Historical Outline

On the basis of the data collected during the first season of the GNM in January and February 2009, it is possible to attempt a brief overview of the Medieval period on Sai, which seems to follow the general trajectory of the Christian kingdoms of Nubia: Nobadia, Makuria, and Alodia.

Around 550 CE, missionaries from the Byzantine Empire sealed the conversion of the royal courts of the Nubian kingdoms to the Christian faith, and the general population followed. Sai is situated within the boundaries of Nobadia, and the history of the island seems to have been intimately linked with the fate of this northern Nubian kingdom. The abundance of remains from this transitional period uncovered on Sai during our survey indicate that the island was becoming an important centre in the frontier zone between Nobadia and Makuria.

The Persian Sassanid and the Muslim Arab invasions of the Nile Valley in the first half of the 7th century CE had consequences for the realities in Nubia, too. After the Muslim conquest of Egypt, the Nubians became the first people who were able to withstand the Arab armies at Old Dongola, the walled capital of Makuria. Consequently, a peace treaty was signed between the Dongolese king and the Arabs in 652 CE By then, Makuria had already annexed Nobadia, which was weakened as a result of these invasions. Under the rule of Makuria, Sai seems to have lost its former importance. The people on Sai attempted, however, to keep up with the trends of the time deriving from the Makurian capital, as we could observe in the local imitations of the motifs of painted decoration on pots.

The next important date is the year 1172-3 CE, when the Ayyubids invaded and destroyed much of northern Nubia. It is probable that the area never recovered from this offensive, especially since it was followed by a century of military aggression by the new rulers of Egypt, the Mamluks. By 1317 CE, the Throne Hall of Old Dongola had been converted to a mosque, and the Nubian kingdoms were nearing a collapse. Pottery finds seem to confirm this impression given by the written sources.

The Makurian administrative system was not replaced by another state formation until the annexation of the region to the Ottoman Empire by Suleiman the Magnificent around 1550 CE. This marks the end of the medieval millennium in northern Sudan.

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