In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Northeastern African States, c. 1000 BCE-1800 CE

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Bibliographies
  • Reference Works
  • Journals
  • Primary Sources
  • Archaeological Overviews
  • Funj Sultanate
  • Darfur Sultanate

African Studies Northeastern African States, c. 1000 BCE-1800 CE
Marianne Bechhaus-Gerst
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 October 2012
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 October 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846733-0036


In the area of Northeastern Africa—here defined as comprising parts of present-day northern Sudan and Ethiopia as well as Eritrea—states, kingdoms, and empires came into existence as early as the first millennium BCE. The area can be regarded as a historical contact zone par excellence, and all its states were multiethnic and multilingual. The first state under consideration here is the Kingdom of Kush, also called the Napatan Kingdom after its capital, Napata, situated at the fourth Nile cataract. In the 8th century BCE, the Kushite kings conquered Egypt and ruled as its 25th dynasty for about a century, until they were expelled in 656 BCE. Around 300 BCE the capital of Kush was relocated to Meroe, farther to the south, where it remained until the end of the kingdom around 350 CE. This later phase is more frequently designated the Meroitic Kingdom. Shortly after the decline of Meroe, the Christian Nubian kingdom of Makuria and Nobadia, with its capital at Old Dongola, emerged in the region between the first and fourth cataracts. As early as the 7th century relations began between Muslim Arabs and Nubians, and after two attempts at conquering Nubia, Egypt made a pact with the Nubian king that lasted for several centuries. The end of the Christian Nubian kingdoms is generally dated to the end of the 15th century. The Funj Sultanate of Sennar (or Sinnar) was located in northern Sudan and ruled over a substantial area of northeastern Africa between 1504 and 1821. The origin and ethnic and linguistic affiliation of the Funj has long been a matter of scholarly debate. To the far west of the Nile Valley, the Sultanate of Darfur came into being in 1603 and functioned independently until 1874. The end of Meroe is often ascribed to an Aksumite invasion of the territory. The Kingdom of Aksum (or Axum) existed from approximately 100 to 940 CE in an area now covering northern Ethiopia and Eritrea. Under Emperor Ezana (c. 320–360) Aksum converted to Christianity. After what is often perceived as its “dark ages,” the Zagwe Dynasty took over power in the region and ruled until 1270. The year 1270 is regarded as the beginning of the Ethiopian Kingdom under the so-called Solomonic dynasty. Although its kings continued to rule Ethiopia with few interruptions until 1974, this bibliography roughly focuses on the first four hundred years of their reign.

General Overviews

A number of works have been published that cover Nubian, Sudanese, Ethiopian, or even Northeastern African history in a general way and over considerable periods. Originally published in 1928, Budge 1966 represents a traditional study that was based on written sources concerning Nubian as well as Ethiopian history. Arkell 1961 provided the first significant synthesis of Sudanese prehistory and history, with a focus on the Nile Valley. Adams 1977 was innovative in its “Nubiocentric” viewpoint, covering Nile Valley history from the Palaeolithic era to 1960. O’Connor 1993 is a recent study of Nubian history from the Bronze Age to the Christian period. Holt 1975 provides a rare introduction to the history of the Funj and Darfur kingdoms. Pankhurst 2001 gives the most comprehensive overview of Ethiopian history from Aksumite to post-imperial times. Sellassie 1972 concentrates on the period up to 1270, covering the Aksumite and Zagwé periods, whereas Abir 1980 covers about four hundred years of Solomonic rule from 1270 to 1667, with a focus on foreign relations.

  • Abir, Mordechai. Ethiopia and the Red Sea: The Rise and Decline of the Solomonic Dynasty and Muslim-European Rivalry in the Region. London: Cass, 1980.

    The book gives an overview of the history of the Solomonic dynasty and covers the period 1270–1667, with a focus on foreign relations and relations with Muslim states.

  • Adams, William Y. Nubia: Corridor to Africa. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1977.

    At the date of its publication, Adams’s book constituted a seminal study covering Nile valley history from the Palaeolithic to 1960, including geographical, archaeological, textual, linguistic, and ethnological data and taking a “Nubiocentric” viewpoint. It is still worthwhile reading, although the underlying “racialized” concepts of peoples and cultures are outdated.

  • Arkell, A. J. A History of the Sudan: From the Earliest Times to 1821. London: Athlone, 1961.

    This comprehensive standard history of the Sudan begins with the Stone Age and ends with the advent of the Turks in 1821. It is mainly based upon archaeological and anthropological findings. Although outdated, it is still mandatory for all those interested in early Sudanese history.

  • Budge, E. A. Wallis. A History of Ethiopia, Nubia and Abyssinia (According to the Hieroglyphic Inscriptions of Egypt, Nubia, and the Ethiopian Chronicles). Oosterhout, The Netherlands: Anthropological Publications, 1966.

    Although it is outdated with regard to the underlying concepts of Meroitic and Ethiopian history, this classic study is still of interest today. A one-volume reprint of a work first published as two volumes (London: Methuen, 1928). Only the first 120 pages of volume 1 cover the Sudan. The rest of the two volumes concentrates on Aksum and Ethiopian imperial history. Budge was an expert of written sources.

  • Holt, P. M. “Egypt, the Funj, and Darfur.” In The Cambridge History of Africa. Vol. 4, From c. 1600 to c. 1790. Edited by Richard Gray, 14–57. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1975.

    DOI: 10.1017/CHOL9780521204132

    The author presents an introduction to Funj and Darfur history and the relationship with their northern neighbor, Egypt.

  • O’Connor, David. Ancient Nubia: Egypt’s Rival in Africa. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993.

    An informative introduction to the history and culture of ancient Nubia from the Bronze Age to the Christian period. The author places Nubia in its historical and cultural context as an important African civilization. The book includes black-and-white photographs of more than 300 objects, as well as a selection of color photographs.

  • Pankhurst, Richard. The Ethiopians: A History. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2001.

    The book, by one of the leading specialists on Ethiopian history, opens with a review of Ethiopian prehistory and presents an overview of Aksumite, medieval, and postmedieval history.

  • Sellassie, Sergew Hable. Ancient and Medieval Ethiopian History to 1270. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia: Haile Selassie I University, 1972.

    A still readable general account of the Aksumite and Zagwé periods of Ethiopian history.

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