Posts Tagged ‘Nubia’

New Series Next Tuesday on African Civilisations

May 23, 2018

Next Tuesday, 29th May 2018, at 10.00 pm there’s a new series beginning on BBC4 entitled Africa’s Great Civilisations. It’s a six part series, with the first part on ‘origins’. The blurb for it on page 77 of the Radio Times reads

Henry Louis Gates jnr. takes a new look at the history of Africa, from the birth of humankind to the dawn of the 20th century. he takes in the city of Great Zimbabwe, the pyramids of Meroe and the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela in Ethiopia.

The little piece about it on page 75 by Gill Crawford also gives the following description of the show:

Celebrated African-American literary scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr presents this wide-ranging, grand-scale six-part history of the African continent, originally shown by the PBS network in the US.

In this first episode, we start in the heart of Ethiopia, where the story of humanity began. And while we now that many African peoples migrated away from the continent to create other societies, others stayed to form great civilisations in Egypt, Sudan and Nigeria, culminating in the Queen of Meroe who stood up to the might of the Roman Empire.

It’s a fest of splendours, and Gates is an eloquent guide.

There have been a number of series on African history over the years. Back in the 1980s the Black African historian, Dr. Ali Mazrui, and the White Afro-centrist historian, Basil Davidson, both presented series on Africa. Eight years ago in 2010 the Black art historian, Gus Casely-Hayford also presented a splendid four-part series on BBC 4, The Lost Kingdoms of Africa, on the continent’s pre-colonial civilisations. I also seem to recall a BBC4 programme, which I thought was presented by Aminatta Forna, but I might be wrong, on the great Islamic civilisation of medieval Timbuktu.

Africa has been the centre of some very advanced civilisations, such as Benin and its superb bronzes, Nubia and the Swahili of what is now Tanganyika. The Swahilis built their cities from coral, and covered them with a limewash made by burning the same material.

Ancient Meroe, however, remains a mystery. It was a literate civilisation, using Egyptian hieroglyphs, and they left inscriptions on their monuments, like their pyramids. However, their language is unrelated to any spoken today, and no parallel texts in known languages, like the Rosetta Stone for ancient Egyptian, have been found. So although we can read their tests, we’ve no idea what they mean. Who knows what wealth of information is in there? It’s all very frustrating. Grrr!

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Radio Programmes on the Anniversary of the Birth of Israel Next Week

May 8, 2018

This year it’s the 70th anniversary of the birth of Israel, and Radio 4 are broadcasting a number of programmes next week marking the occasion. At 8.00 pm Tuesday, 15th May 2018, there’s Present at the Creation. The blurb about it in the Radio Times runs

On 14 May 1948, a few hundred people crammed into the Tel Aviv Museum of Art to hear a proclamation that would change the course of history-the establishment of the state of Israel. Jonathan Freedland meets the last two surviving eyewitnesses of the ceremony and gets a rare glimpse of the original document containing the declaration. Contributors include Palestinian foreign minister Nabil Sha’ath and Israeli novelist Amos Oz, both children on this momentous day.

Then at 11.00 am Thursday morning, 17th May 2018, the foreign affairs show Crossing Continents is on ‘Shades of Jewish in Israel’. This tackles the very controversial issue of Israeli racism. The blurb for this runs

Since its founding in 1948, Israel has seen itself as a safe haven for Jews from anywhere in the world who are seeking to escape persecution. But now that policy is under threat. As Jewish communities in Ethiopia, Uganda and Kenya are finding, a debate has arisen about who is “Jewish enough” to qualify. David Baker investigates claims that decisions are being made not on the basis of ancestry or religious observance but on the colour of people’s skin.

And then at the same on Friday, historian Simon Schama is giving his personal view of the foundation and history of Israel. It’s entitled Israel at 70: A Personal Reflection, and the blurb runs:

Simon Schama was three in May 1948 when the state of Israel was born, and here he offers a personal account of the nation’s troubled and often bloody history, featuring contributors from Israeli and Palestinian historians and writers, a rabbi, entrepreneurs, and people working across borders for the exchange of resources. (p. 131).

The additional paragraph about it on page 130, by Simon O’Hagan, also states

Simon Schama presents this programme from the perspective of a British Jew who was three years old when the state of Israel came into being in 1948, and who feels that the Israel story and that of his own life have always been intertwined. He has, he says, followed Israel’s evolution with a mixture of “pride, anxiety, joy, and sometimes profound exasperation”. Arab voices share time with Jewish voices, and the tone of the programme is exemplary. Israel, Schama says, was made from a “dark crucible”, while for hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, its formation was “Nakba”-“The Catastrophe”. The existential threat to Israel has never gone away, but there’s a striking note of optimism with which Schama concludes. An extremely moving half-hour.

Some of the Black African Jewish communities are likely to be extremely old. Herodotus in his Histories records an instance where the Jewish squaddies in garrison in Southern Egypt deserted, and headed over the border to Nubia. When their commander called out ‘What about your wives and children’, they pointed to their crotches to show that so long as they had everything down there, they’d also have wives and children.

The Falashas, who were a sect of Ethiopian Jews famously rescued from persecution by Israel in the 1980s are the most famous of the African Jewish communities, but there are many others. The kings of Ethiopia traced their descent from King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Each Ethiopian Orthodox church has an ark, though this term can cover any kind of box, so don’t get your hopes up about the Ark of the Covenant. These facts have been cited by some historians as indicating that the country may well have been Jewish before it converted to Christianity.

Tony Greenstein has reported on and discussed the immense racism in Israel against Black African Jews, as well as African asylum seekers trying to reach Europe, as part of his campaign to show just how racist the country is.

Simon Schama’s programme could also be interesting. Very interesting. The Palestinian Nakba is part of history. Amox Oz talks about it in his book, The Israelis, though it’s definitely not widely known. And I’ve no doubt the Israel lobby in this country, the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, Jewish Labour Movement, the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the rest of them would very much like that to stay. It’ll be interesting to hear if the programme mentions that the Palestinians were subject to a series of terrible massacres, and that 400 villages were destroyed. Or if the Beeb will simply go along with the old Zionist lie that they all left in terror of their own accord, and there were only a couple of massacres. Either way, I expect the Israel lobby will be listening very closely, ready to accuse the Beeb and Schama of ‘anti-Semitism’.

The Beeb probably feels that Schama may well have a better chance of escaping this smear. He’s a very well respected historian, and has presented his own ‘History of the Jews’, now being repeated on BBC4. I wish him the best of luck with that, as the Israel lobby and Likudnik politicians have also smeared very definitely self-respecting Jews and Beeb foreign correspondents as anti-Semites when they’ve mentioned awkward facts. Like Israel’s massacres of the Palestinians, or those of its Christian allies in Lebanon. As Mike pointed out, Natalie Portman was accused of it after she was awarded the Genesis prize for being such an excellent role model for Jews. Portman wouldn’t go to Israel because of the dodgy situation at the time to collect it, and so Likud and the rest of them went berserk. She was accused of being self-hating, part of the BDS movement – she isn’t, and made that very plain-and one Likudnik Member of the Knesset demanded that she be stripped of her Israeli citizenship.

Likud and the Israel lobby in Britain demand absolute obedience to the narrative they want to present, even when it contravenes well-established historical fact. And no matter how big or respected someone is, no matter if they’re Jewish or gentile, and how sincere they are fighting racism and real anti-Semitism, they will attempt to smear and destroy them.

These programmes sound fascinating.
The Israel lobby and their smears on the other hand, are utterly despicable.

I Stand with Nigeria and Mali

November 22, 2015

Nigeria-Flag-Wallpaper

The Nigerian Flag

Mali_Flag1

The flag of Mali, drawn as an outline of the country

In addition to the ISIS massacre in France, Islamist terrorists have committed two more atrocities, killing hundreds in Nigeria and Mali. There was a two minute silence for the victims of the Paris attack during the week, with world leaders expressing their horror and outrage. No-one has yet ordered a similar memorial for the victims of the African atrocities, yet their victims are just as worthy of being honoured and commemorated.

And like the attacks in France, this is an attack on civilisation.

West Africa has been the centre of the some of the most ancient and magnificent African civilisations. Nigerians were working iron several centuries before Europeans due to the natural iron bloom that is found in part of the country. Scholars, artists and connoisseurs have been deeply impressed with the naturalistic skill of the sculptures produced by the Nok culture, and later in the 17th century at Ife. The country also has a pattern of earthworks, the remains of cities dating from the seventh century AD, stretching over an area of about 65 square miles/ kilometres. You’ll have to forgive my vagueness about its exact extent. It’s a long time ago since I read the article about it in New Scientist, which was published about ten or fifteen years ago.

Much African history remains obscure, as until the arrival of Islam and exploration and colonisation by the Europeans, most African cultures did not have writing. The exception to this, of course, were Nubia and Abyssinia. Finding archaeological remains of these cultures can also be extremely difficult, as with certain exceptions, like the great Swahili cities in Kenya and the fortress at Zimbabwe, as well as Nubia and Abyssinia, Africans tended to use wood rather than stone for building. The result is that much of the remains of African civilisations has perished over time. Nevertheless, pictures of great African cities produced by European traders and explorers show just how impressive these cities were at their height.

Mali too was the centre of a great African civilisation. It was the centre of the Songhai and Mandingo empires, great Muslim states that became synonymous in West Africa with the religion itself. In one of the local languages, the word for to convert to Islam literally meant, to become a Mandingo. One of the main sources of its wealth was control of the gold supply. The country had so much gold, that when its emperor, Mansa Musa, visited Egypt on the hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, he distributed so much of it that it caused a recession.

The Egyptian traveller, Ibn Battuta, was also impressed with the country’s Muslim piety and high standard of civilisation, when he visited in the 12th or 13th century. He declared that the Malians would be excellent Muslims, if they did not regard White people with such contempt.

I can also remember being taught at school in Geography class about the vast economic potential of Nigeria. It could be the world’s richest country from its massive oil wealth, if there wasn’t so much corruption.

These were the ancient civilisations, with their own traditions of grandeur, that Boko Haram and the like attacked in the week. Like many people last week, I observed the two minute silence for Paris. I also stand with the people of Nigerian and Mali against the attacks on the lives and dignity of their citizens and visitors, against the butchers and murderers who attacked them. And they’re just two of the many countries throughout the world that have suffered from the attacks of these monsters. The world and its people must stand together against them, and show that despite differences of language, race, culture and religion, we stand for peace. We must never let them and the other preachers of hate win.

Book on Medieval Nubian Literature and Literacy

March 14, 2015

One of the pieces I wrote a few years ago on this blog and which is still being read was an article on the churches and monasteries of medieval Nubia. From the early Middle Ages to the fifteenth century, when the area was finally conquered by Islam, there were a group of three civilisations stretched along the Nile in ancient Nubia. These were literate kingdoms, who appeared to have adopted monophysite Christianity from Coptic Egypt. They built churches, monasteries and palaces, and were in communion with the other Eastern orthodox Christian churches, whose literature they translated into Nubian.

Archaeologists have been studying and attempting to piece together this culture since the 1960s. A number of sites have been excavated, including the ancient capital, Soba, and Arminna West. Four years ago in 2011 the Journal of Juristic Papyrology published a collection of papers on Nubian literature and writings, Nubian Voices: Studies in Nubian Christian Civilisation, by Adam Lajtar, Giovanni Rufini, and J van der Vliet. The blurb for it in the Oxbow Books Catalogue for Egypt, the Near East, Islam and the Middle East, says of it:

This book is a collection of articles dealing with various aspects of medieval Nubian literacy. It contains eleven articles by an international group of scholars, representing different areas of language studies (Greek and Latin epigraphy, Coptology, Old Nubian studies). The articles contain both editions of new textual finds and reconsiderations of well-known sources. The chronology of the texts discussed in the books spans a few hundred years of medieval Nubian history (from the 7th until the 15th century) and their topographical distribution covers a large part of the Middle Nile Valley (from Qasr Ibrim in the north to Banganarti in the south) and beyond (northern Kordofan). The typological variety of the sources, with epitaphs, sepulchral crosses, legal documents, visitors’ inscriptions, and depinti on pottery, provides an insight into the richness of the Christian Nubian civilisation.

At £50, this way beyond my pocket, and I imagine most peoples. Still, you might be able to get it on interlibrary loan, or find a secondhand copy somewhere.

A Face from Medieval Nubia

June 28, 2013

As I’ve already mentioned on previous posts on medieval Nubia, the churches of the Classic Christian period, including that at Arminna West, were decorated with wall paintings. Faras Cathedral was richly decorated with murals. It had been dedicated to the Virgin in 630, so many of the wall paintings were of her. One of these was of Our lady standing amongst the stars in heaven, holding the infant Christ and with two angels, one standing either side of her. The fesco had the inscription ‘The Holy Mary, Virgin Mother of Christ’. To the right was another inscription, reading ‘Jesus Christ, the Saviour’. There was another wall-painting showing the Virgin and the birth of Christ with the three kings and the shepherds. The two shepherds depicted had the names Arnias and Lekotes. There were other murals of the three kings, the Apostle Peter, and those saints that were particularlyrevered in the Monophysite church, such as St. John Chrysostom, and Ignatius, the archbishop of Antioch. There was also a vast mural of the three holy children, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace as described in the Book of Daniel. The military saints were also depicted as was the the archangel Michael, the patron and protector of the Nubian kingdom of Macuria, whose capital Faras was. The murals also showed the Queen Mother, Martha, under the special protection of the Virgin and God crowning king Mercurius on the church’s foundation stone. The mural’s inscription described the king as ‘Christ-loving’. The tenth century mural of King Georgios II showed him under the protection of both the Virgin and Child.

The murals also showed the bishops, and their staff of archpriest, priests and deacons. These were shown in their vestments, including the stoles and chasubles. These were richly decorated, some covered with jewels. Their vestments were modelled on those of the Byzantine church, but are not very different from the modern vestments of the Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Anglican church. As a diocese, Faras had the status of Metropolitan, a high status held only by the most important dioceses of the Byzantine Empire. The town itself was under the Eparch, a high official directly subordinate to the king himself in Old Dongola. The Eparch was styled ‘illustris’, a term used only of the highest rank of civil servants Byzantium. One of the churchmen depicted on the murals is of Marianos, who was bishop of Faras from 1005 until his death in 1036. With his broad face and beard, he has been described as resembling King Henry VIII of England. I’ve attempted to depict the mural of him in the drawing below.

Nubian Face Drawing

Clearly Nubia had a rich artistic as well as literary and religious heritage.

The Churches and Monasteries of Medieval Nubia: The Church at Arminna West

June 28, 2013

Dating the Church

It is possible to date the church and suggest when the alterations to it were made by comparing it to other, similar Nubian churches which also underwent similar architectural changes, such as the Buhen Church near Wady Halfa, and the Church on the Mastaba’ and the Cathedral, both at Faras.

The Buhen Church

The Buhen church had experienced extensive reconstruction during the floor had been raised by 60 cm and its piers and walls had been reinforced by further brick walls. New piers composed of rough stone work had also been built in the nave, where they helped to take the weight supported by the existing pillars, the corner of the southwest chamber, the north side of the sanctuary and the area between the north wall and the northwest pillar. This had been done to balance a similar pattern of walls that had earlier been constructed on the south side of the church.

There were also differences between the Buhen Church and that at Arminna West. The nave of the church at Arminna West had included the presbyterium, part of the sanctuary. In the church at Buhen, however, the sanctuary was extended to include part of the nave. It is possible that the Buhen Church may have been built as early as the sixth century or so, as a small painting on wood was found in the fill of the church’s tribune. This was very similar in style to Byzantine art of that century. It is not known, however, when the church was rebuilt.

The Church of the Mastaba, Faras

This church appears to have been constructed in two phases. It originally had square pillars and wide arches. The width of these arches were later reduced and the building made more solid. The pillars on the west side of the church were enlarged on their east and west sides. The east and facing sides of the two pillars in front of the sanctuary were also added to so that they formed a heavy altar screen like that at Arminna West in the final phases of its development. Unlike the church at Arminna West, the altar was moved further east into the apse when the sanctuary expanded into the nave.

Faras Cathedral

The church at Arminna West is closest in its construction and development to the Cathedral at Faras, which underwent two phases of rebuilding according to the Polish archaeologists, who worked on it. It was probably originally built some time around the beginning of the eighth century. It then possessed monolithic granite columns which supported a wooden roof. These were replaced in the tenth century by large brick piers and a vaulted roof. Some time after this, probably in the twelfth century, mud brick walls or screens, on a foundation of debris from older, demolished stone structures, were built between the pillars separating the aisles from the nave. On the north side of the sanctuary the screen were two metres high. They were much higher on the south side, however, to block the greater amount of light that came in from that side. The archaeologists excavating the church believed that the church had been rebuilt due to decay or damage inflicted during raids.

The changes to the fabric of Faras Cathedral may also have been due to general changes in church architecture. In Egypt Ibn Sebba issued a decree commanding all flat roofs to be replaced by vaulted roofs. This change to the structure of the roof also required that the supporting piers should be strengthened. This decree also affected the churches in Nubia. If the other churches were also rebuilt at the same time as Faras Cathedral, then the two phases of rebuilding in the church at Arminna West would also date to the tenth and twelfth centuries. The Coptic stela with its date of 920 suggests that this was also the date of the first phase of the church’s reconstruction.

Comparison with General Nubian Church Types

The church at Arminna West is also similar to a type of Early Nubian church described as Meinarti Type 1c. William Y. Adams, who developed this typology of Nubian churches, considered that the inclusion of part of the nave as well as the apse in the sanctuary indcated that the church had been built in some time in the eighth century. It was unlike the other churches of Meinarti Type 1c in that these had relatively long apses in which the sanctuary was confined. The church at Arminna West, however, had doorways connecting the sanctuary directly with the two sacristies, which did not exist in the other churches of that type. Churches of Meinarti Type 1c also had vaulted roofs. No direct evidence for the type of roof had survived in the church of Arminna West. The brick pillars, on the other hand, suggest that the roof was also composed of brick. If the church was constructed at the date suggest by Adams, then it would have been contemporary with the Early Christian village there and probably the Christian cemetery.

Adams considered that after the church at Arminna West was rebuilt, it was broadly similar to churches of Faras Type 2a construction, though there were also striking differences. The reinforcement of the piers, replacement of the wooden altar screen by one of mudbrick, and the rebuilding of the roof so that it was vaulted rather than flat were all typical of Type 2a churches. Where the church at Arminna West differed from the other churches of this type was in the removal of the door between the north sacristy and the aisle. In the other churches of Type 2a the doors removed were those from the apse to the sacristies. Adams believed that there was a connection between the blocking of the door between the aisle and the north sacristy, and the construction of the room at the north end of the church.

The styhle of church architecture described as Type 2a by Adams lasted from 700 to 1150 AD. Early Nubian churches were decorated with stone carvings, while Classic Christian churches were only decorated with wall paintings. The traces of wall paintings discovered at Arminna West were either in the side chapel or belonged to the later phases of the church’s construction. Bruce Trigger, who excavated the church at Arminna West, believed that the original triumphal arch was replaced by one in red sandstone before the last phase of the church’s rebuilding. He considered that this could have taken place as part of the alterations in the tenth century. It may also have occurred somewhat earlier or later. Trigger was strongly influenced in his dating of the church at Arminna West by Adam’s observations, which he concluded were basically in agreement with his own. He thus believed the church had been constructed in three phases as follows.

Conclusion: The History of the Church at Arminna West

Phase 1.

This was when the church was first built, probably in the eighth century. The church was probably built at the same time the Early Christian settlement at Arminna West it served, was founded.

Phase 2.

This was when the church was rebuilt in the classic Christian style, possibly in the tenth century. By this time the town of Arminna West had become a nucleated settlement – that is, a distinct town, rather than a collection of isolated farms and homesteads – south of the church. There was a cemetery between the church and the river, that was still in use. The church may have been maintained as part of the cemetery and its functions. The altar screens were modified in two phases. It is the church as it was in this phase of its history that it shown in the reconstruction I included in my last blog post. This reconstruction does not show the windows, nor the room built at the western end of the church.

Phase 3:

This was the last phase of the church’s existence. Over a metre of debris was found in the church, probably deposited during the late twelfth century. The church was either used for crude religious purposes, or had been completely abandoned to secular occupation. The Classic Christian village at Arminna West had been abandoned and there were few other indications that the wider area was settled. It is therefore believed that the area was largely deserted. It’s a sad end to a formerly prosperous community and its church.

Source

Bruce G. Trigger, The Late Nubian Settlement at Arminna West (New Haven and Pennsylvania: The Peabody Museum of Natural History of Yale University/ the University Museum of the University of Pennsylvania 1967).

The Churches and Monasteries of Medieval Nubia: The Church at Arminna West

June 27, 2013

Construction: Phase I

The church originally consisted of a nave and two flanking aisles. At the east end of the church were the apse (3), and the south and north sacristies (5 and 6). The west end of the church contained the north and south chambers (10 and 12). A door led from the north sacristy out onto the east side of the church. There were two other doors inside the church linking the sacristy with the apse and the vestibule (7). Between the two pillars either side of the altar was a stone base to hold an altar screen. This had two sandstone cubes with a hole cut in them at either end to hold the altar screen’s posts. A stone sill ran between the two stone cubes with two large, square indentations on its west side, probably to take two more posts. Running eastwards from the north pillar on the north side of the sanctuary were traces of another wooden screen. Another sill of burnt brick with a 2.5 cm groove in its centre also ran from this pillar. Two pieces of broken tile had also been set into the floor to take the screen. This sill extended as far as the apse at the eastern end of the church. The screen would thus have blocked the entrance from the sanctuary to the vestibule if it had been solid. The two pieces of tile, however, probably held a gate to allow access to the vestibule. A groove to hold another screen ran from the north pillar to the church’s north wall, thus separating the vestibule from the pulpit in the north aisle (8). There was also a screen on the south side of the sanctuary, running from the south pillar to the wall separating the south sacristy from the south aisle (19). The church’s layout during this phase is shown below:

Arminna Church 1a.jpeg

Phase 2

Some time after its construction the church was damaged and may have been temporarily abandoned. The church was, however, rebuilt and return to use. The main alterations to the church’s structure was the addition of the side chapel (14) to the church’s north side and the construction of the small room at the northeast corner of the church (20). Side chapels are found in many churches, and it has been suggested that it ws built to accommodate an increasing number of female worshippers when the north aisle became too small. The door between the north sacristy and the vestibule was also bricked up and plastered over. The wooden screen in front of the sanctuary was replaced, whilie those on the north and south sides were replaced by sandstone slabs. The screen between the vestibule and the north aisle was removed so that it became part of the north aisle. At the same time the door on the north side of the church that led into the vestibule was blocked. The wall replacing the door between the north sacristy and the former vestibule was only a single course of brickwork thick. It thus formed a niche in the sacristy’s west wall. Stuck into its floor was a piece of broken tile, forming a drain. The drain’s precise function is not known, but it may well have been used by the priests for ritual ablutions.

A buttress was built on to the south wall to balance the opposing buttress on the north wall. This had originally been built to support the screen between the vestibule and north aisle. Tiers of bricks were also added to the southeast corner of the north room and the northeast corner of the south room, which gave them the appearance of crosses. These buttresses may have been added to support changes to the roof, such as the construction of a dome. The floor level inside the church was also raised and a new socket for the door to the north chamber was inserted, this time within the room itself (11). Another door was cut linking the north room with the side chapel. TWo walls, 50 and 80 cm high respectively, were also built across the apse. It is possible that these were built to support the tribunes that were a feature of Classic period Nubian churches. This may have had wooden seats. The walls were placed to allow the doors to the sacristies to remain open, like other tribunes in Qustul, Debeira and the churches in the Faras desert. The Coptic funeral stela found in the inner part of the apse was dated 921, and this is probably the date when the church was rebuilt. The plan of the church during this phase of its development is shown below.

Arminna Church 2b.jpeg.jpeg

Phase 3

The church was rebuilt for a third time, during which the wooden altar screens were replaced with those of heavy brick, stone and rubble. There was an opening 1/2 a metre in width in the centre of each screen. The front screen’s outer corners were recessed and a red sandstone block was found on the north side. This probably formed part of an Arch of Triumph. On the surface sand of the sanctuary was found a carved capital with an intricate scroll motif, again of red sandstone. This had probably been set into the wall.

The plan below shows the church’s layout during this period of its history.

Arminna Church 3a.jpeg

This was the last time it was rebuilt. Some time later it ceased being used for worship. Occupation debris, the remains of a large fire in the north aisle and blockings placed above the former floor level, probably for new door sills as the occcupation debris was in places 75 cm thick, suggest that the church at this time was inhabited by squatters.

A reconstruction of what the church may have looked like is shown below.

Arminna Church Reconstruction 1

Source

Bruce G. Trigger, The Late Nubian Settlement at Arminna West (New Haven and Philadelphia: The Peabody Museum of Natural History of Yale University/ The University Museum of the University of Pennsylvania 1967).

Medieval Nubian Churches and Monasteries: Arminna West

June 26, 2013

Despite its great age, the ground plan of the church at Arminna West had survived almost completely intact except for the south sacristy when it was examined by archaeologists in the three years from 1961 to 1963. The surviving walls were mostly under a meter in height. Nevertheless, the excavators were able to reconstruct much of its original structure and history. A diagram of of the church as it was found by the archaeologists is shown below. South is in the top right hand corner.

Arminna Basic Church 1

The church was originally 11.25 meters long, but the east and west side were both of different widths. The east side was 8.1 meters while the west end was 8.4 meters. The walls were composed of mudbrick. The church had an altar (1), which may have had a wooden top, such as those at Ar-Rammal, the northern church near Adindan and Church on the Mastaba at Faras. In front of this were two mud brick pillars (2). Running between them was the stone base for an altar screen. The sill for another altar screen was found on the north side of the altar. The groove for a third screen ran from the north pillar to the north wall, separating the vestibule from the north aisle. It also had an apse, consisting of two curving brick walls on the east side of the church (3). Flanking this were the south and north sacristies (5 and 6 respectively). The south sacristy was probably a baptistry. It held a sandstone font in its south-east corner. This was rectangular, but with an uneven base. Near its front end it had a stone spout and a hole in the bottom, which was lined with lead. This probably held the pipe that drained the font. The font was originally covered with pink plaster. West of the north sacristy was the vestibule. South of this was the ambo or pulpit (8). There were two chambers either side of the nave (10 and 12), with the socket for a door at the entrance to the northwest chamber (11). The room held steps or a low bench (9). It also held a platform of brick and stone to take a stairway. This would either have led to the roof to a second storey, though this unlikely given the church’s small size. Two small pieces of parchment with the remains of a text in Coptic were found in this room, suggesting that it had been a scriptorium. There was a side chapel on the north side of the church (14). This room had had a barrel-vaulted roof, which, along with its walls, had been covered in paintings. Running along the church’s south and east sides was a low mastaba (15 and 16). This had been cut through for a passage to the south entrance with a stone sill (13). The building also had an annex containing a low bench on its northeast side (17). Only one other room like this to have been found is at the church at Ukma. The low bench suggests it is an extension of the north sacristy, though it is not really known what it was used for. Built on to the church’s west end was another room (18). Like room 17, it is not known what this room was used for, although it is believed that it was used for some purpose associated with the church. Although the walls were cleared, the room itself was not excavated.

The church was basilican in form, but had been gradually modified and altered during the centuries it was in use. The archaeologists excavating the church believed that it had been built in three phases, which will be examined in the next post.

Source

Bruce G. Trigger, The Late Nubian Settlement at Arminna West (New Haven and Philadelphia: The Peabody Museum of Natural History of Yale University/ The University Museum of the University of Pennsylvania 1967)

The Churches and Monasteries of Medieval Nubia: The Church at Arminna West

June 25, 2013

The Town of Arminna West

One of the Nubian churches excavated by archaeologists was that of Arminna West. This township lay on the west bank of the Nile directly opposite Khor Usha in the middle of the modern Arminna East, a large and prosperous town on the east side of the river, four km south of Toshka, ten km south of the post boat station at Duki Dawur and 26 km north of Abu Simbel. The township was 600 m in length and 300 m in width. It was excavated in preparation for the construction of the Aswan dam from 1961 to 1963. During the Classic Christian period at Arminna West, between 850 to 1100, the town had a population of between 100 to 200 people. It had large, finely built houses with eight or more rooms and barrel vaulted roofs, which were well plastered. These were probably occupied by nuclear families, rather than extended clan groups. The houses in medieval Nubian villages are located extremely near to each other. This, however, may have been due to the fact that ancient Nubian society was highly integrated, rather than for defensive reasons. Under a treaty with the Ummayyad caliph Abdallah ibn Saad in 652, Nubia traded 400 slaves with Egypt annually in return for cloth, horses and food. This trade nearly vanished completely from the middle of the eighth century, possibly due to the overthrow of the Ummayyads by the succeeding Abbasid dynasty, though there was a brief revival around 1000. The Nubians also imported wine from the Egyptian monasteries. There is also evidence of animal herding in Arminna West during the Classic and Late Christian phases of the town’s history. A map of the town’s remains from its Classic Christian phase is shown below.

Arminna Township

The church lay about 54 m north of the town, as shown below.

Arminna Church and Town 1

Sources

Bruce G. Trigger, The Late Nubian Settlement at Arminna West (New Haven and Philadelphia: The Peabody Museum of Natural History of Yale University/ The University Museum of the University of Pennsylvania 1967)

Kent R. Weeks, The Classic Christian Townsite at Arminna West (New Haven and Philadelphia: The Peabody Museum of Natural History of Yale University/ The University Museum of the University of Pennsylvania 1967).

The Churches and Monasteries of Medieval Nubia: Part Four – the Monasteries of Ghazali and Qasr el Wizz

June 23, 2013

Ghazali

The monastery of Ghazali in the kingdom of Nobatia was excavated by Peter Shinnie and H.N. Chittick of the Sudanese Antiquities Service in 1953 and 1954. The monastery lay on the modern Wadi Abu Dam, not far from the town of Merowe. It had first been discovered by Europeans in 1821, when it was visited by Linant de Bellefonds. Lepsius had visited it 28 years later in 1849, and discovered twenty inscribed stones, which he took back to Berlin. The monastery dates from the tenth century, when Nubian Christianity was at it height. It was deliberately chosen for excavation because of the light it promised to shed on Nubian Christianity during its heyday.

The monastery’s church was large by the standards of medieval Nubia. It was 28.1 m long and 13.9 m wide (92 feet by 46 feet). It was composed of mud brick resting on lower courses of dressed sandstone blocks. Its interior was plastered, and covered in graffitti. In its layout, it was a typically Nubian church. It was basilican in plan with a nave and two side aisles. The aisles were divided from the nave by a series of arcades. A bench ran along the entire length of the north aisle. Halfway down the nave was the pulpit. Jars inserted in to the floor suggest that a wooden screen separated the haikal from the nave. Behind the heikal was a series of seven steps leading to an apse-shaped tribunal. South of this apse was the church’s dianonikon, or sacristy.

The church’s floor was tiled. Below this was a drain system, which may have been connected to the baptistry. A large pottery dish, which may have been used for foot-washing, was set in the sacristy floor. Shinnie and Chittick believed that the sacristy’s layout was Greek, rather than Coptic, providing further evidence that the Nubian liturgy stated that Christ had two natures, rather than one. Outside the church on its north side was a tank lined with plaster. This was either the baptistry or an epiphany tank. Its position is unusual as baptistry tanks were usually located in the southeastern corner of the nave.

The monastery’s other buildings were located in three groups. They were built of schist and mortar, the majority containing debris left over from when they were occupied and water jars. One of the buildings was probably a refectory. It contained circular benches, similar to those in Egyptian churches. The monastery was surrounded by a wall, beyond which were the complexes latrines. One of the distinctive features of the monastery’s cemetery was the graves of its former inmates. These were box graves with crosses, now only fragmentary. The tombs’ epitaphs are in Greek and Coptic, with most of them in Coptic. Although the epitaphs followed the Byzantine pattern, the extensive use of Coptic suggests that many of the monks may have been Egyptian, who had fled to Nubia from persecution in their homeland. Shinnie’s investigation showed the importance of monastacism to Nubian Christianity, and that Greek, Coptic and Nubian were all used in the church’s liturgy. The layout of the monastery of Ghazali is shown below.

Ghazali Monastery.jpeg

Qasr el Wizz

Ghazali was not the only monastery excavated. Others included that of Qasr el Wizz. This is far more compact than some of the other monasteries, such as the Kom H monastery at Old Dongola. The layout of Qasr el Wizz is shown below.

Ghazali Monastery 2.jpeg