Fascinating days…

As one can imagine, the absence from the blog the last two weeks meant everything else but laziness and empty times…

I could easily dedicate not just an entry but an entire book to the experience of becoming a father for a second time :-) However, this is not the right place to do so – on the other hand, I could not refrain from making a reference to this most happy event ;-)

As for the continuation of the discussion started in the previous entry, this will have to wait although the material is ready. The reason is that this week I participated in one of the most important meetings that have ever taken place regarding the studies of both Old Nubian and the modern Nubian languages! The venue was the Nilo-Saharan Linguistics’ Colloquium held at the University of Cologne between the 22nd and the 24th of May.

In the previous meetings, Old Nubian was represented solely by Gerald M. Browne, the great pioneer of the study of this language and compiler of both grammar and dictionary of Old Nubian! But this time things had obviously changed…

The general improvement of Nubian Studies affected inevitably the study of Old Nubian too: in the last couple of years, new researchers became interested in this challenging to tame language and seem able to change rapidly and radically the way we approach and understand Old Nubian.

Undoubtedly, the main agents of this change are the eight participants of the panel, plus a couple of more individuals, first and foremost among those Jacques van der Vliet, who taught Old Nubian to Vincent van Gerven Oei, key person in the new dynamic approach to the language and organizer of the Cologne panel together with Giovanni Ruffini.

Giovanni is known to the readers of this blog from a presentation of his wikipage medievalnubia.info that he set up with the help and input of Grzegorz Ochala.

After publishing one of the more exciting books ever written about medieval Nubia (Medieval Nubia: A Social and Economic History, Oxford 2012), Ruffini came back to the front line of activities regarding Old Nubian with three things:

1. The draft of the fourth volume of Old Nubian texts from Qasr Ibrim that will throw ample light to the documentary evidence discovered at that site and remaining unknown to both specialists and the general public.

2. The announcement of an online open access journal on Nubian Studies generally, called “Dotawo” (details on that to follow).

3. And of course  the organization together with Vincent of the Cologne panel itself. Let’s turn to that in more detail:


The first speaker was Van Gerven Oei. Some months ago very few people would link this name with anything Nubian. But the last year, Vincent did with Old Nubian as much as nobody else had managed until then and since the era of Browne: he re-edited one of the firs texts in Old Nubian ever found and analyzed, namely the Miracle of Saint Menas, and accompanied the edition with full grammatical commentary; then he also re-edited the round marble stela of Bishop Georgios (found at Wadi Natrun) which preserves the lengthiest funerary text in Old Nubian known to date (published in Nubian Voices: Studies in Christian Nubian Culture, pp. 225-262). In his presentation in Cologne, titled “Notes towards a Revised Grammar of Old Nubian”, he proposed to abandon the classicizing and idealizing approaches that Browne introduced with his book on Old Nubian grammar and rather to allow the Old Nubian scribes to be heard as they build up the words and sentences of their own language, much in the same manner as a linguist would do approaching a modern Nubian language. In order to do that, Vincent turns his attention to the documentary evidence, the most difficult of the two categories of the existing textual corpus in Old Nubian.


It is with this material that Giovanni Ruffini works. His analysis of the land sales from 12th century Qasr ibrim has already produced the afore-mentioned publication on A Social and Economic History of Medieval Nubia. In the conference, he described characteristic cases of “Idiomatic Language in Old Nubian Correspondence” that he wishes to see as revelatory of an otherwise hidden world of medieval social practice.

At the same time, the school of Nubian Studies from Humboldt presented approaches to similar problems but from the perspective of the literary works in Old Nubian.

Kerstin & Petra

Kerstin Weber and Petra Weschenfelder shared their “Reflections on Old Nubian Grammar”. Working on the level of the phrase of literary texts that – at first sight at least – do not present serioues difficulties to the translator, they find their way to the core of the elements upon which Old Nubian grammar is structured. In comparison with the work of Van Gerven Oei, it seems as if the two approaches try to pierce from two sides the same mountain. We are looking forward to the revealing moment of their meeting in the heart of the Old Nubian language!

The other presentation from Humboldt was the one that I had prepared on the Liber Institutionis Michaelis (LIM).


In my talk, I tried to:

a. summarize the present state of our knowledge on the LIM pinpointing the necessity of annotated bibliographies accompanied by texts and images. The wiki page medievalnubia.info and the online Data Base of Medieval Nubian Texts (DBMNT) prepared by Grzegorz Ochala are surely the closest we have come to such achievements.

b. present in detail two new finds in Greek from Qasr el Wizz that I demonstrated were free creations in Greek by Nubians. Creations that might stem from a now-lost Nubian synaxarion.

c. introduce some codicological remarks on the basis of unpublished documents from the site of Attiri.

d. invite all participants to collaborate on the publication of the fourteen manuscripts in Old Nubian unearthed at that site of Lower Nubia and housed at the Sudan National Museum. It was and is my strong belief that working together on unpublished material will provide the best platform for the exchange of ideas and opinions not only regarding grammar and lexica, but also the more general aspects of the Christian Nubian civilization.

Lower Nubia has of course produced most of the textual finds in Old Nubian known to date and two sites have been privileged with special talks in the panel.


Joost Hagen updated us on his research on “Church Names in the Old Nubian Documents from Qasr Ibrim”, a paper that provided information on both language, religion, and administration in the region around Qasr Ibrim.

The other privileged site was Gebel Adda.


Adam Lajtar has been working with the material from that site a couple of years now and the results produced are very rich and informative about religion and society in that splinter state of Late Christian Nubia. I recollect from his talk: among 57 finds in total, 12 are unidentified, 3 are in Coptic, 13 in Greek, one is bilingual (Old Nubian-Greek), and 28 are in Old Nubian.

Talking about statistics, I can complete the picture of the Old Nubian panel at the Nilo-Saharan Linguistics’ Colloquium by the presentation by Grzegorz Ochala, “Languages of Christian Nubia: quantitative and qualitative approach”.


The interesting statistics given by Adam were, however, not yet included in the data base that is under preparation by Grzegorz, because the DBMNT includes only the published material. Grzegorz presented to us in his talk the hard evidence of numbers, tables, and graphs deriving from his data base, and attempted at answering who, when, where, and why used each of the languages used in Medieval Nubia. A first step towards his major work in preparation on Multilingualism in Medieval Nubia.

It is worth noting here that in the call to participate in the panel, its aim was defined as the establishment of “a central online database containing all texts, published and unpublished, including metadata on location, dating, etc.”. Therefore, one can conclude that the preliminary decision to use for reference system in all future publications the data base created by Grzegorz makes the meeting at Cologne a successful beginning of a collaboration to build up from the DBMNT this essential tool in Old Nubian scholarship.
I am sure that we are all looking already forward to the next steps in this fascinating new era in the studies of both Old Nubian in particular and Medieval Nubia in general.
As for our blog, it will soon be updated with further details from the Cologne meeting…
This entry was posted in Nubia, Old Nubian and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Fascinating days…

  1. dianabuja says:

    Most interesting – thanks for all of the background – and, great if there is an open access pub. coming out! :-)

  2. ergamenis says:

    Welcome :-)
    Yes, it was high time!
    More in the next entry…

  3. Dear ergamenis,
    First, congratulations to you and your wife on your second child. Also many thanks for taking fotos during the Old Nubian panel and for your well-written report. I am glad we got together in Cologne

  4. ergamenis says:

    Dear Angelika,
    thank you very much for the wishes and the kind words.
    The collaborations that have started thanks to the Cologne meeting keep up very well and we hope that sooner than later results will start coming out!
    Once again, thank you for the hospitality.

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