Medieval Nubia online

We are starting the new month with a very important guest entry prepared by Grzegorz Ochała from the University of Warsaw and Giovanni Ruffini from Fairfield University. These two gentlemen have in our opinion changed the face of studies on Nubian textual resources, especially when it comes to open access to this material. We sincerely wish this to be the beginning of a long communication on related topics.

But let’s see what Grzegorz and Giovanni have to tell us about Nubian texts online:

Since we are well in the twenty-first century, it is also high time to introduce Nubian studies into the modern age of computers, digital technologies, and the Internet. In this context, the Medieval Sai Project website seems the most appropriate place to announce what has already been done in ‘digitizing Nubiology’ and what is still to be done. Therefore, we would like to thank Alexandros and Henriette for inviting us to introduce our work to their readers, among whom we hope to find contributors.

It all began in the spring of 2009, when Giovanni Ruffini (Fairfield University) first visited Warsaw, while travelling across Europe in search of Old Nubian material from Qasr Ibrim and contact with European Nubiologists, one of whom was Grzegorz Ochała (University of Warsaw). Back then, over a plate of Polish dumplings and a glass of Polish beer, we discussed various issues of Nubian studies, our particular interests, and plans. This was indeed the beginning of a fruitful cooperation.

The first physical result of this liaison appeared in 2010, when Ruffini launched a Wikipedia-based website,

Its main idea and purpose was to connect scholars from all around the world interested in Christian Nubia, and especially in its written sources. We want the website to become a virtual space where the students of Christian Nubia can meet, discuss, announce their projects, and cooperate on various levels. The website has been growing slowly but steadily and now houses over a dozen subpages containing articles on various topics connected with the history of Christian Nubia, as well as lists of Nubian names, toponyms, offices & titles.

A very valuable contribution is a hopefully complete ‘Guide to the Texts of Medieval Nubia’, the first bibliography collecting all the dispersed articles, chapters and fragments of books, short notes, catalogue entries, etc., dealing with these texts. Of special interest are ‘The Nubian Berichtigungsliste’ and ‘Corrections and Additions to Gerald Browne’s Old Nubian Dictionary’, where we started to collect all the corrections to the published texts from Nubia and suggestions of new meanings for Old Nubian vocabulary. For all those who are interested in Old Nubian literary texts, we have made available scans of the late Professor Gerald Browne’s unpublished manuscript containing corrected readings of all the texts he had edited.

Since the beginning of this year, Nubiologists have at their disposal another online resource for studying Nubian written sources, namely ‘The Database of Medieval Nubian Texts (DBMNT)’, available at

The origins of this database reach back to 2006/7, when Ochała started preparing his doctoral dissertation under the title ‘Chronological Systems of Christian Nubia’. Being aware that he would be dealing with hundreds of texts containing dates, the editions of which are highly dispersed, he decided to create a computer database for his private work with the material.

However, it soon occurred that such a database could be of use for other scholars interested in various aspects of Christian Nubian literacy. Thus, the initial modest project of the database, intended only for analysing chronological systems, was modified in order to create a comprehensive method of describing the Christian Nubian written sources. The result of these five years of work can now be seen online. We are well aware that the DBMNT is far from complete, yet the state of publication of many Nubian texts prevents describing them in greater detail. Nevertheless, we hope that many of our colleagues will find this tool interesting and useful.

The DBMNT is just a step towards something more substantial, something we call ‘SB.Nub.’ (i.e. Sammelbuch of Nubian texts’) or ‘Nubian SoSOL’ (i.e. Sons of Suda On Line, the name borrowed from a modern papyrological platform designed to bring together the existing papyrological digital resources). Our intention is to create a complete online database of Nubian texts, including primarily their transcriptions but also a wealth of metadata. Our inspiration in this enterprise is the prominent example of the website and its pioneering integration with other papyrological platforms. But this is another story…

All of the above-described projects result from the growing frustration at a total lack of any systematic approach to the Nubian written sources. The corpus of published Christian Nubian texts well exceeds 1000 pieces (and more is still to come), preserved on whatever writing material and written in whatever language, a bulk of them known for over a century, yet the first systematic study of the material appeared only last year, and it deals only with one small aspect of the literacy of the Nubians, namely their methods of counting time (G. Ochała, Chronological Systems of Christian Nubia [= The Journal of Juristic Papyrology Supplement Series 16], Warsaw 2011). We are aware that the work we present at and the DBMNT is far from what one might call great scholarship; it rather represents a kind of fundamental and necessary work that is intended to create a basis for later discoveries, a kind of work that should have been done a long time ago…


Thank You for the contribution!!!

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