Nubia and the Crusades

A dialog on the Nubia list, 6 October, 1996

[The publisher edited these documents slightly]
Message-ID: <NUBIA%96100608520793@SAKSU00.BITNET>
Date: Sun, 6 Oct 1996 08:24:55 SLT
Sender: Discussion forum on NUBIAN <NUBIA%SAKSU00.BITNET@VTBIT.CC.VT.EDU>
From: "Hasan M. H. El-Melik" <D03N003%SAKSU00.BITNET@VTBIT.CC.VT.EDU>
Subject: Help ... Required from Al-Basha

From: Abu Hala *Mahjoub al-Basha* <basha189@IAC.CO.JP>
Subject: Nubia and the Crusades

M. Al-Basha wrote in Sudan-l on Sun, 6 Oct 1996:

Dear Netters,

As we all know Nubia was under a Christian kingdom during the duration of the Crusades between the 1095 and 1291. I am really interested in any information about contacts between the Nubian kingdom and the Crusaders (if any).

I am not really familiar with the history of the Crusaders, but I know that at least some historians argue that one of the purposes of the Crusades was to unite Christians under the leadership of the Pope after the split between the Western and Eastern Churches.

Nubia being an adherent of the Eastern Church and at the same time feeling the pressure of Muslim sultans in Egypt, its attitude towards the Crusades is of great interest to me. I suppose that some contacts must have taken place between the Crusaders and Nubia if only for the purpose of opening another front in the war with Egypt. However, I could not find any proof and I am not aware of any historic mention of such contacts. I guess that many variables are at work here specially the relationship between the Nubian kingdom and Egypt on the one hand and the relationship with the Eastern Church on the other. The internal situation in the Nubian kingdom itself at the time is also of great importance.

Twenty years ago, I remember seeing an article in an old issue of Sudan Notes and Records indicating that the Crusaders used some ports on the Red Sea in their efforts against the Muslims. But knowing that the area is in Beja country, this must have taken place with the consent of the Ethiopian kingdom which was also following the Eastern Church.

Any information about reference works on relations between the Nubian kingdom or Sudan in general and the Crusaders will be highly appreciated.

Best wishes.

Abu Hala

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Date: Sun, 6 Oct 1996 13:59:41 +0400
Sender: Discussion forum on NUBIAN <NUBIA%SAKSU00.BITNET@VTBIT.CC.VT.EDU>
From: abubakr sidahmed <sidahmed@EMIRATES.NET.AE>
Subject: Re: Nubia and the Crusades

Dear Abu-Hala and Netters:

Christian Nubia and Crusaders:

By the time of Crusades (10th-11th century) Christian Nubia in the North (Lower Nubia) was already weakened and isolated due to the flwg:

  • Muslim Treaty with the Christian Nubian (Baqt Pact) and it's implications on the sources and resources of this Christian Nubia
  • Land-locked status of Jacobite Christian Nubia (the minority Christians were of Monophysite doctrine) with Fatimid Muslims in the North (Egypt) and the more orthodox Dyophysite Christian doctrine of the main body of Christians in the South.

    By then the only access of Christian Nubia to the rest of the Christian world was through Egypt. Coptic Monophysite Christianity also became supreme in Egypt after the Arab conquest, and the Nubian Church was affiliated with that of Egypt. The Coptic patriarch of Alexandaria was acknowledged as its head, and its bishops, though mostly of Nubian birth, were appointed at Alexandria ("EGYPT & NUBIA" By Taylor).

    This shows that Christian Nubia by that time was not a real threat to Muslims, and it was fading out. However Salah Uddin Al Ayyubi, regardless of the treaties between Muslims and Nubia, set up his main forces in Egypt (just after he conquered Akka and prior to the Crusaders) against the Christians in lower Nubia. He feared their being at the rear of his troops in Egypt. This fear led to the war against Christian Nubia and the slaughter of all Christian worshippers and monks in St. Catherine's Monastry near Aswan. This meant that the Christian Nubians were already massacred and weakened by Salah Uddin forces prior to the Crusaders. This war and massacre of Nubia was uncalled for and totally unnecssary as it is a well recorded fact that the Nubians respected their pact (treaty) with the Moslems in Egypt and never ventured north of Aswan.

    In response to this massacre the Christian Nubians were scared and started voluntarily as individuals to contact the Crusaders.

    So it is not, then, that the Nubians joined the Crusaders and threatened the Muslims, but rather that Salah Uddin was the main violator of peace treaties with the Nubians and perpetrator of atrocities in lower Nubia. It was with this concern that the Nubian Christian joined (as mentioned, on an individual voluntarily basis) the Crusaders in Europe.

    Evidence of this participation of individual Nubians is shown in the flwg:

    1. The statue of a Nubian saint, as black as any African, standing until today in the hypostyle of one of the famous German cathedrals
    2. In 564/1168 Mu'taamna al-Khalifa, the influentuial black eunuch in the Fatimid court, was killed by order of Salah al-Din al-Ayyubi while attempting to contact the crusaders. The news of his murder provoked 50,000 Sudani troops into open rebellion. (Prof. Yusuf Fadl Hassan, "The Arabs & Sudan" KUP)


      There were limited voluntary attempts by Christian Nubians to contact the Crusaders.This was mainly because they were concerned about their lives following massacres and attrocities of Salah Edin Al-yyubi. The Christian Nubians were mainly Jacobites and monophysites which was favored by Arab Muslim rulers, rather than the Orthodox dyophysites. Furthermore, they honored the treaties with Muslims to the extent that they accepted sending their children as slaves to Muslims in the North when they failed to get the required 360 slaves required by ther Baqt Pact (see Yusuf Fadl, "Arabs & Sudan). Respectively the atrocities by Salih el_din were unnecessary.


      Fadul, Yusuf (The Arabs & Sudan)
      Taylor (Egypt & Nubia)
      W. V. Davis (Egypt and Nubia)
      Sabbar, Abdullah (Pioneer Sudanese Nubian Architect and Scholar)
      Nubian/Nubia Home Pages and included online references (webamster: abubakr sidahmed)

      Nowdays all Nubians in the North good Muslims and have a noticably positive contribution to their religion, country, Muslim nation and Sudanese people.

      Best reagrds

      Abubakr sidahmed
      Muslim Sudanese Nubian

      Message-ID: <>
      Date: Mon, 7 Oct 1996 13:20:03 +0400
      Sender: Discussion forum on NUBIAN <NUBIA%SAKSU00.BITNET@VTBIT.CC.VT.EDU>
      From: abubakr sidahmed <sidahmed@EMIRATES.NET.AE>
      Subject: [Fwd: Re: Nubia and the Crusades]

      Message-ID: <>
      Date: Mon, 07 Oct 1996 13:18:57 +0400
      From: abubakr sidahmed <>
      To: Sudan Discussion < Subject: Re: Nubia and the Crusades

      Dear Abu Hala


      Abu Hala *Mahjoub al-Basha* wrote:

      Dear Abubakr,

      Thanx a lot for the quick and informative posting.

      It seems that realtions between Nubia and Salah Uddin were not good. Prof. Yusuf Fadl says in his book mentioned in your posting that at one time Salah Uddin was even contemplating the annexation of Nubia.

      Yes. I think he had his reasons as a leader fighting the Crusades and trying to Establish a Muslim Empire.

      It is logical to find that he worked hard to get rid of his southern christian neighbours.Those neighbours besides being Christian they were 'bugging' and had their own motivations and ambitions

      1 - Historically, it is known that Salah Uddin came to power in 1172, almost eighty years after the first Crusades that started in 1095. Moreover, some historians including Prof. Yusuf Fadl say that the real reason for the war between Salah Uddin and Nubia is that some of the black soldiers of the Fatimid army took refuge in Nubia, regrouped and with the help of the Nubian King attacked Aswan.
      The incident as documented by the Polish team who discovered the famous Faras Cathedral and in their Book (FARAS- a publication of UNESCO - out of print) is as follows( PP25):
      "The period between the death of Georgios IV(in 1158) and the accession of David I (1272) was until recently a blank spot in the history of Nubia.(*1). Here again, an inscription found below the large composition of the Nativity in the North Aisle of the Cathedral mentions King Moise, son of Georgios IV and grandson of King Basilios. The painting next to it shows his sister or wife in her ragalia. It was probably this Moise who, after the fall of Fatimids in 1171 set out with his troops to Egypt to intervene on their behalf (*2) against the Kurdisc Ayyubids who had overrun Egypt. Having defeated the Caliph's troops sent to stop the invasion, the Nubians penetrated into the Upper Egypt and reconquered Aswan and the island of Elephantine. But the throne of the rulers of Cairo was then occupied by the famous Saladin who raised a new army against Nubians and put his brother Turan-Shah in command of it. ANd now luck was on the Arabs's side. Not only did they chased the Nubians out of the Upper Egypt but also penetrated into the interior of northern Nubia. Turan-Shah, who captured Qasr Ibrim, ordered its bishop to be tortured, becuase he would not reveal the place where the church treasury had been hidden. He turned the church of the Virgin of Mary in Qasr Ibrim into a mosque adding a large dome. Turan-Shah withdraw from Qasr Ibrim to Egypt with rich spoils but left some troops there under Ibrahim a-Qurdi. the latter considered it his duty to make armed forays into Nobadia, and during one of these raids he was killed in the battle of Adindan near Faras (1175). It is very probable that it was precisely during these military operations in the Adindan-faras area that Faras-Cathedral was destroyed. For the last entry on the famous list of Bishops in Faras concerning Bishop Iesu is precisely at that time...."

      2 - I wonder if there were any contacts between Nubia or Nubian individuals with the Crusaders during the eighty years before the coming of Salah Uddin that may have prompted him to take precautionary actions against (BTW: it was Saint Menas and not St. Catherine. . .I apologise for the mistake)

      I believe the excerpts from FARAS might give some in this respect. However as referred above (see (*1) part of that period was a blank in Nubian History. It seems that the relations between the Muslim Fatimids who used to rule Egypt before the Ayyubids was an excellent one to the extent that the referred-to invasion was carried by Nubian on behalf of the Fatimids (see (*2), in addition to that the Fatimids entrusted Nubian in several activities. Another indication of the good relations between the Chistian Nubia and the Moslims "In 836 the famous mission of Georgis, son of Zacharias and crown prince, went to Baghdad. His treaties with Caliph Mutassim were a political success of Christian Nubia and it is interesting to note that both Arabs and Christian sources are unanimous on this point" FARAS p22.

      I just visualise that due to those good relations and the stability enjoyed by the Christian Nubia prior to the Crusades there was no reason for them (the Christian Nubians) to join the Crusades or seek their support. However, and from the limited sources in my possession and my previous readings, I've not come across any information to prove that Christian Nubian (as individuals or in groups) had joined the Crusades more than the two cases referred to in my reply to you earlier, which I mention them again here:

      1\ The statue of a Nubian saint, as black as any African, standing until today in the hypostyle of one of the famous German Cathedrals

      2\ "in 564/1168) Mu'taamna al-Khalifa , the influentuial black eunuch in the Fatimid court, was killed by order of Salah al-Din al-Ayyubi while attempting to contact the crusaders. The news of his murder provoked 50,000 Sudani troops into open rebellion. ..." Prof. Yusuf Fadl Hassan "The Arabs & Sudan (by KUP).

      Please note the date in (2) 1168. You mentioned that Salah Al-Din came to power in 1171.

      3 - I would like also to be educated about the policy of Salah Uddin towards Egyptian Coptics. Did he treat them as Egyptian citizens or as a 'fifth column'. Did the Egyptian Coptics meet the same fate that the Nubians met in St. Catherine Monastry ?
      (BTW: it was Saint Menas and not St. Catherine. . .I apologise for the mistake)

      Obviously and logically the Copts shared the same treatment by the Auyybids as the Christian Nubian.

      You have to consider that they had no right to join the Muslim Army to fight the crusades.

      Anyway, Auyybids had their pros and cons. After all, what matters is how much good they did to Islam and Muslims.

      Nubians had joined Islam willingly some 600 yrs back, contributed to the Islamization of some other parts of Sudan and showed a great deal of faith in Islam and Muslims regardless of all what happened to their ancestors during the Nubian Christian era, while Coptics remained Christian. I believe this what matters now as far as Islam and Muslims in Sudan are concerned. However Sudan has always enjoyed -thank God- a remarkable religious coexistence during the last 600 yrs and it will continue..

      Best regards

      abubakr sidahmed
      Muslim Sudanese Nubian