Christian Nubia and Muslim Egypt Sign Treaty Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The treaty (or baqt) between Christian Nubia and Muslim Egypt was a territorial rights agreement and an agreement of exchange between two great and seemingly irreconcilable powers infused with powerful new faiths. This skillful baqt, which ensured the survival of Nubia, proved to be one of history’s longest lasting treaties.

Summary of Event

Nubia stretches along the Nile River from Aswān in Egypt to Khartoum in what is now called Sudan (roughly one-third in Egypt and two-thirds in Sudan). Named after the Nobatae who settled along the Nile during the reign of Roman emperor Diocletian, Nubia was the scene of a flourishing medieval Christian culture. [kw]Christian Nubia and Muslim Egypt Sign Treaty (652-c. 1171) [kw]Nubia and Muslim Egypt Sign Treaty, Christian (652-c. 1171) [kw]Muslim Egypt Sign Treaty, Christian Nubia and (652-c. 1171) [kw]Egypt Sign Treaty, Christian Nubia and Muslim (652-c. 1171) Nubia Egypt Christianity;Islam and Islam;Christianity and Africa;652-c. 1171: Christian Nubia and Muslim Egypt Sign Treaty[0390] Egypt;652-c. 1171: Christian Nubia and Muslim Egypt Sign Treaty[0390] Diplomacy and international relations;652-c. 1171: Christian Nubia and Muslim Egypt Sign Treaty[0390] Government and politics;652-c. 1171: Christian Nubia and Muslim Egypt Sign Treaty[0390] ՙAbd Allāh ibn Saՙd ibn Abī Sarḥ Kalidurut

This region was the site of the great ancient empire of Kush and the iron-working state of Meröe. Following Meröe’s collapse in the fourth century, three Christian kingdoms took shape. The northernmost, Nobatia Nobatia , stretched from Aswān to the second cataract. Farther south was Makuria Makuria , which extended south to the confluence of the Atbara and Nile. Its capital was Dongola, now known as Old Dongola to distinguish it from a nearby Turkish-built town of the same name. Farthest south and least known was Alodia Alodia , which dominated the region where the Blue and White Niles meet.

The three kingdoms converted to Christianity between 543 and 580. This conversion was a major cultural stimulus. Centuries of church influence are apparent in inspirational art, fine manuscripts, elaborately decorated pottery, and huge stone churches. While Greek, Coptic, and, later, Arabic were common tongues along the Nile, a written language called Old Nubian developed and was used widely in biblical texts, administrative and legal documents, and letters. However, religious controversy was also part of Nubia’s history. Popular in Nobatia and Alodia, Monophysite Christianity Monophysite Christianity , which emphasized Christ’s divine nature, had been considered heretical by the official or Melkite church after the Council of Chalcedon in 451. Separating Nobatia and Alodia, Makuria adhered to the Melkite rite.

Following the Arab conquest of Egypt, led by ՙAmr ibn al-ՙAṣ ՙAmr ibn al-ՙAṣ in 640, hostilities broke out between the newly Christianized Nubians, who had ruled Upper Egypt at times, and the newly Islamized Arabs, whose armies were sweeping across north Africa. As a result of these first contacts with Muslims, Nubians promised not to attack Egypt and began to pay tribute in slaves and livestock. Muslim armies reached the plain north of Dongola but failed to capture the city. Forestalling the conversion of Nubia to Islam for more than seven centuries, Nubian soldiers gained a reputation as rumat al-hadaq (eye-smiters), skillful archers who specialized in shooting at their opponents’s eyes. Arab attacks in 652 penetrated as far as Dongola, where the principal church was destroyed with stones shot from catapults. Makurian king Kalidurut Kalidurut sued for peace.

The conflict was settled by a baqt, a bilateral agreement (or treaty) negotiated with ՙAbd Allāh ibn Saՙd ibn Abī Sarḥ Abdullah ibn Saՙad ibn Abū Sarḥ , Umayyad governor of Egypt. The term baqt derived from the Greek pakton, which is also the root of the English word “pact.” Both diplomatic and commercial in nature, this accord fixed territorial rights and provided for a regular exchange of four hundred male slaves from Makuria in return for two specially bred horses, thirteen hundred kanyr of wine, and fixed quantities of grain, lentils, and cloth from Egypt. The exchange of these commodities was to be made annually at the border town of Al-Qasr, near Philae Island, south of Aswān. At Al-Qasr, a stone archway known as the Gate to Nubia, stood as the physical interface of the two cultures throughout the medieval era. Each side was to protect travelers from the other and return runaway slaves. In subsequent years, several revisions were made to the treaty’s terms. A second baqt was negotiated between the Egyptians and the Blemmyes (Beja) in 720.

However, given the changing fortunes of politics, the baqt was not always observed. In 745, King Cyriacus of Dongola laid siege to the Umayyad capital at Al-Fusṭāṭ (now near Cairo). By 758 Egypt’s ՙAbbāsid rulers complained that baqt payments were not being made, and the Blemmyes attacked Upper Egypt. In 819 both the Makurian king and the Beja refused to make their payments and mounted attacks on Egypt. Despite these violations and Nubian raids on Egypt in 951, 956, and 962, the baqt secured a measure of peace and stability until 1275.

Eventually, Nobatia and Makuria became a single federated kingdom that lasted some six hundred years under Makurian kings. The Makurian king Merkurios Merkurios , sometimes referred to as the “new Constantine,” may have conquered Nobatia, which nevertheless maintained its own identity with a royal governor, known to the Arabs as Sahib el Jebel (lord of the mountain) and to the Nubians by the Greek title eparch. This unification was important, as it enabled a stronger Nubia to resist later Arab raids. Long-distance trade brought prosperity.

While never a power on the scale of Kush or Meröe, Christian Nubia was of great significance. Its rulers were treated as equals by their Egyptian and Arabian counterparts. One of the greatest of Makuria’s kings, George I George I (Makurian king) , even traveled to Baghdad and Cairo. Nubian kings were regarded as protectors of the Coptic patriarch of Alexandria, sometimes intervening on behalf of Egypt’s Christians. Bishops and other church officials of the kingdom’s seven dioceses were appointed with royal approval. Nubians served as mercenaries in the Umayyad and later Ṭūlūnid armies.

At the height of Makurian power, the era from 909 to 1171, the Nubians lived in peace with Egypt’s Fāṭimid rulers, following an initial attack on Egypt by Makurian king George II George II (Makurian king) and a counterattack on Nubia by al-ՙUmarī. The Fāṭimids Fāṭimids[Fatimids] restored the Melkites in Nobatia’s capital Faras, and possibly in all of Nubia.

The Fāṭimid army employed as many as fifty thousand Nubians. When the last Fāṭimid was defeated by Kurdish general Saladin Saladin , however, Makuria’s fortunes changed. Fearing a Nubian-Crusader alliance, Saladin’s brother, Turanshah Turanshah , campaigned against Nubia, occupied Qaṣr Ibrīm in 1172, and exterminated Nubians in Egypt two years later. Nubia was fully cut off from the rest of Christendom. The region’s most recent Greek inscription dates from 1181 and the last priest sent to Nubia from Alexandria arrived in 1235.

The power of Nubian kings gradually eroded during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, when internal disputes abounded and unfriendly Mamlūk Turks ruled Egypt and claimed Lower Nubia. In 1264, following attacks by the Turks, Nubians reinstated their baqt payments, now paid to Mamlūk sultan Baybars I Baybars I . In 1276 Mamlūk armies sacked Dongola, forced conversion to Islam, and captured Nubian king Dawud who had abrogated the baqt and raided Aswān the year before. Increasing Arab migration Migrations;Muslims to Egypt also seems to have been both cause and effect of much insecurity along the Nile’s middle reaches. Abdullah Barshambu Abdullah Barshambu , the first Muslim king of Makuria, was enthroned in 1317. He reestablished the baqt and built Dongola’s first mosque. Kudanbes Kudanbes , the last Christian king of Makuria, was replaced by a Muslim, Kanz al-Dawla Kanz al-Dawla , and the royal palace at Dongola was converted into a mosque in 1323. Constantinople’s fall to the Turks in 1453 reinforced Nubia’s isolation. Finally, the Christian era in Nubia ended around 1504 with Alodia’s fall to the Muslim Fung sultanate, based at Sennar farther south on the Blue Nile.


Although Nubia’s Christian millennium has been largely overlooked in favor of the glorious history of its northern neighbor Egypt, much evidence shows that Nobatia, Makuria, and Alodia established themselves as major political, religious, and cultural powers in their own right. The baqt allowed for Nubia’s flourishing.

Modern Nubians, though Arabized and Muslim, have retained distinctive languages, architectural forms, and folk traditions from their distant Christian past. Numerous archaeological and historical studies have demonstrated that despite isolation from the rest of Christendom, the Nubians maintained their unique Christian faith and Byzantine-influenced art for centuries. The Makurian royal palace still towers over the Nile near El Ghaba and the frescoes of the cathedral at Faras can be found in museums in Khartoum and Warsaw. Even greater than these magnificent pieces of artistic expression, however, is the record of the baqt.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Adams, William Y. Nubia: Corridor to Africa. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1977. Although many findings have changed much of the body of scholarship on Nubia, this work remains the most thorough reference on Nubian archaeology and history.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Holt, P. M., and M. W. Daly. A History of the Sudan: From the Coming of Islam to the Present Day. London: Longman, 1988. Though not primarily about the Christian era, this excellent work has useful information on medieval Nubia.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hrbek, Ivan, ed. General History of Africa. Vol. 3. Abridged ed. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992. Contains the chapter, “Christian Nubia at the Height of Its Civilization.” Bibliography, index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Spaulding, Jay. “Medieval Christian Nubia and the Islamic World: A Reconsideration of the Baqt Treaty.” International Journal of African Historical Studies 28, no. 3 (1995): 577-594. Another look at the baqt between Nubia and Egypt.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sundkler, Bengt, and Christopher Steed. A History of the Church in Africa. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000. The first part of this comprehensive study explores Nubian Christianity. Maps, bibliography, index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Vantini, Giovanni. Christianity in the Sudan. Bologna, Italy: EMI, 1981. The best survey of the history of Christianity in Sudan from ancient times to 1980.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Vantini, Giovanni, trans. Oriental Sources Concerning Nubia. Warsaw: Polish Academy of Sciences, 1975. Provides resources for further study about Nubia.

Categories: History