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Approximately equivalent to northern Sudan and the far south of Egypt.
Nubia (or Cush, as some called it) was an important and civilised region in pre-Christian times; the Nubian empire of Meroë even dominated pharaonic Egypt for a while. Christianity became the official religion of Nubia in the wake of rival pro- and anti-Chalcedonian missions dispatched, some say personally, by Justinian and Theodora. The smaller northern kingdom of Nobadia became miaphysite; the larger kingdom of Makkuria adopted "melchite" (i.e. Chalcedonian or "Eastern") Orthodoxy. In the mid-VII Century, after repulsing two Arab invasions, the rival states united as the Kingdom of Dongola under Makkurian rulers who styled themselves "emperors" or "augusti". The first of these to leave a significant imprint in history was Mercurius I, who (whether to please his Nobadian subjects or to assert his independence from Constantinople) adopted miaphysitism as the state religion. The Dongolan empire lasted well into the Middle Ages, perhaps helping to inspire the legend of Prester John.

Nubia's relations with its Muslim neighbours were predictably tense. In 652, after the Second Battle of Dongola, the Arabs abandoned their project of conquering the Empire and signed a peace agreement, the "Pakton", usually Arabised to "Baqt". The Nubian rulers seem to have viewed this as a case of buying-off the barbarians in the established Romano-Byzantine manner, while their Arab counterparts considered it an act of submission which made Nubia their tributary; both viewpoints were doubtless partially correct. Although Nubia sent regular payments to the Caliphate for centuries, it also intervened forcibly in Middle Eastern politics on behalf of the Coptic patriarchs. Then in 1276, during a controversy over succession to the throne, Mameluke soldiers captured the imperial capital city of Dongola and turned Nubia into an Egyptian dependency; although the country, nominally still autonomous, was allowed to remain Christian, a slow process of Islamisation began. The last Christian king, Kerenbes, was deposed in 1317. By the XVI Century, Christianity was a minority religion, and around the same time the last independent Christian state, Alodia, fell to the Muslims. Khartoum was built from the ruins of its capital three centuries later.

Although Nubia, like Ethiopia, was miaphysite for most of its Christian history, it is interesting to note that around the year 1000 the Nubian church under the leadership of Bishop John III of Faras returned to the dyophysite Orthodox communion. This era was also a golden age of Christian art and architecture in Nubia. Melchite Orthodoxy prevailed for half a century, assisted by a pro-Greek faction at the Fatimid court in Egypt; after a personal visit by the Coptic Pope to Nubia, miaphysitism was partially restored at about the same time that the West fell into schism. For the next few centuries, melchite and miaphysite parties competed for influence in the Church; the miaphysites eventually prevailed, but by that time Nubia itself was on the verge of Islamisation. (Such, at least, is the history of the Nubian Church as reconstructed by the mainly Polish archaeologists who excavated the great cathedrals in the second half of the XX Century. Readers should be aware that Nubian history was largely ignored by Western scholarship until the late XX Century, and that even apart from this the surviving records are exceptionally fragmentary. Thus, the above account should be taken as only a vague approximation of what really happened.)

Norman Hugh Redington


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