The Christian period was a time of rapid economic development in Nubia
(K. Michal Owski) - A new approach to the problem of Christianity in Nubia appears particularly in the works of W.Y. Adams (mainly as regards ceramic classification). The detailed news of recent discoveries in Nubia published each year by J. Leclant in Orientalin deserves special attention.
Copious information, some of it hypothetical, was supplied by the First Symposiu m on Christian Nubia held in 1969 at the Villa Hugel in Essen. It has been published in a separate volume edited by E . Dinkier.31 The results of the Second Symposium, held in Warsaw in 1972, were issued in I975- Although Nubia, unlike Egypt, was not part of the Byzantine empire, there undoubtedly existed between them definite links forged by the missions of the priests Julianos and Longinos. The organization of the
Nubian government, as its nomenclature shows, was strictly modeled on the Byzantine bureaucracy. Though the Persian invasion of Egypt in 616 stopped at the northern frontier of Nubia, evidence exists that the northern kingdom was invaded by Sassanid detachments stationed south of the First Cataract. In any case the invasion by Chosroes II broke the direct links between Nubia and Egypt, by then Christian, and in particular the contacts between the Nubian clergy and the patriarchate of Alexandria, which officially supervised the church of Nubia. In 641 Egypt came under the rule of the Arabs. Christian Nubia was severed from the Mediterranean culture for centuries to come.
At first the Arabs did not consider the conquest of Nubia important, and only made raids into the north. Therefore, as soon as Egypt submitted, they signed with Nubia a treaty called a baqt, which bound the Nubians to pay an annual tribute of slaves and certain goods and the Arabs to provide a suitable quantity of food and clothing. During the seven centuries of Christian Nubia's independence, both sides regarded the treaty as valid in principle, but more than one armed clash occurred. Thus, almost as soon as the baqt was signed, the Emir Abdallah ibn Abu Sarh raided Dongola in 651-2; but that did not interrupt the constant trade between Nubia and Muslim Egypt. Northern and Central Nubia united to form one state, doubtless in consequence of the first skirmishes between the Arabs from Egypt and
the Nubians. Maqrizi, quoting earlier Arab sources, states that in the middle of the seventh century the whole of central and northern Nubia as far as the Alodian border was ruled by the same king, Qalidurut. The Christian sources seem to prove that the union of Nubia was the work of King Merkurios, who came to the throne in 697 and is said to have introduced Monophysitism into Makuria. He set up the capital of the
united kingdom in Dongola.
To this day the question of Monophysitism in Nubia is not entirely clear, especially as regards the kingdom's relations with the orthodox Melkite church. It is still possible that the Melkite doctrine persisted in some form in the interior of the kingdom. It is known that as late as then fourteenth century the province of Maris, the former kingdom of northern Nubia, was subject to a Melkite bishop who, as metropolitan resident in Tafa, ruled over a diocese which included the whole of Nubia. Moreover, except in the eighth century, Alexandria always had two patriarchs, a Monophysite and a Melkite.
The union of the two Nubian kingdoms led to vigorous economic and political development of the country. King Kyriakos, who succeeded Merkurios, was regarded as a 'great' king: he ruled through thirteen
governors. Like the Pharaohs of the Old Kingdom in Egypt, the kings of Nubia were also high-ranking priests. They were not only empowered to settle religious questions, but could also perform certain religious functions, on condition that their hands were not stained with human blood.
When King Kyriakos learned that the Ummayyad governor had imprisoned the Patriarch of Alexandria, he attacked Egypt on that pretext and penetrated as far as Fustat.3A s soon as the Patriarch was released, the Nubians went h o m e . Kyriakos' expedition to Fustat proves that Nubia did not confine itself strictly to define but also took offensive action against Muslim Egypt.
Important papyri shedding light on the relations between Egypt and Nubia during this period were recently discovered at Qasr Ibrim. They comprise correspondence between the king of Nubia and the governor of Egypt. The longest scroll, dated + 758, contains a complaint in Arabic lodged by MüsaKah Ibn Uyayna against the Nubians because they did not observe the baqt.
Military expeditions, however, are not the sole evidence of the vigour of the Nubian state after the beginning of the eighth century. Archaeological discoveries have also proved the extraordinary development of culture, art and monumental architecture in Nubia during that period. In 707 Bishop Paulos rebuilt Faras Cathedral and decorated it with splendid murals S o m e important religious buildings in Old Dongola date from that period. Other Nubian churches, such as those of Abdallah Nirqi4 ' and Al-Sabu'a, were splendidly decorated with murals which became a constant feature of ceremonial decoration.
Excavation of sites known for some time or recently discovered have also revealed how widely Christianity was established at a more humble level, that is, in the villages, as early as the eighth century.
Probably at the end of the eighth and the beginning of the ninth centuries the Nubian King Yoannes added to the united kingdom of Nubia the southern province of Alodia. The Christian period was a time of rapid economic development in Nubia. The population of northern Nubia alone was about 5000.
The introduction of saqiya (water-wheel) irrigation in the Ptolemaic and Roman periods enlarged the area under cultivation by watering it between the abundant Nile floods of that time4 6 and it produced wheat, barley, millet and grapes. The abundant date harvests from the palm plantations also raised the country's living standards.
Trade with neighboring countries increased but extended far beyond them. The inhabitants of Makuria sold ivory to Byzantium and copper and gold to Ethiopia. Their merchants' caravans went to the heart of Africa, to the lands which are now Nigeria and Ghana , in rowing boats and on camels. The well-to-do classes preferred Byzantine dress. The women wore long robes, often decorated with coloured embroidery.
As has already been said, the organization of power in Christian Nubia was modeled on Byzantium. The civil governor of the province was the eparch, whose authority was symbolized by the horned crown which he wore on a helmet decorated with a crescent. He usually wore a full robe held in by a scarf. The fringes of the bishops' stoles, which they wore over their rich and complex liturgical vestments, were adorned with small bells. That the Nubians were famous archers is attested by many ancient and Arab authors. In addition to the bow they used the sword and the javelin.
Private houses were built of unbaked bricks and had several rooms; they were vaulted or had flat roofs of wood, thatch and clay. At the height of Nubia's prosperity their walls were more massive and were whitened. Houses of more than one storey were perhaps intended to be used for defensive purposes. Some districts had piped water. House walls of ashlar stone have been found on the islands at the Second Cataract. In northern Nubia villages were surrounded by walls to protect the inhabitants from Arab raiders. Sometimes the villagers built up communal stores against siege. Near the centre of the village stood the church.
Sacred buildings, with a few rare exceptions, were built of unbaked bricks. Only in the cathedrals of Qasr Ibrim, Faras and Dongola were the walls made of stone or burnt bricks. Most churches were built in the basilical style, but cruciform or central-plan churches are sometimes found in Nubian architecture. The decoration of the first period, that is, until the end of the seventh century, can only be deduced from the monumental cathedrals mentioned above.
Except for parts of converted pagan buildings, for example at Faras, the decoration was of sandstone and repeated the traditional scroll-work pattern borrowed by Meroitic art from the hellenistic art of the Romaneast. Mention should be made of the beautiful sculptured volutes of the foliated capitals. Icons painted on wooden panels or carved were probably used at that time as ritual images.