Sometimes you stumble across things you had no idea about and end up rather blown away by it. For me, history especially does that. I love to find out new things about the past that I had never dreamed of before. One recent example of this was when I discovered the existence of the Kingdom of Makuria. And I had a computer game to thank for it.
That games is Crusader Kings 2, in which you guide a dynasty through the early and middle medieval period, in Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, India and the Steppes. While poking around in it, I came across the Kingdom of Makuria and looked further into it. I was fascinated by what I found.
Makuria was one of three Nubian nations which rose in the forth of fifth century, the other two being Alodia and Nobatia. They were situated in what is today southern Egypt and northern Sudan. By the end of the 6th century all were Christian nations, converted after a series of missions were sent by the Byzantium Empire, eventually becoming part of the Coptic Church.
At some unknown point, possibly before 642, Makuria absorbed Nobatia into its kingdom.
Then the Muslims struck.
In December 639, the Muslims invaded Egypt, then a part of the Byzantium Empire, and had conquered it by 641. They gave the native Christian populace three choices – convert, be killed or become second class citizens with a heavy tax burden.
In 642, the Muslims turned south and attempted to invade Makuria. The exact event are unclear, as all sources come from the Muslim invaders, but at what is called the First Battle of Dongala, the Muslim were repelled with heavy losses. It appears that the Makurians fought a guerilla was against the Muslims, using their renown Nubian bowmen and superior light cavalry. The Muslims withdrew, claiming that they had not lost, and that the land was poor with no treasure worth fighting for, despite Makuria possessing fertile farmlands along the Nile and a gold mine.
In 652 the Muslims tried again, and once more suffered defeat at the Second Battle of Dongala. They besieged the capital of Makuria, Dongala, but were defeated by its walls which were defended by the Nubian archers. After heavy losses again and the refusal of the Makurian king, Qalidurat, to surrender, the Muslims struck a treaty with the Makurians.
The treaty was called the baqt, and was unique in regards to Muslim relations with non-Muslims. It was the duty of the Muslim world to conquer the rest of the world and force it to convert to Islam. Unable to defeat the Makurian, instead more pragmatic heads prevailed. According to the treaty, neither side would attack the other. The Makurians would send slaves to the Muslims with the Muslims would send manufactured goods south to Makuria. The baqt was to last for seven hundred years, making it the longest lasting treaty in history.
With its sovereignty safeguarded, Makuria grew in strength and wealth, reaching its zenith in the 8th to 9th century. It was a land of art, architecture and literature, though what literature has been found to date is mostly of legal and religious nature.
When the Fatamids were replaced by the Ayyubids in Egypt in 1171, fortunes began to decline for the Makurians. Internal difficulties began to afflict the Makurians and the Muslims began to interfere in the nation. Eventually the Mameluke Egyptians invaded and in 1312 occupied the kingdom, ending Makuria as a nation. Under the weight of the occupying Muslims, the natives began to convert.
Alodia clung on until 1504 when it too was conquered and converted to Islam, ending the long history of Christian Nubia.
It is a fascinating piece of history, and one still little understood. Sadly, much of ancient Makuria is today beneath water after the damming of the Nile, which means there may be lots we may never find out.
There doesn’t seem a lot published on the region, but I intend to track down as much as I can and obtain copies of it. Who knows, someday I may write on the subject, or use it as an inspiration for stories.