Nubians are an ethnolinguistic group indigenous to present-day Sudan
Egypt who originate from the early inhabitants of the
Nile valley, believed to be one of the earliest cradles of
civilization. Nubian people have an ancient history predating
dynastic Egypt. They speak the Nubian languages, which belong to the
Nilo-Saharan language family.
In the pre-dynastic period, early Neolithic settlements have been
found in the central Nubian region dating back to 7000 BC, with Wadi
Halfa believed to be the oldest settlement in the central Nile
valley. During the dynastic period, parts of
Nubia such as Ta-Seti
(the first nome or administrative region of ancient Egypt) were
continuously a part of ancient
Egypt throughout the dynastic era
Other parts of Nubia, particularly Southern or Upper Nubia, were at
times a part of ancient Pharaonic
Egypt and at other times a rival
state representing parts of the Empire of
Meroë or the Kushite
Kingdom. However, at the Twenty-fifth Dynasty of Egypt, all of Nubia
was united with ancient Egypt, or Kemet, extending down to modern day
Towards the end of the dynastic era, Upper
Nubia broke off from Egypt
proper. During that time, the
Nubians founded a dynasty that ruled
Upper and Lower
Egypt during the 8th century BC. As warriors, the
Nubians were famous for their skill and precision with the
Today, people of Nubian descent primarily live in southern Egypt,
especially in the
Aswan area, and in northern Sudan,
particularly in the region between the city of
Wadi Halfa on the
Egyptian-Sudanese border and Al Dabbah. Additionally, several groups
known as the
Hill Nubians live in the northern
Nuba Mountains in South
Kordofan state, Sudan. The main Nubian groups from north to south
are the Halfaweyen, Sikut,
Mahas and Dongola.
4 Modern Nubians
8 Nubian vs Nubi
9 Prominent Nubians
10 See also
11.1 Inline citations
11.2 General references
12 External links
Throughout history various parts of
Nubia were known by different
names, including Ta-Seti, Kush, Meroe, and biblical Aethiopia. The
origin of the names
Nubia and Nubian are contested. What is more
certain is that they ultimately denote geographical provenance rather
than ethnic origin. Based on cultural traits, many scholars believe
Nubia is derived from the ancient Egyptian noun nebu, meaning
gold. The Romans used the term
Nubia to describe the area of
Egypt and Northern Sudan. Another etymology traces the
toponym to a distinct group of people, the Noubai, who in more recent
times inhabited the area that would become known as Nubia. The
derivation of the term Nubian has also been associated with the Greek
historian Strabo, who referred to the Nubas people.
Further information: Nubia
Shabti figurine of the Kushite King
Senkamanisken ca. 643-623 BC
(left), marble portrait of a
Nubia denizen ca. 120-100 BC (right). The
commemorative stela of the Axumite King Ezana indicates that two
distinct population groups inhabited ancient Nubia: the
Afroasiatic-speaking Kasu (Kushites) who were related to the
neighbouring ancient Egyptians, and a Sudanic-speaking population that
was instead related to Nilotes.
The prehistory of
Nubia dates to the Paleolithic Era, around 300,000
years ago. By about 6000 BC, peoples in the region had developed an
agricultural economy. They began using a system of writing relatively
late in their history, when they adopted the Egyptian hieroglyphic
system. Ancient history in
Nubia is categorized according to the
A-Group culture (3700-2800 BC), C-Group culture
Kerma culture (2500-1500 BC), Nubian contemporaries of
Egyptian New Kingdom (1550-1069 BC), Kingdom of
Napata and Egypt's
Nubian dynasty XXV (1000-653 BC), Kingdom of
Napata (1000-275 BC),
Meroe (275 BC-300/350 AD),
Kingdom of Makuria
Kingdom of Makuria (340-1317
AD), Kingdom of Nobatia (350–650 AD), and Kingdom of Alodia
Historiolinguistic analysis indicates that the early inhabitants of
Nubia region, during the C-Group and Kerma cultures, were speakers
of languages belonging to the Berber and Cushitic branches of the
Afroasiatic family. They were succeeded by the first Nubian language
speakers, whose tongues belonged to the separate Nilo-Saharan
phylum. Accordingly, a 4th-century victory stela belonging to
King Ezana of the
Kingdom of Aksum
Kingdom of Aksum contains inscriptions describing
two distinct population groups dwelling in ancient Nubia: a "red" Kasu
population, who are believed to have been Cushitic speakers related to
the neighbouring ancient Egyptians, and a "black" Sudanic-speaking
population that was instead related to Nilotes. The existence of
two such distinct population groups in
Nubia has also been confirmed
through genetic analysis (see genetics).
Nubia have a shared pre-dynastic and pharaonic
history, the two histories diverge with the fall of Ancient
the conquest of
Egypt by Alexander the Great in 332BC. At this
point, the area of land between the 1st and the 6th cataract of the
Nile became known as Nubia.
Egypt was conquered first by the Greeks
and then the Romans. During this time period, however, the Kushites
formed the kingdom of Meroe, which was ruled by a series of legendary
Candaces or Queens. Mythically, the Candace of
Meroe was able to
intimidate Alexander the Great into retreat with a great army of
elephants, while historical documents suggest that the Nubians
defeated the Roman Emperor Augustus Caesar, resulting in a favorable
peace treaty for Meroe. The kingdom of
Meroe also defeated the
Persians, and later Christian
Nubia defeated the invading Arab armies
on three different occasions resulting in the 600 year peace treaty of
Baqt, the longest lasting treaty in history. The fall of the
kingdom of Christian
Nubia occurred in the early 1500s resulting in
full Islamization and reunification with
Egypt under the Ottoman
Empire, the Muhammad Ali dynasty, and British colonial rule. After the
1956 independence of
Sudan from Egypt,
Nubia and the Nubian people
became divided between Southern
Egypt and Northern Sudan.
A Nubian woman circa 1900
Nubians speak the Nubian language, an Eastern Sudanic language
that is part of the Nilo-Saharan phylum. The Old
Nubian language is
attested from the 8th century, and is the oldest recorded language of
Africa outside of the Afroasiatic family. It was the language of the
Noba nomads who occupied the
Nile between the First and Third
Cataracts and also of the Makorae nomads who occupied the land between
the Third and Fourth Cataracts, following the collapse of the Kingdom
of Kush sometime in the 4th century AD. The Makorae were a separate
tribe who eventually conquered or inherited the lands of the Noba:
they established a Byzantine-influenced state called the Kingdom of
Makuria, which administered the
Noba lands separately as the eparchy
Nobadia was converted to
Miaphysitism by the Orthodox
priest Julian and Bishop Longinus of Constantinople, and thereafter
received its bishops from the Pope of Alexandria.
Nubia consisted of four regions with varied agriculture and
Nile river and its valley were found in the north and
central parts of Nubia, allowing farming using irrigation. The western
Sudan had a mixture of peasant agriculture and nomadism. Eastern Sudan
had primarily nomadism, with a few areas of irrigation and
agriculture. Finally, there was the fertile pastoral region of the
south, where Nubia's larger agricultural communities were located.
Nubia was dominated by kings from clans that controlled the gold
mines. Trade in exotic goods from other parts of Africa (ivory, animal
skins) passed to
Egypt through Nubia.
Nubians speak the Nubian language. It belongs to the Eastern
Sudanic branch of the Nilo-Saharan phylum.
Before the arrival of the first Nubian speakers, languages from the
Afroasiatic family are believed to have been spoken by the early
inhabitants of the
Nubia region. According to Peter Behrens (1981) and
Marianne Bechaus-Gerst (2000), linguistic evidence indicates that the
ancient peoples of the C-Group and Kerma civilizations spoke
Afroasiatic languages of the Berber and Cushitic branches,
respectively. The Nilo-Saharan
Nobiin language today contains
a number of key pastoralism related loanwords that are of Berber or
proto-Highland East Cushitic origin, including the terms for
sheep/goatskin, hen/cock, livestock enclosure, butter and milk. This
in turn suggests that the C-Group and Kerma populations, who inhabited
Nile Valley immediately before the arrival of the first Nubian
speakers, spoke Afroasiatic languages.
However, it is uncertain to which language family the ancient Meroitic
language is related. Claude Rilly has proposed that it, like the
Nobiin language, belongs to the Eastern Sudanic branch of the
Nilo-Saharan family. Kirsty Rowan suggests that Meroitic, like
the Egyptian language, instead belongs to the Afroasiatic family. She
bases this on its sound inventory and phonotactics, which are similar
to those of the
Afroasiatic languages and dissimilar from those of the
Nubian wedding near Aswan
The descendants of the ancient
Nubians still inhabit the general area
of what was ancient Nubia. They currently live in what is called Old
Nubia, mainly located in modern Egypt.
Nubians have been resettled in
large numbers (an estimated 50,000 people) away from southern Egypt
since the 1960s, when the
Aswan High Dam was built on the Nile,
flooding ancestral lands. Some resettled
Nubians continue working
as farmers (sharecroppers) on resettlement farms whose landowners live
elsewhere; most work in Egypt's cities. Whereas
Arabic was once only
learned by Nubian men who travelled for work, it is increasingly being
learned by Nubian women who have access to school, radio and
television. Nubian women are working outside the home in increasing
1973 Arab–Israeli War
1973 Arab–Israeli War
Egypt employed Nubian people as
Old Nubian manuscript
Nubians have developed a common identity, which has been celebrated in
poetry, novels, music and storytelling.
Nubians in modern
Sudan include the Danaqla around
Dongola Reach, the
Mahas from the Third Cataract to Wadi Halfa, and the Sikurta around
Nubians write using their own script. They also practice
Mahas men and women have three scars on each cheek,
while the Danaqla wear these scars on their temples. Younger
generations appear to be abandoning this custom.
Nubia's ancient cultural development was influenced by its geography.
It is sometimes divided into Upper
Nubia and Lower Nubia. Upper Nubia
was where the ancient Kingdom of
Napata (the Kush) was located. Lower
Nubia has been called "the corridor to Africa", where there was
contact and cultural exchange between Nubians, Egyptians, Greeks,
Assyrians, Romans, and Arabs. Lower
Nubia was also where the Kingdom
Meroe flourished. The languages spoken by modern
based on ancient Sudanic dialects. From north to south, they are:
Kenuz, Fadicha (Matoki), Sukkot, Mahas, Danagla.
Kerma, Nepata and
Meroe were Nubia's largest population centres. The
rich agricultural lands of
Nubia supported these cities. Ancient
Egyptian rulers sought control of Nubia's wealth, including gold, and
the important trade routes within its territories. Nubia's trade
Egypt led to Egypt's domination over
Nubia during the New
Kingdom period. The emergence of the Kingdom of
Meroe in the 8th
century BCE led to
Egypt being under the control of Nubian rulers for
a century, although they preserved many Egyptian cultural
traditions. Nubian kings were considered pious scholars and
patrons of the arts, copying ancient Egyptian texts and even restoring
some Egyptian cultural practices. After this, Egypt's influence
Meroe became the centre of power for
cultural links with sub-Saharan Africa gained greater influence.
Nubians practice Islam. To a certain degree, Nubian religious
practices involve a syncretism of
Islam and traditional folk
beliefs. In ancient times,
Nubians practiced a mixture of
traditional religion and Egyptian religion. Prior to the spread of
Nubians practiced Christianity.
Ancient Nepata was an important religious centre in Nubia. It was the
location of Gebel Barkal, a massive sandstone hill resembling a
rearing cobra in the eyes of the ancient inhabitants. Egyptian priests
declared it to be the home of the ancient deity Amun, further
enhancing Nepata as an ancient religious site. This was the case for
both Egyptians and Nubians. Egyptian and Nubian deities alike were
Nubia for 2500 years, even while
Nubia was under the
control of the New Kingdom of Egypt. Nubian kings and queens were
buried near Gebel Barkal, in pyramids as the Egyptian pharaohs were.
Nubian pyramids were built at Gebel Barkal, at Nuri (across the Nile
from Gebel Barkal), at El Kerru, and at Merroe, south of Gebel
Main article: Nubian architecture
Nubian architecture in
Sudan is distinctive, and typically
features a large courtyard surrounded by a high wall. A large,
ornately decorated gate, preferably facing the Nile, dominates the
property. Brightly colored stucco is often decorated with symbols
connected with the family inside, or popular motifs such as geometric
patterns, palm trees, or the evil eye that wards away bad luck.
Nubians invented the Nubian vault, a type of curved surface forming a
vaulted structure.
According to Y-DNA analysis by Hassan et al. (2008), around 44% of
Sudan carry the haplogroup J. The remainder mainly belong
to the E1b1b clade (23%). Both paternal lineages are also common among
local Afroasiatic-speaking populations. The next most frequent
haplogroups borne by
Nubians are the Western European-linked R1b clade
(10%) and the Eurasian lineage F (10%), followed by the archaic
African B haplogroup (8%) and the Europe-associated I clade (5%).
Maternally, Hassan (2009) observed that approximately 83% of their
Nubian samples carried various subclades of the Africa-centered
macrohaplogroup L. Of these mtDNA lineages, the most frequently borne
clade was L3 (30.8%), followed by the L0a (20.6%), L2 (10.3%), L1
(6.9%), L4 (6.9%) and L5 (6.9%) haplogroups. The remaining 17% of
Nubians belonged to sublineages of the Eurasian macrohaplogroups M
(3.4% M/D, 3.4% M1) and N (3.4% N1a, 3.4% preHV1, 3.4% R/U6a1).
Analysing a different group of Nubian individuals inhabiting Sudan,
Non (2010) found a significantly higher frequency of around 48% of the
Eurasian macrohaplogroups M and N. Of these mtDNA lineages, 16% of the
Nubians belonged to the M clade (around 9% to M1), with the
rest bearing N subhaplogroups (including approximately 8% R0, 3% T1a,
and 1% H). The remaining 52% of
Nubians carried various
Africa-centered macrohaplogroup L(xM,N) derivatives, with about 11% of
individuals belonging to the L2a1 subclade.
Dobon et al. (2015) identified an ancestral autosomal component of
West Eurasian origin that is common to many modern
Afroasiatic-speaking populations in the
Nile Valley and Horn of
Africa, including Sudanese Arabs. Known as the Coptic component, it
peaks among Egyptian
Copts who settled in
Sudan over the past two
centuries. The scientists associate the Coptic component with Ancient
Egyptian ancestry, without the later Arabian influence that is present
among other Egyptians. Hollfelder et al. (2017) also analysed
various populations in
Sudan and similarly observed close autosomal
affinities between their Nubian and Sudanese Arab samples.
In 2015, Sirak et al. also analysed the ancient DNA of a
Christian-period inhabitant of
Kulubnarti in Nubia. The scientists
found that the medieval specimen was most closely related to Middle
Eastern populations. Further excavations of two Early Christian
period (AD 550-800) cemeteries at Kulubnarti, one located on the
mainland and the other on an island, revealed the existence of two
ancestrally and socioeconomically distinct local populations. Ancient
DNA analysis of specimens from these burial sites found that the
mainland samples predominantly carried European and Near Eastern mtDNA
clades, such as the K1, H, I5, and U1 lineages; only 36.4% of the
mainland individuals belonged to African-based maternal haplogroups.
By contrast, 70% of the specimens at the island burial site bore
African-based clades, among which were the L2, L1 and L5 mtDNA
Nubian vs Nubi
Nubians are not to be confused with the Nubi people
also sometimes referred to as Nubians, estimated at 100,000-200,000,
who live in
Kenya and Uganda. The Nubi are descendants of soldiers
conscripted by the British during the colonial era, and they are
originally from modern day South
Sudan and the Darfur region. In
Nubians are indigenous to only
Egypt and Northern Sudan.
Alara of Nubia, founder of the Twenty-fifth dynasty of Egypt
Taharqa, Pharaoh of the Twenty-fifth dynasty
Kandake (queen) of the
Kingdom of Kush
Kingdom of Kush centered on Meroë
Gaafar Nimeiry, Former Sudanese president
Anwar Sadat, The third President of Egypt, first Muslim Nobel prize
Mohammed Wardi, Sudanese Nubian singer, considered the greatest
Sudanese artist to have ever lived.
Mohamed Mounir, Singer, the Prince
Mo Ibrahim, Sudanese-British mobile communications entrepreneur and
Hamza El Din, Singer and musicologist
Ramey Dawoud, Hiphop artist and actor
Khalil Kalfat, Literary critic, political and economic thinker and
Abdallah Khalil, Ex-Sudanese Prime Minister, co-founder of the White
Flag League, co-Founder and ex-general secretary of the Umma Party
Mohamed Hussein Tantawi Soliman, Egyptian Field Marshal and statesman,
commander-in-chief of the Egyptian Armed Forces, de facto head of
state of Egypt
Muhammad Ahmad, 19th century Sufi sheikh and self-proclaimed Mahdi
Osama Abdul Latif, a Sudanese businessman, chairman of DAL Group
Idris Ali, Egyptian novelist and short story writer
Ibrahim Awad, Sudanese musician
Shikabala, Egyptian footballer who currently plays for Egyptian club
Fathi Hassan, Painter
Barabra is an old ethnographical term for the Nubian peoples of Sudan
and southern Egypt.
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Black Pharaohs - National Geographic Feb 2008
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