From Coptic in Bergen to Coptic in Rome, always through a Nubian lens

As if it was inappropriate that in our previous entry we praised the light of the skies above the Nile, the skies above Bergen welcomed on Thursday the first of these very special clouds that bring a snowstorm and make everything feel like Christmas :-)

However, we will persist in dreaming of warmer climates and their Coptic and Nubian inhabitants by hosting today a short report by Dobrochna Zielinska from her experience from participating in the 10th International Congress of Coptic Studies, held in Rome, between the 17th and the 22nd of September 2012.

Nubia in the heart of Coptic Studies – personal remarks from the Coptic Conference

There is always the question of what sort of relation Nubia entertained with Egypt – a question debated for all periods of history and for which one can find answers only by focusing in a specific period.

In the medieval era, when the Middle Nile Valley was ruled by three Christian kingdoms, it is difficult to define the details of the relation between Nubia and Coptic Egypt, because of the fragmentary character of the written sources. So, both Nubiologists and Coptologists try to define the form of the exchanges and the inter-dependence by distinguishing similarities and diversities in the archaeological record, thus working from the perspective of the cultural context of each of the two Christian civilizations of the Middle Ages in the Nile Valley.

Studies until today have focused on architecture and iconography, funerary rituals and details of liturgy.

During the International Congress of Coptic Studies, the small group of Nubiologists present consisted of epigraphists and iconographists. See HERE for a complete list.

But more and more, the Coptologists themselves are turning their attention to the most upstream regions of the Nile Valley, in the territories of the southern neighbors of Egypt, trying to find new paths for their research or new points of view for the Coptological case studies of their interest.

It is rather logical that the manner of the relation between Egypt and Nubia differed according to the various fields of each world’s activities. In my opinion, the Coptic and the Nubian world seem to be more similar when it comes to writing traditions, but quite different when it comes to iconography.

I am an iconographer and I was honored that my invitation to Dr. Gertrud van Loon from Leuven University to cooperate in the framework of a very special project, aiming at the reinterpretation of the painted decoration of the church at Naqa el-Oqba, was positively accepted. The special interest of this monument is – among other things – that it is located on the borders between the Coptic and the Nubian realms. Our cooperation with Dr. van Loon concerned a discursive analysis of the paintings from the two different standpoints, namely the Egyptian from the north and the Nubian from the south.

The results of this cooperation are very fruitful and help not only improving our knowledge of the material form Naqa el-Oqba itself (e.g. new identifications of paintings), but, what is most important, to attempt to answer which elements are Egyptian/Coptic and which Nubian. For example, although the church seems to have followed a Coptic iconographic program, it is worth testing further whether the persons “using” the church were Nubians.

I see the experience from this cooperation as only the first step in a long-term exchange of opinions, views, and information, in our field in particular, but also as the first part of a wider horizon that will generate more copto-nubiological collaborations in general.


Thank you for sharing with us these thoughts Dobrochna as well as the photos of your colleague Ashraf Hanna!

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