dynastic troubles. Also important is the start of Arabic nomads penetrating into the Sudan. The first and also most significant Arabs were the Banu Khanz, who should become more important later.

Although there were no further wars between Makuria and the Ayyubids, how the dynasty of Saladin was called, this peace was still only shortlived: In 1260, the Ayyubids were deposed by their own elite warriors, the Mameluks, who were formed by slaves from the Caucasus. The Mameluks were not only able to field powerful and well equipped armies, but were also known for their religious fundamentalism. Although their focus was limited to the Crusader states aswell as the Mongols they also organized invasions into Nubia in 1265, 1276, 1287 and 1289. While the first expedition was rather a raid of Makurian territory the results of the next expedition were more dramatic: After the first expedition king David decided to strike back and attacked and sacked Aidhab, at that time one of the most important ports in the Islamic world, acting as a bridge for African Muslims who intend to travel to Mecca. The Mamluks stroke back with a mighty army, conquering Tungul and forcing the Makurian king to flee into the South. Meanwhile the Mameluks enthroned Shekanda and therefore made Makuria a puppet state. It was in that time that the Jizya was introduced, the tax for infidels. Although Shekanda broke free from vasalry he was soon murdered. Shortly before the third expedition in 1287, Shemamun was able to seize the throne. He was able to maintain Makurian independence despite the upcoming expeditions, but to a heavy price: Makuria was pillaged, the army and population depleted.

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Expansion of the Mameluke Sultanate during the late 13th century


However, after Shemamun Mameluke interventions don't stopped. The most important goal was to keep Makuria weak and a de-facto vasall of the Mamelukes. It was at this time that the first puppet kings became Muslim. A turning point was when the throne hall of Tungul was finally converted into a Mosque in 1317 AD. This was also the year when the Banu Khanz, about whom we talked earlier, seized power. Although they were deposed 6 years later, the Islamic element had become strong in Dongola, even though the largest amount of the population was probably still Christian. Meanwhile, further South the Kingdom of Alodia was suffering from a similiar fate: Heavy fragmentation and Islamization.
Athough the Banu Khanz were defeated and Christian kings like Siti and Paper took control, the formerly mighty kingdom of Makuria was dying. In 1365 AD a new civil war broke out and Tungul was lost to Arabic nomads. The royal court was forced to migrate to Adda (Daw) in former Nobadia. Makuria had become a rump state, which should last until around 1500 AD. It became small, impoverished and weak, but still keept up the Christian traditions of old days, like the colourful mural painting. Meanwhile, Dongola became the center of the Muslim Sultanate of Dongola, which should last for centuries even though it was during the most time not much more than a vasall of the rising Sultanate of Sennar, which replaced the by now compeletly irrevelant Kingdom of Alodia in around 1504 AD.

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The throne hall of Dongola, which was used as a mosque since 1317 AD


Find out more:http://historum.com/middle-eastern-african-history/115479-kingdom-makuria-s-warfare.html

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