Medieval Sudan Through Contemporary Eyes

found a great source about the medieval Sudanese kingdoms and the surrounding areas through the eyes of a contemporary historian named Al-Maqrizi. I avoid using the word nuba because it becomes clear this is a very diverse land and the Nubians are just one piece of a much larger society even in their biggest states.

they are interesting culturally and are unique in a spiritual, societal and architectural sense. the land had a very diverse population of so many peoples that even they did not know the numbers and names of many of the tribes that inhabited the Nile. the Nile itself and its floods are a great mystery that they go to great length to figure out, there are many instances of attempts by their kings to map out the Nile and its origins as well as seeking wisdom from people as diverse as the Indians and romans to understand why it floods:


"Then there is the Green Nile (an-Nīl al-akhḍar), a river which flows from the south-eastern direction. It is intensely green, very transparent in colour, so that one can distinctly see what kind of fish there are in its depths. The taste [of the Green Nile water] is different from that of the [White] Nile; he who armies from it soon becomes thirsty. The fish is the same in ail (these rivers), but its taste is different. During the flood season such kinds of wood as teak (as-sāj), log-wood (al-baqm), al-qānāʾ (?) (ghātā) and a wood which smells like the olibanum (labān), float downstream. Also large logs are brought down which can be worked into nalms for boats. This (kind of) wood also grows on its banks. It is also related [by al-Aswānī] that the wood of frankincense (bakhūr) is found [in the flood waters].

He said: - I saw that some planks (siqālāt) of sāj, which are carried during the flood season, bear some strange signs. These two rivers, viz. the White and the Green, meet near the capital of the sovereign (mutamallik) of the country of 'Alwa and each of them keeps its own colour for about one day’s journey, after which they mingle up. Their waters, when they meet, throw up big waves. He said: - I spoke with someone who took water from the White Nile and poured it into the Green Nile: the water [of the White Nile] remained for one hour the colour of milk before it mingled up. Between these two rivers is an island, the end of which is not known, nor does anybody know the end of these two rivers. The width of the first one is known [at the beginning], but further on it expands and its width increases as much as one month’s journey, and further on its width has not been explored at all, for the peoples who live there, fear one another in fact, many races (ajnās) dwell on these two rivers.

He [Aswānī] said: [Someone] told me that some kings (mutamallik) of the country of 'Alwa set out to visit the [p. 612] extreme frontier [of the island], but they failed to reach it after a number of years, and that, on its southern extremity, there is a race who, during the day-time, dwell together with their beasts in houses [built] like vaults, under the surface of the ground, because of the excessive heat of the sun, and come out during the night. Among them there are people who go naked."

Mas’ūdīMaqrīzī here reviews the opinions of the ancient philsophers on the cause of the Nile flood. said: The Indians (al-hind) say that the flood of the Nile and its decrease depend on the torrential rains. We know that this is true because [it occurs regularly] in connection with the stars (al-anwāʾ) causing [p. 594] the rainy season and thunderstorms. The Rūm said that the Nile neither increases nor decreases, and that the flood and its ebb are due to the many [hidden] springs which feed it. The Copts say that the increase and the decrease are caused by some springs on the coast, which can be observed by those who travel and explore its upper course. Others say that the Nile neither increases nor decreases, but that its flood is due to the wind blowing from the north, which stops its water and forces it to overflow into the countryside. Others say that the Nile flood is caused by a wind blowing called Mullathan (muln: B.: Moltan), which brings the rain-carrying clouds from below the equator; therefore it rains in the countries of the Sūdān, the Ḥabasha and the Nūba, and the mass of these waters reaches Miṣr at [the time of] the increase of the Nile and Irrigates it. (W.I, 1, ch. XVII, §13, pp. 255 - 256; B., p. 167).

while they have many cool aspects such as mystical and wandering kings, widespread trade routes that reached from Iberia to India and the long-standing treaty of baqt, ultimately, they seem similar to the Abbasids in that they didn’t really do much from an Aoe campaign perspective. they were regarded as peerless archers but that’s the limit of their military exploits.

there wasn’t a whole lot of conquering and their kingdoms failed due to societal upheaval and weakening of authority as well as immigration rather than any invasion from a foreign power. they just kind of existed doing their own thing before silently collapsing and didn’t seem to leave a huge impact on the remaining world at large.

they wouldn’t be bad as a civilization, but I think they would fit in more with games like civ 6 and humankind where their culture, mysticism, reliance and exploration of the Nile, surprisingly vast trade ties and preference for diplomacy can really shine rather than in a game like aoe. there are probably more impactful African civs during the time period that would fit in better with aoe gameplay. the age of pharaohs and pyramids are longer over at this point.

how would you make a religious trading civ with a penchant for exploration and diplomacy interesting in a game about killing your opponent’s units and destroying their landmarks?

Al-Maqrizi came from a culture that was quite hostile to the Nubians and was visiting the region after it was ravaged by plague and beset by invaders from multiple directions so his account is not really going to sell their civilization. It’s kinda like basing a Chinese civilization on the accounts of Marco Polo. It also was very much Nubia, the fact that there were diverse peoples in the region and further up the Nile doesn’t invalidate the Nubian culture.

That’s a pretty big assumption. Had they not existed, Islam would have spread into Africa much sooner and that could have led to huge changes in history. Declining during the end of the timeframe shouldn’t discount a civ, otherwise Mali getting conquered by Songhay would discount that.

Your issues also apply to the Abbasids, yet they are in the game. Makuria repelled many invasions and raided and occupied southern Egypt on several occasions so it’s not like there are no conflicts to base a campaign on.

England has just Longbowmen for a unique unit so this wouldn’t really be an issue if it were true. Although I doubt their military was only archers. The later Sudanese had powerful cavalry like the Sennar Horseman depicted in AoE3.

There’s tons to work with there. Economic bonuses can translate to being able to produce more units. Scouting bonuses could help gain map control and awareness and find targets for their powerful archers to take out.

They have options for landmarks such as the Ghazali Monastery, various churches, trading centers, or the pyramids of earlier eras.

Overall, they’re an interesting civ that could easily fits the timeframe well and provide some much needed variety.

while Al-Maqrizi visited during its decline it’s one of the few contemporary sources available. the website also has many quotes from Aswani, who visited during its height and shows valuable insights into how these people thought of themselves. reading firsthand accounts of their stories and beliefs and how they saw the world helps you see the world the way they saw it.

you get a better picture of their values and culture than through something like that video, which is a pretty dry account of victories and defeats without any context and leaves so much of what made them unique behind.

for example, while we and many people in the time period may consider the Makurians Nubians, this does not seem to be how they saw themselves. instead, they considered the Nubians to be a separate people north of them with distinct languages. the Alwa which appeared to be stronger and richer also considered themselves a separate people from both the Makurians and the Nubians, an idea which seemed to have more support from visitors and neighboring countries.

this gets into the tricky area of identity. neither of the two larger kingdoms seemed particularly interested in the Nubian identity and they did not consider or call themselves Nubian states. rather they seemed to insist that they were a distinct and unique people. if the Yuan call themselves Chinese, are they Chinese? are the French and Germans really a different people? we can just say our usage of the word ###### ## different than theirs, but I would prefer to respect how they viewed themselves and avoid using an ethnic term to combine them.


The Nūba [people of Migi] and the Muqurra [people of Makuria] are two races (jinsāni), each speaking a different language. Both live along the banks of the Nile. The Nūba, who are the Marīs, are neighbours of the land of Islam. There is a five miles gap between the frontier of their country and Aswān. It is said that Salhā, the ancestor (jadd) of an-Nūba, and Muqurrī (or Muqurrā), the ancestor of al-Muqurrah, were (both) from Yemen. It is said that (both) an-Nūba and Muqurrī were from Himyar: most of the genealogists agree that all of them (annahum jamī’an) are descendants of Ḥam b. Noah. Between the Nūba and the Muqurra there were wars before [the coming of] Christianity.

The land of al-Muqurra begins at a village called Tāfa, a day’s distance from Aswān. Their royal town (madīnat maliki-him) is called Bajarāsh, less than ten day’s journey from Aswān. It is told that Moses - God may be pleased with him! - raided them before he began his [prophetic] mission in the time of the Pharaoh, and destroyed Tāfa. They were [at that time] pagans (Sābi’a), who used to worship the Planets (Kawākib) and erect statues to them; later both the Nūba and the Muqurra became Christians. The town of Dongola is the capital of their kingdom (dār mamlakati-him).

It has fine buildings (abniya husān ) and large monasteries (dūr ), churches rich with gold and gardens; there is also a great suburb (rabaḍ ) where many Moslems live. The king (mutamallik ) of 'Alwa is more powerful than the king (mutamallik ) of Muqurra, has a larger army and more horses than the Muqurran (al-muqurrī ): his country is more fertile and larger; but palm trees and vines are less numerous in his country. The commonest grain among them is the white dhurra (ad-dhurra al-bay-dāʾ ) which resembles rice; with it they make their bread (khubz ) and their beer (mizr ); [p. 614] they have plenty of meat because of the abundance of cattle and large plains for grazing plain land, so vast that it takes several days to reach the mountains. They have excellent horses (ʿitāq ), tawny camels (ṣuhub ) of pure Arabian pedigree (ʿurāb ).

Their religion is Christianity (naṣrānīyya ) of the Jacobite sect (ya’aqiba ); their bishops (asāqifa ) are dependant on the Patriarch of Alexandria (ṣāḥib al-iskandarīyya ) like the Nūba; their books are in Greek (bi-r-rūmīyyah ) and they translate (yufassirūnaha ) [these] into their own language. They are less intelligent than the Nūba. Their king can reduce to slavery any of his subjects he wants whether he be guilty of a crime or not, and they do not oppose him, rather they prostrate themselves before him. They do not revolt against his order, however, unjust it may be; [on the contrary] they call out loudly “May the king live ########## ####### !)! And let his order be executed!” He [the king] is crowned with [a crown of] gold. Gold is found in plenty in his country.

of course, the more primary sources the better, and if you have any firsthand accounts of the people who inhabited the land and their culture, I’d love to read it.

the Sennar or Funj Sultanate were another people who did not consider themselves to be Nubian, the many separate states and kingdoms which did not call themselves ###### ## why I would avoid using the ethnic term to describe the people who lived there during that time. they may be Nubian according to us, but they viewed themselves as a separate people. certainly, they weren’t talking about the age of pharaohs or pyramids as a lost golden age from their past, and they fully believed that their golden age lay ahead of them, not behind.

this was a strangely optimistic people.

I wonder how the Greeks would view calling the time of the trojan war and the republic of Athens as the peak of their people, and that byzantine empire was merely during their decline. they are both important parts of their history and can be viewed as separate achievements rather than comparing them as worse or better.

on the contrary during the time period the kingdoms of Makuria and Alwa reached their peak in wealth, power and culture. if you want talk about some sort of non-existant pan Nubian identity then sure, the Nubian golden age was long past. but that is not what the people who actually lived in that area believed. it’s a little like saying the Macedonian golden age was long past from the days of alexander and that the Macedonians where in decline during the peak of the byzantine empire. or that the venetians during the height of their power were in decline from the roman empire. there is a dissonance between how you and they view their peak.

the treaty of Baqt was signed hundreds of years earlier than the time period of aoe4, and neither Makurian nor Egyptian incursions resulted in any significant change of territory. the largest invasion by the Ayyubids still left the Makurians with basically all of their lands intact. if they had maintained unity and cohesion they would have easily bounced back, constant civil wars and inability to deal with constant migrations are what really doomed them.

you could make a campaign, but it would be either be condensed a time period of less than a decade that didn’t result in significant border change or consist of a bunch of raids and counter raids.

the Makurians were also far from being the only power in the area. focusing solely on them avoids the rich history and culture of the other kingdoms and city states.

replace the ##### with “Nubian”.
and ## with “is”.

the main point I wanted to get across is that the land of Sudan was always a culturally and linguistically diverse cauldron of many people who didn’t see themselves as “Nubian”. even during the ancient times with the kingdom of Kush there wasn’t a single united ethnicity or language, but a collection of many tribes that each viewed themselves as separate and distinct. even during the Middle Ages most of the people who probably were direct descendants of what we would consider Nubians did not call themselves as such and viewed the many people we today group as Nubians as completely separate with different languages and cultures. A united “Nubian” culture and language that encompassed the area probably did not exist, it certainly didn’t in the Middle Ages and later.

it’s like calling the Scottish, the Irish, the Britons and the Welsh the same people under an umbrella term such as “Celts” or “Picts”, when this is quite misleading and inaccurate, if not downright false.

You’re getting way too hung up on the term Nubians. Nubia is a geographic area and the people that live there are Nubians. You don’t need to split hairs saying Makuria, Alodia, and Nobatia are all something different. That’s like saying a Saxon is different from a Bavarian. You’d be correct, but they’re all German. Makuria, Alodia, Nobatia, and later Sennar were all overwhelmingly Oriental Orthodox Christians, spoke Nubian languages, and had a similar culture. At the high of their power, the kings of Makuria controlled the entire Nubian region so yes there was a united Nubia in medieval times. They’re also not an anachronism. They were culturally quite distinct from the earlier Kushites and modern Sudanese.

if you’re specifically talking about Makuria then it should be called that rather than Nubia. they never called themselves the “Kingdom of Nubia”. as for language, Nubian was a major language, but not the only one. a variety of both Greek/Coptic and more local languages were common, similar in a way to India with Hindi, English and other local languages. the further from the center of power the less likely you spoke Nubian or identified yourself as part of the culture and ethnicity.

border raids and civil wars would make up most of the campaign material. if you added Sennar Horsemen it would no longer be Makuria, but a larger Sudanese identity. what other unit would you add? they certainly weren’t using chariots or elephants at that time fun as that may be.

economic bonuses are generic to any civ, trading bonuses are everywhere. there are plenty of other civs that could do the scouting part better, leaving the archers as their most standout feature. it’s not that it would be a bad civ, but a lot of their strengths aren’t well represented in aoe game.

as for landmarks all you pointed out are either churches or pyramids which wouldn’t make any sense, not that they lack in landmarks. the importance of the Nile, the importance their kings placed in religion and rituals and frequent reliance on diplomacy such as the treaty of Baqt are all lost when they are so central to their identity.

other African civs are more deserving of a civ slot with better campaign material, more unique units, and bonuses that better translate in an aoe game such as Ethiopia.

one last clarification on what I meant by being separate people. it’s similar to how the Chinese, Japanese and Koreans viewed each other in the Middle Ages. they may have come from a similar origin and have a similarity in culture, language and religion. but they each have fully separated into their own differing identity.

the Makuraians did not consider themselves the inheritors of the Kingdom of Kush and the rightful rulers of all Nubians to form a new Nubian nation. nor did the people in the area think of themselves as ultimately one “Nubian” people like the Germans, Spanish, Italians or Chinese did despite regional differences. in their minds they were fully separate and distinct and appealing to a shared Nubian ancestry between themselves for a common cause is nearly unheard of. it would be like appealing to a united Afghani heritage in Afghanistan.

religion and the central role the kings had in its function is what bound the many desperate people of the land together under their rule and gain acceptance, not the idea of a shared past as one people.

Nubia is a catchy term and it is accurate enough to apply to all the states in the region. Yeah, Makuria may be slightly more specific, but few would recognize it. It would be like Byzantium being called Romania.

Which is exactly why they should be called Nubia not Makuria specifically. It lets you draw on elements of later Nubian states like Sennar. I’m not saying add Sennar Horsemen exactly, but if they had distinctive cavalry in later eras, it’s more than likely they had something similar in earlier eras. Makuria did also hold influence over regions to the west like the Darfur area where the horsemen come from.

I think it would be refreshing to first get a civ that’s not present in AoE2. Ethiopia should come eventually though. Also if your issue is with having a multi ethnic empire, Ethiopia is a terrible example.

It’s very comparable. Even today, Catalans and Basques don’t view themselves as the same culture as the Castilians. France in this era had radically different cultures across it. Occitan was more similar to Catalan than anything northern French. Every empire has many different identities and cultures within their borders and the Nubian states are no exception.