1500 to 1880 AD

Islamic period

The early Islamic period was a very dynamic, if not very well documented era in the history of the Middle Nile valley. While Egypt's Mamluk rulers exerted influence over the northernmost part of the region from the 14th century onwards, new powers began to emerge in the following centuries.

In the early 15th century, the Awlad Kanz, a nomadic tribe from the Eastern Desert, took control of part of the former Makurian territory. The most powerful actors, however, were the Funj, an ethnic group who originated from what today is southeast Sudan. Quickly converting to Islam, they formed a sultanate at Sennar, on the Blue Nile, and destroyed the Kingdom of Alodia around 1500 AD. They extended their influence downriver and came to control much of the Middle Nile valley in the following centuries. With the Sultanate of Darfur in the west, and the Shilluk and Dinka tribes in the south, the region became a large-scale arena of competing interests.

Sudan's northern neighbour, Egypt, was conquered by the Ottoman Empire in 1517. The Ottoman sultans retained the Mamluks as semi-autonomous rulers until Egypt was invaded by the French in 1798.

After the French had been expelled, power was seized by Mohamed Ali, an Albanian commander of the Ottoman army in Egypt. In 1821, he sent his forces south to expel the Mamluks, who had taken refuge in Nubia, and to bring all the tribes and kingdoms in the region under his control.

Thus, Sudan became a Turkish-Egyptian province, brazenly exploited by the Egyptian viceroys. Its main products were slaves, and a newly established route up the White Nile opened access to ever new regions and people to supply this need.

Egypt itself became more and more indebted to European powers. The British sought a greater role in the region in order to protect their interests regarding the Suez Canal which had opened in 1869. They assumed responsibility for managing Egypt's fiscal affairs, eventually buying Egypt's shareholding in the Canal and making it an informal British protectorate. Thus, Sudan also became part of the British Empire. 

Locations of interest: 

Khartoum

Strategically located at the confluence of the Blue and the White Nile, Khartoum was founded as an Egyptian military outpost in 1821. It became the capital of Turkish-Egyptian Sudan in 1834. Read more ...

Old Dongola

Old Dongola is located at the downstream end of the Great Nile Bend. It was the capital of the medieval Kingdom of Makuria. Its exposed remains include several churches, a monastic complex and part of the royal quarters. Read more ...

Sai Island

Sai Island is situated between the Second and Third Nile Cataracts. It has a very long and rich occupational history, with sites of the Kerma, Pharaonic, medieval and Islamic periods. Read more ...

Suakin

Suakin is an ancient port town about 60 kilometres south of Port Sudan. From the 15th to the 19th centuries AD, it was the most important harbour on the African coast of the Red Sea. Read more ...

Discover Sudan!

You will enjoy travelling with us …

  • Small groups of no more than 11 travellers
  • Private journeys, tailor-made tours and self-guided trips
  • Expert scholars with you all through the tour
  • Unique itineraries and extensions that take you off the beaten track
  • Partnerships with archaeological projects and local communities
  • Private behind-the-scenes access
  • Personalised customer service and attention to detail

 

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