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Lecture | LUCIS What's New?! Series

Arabs and Blemmyes in the Kingdom of Makuria: On name and identity in medieval Nubia

Thursday 27 February 2020
Open to all, free drinks afterwards
What's New?! Spring Lecture Series
Cleveringaplaats 1
2311 BD Leiden

The medieval Nubian kingdom of Makuria is most famously, albeit not widely, known for putting an abrupt stop to the march of the Muslim army deeper into Africa in the mid-seventh century. This ‘Nubian dam’, as one scholar put it, had a tremendous bearing on the later history of the region: not only could Makuria thrive as a Christian kingdom until as late as the fifteenth century, but also at times it could threaten the territory of the Muslim Empire in Egypt.

Much of the effort of modern scholarship concentrates on great historical events and persons, manifestations of – not infrequently magnificent – material culture, and religion, and very little has so far been said about medieval Nubian society at large, its ethnic and social fabric as well as the mindset of inhabitants of the region. Ochala's recent research on medieval Nubian onomastics sheds some light on these issues. Among other things, it has revealed quite a number of so far unnoticed Arabic and Blemmyan/Beja names occurring at different times and periods and in various contexts.

In this lecture, he discusses identities that hide behind these names: Who were the persons who bore them? What was their origin? What were their social roles? The observations will then be placed in wider historical and sociocultural contexts allowing us to adjust current views on medieval Nubian society.

About Grzegorz Ochala 

Grzegorz Ochała is a postdoctoral researcher (Marie Curie Fellow) at the LIAS. He graduated from archaeology at the University of Warsaw. There, he also obtained his PhD at the Faculty of History. He specialises in the history and culture of the Nile Valley in Late Antiquity and Middle Ages. He is an editor of inscriptions and papyri in Greek, Coptic, and Old Nubian. In his work, he combines the workshops of epigraphist, papyrologist, historian, and archaeologist to better understand the functioning of the society in the region and the role of the individual in that society.

At Leiden University, he carries out the research project "IaM NUBIAN. Identity and Memory in Christian Nubia: A study on strategies of (self-)presentation and preservation of the past in medieval African society".

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