Closing 2016…

The year that ends in 24 hours has wounded us all in various ways. To put it mildly, it has raised many questions that we will need to find answers to. I am not referring particularly to things related with this blog, the Sai project, Nubia and Sudan Studies, although as some of you know there has been a lot that has happened. And I am surely not the one who will mourn for those stars and emblems of our youth that grew with us through their excesses and addictions and out of our world. Perhaps I could pay respect to some who guided our paths in art indeed, or politics, or thinking, but again, I’d rather take their lives’ and works’ message to the next steps in our own lives continuing here and now. Surely, everyone should stop and think of what is happening in the Middle East; of how our climate suffers; of the reasons behind; of the persons playing these reasons in terms of financial interests against our children’s lives; perhaps even of the fear of this new type of persons in power. But that’s precisely the point: the call to stop and think. To approach calmly but critically, with scepticism but determination the questions that 2016 opened for all of us so acutely and even cruelly. Perhaps these open questions cause stress. But in the academic world it is these open questions that feed our time and our strategies for the near or the far away future. And we must learn to cope with these open questions with the enthusiasm of the child and the wisdom of an old (wo)man. Can we do it?

In anticipation of making this wish real, I close this year in this blog – without any knowledge of when (and if) I will return to it – with a question that I challenged myself to find an answer to during these holidays, and which still eludes me, but in such a fascinating manner!

I shared in a Facebook group called “The Ottoman Monuments of Greece” a photo I found in another group called the “Ottoman Imperial Archives“.


This is a calendar produced by the Zellich printers in Constantinople for the year 1905. In a manner not unknown for Ottoman calendars there is a very eloquent for the conditions of the times combination of systems: beginning with up right, we see the Islamic calendar, moving anti-clockwise, we find the Rumi calendar, then the Julian calendar in Greek, and then the Gregorian calendar in French. Between the two pairs, there is a line of Bulgarian mentioning the eve of the day at hand, which seems to take as its base the Gregorian calendar. Right below there is a space with the date in Armenian, and right above the signature of the printers, there is also a Hebrew date, which is, however, wrong (it should have been 5665).

Checking the parallel given in wikipedia, I realized that the entry in Bulgarian cannot be explained as the mention of the day before the date given in either the Julian or the Gregorian calendar, since the rule does not apply in the example from 1911 made by the same printers.


Here, we see them printing the Bulgarian line with mention of the 30th of April, which is the last day of the month that both the Julian and the Gregorian calendars give. So, a plausible explanation would thus be that it was necessary to indicate how many days each month had, and thus the calendar page of the photo I first shared would not give any priority to the Julian calendar. I am not sure that the explanation is correct and this is surely due to my ignorance on the topic, but I am always willing to learn more, so I am happy to … leave the question open!

Perhaps I could conclude here, but then there would be no real relation with this blog, apart from the implicit interest of multilingualism, the apparent Ottoman liaison, and so on. While I was trying to find an answer to the question though, I turned to google and asked it: “Old Bulgarian calendar“. The “reply” surprised me, not so much for the ingenuity of the system the ancient Bulgarians seem to have devised, but because of the sign that appears as pivotal in the visual reconstruction that I embed right below, and which is a well-known topic appearing times and again in this blog.

Then, my wish for 2017 would be to enjoy such open questions that do not beg for immediate reactions because our future is at stake. And in such conditions of luxury, Henriette and myself might even find the time to write the work that explains how we understand this symbol. Happy New Year everybody!

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Nubia and Palmyra

The title of the present post will surely strike some as at least strange. What can possibly be the links between these two peripheries of the Roman Empire? However, a book that I just read offered me some very interesting insights.


It is the latest product of the pen of Eivind Heldaas Seland, newly appointed Associate Professor of World History at the University of Bergen. His book is titled: “Ships of the Desert and Ships of the Sea. Palmyra in the World Trade of the First Three Centuries CE” (Harrassowitz Verlag 2016) and although it is just over 100 pages it is a most praiseworthy historical treatise. Eivind attempts to reply to two questions: “Why did Palmyra become important in the long-distance trade between the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean? And how did the Palmyrenes go about establishing, operating and expanding their business?” (p. 89). By using his own experience of the landscape around Palmyra and of the site itself (Eivind has been member of the Norwegian-Syrian mission to Palmyra); his mastering of both ancient sources and contemporary research (an eloquent example of his erudition is the discussion in p. 54 relating to the Muziris papyrus); the traditions of the social anthropological school of Bergen in matters of borders, ethnicity and identity; as well as network theory; Seland offers satisfying answers to these two questions. His book is richly illustrated, although sometimes one could wish for larger format for some of the maps, but this was surely a choice dictated by the publishers. They must also be held responsible for a series of typos that do not harm the overall quality of the final product though. The book by Seland will make, in my opinion, an essential point of reference for researchers of the ancient world, as well as an excellent part of a students’ compendium at the University of Bergen – and elsewhere – for years to come. The author has contributed in the most positive way in our understanding of the position in world history of a site that had unfortunately come into the news lately in very negative terms due to the attacks and destructions by Daesh. The reader of “Ships of the Desert and Ships of the Sea” feels definitely wiser on the nature of the society, trade and world place of Palmyra in Late Antiquity, either this reader is a specialist in the field or an amateur; like the present reader specializing in Nubian Studies!

So, closing this post, let me summarize the three points of Nubiological interest that I gleaned from reading Eivind’s latest book:

1. In p. 13, we learn that Palmyrene military forces were used by the Romans in strategically important frontiers, among which Nubia!

2. This information gains in importance if combined with the itinerary followed by Palmyrene caravans bringing products from India to the Mediterranean using the Red Sea and the Nile Valley. The African people most involved in this trade were definitely the Blemmyes, but the way that these contacts also affected the Nubians is worth further analysis, especially in relation with the spreading of new ideas, like Christianity.

3. And most important, exercising comparativism with the prudence of a world-historian: how comparable is the case of the nomadic populations of the Syrian Desert, with whom the Romans seem to have engaged through a combination of alliances, deterrence and subsidies (p. 20), with that of both nomadic and sedentary populations to the south of Egypt in the same period of Imperial Rome? Are these “phylarchs” and “ethnarchs” of the Syrian Desert analogous to the “phylarchs” of the Blemmyes and the “basiliskos” of Nobades, as known from Nubian sources? If the granting of such titles was not only linked with a policy of pacification and control, could they also be seen as tokens of recognition of a special role of these “foederati” in the world trade interests of the Roman Empire? It is interesting perhaps to underline that both Palmyra and Meroë seem to lose their international role at the same time, and in concordance with the disintegration of the ancient Roman Empire. The medieval era will bring new balances that set Palmyra and Nubia in different peripheries – albeit parallel again – defined this time by the Islamic Caliphate.

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I felt I had to return once more to the blog before 2016 is out. The reason lies with two publications that I recently found out about and which are worth a special mention:

The first is the latest issue of the online journal Afriques: It is devoted to various aspects of pragmatic literacy in Africa and contains among other interesting contributions, one by G. Ruffini on Nubian documents ( and another by G. Michael La Rue on land charters from Darfur (

It is the latter that links nicely with the second publication that I heard about, namely Sean O’Fahey’s latest book on Darfur, which has been announced by Hurst Publishers:


These two publications give me the opportunity to remember a very nice event organized by Henriette and Moneim (from Darfur) at the Library of the University College of Volda to commemorate 100 years since Darfur lost its independence.

And thus, as a very bloody and unjust year is coming to an end, I get the opportunity to wish for peace and prosperity to our world, with special thoughts for the tormented regions of Sudan, north, west, east, south or central…

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From the story of a manuscript to the manuscript of a historian

I am now sitting at the Charles de Gaulle airport of Paris, returning finally home after the visit to Johannesburg, the Coptic seminar in Athens, and the defense of the PhD thesis of Robin Seignobos in the French capital.

It is difficult to pick out favorites from such a fantastic time of traveling, and there will be several opportunities to discuss both the study of manuscript BL 80 in Athens and the manuscript of the thesis of Robin (check here for the abstract in both French and English).

But I am lucky enough to be able to share three videos, which resume some quite central points of what happened during these three trips:

  1. The medley by Artur Molepo at the theater festival in memory of the great South African actor Ramolao Makhene:

2. My own talk uploaded on the YouTube channel of the Norwegian Institute of Athens:

3. And the peak moment of Robin’s thesis:

I think that these conclude nicely 2016. See you next year!

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Telling stories

There have appeared many reasons in the past weeks to return to blogging.

I could have announced new publications, like the latest paper that Henriette and myself published on the medieval Sai cathedral in the Festschrift for professor Godlewski, or the first Dotawo monograph on “The Old Nubian Texts from Attiri“. By now, those that would read this blog could as well find links to the available files through, or my Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Or useful older publications that SFDAS have put online, like the 15 volumes of the Dal Survey by Vila, but this was announced just today in the social media, so I am not that late ;-)

I could also have invited to interesting academic events that I did not have the chance to attend, but would have loved to be there, like the workshop organized on November 18, in Cambridge, MA, by Giovanni Ruffini titled “Which Nubia and Which Byzantium?” in the framework of “East of Byzantium”,  a partnership between the Arthur H. Dadian and Ara Oztemel Chair of Armenian Art at Tufts University and the Mary Jaharis Center for Byzantine Art and Culture at Hellenic College Holy Cross in Brookline, MA.

Or the conference in Warsaw last week by Magda Laptas on “Nubian Art in a Byzantine, Ethiopian and Coptic Context”.

uksw_nubian-art_3-1 uksw_nubian-art_4-1

But the semester has been very demanding and the blog had to be left aside.

Nevertheless, as the year is coming to a close, I wanted to write about the three trips that will conclude my academic activities in 2016.

So, the present post is inspired by my trip to Johannesburg last week and will invite to an event tomorrow in Athens from where I publish this. The next post will report from the venue in Athens and for a very special visit to Paris.

But let’s start from South Africa.

The Nelson Mandela Bridge in downtown Johannesburg

The Nelson Mandela Bridge in downtown Johannesburg

I was invited by professor Benjamin Hendrickx and his wife Thekla Sansaridou-Hendrickx (professors emeriti of the University of Johannesburg)  to assist in a publication project on the Res Gestae of the Nubian kings and to discuss about the possibilities to build up a project on the Greek language in Nubia. Positive results came out from discussions concerning both projects, so stay tuned for further news!

But the trip also gave me the possibility to see a couple of very interesting things of a slightly different order.

The first was the launching of a theater festival in memory of the great South African actor Ramolao Makhene. A festival that wanted at the same time to honor the great figure of South African theater and cinema, but also the long-standing tradition of story telling that Makhene brought forward as key to the development of both the individual actor and the group performing on stage. For him, and his students and colleagues, telling stories was an exemplary form of social cohesion, one of the main goals of theater in general.

Artur Molepo sang in memory of Ramolao Makhene a medley of Leonard Cohen’s “The Partisan” and a quotation of Kalil Gibran’s text on children (a big thanks for the photos from the festival to Raita Steyn)

The potential of story telling for playing theater and creating social cohesion needs not to be stressed. But what about the particular function of story telling and orality in African culture and tradition more generally?

Isn’t it noteworthy that traditional history in Africa is rather oral than written? And that this has lead to the erroneous (and often biased) opinion that Africans had no history before the “discovery” of their continent by Europeans and Arabs?

I wonder moreover if the innovations brought by these new-comers were the writing of chronicles and the drawing of accurate maps.

Despite the obvious oversimplification, I think there is something to this idea worth exploring further. At least to the degree that colonization means the formation of a legitimacy in space – through maps, i.e. territory delineation – and in time – through written chronicles, i.e. genealogical structuring of the past.

Of course much has happened since then and these tools are fully taken up by Africans today in their quest for knowledge of the past to guarantee a better future.

Interestingly, this approach to life shows that the humanities might have a lot to offer and gain from being more present in the African continent.

Thinking along these lines, I admired the collection of maps in the office of my hosts and got permission to share the images hereby.

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My hosts are historians and these maps complement their effort to map a shared past between indigenous and foreign.

There is a dynamic relationship between these two in almost all aspects of life.

I will be investigating  such a dynamic relationship in detail during my talk tomorrow at the Norwegian Institute, titled “The Coptic Manuscript BL80 in the frame of medieval Nubian literacy”. But not so theoretically.  I’ll rather base my presentation on the hard evidence that codicology, palaeography and hermeneutics can offer to the study of a manuscript in Sahidic Coptic created just before the end of the first millennium CE in this zone of mutual interaction between Upper Egypt and (at least Lower) Nubia. More details HERE:


The presentation will take place in the frame of a Coptic Studies Seminar that I am organizing at the Norwegian Institute of Athens and which initiates a Greek-Norwegian collaboration in the field of Coptic Studies. Focus of the seminar will be the manuscript BL 80 preserving the best witness of the work titled Book of Bartholomew. More of the outcome of all that in a week from now!

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A gift from facebook

This morning I saw in a Facebook group I am following, a post that made me jump from excitement and persuaded me to break my silence in this blog!

Michael Grondin, responsible for “a resource center for independent research related to the Gospel of Thomas” @, wrote yesterday the following in his related Facebook page:

Factoid of the day: there are 105 occurrences of nomina sacra for the name ‘Jesus’ in the Nag Hammadi Gospel of Thomas. The lacunae have been sufficiently resolved that this can be known with a high degree of confidence. But is it significant? I suggest that it is, and that furthermore it was most likely intentional. The number 105 is mathematically significant (and of course known to be so in antiquity) as the product of the only three consecutive odd primes: 3, 5, and 7. As to intentionality, the numeric value of the name ‘Thomas’ in Greek lettering is 1050. It is very likely, then, that Nag Hammadi Thomas was designed to contain exactly 105 places (not sayings) where Jesus is named.

Naturally, I commented today in the post thus:

This is a most interesting observation Michael Grondin!
Please check for some similar ideas in Old Nubian manuscripts, here:…/The_Liber_Institutionis…
Very excited indeed!!

And to make my point clear, I quote from my paper in Dotawo, vol. 1, pages 58-60, (section 4 of the entire article):


The unpublished manuscripts from Attiri: From the Liber Institutionis Michælis to Nubian literature about Michael

Fourteen manuscript fragments have been unearthed at Attiri. At least three of them seem to belong – on the basis of content, paleography and codicology – to one or more works relating to the archangel Michael. If one looks closer at the illustrated detail of one of the manuscripts from Attiri (fig. 1), we see that in the margin to the left of the first line of text, two letters and traces of a third one have been written. The two letters still visible clearly have a supra-linear stroke and this indicates that they are numbers in the ancient Greek numeral system. They form the number 66 and if the reading of the letter preserved very partially as a Ρ (rhō) is correct then the number is 166. What is the significance of this?

First of all, it should be pointed out that this is not the pagination of the manuscript because this can be seen on the top of both pages of this fragment (pp. 64 and 65). Moreover, it cannot be the numbering of the quires in which the codex was bound, because it is impossible to get 64 or 65 pages in 166 quires (or even 66 if, for the sake of the argument one would like to doubt the reading of Ρ before the other two letters). Luckily, such notes of numbers have been found in the margins of the text in another Nubian manuscript, specifically the manuscript preserving the Old Nubian version of the Liber Institutionis Michælis identified by Browne among the manuscripts from Qasr Ibrim. There, two numbers can be discerned: 136 and 137, on the same page and with 9 lines of distance between each other, in both cases left from a line where the name of the archangel Michael has been written. Browne suggested that the scribe was numbering each instance that the name of the archangel appeared in the text, which would mean that by page 65 the name of Michael had appeared 136 times.

This explanation fits the instance observed in the Attiri manuscript in two ways: First, in the only instance where the left margin
is preserved next to a line where the name of Michael is written, 59 the number 166 appears exactly next to this line. The left margin is
unfortunately not preserved next to the other lines where the name
of the archangel is written. And second, the name of the archangel
seems to have been written with a nearly similar, albeit not identical, frequency in the two codices, since in 63 pages of the Attiri codex there would have been 165 occurrences, while in 65 pages of the
Ibrim codex no more than 135.

These observations have two additional implications. First, that all the works in the two codices were in one way or another related to Michael; and second, that these works were not the same – or not arranged in the same sequence – in the two codices. An intriguing hypothesis for the reconstruction of both codices appears: if we are to suppose that a complete codex would contain at least 300 pages, then the 64th, 65th, and 66th pages are to be placed be- tween 1⁄4 and 1⁄5 of the entire volume of the hypothetical codex, Then, if we again suppose that the occurrences of the name of Michael are to a certain degree evenly distributed, then by the end of the codex we would expect to have seen 4 to 5 times 151 occurrences (the average of 136 and 166) of the archangel’s name. In total, this means 675 occurrences. This number comes very close to number 689, the value of the cryptogram ΧΠΘ used as the ‘magical’ cipher of the name of Michael (Μ = 40, I = 10, X = 600, A = 1, H = 8, and Λ = 30, so 40+10+600+1+8+3 = 689 = ΧΠΘ).

Thus, we arrive at the following plausible conclusions: based on Browne’s suggestion that the numbers in the margins kept track of the number of occurrences of the name of Michael and on the different numbering appearing in the margins of pages with coinciding page numbers in the two different codices from Ibrim and Attiri, we can suggest that there was a tradition of compiling codices with works related to Michael, but either not necessarily the same works or not necessarily ordered in the same sequence. And based on a hypothetical average volume of a codex and a guess as to the distribution of the occurrences of writing the name of the archangel in such a volume, we can surmise that the total number of occurrences was 689, equalling the cryptogrammatic value of the name of Michael and thus imbuing the entire codex with the powers of the archangel as would be expected to appear when the ‘mystical’ number was formed, the cryptogram was written, and the archangel’s apotropaic powers were invoked.

In other words, Michael Grondin gave me the only other example of a codex or single literary work that is using as a structural element the numerical value of the name(s) of one or more of the main persons involved in its content!!

Shouldn’t we be looking out for more examples??

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At the International Medieval Congress 2016 at Leeds

We have just returned to Norway from England where we participated in the 23rd International Medieval Congress at Leeds. According to wikipedia, the Congress is the largest annual conference in any subject in the UK, and the second largest annual gathering in the field after the International Congress of Medieval Studies of Kalamazoo, USA.

Although focusing on the European Middle Ages, this year the organizing committee made room for sessions dealing with areas outside the main focus. Thanks to the energy of Adam Simmons, PhD candidate at the University of Lancaster, with a special interest in the image of the Nubians in Occidental Sources, and the assistance of Alexandros Tsakos, eight sessions on topics relating to Nubia, Ethiopia, the Nile Valley and the Red Sea were organized under the thematic circles “The Medieval Nile and Red Sea as a Passage of Transmission” and “Cross Cultural Transmission in Nubian Culture”. Each circle was further defined by a research topic, namely: “The Coming Of Islam“, “Pilgrimage“, “Monks and Monasteries“, “The Later Shifting Frontiers“, “The Influence of Christianity“, “The Ceramic Contribution“, “Art and Architecture“, and “Identity“.

First of all, these eight sessions offered a unique opportunity to bring together for the first time in the context of an international conference people working on medieval Sudan and Ethiopia. This is a pair of area studies that has long awaited such exchange of knowledge and methods, in order to investigate what kept these cultures apart or what was bringing them close to each other. Although it seems that there is agreement as to the necessity for more target-oriented archaeological fieldwork, there appeared also other fields with potential for insightful contributions. For example, the ceramic contribution from the world of Christian Nubia has already posed questions that need to find their counterpart in ceramic studies from the Ethiopian highlands. For instance in the papers by Aneta Cedro and Marie Evina: is pottery production in Makuria and Alwa only influenced by the Nile Valley? Or can we find imports, technological influences and economic dependencies from Axum? Furthermore, the immensely rich travel literature of the Late medieval and post-medieval centuries may contribute variably to the understanding of shared experiences between Nubia and Ethiopia. For instance: Were the waters of the Nile only a weapon in the hands of the Ethiopians to threat with thirst the downstream neighbors or did highlands and valley share the sacrality of living on the banks of the same river, as nicely discussed by Jessica Tearney-Pearce for the case of Egypt? Or, how can we tease out from the archaeology and ethnography of the Red Sea the common references of Nubians, Beja, and Ethiopians alike to this pivotal corridor of the medieval era, e.g. by studying the pilgrimage paths and patterns, as shown by Jacke Phillips; and how can we put the Medieval Nile back to the Sudanic belt, as attempted by Pieter Tesch?

Already here though, a problematic aspect of our meeting comes to the fore: all the participants from non-European/American countries invited could not make it to England and Leeds to contribute to the proceedings and offer an insider’s perspective to our talks… Was this a matter of diplomatic deficiancy from the part of the involved embassies? Or perhaps a result of the very different degree of financing-abilities offered by institutions in Africa versus institutions in Europe and the USA? Maybe it is rather an inherent problem of the field of Medieval Studies? For such a problem was not only felt in our sessions. On Monday, for example, an ambitious round-table on “Doing the Global Middle Ages” was organized, where our friend and colleague Vincent Van Gerven Oei named the elephant in the room: the panel was exclusively white (and rather Anglo-Saxon as someone else added)… And on Wednesday, another round-table opened the discussion of “Trespassing (Imagined) Borders: From a Peripheral to a Global Gaze in Medieval Studies”, with similar composition of panelists and audience and similar methodological challenges: how to trespass the limits that the discipline itself poses. If the issue is that medievalism needs input from other area studies, then these should first and foremost be served by “local” institutions and collaboratives, not by Westerners. Not only the persons involved should be – at least partially – originating from the “peripheries” behind the imagined borders, but also the models of research should be injected with the energy of their views upon what is history and how it can be written. And there the borders of our discipline are more real than we imagine… Finally, the discussion lead inevitably to the question: how can a student craving to learn about and do research on some “periphery” of the medieval world guarantee some sort of professional future in academia? No, we cannot. Not in the present model. Because this model of academic thinking has no space for an alternative politicization of higher education and research, since it never bites but only licks the hand that feeds it. Unless we all jump off the train of traditional universities, the only way viable for research without boundaries is not to give up in demanding a more just distribution of the wealth available, where the quality of knowledge produced and transmitted at the Universities, and especially in the Humanities, will not be measured in terms of “efficacy”, “relevance”, “impact” and the like. At the end of the day, it is not bad if instead of trading weapons, that a state rather supports academic institutions with job posts, research projects and the like.

Now, the experience from working with people in places like Sudan or Ethiopia provides those who had the chance to work in these places with a potentially different paradigm, not only because one sees the state of affairs in the states we do our academic affairs, and tries to avoid what sometimes seems as the inevitable, but because we have already (attempted to) step(ped) outside the paradigm of speaking about the others as if to prove that we speak in the correct way about ourselves. This challenging mindset has not necessarily been the characteristic feature of every talk and every contributor in our sessions; and we cannot claim that it was lacking to a larger degree in more “mainstream” sessions. One’s positioning to these challenges is more a personal choice. A choice of how we learn from the achievements of the colleagues, admire their innovative contributions instead of trying to cut their wings, make the most sincere and passionate effort to crack the codes of data and concepts ourselves too. And although not ubiquitous, all these elements were present in the sessions organized by Adam and Alexandros. Not because we used a magic wand that transformed things and persons; but perhaps precisely because when, for example, dealing with Nubia, one cannot ignore that the Nubians have a voice that can be heard if one is attentive to the material culture remains of the past, the words that link the text of the medieval sources from Makuria with the narratives of the present-day Nubians of the Nile, and thus their future too.

So, to close this report from the IMC 2016, some words on things we gleaned from some of the presentations about Nubia and the Nubians, most of which were chaired by Giovanni Ruffini who made all the way from the States to England so as to be with friends and colleagues in this important venue:

1. First of all, the talks by Marcus Jaeger and Petra Weschenfelder that were a sort of an answer to the deficiencies of the afore-menioned round-tables, opening new windows of contemplating the understanding that the locals (i.e. the Nubians) have of their past and their land.

Marcus Jaeger

Marcus’ talk showed how research should be conducted on the ground when the Nubians are to be involved, reminding us of projects of community-engagement in archaeology, like those developed by Cornelia Kleinitz and Stefania Merlo, where the researcher is first of all a listener to what the locals want to share and of how they want to share it.

Petra Weschenfelder

And Petra explicitly showed how the Jayleen interact with desert tribes in a quest for land, markets and family links in the region around the ancient city of Meroë.

2. Vincent van Gerven Oei provided a most insightful lesson on how to treat the translations of biblical texts from Greek to Old Nubian, substituting the models of classical philology proposed by Browne a generation ago with the bipole of obligatory and optional explicitation.

Vincent van Gerven Oei

Alexandros Tsakos weaved a paleographic model explaining the development of the Nubian majuscules script contextualized against the background of the shared world of Upper Egypt and Lower Nubia in the early medieval era, followed after the Makuritan annexation of Nobadia by a world hoping for a Christian ressurrection along the entire Nile Valley thanks to an expected (apocalyptic) victory of the Makuritans against Islam.

Alexandros Tsakos

3. The limits of how Islam infiltrated Nubia at the Batn el Hajar, leaving space for the development of local, small-scale powers, exhausting themselves in feuds and blood revenges, were magisterially analyzed by Henriette Hafsaas-Tsakos in her proposal of the model of Refuge Area Warrior Society to understand developments in this region in the period between 1200 and 1800 CE.

Henriette Hafsaas Tsakos

Earlier, the limits of a Christianized landscape around the monastery of Deir Anba Hadra were eloquently and with rich visual material presented by Sebastian Olschok (representing also his colleague Lena Krastel who could not come to Leeds).

Sebastian Olschok

He also reminded us of the political interactions between Upper Egypt and Makuria during the reign of King Zacharias whose first year on the throne of Dongola has been used as reference point for one of the wall inscriptions from this very interesting site. The world around a Nubian monastery, namely Ghazali, was the topic of the paper by Tim Karberg and Jana Eger on the “Medieval presence in the Wadi Abu-Dom”. Unfortunately, they could not make it to Leeds, but they sent us their paper, which was read by Vincent Van Gerven Oei.

4. The political interactions between Islamic Egypt and Christian Nubia were also the topic of Joost Hagen‘s paper who shared with us one set of treasures from the amazing repository of written sources from medieval Nubia that has been Qasr Ibrim. Joost gave us a summary of the contents of new, unpublished sources for the history of Christian Nubia and Islamic and Coptic Egypt: four Coptic letters sent in the summer of 760 and excavated at Qasr Ibrim in Egyptian Nubia in 1972, together with an already published Arabic letter from the governor of Egypt to the Nubian king, from November 758. Here we should mention that Qasr Ibrim made an appearance in a paper from another session, namely by Anna Kelley who spoke about “Cotton Conversions: Tracing the adoption of a new textile throughout the Eastern Mediterranean”, giving a place of prominence to the Nubian world centered at Qasr Ibrim. In the same session, Arietta Papaconstantinou also referred to Nubia and the Blemmyes in sketching the narrative forms used to define the “Barbarians on the Fringe: Byzantium and the Desert Peoples”. We were happy to see Anna and Arietta following some of “our” sessions too!

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5. A different sort of interaction between Islam and Christianity was presented by Adam Simmons who added a more often than not forgotten parameter in the discussion, the Christians of the West during the Crusades. This time he focused on the appearance and evolution of Nubians in Crusader songs with an argument that the change is in relation to wider changes in Crusader mentality towards Nubians. His paper was a version of a book chapter to be published next year in: Benjamin Weber and Adam Simmons (eds.), Les Croisades en Afrique, Toulouse. Naturally, the topic launched debate around the identification of Nubians and Ethiopians in this source material, where Verena Krebs and Andrew Kurt were the primal discussants. Verena and Andrew added the Ethiopian perspective to our sessions. A minor percentage, but an important one, underlining the necessity to create more balanced sessions next year.

By the way, in case someone has already ideas for papers for next year, on sessions about Nubia, Ethiopia and Trans-Saharan/Indian Ocean-Mediterranean Sea Trade, do contact Adam Simmons (, who will then together with Verena and Alexandros distribute the proposed papers in the planned sessions for IMC 2017!

6. Finally, we would like to complete the presentation by turning our attention to two papers that were prepared by students of the University of Warsaw, the most renowned center of studies on Medieval Nubia: Macej Wyżgoł and Piotr Makowski. They had both completed their master theses on the topics they presented, two very important finds of the Polish school.

Macej Wyżgoł

Macej spoke about the famous bronze censer found at Old Dongola and identified the Byzantine origins of the vessel’s prototypes, although the riddle of the bilingual inscription appeared unresolved to him. Efforts by Vincent van Gerven Oei, Giovanni Ruffini, Petra Weschenfelder and myself to read and interpret the text must have helped Macej to think some plausible alternatives for the identification of the use of this object.  It seemed to us that the censer was a gift from a church dedicated to the Apostle Peter offered to the church of the Great God or the Great Church of the God, in either case the Cathedral where the censer was found.

As for Piotr, he supported a difficult theory, namely that the following drawing from a wall of the Faras Cathedral is a sketch representation of an architectural plan and that it is unrelated to any other inscription, carving or painting around.

Although the idea about the sketch of an architectural plan seems correct, it should not be taken apart from the accompanying inscription and the human figure, because they are very closely related, respect one the lines of the others, and are placed tightly close to each other, although the surrounding wall offers much empty space in case one wanted to separate image(s) and text. As for the interpretation of the group, the text – which Vincent Van Gerven Oei has identified as a prayer of a young woman to be relieved from the burden of marrying her maternal uncle – should be seen as the words pronounced by the human figure, who is at the same time “offering” the plan of a church to God pleading Him for her cause. A tentative but intriguing and meaningful interpretation, don’t you think?

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