Historical Perspective

Pharaoh Taharqo
Depicted as a Sphinx
The Nubian civilization extended along the Nile primarily from modern Southern Egypt to Sudan. They developed in close parallel with Egypt for much of its history throughout the age of antiquity. During their long association, the Nubians traded luxury items like ivory, gold and slaves which the Kushite kings possessed in abundance, for Egyptian grain. However the interaction was not always peaceful, for a period of 500 years during the New Kingdom period of Egypt, the Nubians were ruled by Egyptian Pharaohs. However during the 25th Egyptian dynasty, Nubia turned the tables on the Egyptians and ruled over them for a period of 100 years until the Assyrians drove them out. Despite this, the Nubians often preserved Egyptian traditions even as Egypt itself was under foreign rule.

The Egyptians called the Nubian Kingdom, "Ta-Seti" or Land of the Bow, after the superior archery skills of its people. They often employed the Nubians as mercenaries or policemen. In fact, even as Egypt fell to the armies of Islam in the 7th century A.D., the Nubians were able to resist the forces of Islam for the next thousand years.

When Islam finally made its way into Nubia, the fortunes of the Nubian people would however take a turn for the worst. As various colonial powers from the Ottomans to the British took control of Sudan (the modern name for Nubia) their predatory policies to simply misguided ideals would lead to severe lasting social-economic problems befalling the country. The Mahdist movement, lead by Muhammad Ahmad with calls for Jihad arose in the late 19th century to exert Sudanese Nationalism. The movement temporarily shook off the yolk of colonialism but failed even more in solving the problems within the country. This would set the tone for much of the recent history of Sudan. Today the country continues to struggles against mounting problems on many fronts from the economic to the political.

Much of what we know of ancient Nubian history comes from Egyptian sources, owing much to the overriding although justifiable interest in Egyptian history by European scholars. Indeed Egypt has exerted a profound effect on Nubia throughout its history. However, there is speculation that the Nubian civilization even predates the Egyptian. To be sure, Nubia and Egypt greatly influenced each other's development, particularly in its formative stages. Contact between the two cultures occurred no surprising due to the steady movement of population along the Nile River. The archeological evidence suggests that the Nubian people were a blending of Negroid and Mediterranean populations during the Neolithic period.

Nubia is acknowledge to cover an area along the Nile river valley from what is known as the first cataract in the North to the sixth cataract in the South. The earliest evidence of a distinct culture in the area was discovered to be dated around 6000 B.C. The only thing known about the Nubians during this time are from archeological remains, supplemented by ancient Egyptian sources. These people began as a politically fragmented population governed by local kings, who became increasingly prosperous on trade with Egypt. These early Nubians were known as "A-group" culture by archeologists. However by 2800 B.C. lower Nubia fell under the control of Egypt, because of the gold mines located in the area. Because of the increasing aggression from Egypt, a united Nubian Kingdom emerged with its capitol at the city of Kerma by 2500 B.C. It was during the late "Old Kingdom" period of Egypt history that a nomadic tribe that lived in Nubian territory was first recruited by the Egyptians as mercenaries into the Egyptian army and as a desert police force due to their military skills. But as Egyptian power weakened during the "First Intermediate" Period, people known as the "C-Group" culture (descendants of the A-Group) begin to resettle Lower Nubia. However by 1981 B.C. the Egyptians would again re-established control in the area by building a series of forts along the Nile. Despite the adversarial nature of their relationship at the bordering reaches of the two Kingdoms, the Kerma based Nubian Kingdom however remained strong and independent throughout this period establishing themselves as a major trade partner with the Egyptians. This relationship continued even into Egypt's "Second Intermediate" period (1640 B.C. to 1550 B.C.) when the Hyksos invaded and ruled Egypt. They would also take that opportunity to expand Nubian control back into Lower Nubia. However by 1550 B.C. as Egypt entered its "New Kingdom" period, the revitalized and aggressive Egyptian dynasties not only would seize Lower Nubia, but also conducted a series of military campaigns against Upper Nubia. By 1450 B.C. both Upper and Lower Nubia became a colony of Egypt. The city of Napata was established as a center of Egyptian control over Nubia.

Ruins of Temple at Kerma

As often the case, the tied of history switches sides. In 1070 B.C., Upper Nubia would again become independent and by 760 B.C. all of Nubia would be united under King Kashta, from the first to the sixth cataract. This period was known as the Napata period, as the Nubians took to burying their Kings at the former Egyptian stronghold, taking it as their own. The Nubians would go even further, in 743 B.C., the Kushite King Piye invades Upper Egypt seizing control of it from the Egyptians. His successor Shabaqo would establish the 25th Pharaonic dynasty by uniting both Upper and Lower Egypt under Kushite rule, establishing the Empire of Kush. However, about a hundred years after its establishment, under Pharaoh Taharqo the Empire intervened in the area of modern Syria in opposition to the Assyrians. The Assyrians responded by invading Egypt and driving the Nubian king out of Egypt and forcing him to withdraw back to their homeland and return the dynasty to Napata.

In 590 B.C., they would again have to move their capitol, when an Egyptian army sacked Napata. This time, to the city of Meroe situated near the sixth cataract, well away from northern aggression. Napata would still remain an important religious center for the Nubians but the royal necropolis was also moved to Meroe ushering in the Meroitic period of Nubian history. For several centuries thereafter, the Kushite Kingdom centered in Meroe developed independently of Egypt. While still preserving the Pharaonic traditions like the raising of stelae to record the achievements of their reigns and erecting pyramids to contain their King's tombs.

The city of Meroe was ideally situation at the convergence of a network of trade routes that ran along the White and Blue Niles. Meroe became East Africa's most important center of trade. The civilization thrived on trade with Egypt and the Greco-Roman World, in addition to Arab and Indian traders along the Red Sea. The Kushite Kings even managed to create an irrigation system that was capable of supporting a higher population density during this period then had been or would be possible in the future. The Nubians also developed a new Meroitic script based on the Egyptian writing system to better represent the indigenous spoken language of its people. Despite mostly peaceful relations with it neighbors, Nubian ambitions in Upper Egypt provoked the Roman Army in 23 B.C. to move south against them razing Napata to the ground. The Romans however abandoned the area as being unfit for Roman colonization. During the 2nd century A.D., a tribe known as the Nobatae that occupied the Nile's west bank in Northern Kush integrated themselves first as mercenaries then as a military aristocracy into the Meroitic Kingdom. Introducing Camelry as a weapon of war into the Nubian culture. However the fortunes of the Kushite Kingdom would come to an end in the 4th century A.D., when it was overwhelmed by the kingdom of Aksum that had developed in Abyssinia (or modern Ethiopia) to the southeast.

Pyramid Tombs of Meroe

Nubian Bishop and Virgin Mary
Fresco from Cathedral at Faras

The Nubian would re-emerge as three successor kingdoms in the 6th century A.D. Nobatia in the north, the central kingdom, Muqurra, and Alwa, in the heart of old Meroitic Kingdom in the south. In all three kingdoms were ruled by a military elite. Strangely using Greek titles in emulation of the Byzantine court and Christian. However, it was not surprising as Egypt then Abyssinia had both been converted to Christianity in the previous century by the Byzantines. The Nubians as they seemed to have always done in the past adopted Egyptian traditions accepting religion suzerainty from the Coptic Church based in Alexandria. This period saw a resurgence of the cultural and ideological connections between the Mediterranean World with the Nubians. The Greek language infiltrated Nubian society through religious teachings, and remained strong even until the 12th century A.D.

However, after the Arabs invaded Egypt in 639 A.D. and as Muslims began to dominate Egypt this connection as well as to the rest of the Christian World was lost. The Arabs invaders that had taken control of Egypt tried to take the Nubian Kingdoms by force but was repelled, not once but twice, in 642 A.D. and again in 652 A.D. This forced the successor states to reunite. The Arabs then turn to seek peaceful relations with the Nubians to facilitate trade between the two cultures. The Christian Nubian Kingdoms reached its height in the 9th and 10th century. However, over the next 1000 years the Islamic influences brought about by Arab merchants as they began to establish trade posts and intermarried into the population gradually turned the Nubians into a majority Islamic, Arabic speaking nation. The turning point was in the 13th century A.D., when the Mamelukes from Egypt intervened in a dynastic dispute within the Nubian monarchy forcing the Northern Kingdoms of Nubia to be satellite state to Egypt. By the 15th century A.D. as the Christian church declined in influence, a period of political instability and fragmentation ensued.

The resulting chaos led to an increase in raids by slave traders. The population began to convert to Islam in even greater number in order to seek the protection of Arab protectors. The Islamization of Nubia also created the beginnings of a division between North and South. Islam encouraged political unity, economic growth and education but these efforts were largely restricted to the urban and commercial centers in the North where the most of the Arabs controlled. In 1517 A.D. the Turks took control of Egypt, forcing the Mameluke to flee south into Nubia. The Mamelukes eventually made peace with the Ottomans, agreeing to be ruled under the Kashif system under the Pasha in Cairo. However the Mamelukes remained in Northern Nubia pillaging the land for its wealth and people, in the form of taxes and slaves as they jockeyed for title and territory for themselves. Meanwhile, in Southern Nubia, the Funj Empire supplanted the remnants of the Christian Kingdoms. The Funj consisted of a confederation of Sultanates and dependent chiefdoms, based on military rule and a slave trade economy. The Funj State however created stability in the region by interposing a strong military bloc between the various powers that surrounded it.

This state of affairs continued for almost 300 years until the 18th century. By then it became clear that the Mamelukes were the real power in Egypt. It was then also that Napoleon invaded Egypt, and finally broke the power of the Mamelukes. However, Britain being an adversary of the French, decided to intervene on behalf of the Ottoman Turks to regain control of their wayward province. The Ottomans also sent Muhammad Ali as Pasha (provincial governor) to restore Ottoman interests in the area, for which he did exceedingly well. Removing the Mameluke power structure from Egypt, but this time also removing any of them that had fled to Sudan. He also forced the last of the Funj Sultanates to surrender their authority when they refused to give up the Mamelukes that had fled into their domain. This period (1821 A.D. to 1885 A.D.) was known as the Turkiyah or Turkish Regime, but for Sudan it was no better then the previous state of affairs. They were again subject to parasitic taxation, and the slave trade became an official state run enterprise. The slave trade further exacerbated the North-South tension, as it was often the Muslim Northern Sudanese preying upon the non-Muslim South. Not only was the cost high for the Sudanese in human lives, but the disruption to economic and social enterprises especially in the South were debilitating.

It wasn't until the British who had by then ceased the practice of slavery themselves, pressured the Ottomans to end the practice in Egypt and severed it from official government sponsorship. In 1869 A.D. the British set out to annex all territory from Equatorial Africa to the White Nile's basin and to suppress the slave trade by force. Charles George Gordon, a British officer whose other claim to fame was as the General who put down a rebellion in China against Dynastic rule, was given this task. He accomplished this task quite successfully, being appointed Governor General of Sudan in 1877 A.D. However, the respite in the slave trade was only a short one, as Gordon resigned as Governor only 3 years after his appointment. The illegal slave trade was again running rampant, unemployed soldiers was wreaking havoc in the land, and government taxation policies were heavy and arbitrary.

Against this backdrop Muhammad Ahmad, a holy man who combined personal magnetism with religious zealotry, emerged, determined to expel the British and their Turkish puppets and restore Islam to its primitive purity. He declared himself "El Mahdi" or the messenger of God. Gordon was recalled by the British government to meet the threat. However, the British government only gave him half-hearted support and reinforcements were sent far too late, resulting in the slaughter of the Anglo-Egyptian garrison stationed in Khartoum and the murder of Gordon. The Mahdiyah (Mahdist regime) then imposed strict traditional Islamic laws upon Sudan. Regional relations remained tense throughout much of the Mahdiyah period, largely because of the regime's commitment to using the jihad to extend Islam throughout the world. The movement temporarily shook off the yolk of colonialism but failed even more in solving the problems within the country. This would set the tone for much of the recent history of Sudan.

Muhammad Ahmad
"El Mahdi"

Battle of Omdurman
Mahdist Cavalry

By the close of the 19th century, the British decided to reconquer Sudan as it posed a great threat to its interest in Egypt, and as other colonial powers were working its way towards Sudan from the south and East. The British reconquered Sudan without much troubled but the Sudanese's economy had been all but destroyed during Mahdiya. The population had declined by approximately one-half because of famine, disease, persecution, and warfare. The British then proceeded to rebuild the country and its infrastructure, and with some minor revolts and during World War One when a Sudanese Sultan sided with the Ottoman's against the British, the country was relatively stable compared to the previous era under Ottoman and then Mahdist rule. However British policies also continued to widen the schism between Northern and Southern Sudan. The British treated the South as almost a separate state, and instituted a closed-door policy between the two regions. This was in an attempt to control the spread of Islam and Arabic influences towards the South. As a result the South remained largely under-developed. The elite of Southern Sudan being educated in English while the North was Arabic and economically dominant.

This along with colonial privileges began to ferment nationalist sentiments against the British colonialism. By 1936 A.D. an arrangement was finally made for the eventual withdrawal of British military forces from Sudan, while still retaining governorship of the Sudanese State through their surrogates in Egypt. The Sudanese Defense Force during World War Two were given the task to defend against the Italians in Ethiopia, along with the British managed to route the Italians and liberate Ethiopia from the Axis forces. After the Second World War, the Sudanese push for independence resumed. Some factions favored unification with Egypt, while others favored complete independence for a Sudanese State, with the pro-independence faction eventually gaining control of the country. The economic situation even in the North was not without problems. Since its colonial days the country subsisted on being a cotton supplier to Britain with little else in terms of economic grow or development. Not the least of which, the schism that had developed earlier between Northern and Southern Sudan, re-emerged after the Second World War with the army in the South rebelling against the North in 1955 A.D. when Northern officers were put in charge of the army of the unified independent Sudan. The rebellion was put down harshly. But this tension however was to re-emerge again and again. The next few decades up to the present saw many military coups and rebellions primarily caused by the North-South tension, continuing economic vulnerabilities and mounting international debts. Combined with a famine in the mid 1980's that cost the lives of half a million people, the country continues to struggle with mounting problems on almost all fronts.

Overall Strategy for Players Using Nubia

Figurines of Nubian Archers
The Nubians possess the power of Trade, as well as two highly effective unique unit lines. The Archers will be good for both attack and defense, as they beat other archers, while their camel archer units will be ideal for a forward rush attack. Being a ranged cavalry units they are ideal for deep penetration and hit and run attacks. Of course in the later ages it would be a good idea to complement their unique units. Such as heavy infantry, or their camel archers to complement their archers against light infantry, and heavy cavalry against light cavalry to complement their camel archers. The Nubians should also watch out for light infantry and light cavalry strong civilizations especially the various Mezo-American civs. The Nubians should not rely on their archers for defense when facing these civs, instead be prepared ahead of time with heavy infantry.

The resources needed for their unique units are food and timber for archers, wealth and timber for cavalry archers. So the Nubian player should try to go heavy on wood to produce resources to produce both types of troops in abundance. Of course people on food, and also quickly establish trade routes to collect wealth. Although the free market from the start, and the +1 caravan limit will help in getting market economy set up quickly. A good optimizer will be able to use their market trade ability to surprise opponents with a extremely early rushing force of camel archers, or to help less efficient players to make up for resource shortfalls.

Their power of trade also includes the ability to collect bonuses from rare resources without having a merchant to collect them. These rare resources can be a big advantage as some of their bonuses are as powerful as civ powers. This means that the Nubian player should try hard to explore their territory thoroughly to be able to collect these bonuses. In particular certain rare resources will be particularly useful for the Nubians in producing their unique units: Citrus for food and timber, Cotton for timer and unit production speed, Amber for wealth and timber, Bison for food, Diamonds for wealth, Fish for food and wealth, Gems for wealth and borders, Horses for food and stable unit costs, Marble for timber, Papyrus for timber, Rubber for timber and Barrack unit cost, Silver for wealth, Spice for food, Sugar for food and timber and food costs, Titanium for food and reduce attrition, Tobacco for wealth, Whale for food, Wool for timber. Of course all rare resources will be useful, but those particular ones will help them build a more effective army using their unique units. The other reason to highlight them is so that in expanding one's empire it would be wise to secure those in particular, so as to maximize the Nubian advantages.

Nubia as modelled in Rise of Nations

Unique units

  • Cavalry Archer Line
Camel Archer (Classical Age)
particularly effective against light infantry.

Heavy Camel Archer (Medieval Age)

Camel Raider (Gunpowder Age)

Camel Corp (Enlightenment Age)

  • Archer Line
Kushite Archer (Classical Age)
costs the same but also beats other archers

Royal Kushite Archer (Medieval Age)

Apedemak Archer (Gunpowder Age)

Unique powers (Power of Trade)

  • Merchants collect 50% bonuses from rare resources
  • See all rare resource in your territory
  • Starts game with Market, and can trade resources from the start
    always trade resources with +20/-20 price bonus
  • Merchants, Caravan and Markets 50% cheaper and 50% more hitpoints
  • +1 limit to number of caravans

Written By: One Dead Angel


UC Santa Barbara, Brigham Young University, Metropolitan Museum, State Information Service, Sudan Home.