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Makuria: Humanity’s Longest Observed Peace Treaty, The Baqt

Makuria was successor state to the Nubian kingdom. The kingdom of Makuria comprised of​ a region along the Nile River; encompassing the area between today’s Aswan in southern Egypt and Khartoum in central Sudan. The kingdom ​existed between 500 AD to the middle of the 14th century and had its capital as Dongola which was a fortress. Makurians or Nubians were originally the early inhabitants of the central Nile valley which is believed to be one of the earliest cradles of civilization.

The kingdom of Makuria was created by Nubians in the 6th century after they converted to Christianity as part of three kingdoms; ​Nobatia in the north, Makuria in the centre and Alodia in the south. At some point in the 8th-century, king Merkurious united the northern kingdom of Nobatia with the Kingdom of Makuria​.

Area of Kingdom of Makuria

makuria_contemporaries
Area, location and contemporaries of Makurai

Christianity in Makuria

Byzantine missionaries were responsible for the spread of Christianity​ in the Nubia kingdom, ​One effect of the conversion to Christianity was the construction of numerous churches. The new churches quickly replaced pagan temples and royal tomb monuments, many churches were built and sometimes replaced with newer ones. In Dongola, a church dubbed the “Old Church” was demolished so that the “Church of the Granite Columns” could be built over it. This was the largest church constructed in medieval Nubia and may have served as the city’s cathedral.

Military Strength

Makuria was one of the few states in the world to repel Muslim Arab conquests which were then led by the Rashidun caliphate. In 642 AD the Nubia Christian forces defeated an Arab army in the war known as “the first battle of Dongola”. This victory temporarily halted Muslim incursion into the kingdom but the Arab Army in their conquests during that period conquered Egypt, were conquering the circumference of the Mediterranean and were constituting a great power.

kingdoms - islamic expansion
World scale of Makurai’s military achievement in defeating the Umayyad caliphate

Although they failed to defeat Makuria at their second attempt in AD 652 known as “the second battle of Dongola” or “the siege of Dongola”, the Makuria kingdom were aware of the rising strength of their enemy and knew it was a matter of time before they were overwhelmed by the Arab’s rising power, so ​the king of Makuria​ King Qualidurut made a deal with the​ Mayyad governor of Egypt Abdallah ibn Sa’id ibn Abi Sarh, the outcome was the signing of a treaty​ known as the Baqt.

Makuria_A_Young_Archer_by_Govaert_Flinck
A Young Archer (1639-1640), Wallace Collection, Artist Govaert Flinck

First Battle of Dongola

Date Summer,642
Location Northern Nubia (Sudan)
Rashidun Caliphate Kingdom of Makuria
20,000 Cavalry 8-10,000 Archers and Cavalry
Heavy casualties – 10-15,000 dead Estimated 1,000 dead and 1,000 wounded.

 

Second Battle of Dongola

Date Summer,642
Location Dongola (Sudan)
Rashidun Caliphate Kingdom of Makuria
50,000 men including Cavalry and 3 Catapults 20,000 Cavalry, 5,000 infantry and 7,000 archers
Heavy casualties – 30-40,000 dead Unknown – Estimated 7,000 wounded.

The World’s Longest Peace Treaty

The Baqt treaty was unique; no other agreement made by the medieval Arabs during that time bore the same name, because it exempted the Nubians from the community of nations at war with Islam (Dar al-Harb) without including them in the community of Islam (Dar al-Islam). The Baqt treaty lasted for more than 650 years so naturally there was more than one documented version. Some prominent terms in the treaty were.

❏     The Nubians were to supply about 360 slaves yearly to the Arabs.

❏     Egypt had to supply wheat, lintils and goods which travelled South from North Africa, Europe and the Middle East

❏     The promise of safe passage of each other’s citizens when passing through their lands.

❏     The promise of no wars or ceasing of conflict.

❏     Free trade between the two parties.

❏     The Nubians were to return any runaway slaves or Muslim outlaws who fell into their hands.

❏     Nubia was to be exempted from the war by Muslims.

❏     The Nubians were to look after a mosque that the Muslims will build at Dongola.

❏     The Muslims were not obligated to defend the Makurians if they get attacked by third parties.

The term requiring Makuria to build a mosque is disputed by scholars since Makuria never lost a battle to the Northern Caliphates before the last century of existence of the Makuria. No mosque was available in Dongola when IBN SALIM AL-ASWANI visited it in the 10th Century (300 years after the creation of the Baqt). IBN SALIM AL-ASWANI and his associates had to retreat to the desert to pray.

Although a truce, the requirements of the Baqt treaty to send the Northern counterparty slaves would claim an estimated 250,000 people and would become a political tool in the hands of subsequent caliphates to imply it was a sulh – an imposed settlement.

At about 830 AD, Egypt that was under the control of the Muslims fell into civil war, the then king of Makuria king Zacharias III halted the Baqt payments. When the war ended it was the Abbasid caliphate that gained firm control of Egypt. The caliphate made requests for the resumption of the Baqt and unpaid arrears but it was turned down by king Zacharias III. The king of Makuria was ready to fight the Abbasid caliphate if need be.

5 years later in 835 AD, king Zacharias III sent his son Georgios to Baghdad to renegotiate directly with the caliphate the Baqt treaty. This was successful as the arrears were written off and the payments and supply of slaves were reduced to once every 3 years.

By the time the Fatimid caliphate assumed power ​the Baqt again had not been paid for more than a decade, however, it was eventually settled. It is on record that the Fatimid caliphate had good relations with Makuria and the Nubian slaves constituted the backbone of their army.

However, relations became increasingly worse under subsequent caliphates – the Ayyubid Dynasty and the Mamluks Sultanate. Eventually a full-scale war broke out. The Baqt finally ended in the mid-fourteenth century with the complete collapse of organized government in the region.

The Makuria Kingdom achieved a lot during her time, the most notable being the clever Baqt treaty which made it possible to keep the kingdom together for centuries during the period of their adversary’s mighty reign. Makuria was an indigenous kingdom and one of the first cradle of civilization, they had education, a well-structured society and this ingeniousness made it possible for them to successfully defeat a very powerful army twice. The kingdom was a force to be reckoned with in trading, they prospered, built monuments many of which the ruins can still be found even in present day, they were a very rich kingdom which is evidenced by the very expensive jewels used to adorn their churches and palaces.

Literacy in Makuria

Makuria was a civilized and prosperous kingdom. The people could read and write. They had their own unique writing style and language called old-Nubian(now extinct). Old-Nubian is one of the oldest ever written African languages and was adopted and used throughout the Makurian Kingdom. Modern day spoken languages Nobiin, Dongolawi and Kezi are all closely related and draw their roots from the old-Nubian language.

The language is still preserved in over a hundred pages of documents and inscriptions used by the people of past times. Besides old-Nubian, Koine Greek and Coptic were also used in the kingdom. The former was used more predominantly for religious activities and the later mainly used in funeral inscriptions. The language of the Makurian kingdom might have been old-Nubian however nearly all texts written in old-Nubian are a slanted uncial variant of the Coptic alphabet.

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Old-Nubian Manuscript

Lists of known Makuria kings from inception until the collapse of the kingdom.

ZACHARIAS I Not Clear
QUALIDURUT Not clear – between AD 652 – 697
MERKURIOUS AD697 – 722
CYRIACUS I or KYKRIAKOS I AD 722 – 738
ZACHARIAS II AD 738 – AD 744
SIMON AD 744 – Between 748 to 768
ABRAHAM Between AD 748 to AD 768 – Between AD 789 to AD790
MARKUS Between AD 780 to AD 790 – Between AD 768 to AD
CYRIACUS II / KYKRIAKOS II Between AD 747 toAD 780 – Between AD 780 to AD790
MICHAEL or MIKHAEL AD 790 – AD 810
JOHN or JOHANNES AD 810 – AD 822
ZACHARIAS III AD 822- AD 831
QANUN AD 831 – AD 831 (Overthrew King Zacharias III)
ZACHARIAS III AD 831 – AD 854(Took back the throne from Qanun)
ALI BABA AD 854- AD 860
ISRAEL AD 860- AD 870
GEORGE I or GEORGIOS I AD 872 – AD 892
ASABYSOS AD 892 – AD 912
STEPHEN or ISTABANOS AD 912 – AD 943
KUBRI IBN SUNUN AD 943 – AD 958
ZACHARIAS IV AD 958 – AD 969
GEORGE II or GEOGIOS II AD 969 – AD 980
SIMEON AD 980 – AD 999
RAPHAEL AD 999 – AD 1030
GEOGIOS III or GEORGE III AD 1030 – AD 1080
SALAMO or SOLOMON AD 1080 – AD 1089
BASIL or BASILEIOS AD 1089 – AD 1130
GEORGE OR GEOGIOS AD 1130 – AD 1171
MOSES GEORGE or MOISE GEOGIOS AD 1171 – AD 1210
YAHYA AD 1210 – AD 1268
DAVID I AD 1268 – AD 1274
DAVID II AD 1274 – AD 1276
SHAKANDA AD 1276 – AD 1277
MASQUADAT oe MESKEDET AD 1277 – AD 1279
BARAK or BEREK AD 1279 – AD 1286
SAMAMUN or SHAMUMUN AD 1286 – AD 1293(was overthrown twice)
ANNY AD 1293 – Not clear
BUDEMINAH Not Clear – 1304
AMAI AD 1304 – AD 1305
KUDANBES AD 1305 – AD 1312
KEREMBES AD 1312 – Between AD 1312 to 1315
SAIF AD-DIN’ABDALLAH BERSHAMBO Between AD 1312 to1315 – AD 1320
KANZ AL DAWLA AD 1320 – AD 1323
IBRAHIM AD 1323 – AD 1323(Held the throne for 3 days)
KEREMBES AD 1323 – Last known Nubian King