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Makuria (to Arabs al-Mukurra or al-Muqurra) was a kingdom located in what is today Southern Egypt and the Sudan. Its capital was Dongola (or Dunqulah). It was one of a group of successor kingdoms formed after the fall of Kush about AD 350. By the 6th century AD it had become the most powerful force in the region. Christianity in the form of the Coptic Church arrived in 543. After signing a peace treaty with the Muslim rulers of Egypt in 651 it survived until the fourteenth century before being overwhelmed by Arab invaders.

Makuria was one of three kingdoms to emerge after the fall of Meroe. To the north was Nobatia and south was Alodia these three nations shared a common Nubian heritage and also adopted Christianity. Makuria eventually merged with Nobatia, most likely under the rule of King Merkurios in the mid seventh century. At times it also seems that Alodia and Makuria merged, but Alodia eventually regained its independence.

In 652 an Arab army attacked from Egypt, but was defeated. A peace treaty known as the bakt was eventually signed and Makuria agreed to pay a tribute of slaves each a year to Egypt but could retain its independence and Christian faith. The treaty, which defined a common border, held for about 600 years. Egypt and Makuria had especially close relations when Egypt was under the Fatimids. The Shi'ite Fatimids had few allies in the Muslim world. Trade between the two states flourished. Egypt sent wheat, wine, and linen south while Makuria exported ivory, cattle, ostrich feathers, and slaves. Fatimid power also was based upon the army of blacks slaves recruited in Nubia.

The slaves sent north were likely not from Makuria itself, but rather from further south in Africa. Almost all the information on Makuria comes from Arab, largely Egyptian, sources. Even less is known about trade and relations with states to the west such as Darfur and Kanem-Bornu. There is some archeological evidence of contacts and trade but few details. There are some Makurian church documents written in Greek and others written by the large community of Coptic exiles. A handful of texts in the local Old Nubian language have also been discovered.

The main economic activity in Makuria was farming, with farmers growing several crops a year of barley, millet, and also dates. All land was technically owned by the king and the farmers were obliged to pay rents. The king was chosen by a form of matrilineal succession where it was the king's sister's eldest son who would inherit the throne.

The bishops played an important role in the governance of the state and councils of the leading bishops advised the king on important issues. While appointed by the Patriarch of Alexandria they were generally natives. Originally the Makurian church had been diphysitic and allied with the Byzantine Church. This was in large part because its southern rival Alodia was monophysitic and allied to the Coptic Church of Egypt. With the Islamic conquest of Egypt and the rest of North Africa most links with Byzantium were severed and the Makurian church turned to monophysitism and was placed under the dominion of the Patriarch of Alexandria. The Makurian state also became the temporal protector of the patriarch.

Relations with Egypt soured when the Ayyubids came to power. Allowing free trade between the kingdoms was part of the bakt and over time Arab merchants became prominent in Dongola and began to convert people to Islam. Historians also question how deeply rooted Christianity was in the Makurian population, some arguing that it was largely confined to the elite while the bulk of the population retained their traditional beliefs. Islam penetrated far more deeply into the society. By the tenth century the northern area, most of what was once Nobatia, had been largely Arabized and Islamicized and became largely independent of Dongola becoming known as al-Maris.

Subject to pressure from Egypt and internal problems Makuria began to decline. An important component of the bakt was that Makuria would secure Egypt's southern border against raids by desert nomads. The Makurian state could no longer do this, prompting interventions by Egyptian armies that further weakened it. In 1272 Mamluk Sultan Baybars invaded, after King Dawud had attacked the Egyptian city of Aidhab . King Dawud was defeated in 1276 and his cousin Shakanda was placed on the throne. The Christian Shakanda was forced to sign an agreement making Makuria a virtual vassal of Egypt and a Mamluke garrison was stationed in Dongola.

After only a few years of occupation Shamamun , a member of the Makurian royal family, led a rebellion that eventually defeated the Mamluke garrison. He offered the Egyptian an increase in the annual bakt payments in return for scrapping the obligations Shakanda had agreed to. The Mamlukes armies were occupied elsewhere and they agreed to this new arrangement.

Several decades later King Karanbas defaulted on these payments and the Egyptians again invaded. This time a Muslim member of the Makurian dynasty was placed on the throne. Sayf al-Din Abdullah Barshambu began converting the nation the Islam and in 1317 the Dongola cathedral was turned into a mosque. This was not accepted by other Makurian leaders and the nation fell into civil war and anarchy. The countryside came under the control of the raiding tribes from the desert with the monarchy only controlling the capital. The last known evidence of the Makurian dynasty is a call for aid in 1397.

For several years the area was rulled by various Arab tribes and warlords. The area was conquered and amalgamated into Egypt by the invading Ottomans in the sixteenth century.



  • L. Kropacek. "Nubia from the late twelfth century to the Funj conquest in the early fifteenth century" in the UNESCO General History of Africa: Volume IV.

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Last updated: 05-16-2005 14:07:43